Resources for discourse analysis in composition studies.
The field of composition studies takes as its object of study written language--its production, interpretation, and acquisition in context. Research in the field ranges from classical rhetorical analyses to ethnographies of writing in the contemporary workplace, with a special interest in the teaching of writing in college. Although written language as an object of study would seem to position the field of composition studies closely to the field of linguistics, which takes as its object of study the structure and function of language in general, the relationships between the two fields have been varied, at best (Barton and Stygall, "Introduction"). One methodological bridge between the two fields, however, is discourse analysis, because this method holds the potential to contribute significantly to the research agendas of both fields. In this review essay, I first describe some new resources for discourse analysis in the field of linguistics. I then consider the possibilities of discourse analysis in composi tion studies in more detail, briefly discussing the history of discourse analysis research in the field and then describing several important and promising areas of discourse analysis research in the field of composition studies. I argue in support of an increased role for discourse analysis in the field of composition studies, based upon its methodological potential to contribute uniquely to our knowledge about the production, interpretation, and acquisition of written language.
Discourse Analysis in Linguistics
The object of study in discourse analysis, as it developed in the field of linguistics, is the structure and function of language in use (Brown and Yule); discourse analysis pays particular attention to the ways that language in context is organized at and above the level of the sentence. Work in discourse analysis in linguistics concentrates primarily upon oral language, with a focus on face-to-face conversation as the prototypical situation of language in use, although recently more attention has been paid to language in institutional settings such as classrooms, courtrooms, and clinics. Discourse analysis can investigate features of language that are small and specific--for example, whether speakers or writers preface their sentences with markers like oh and well (Schiffrin), or whether they organize sentences according to the pattern of given information followed by new information (Chafe, Discourse). Discourse analysis also can investigate aspects of language that are complex and abstract--for example, h ow speakers and writers Orient their language in institutional settings (Drew and Heritage), or how socio-cultural worldviews affect the production and interpretation of language (Duranti and Goodwin).
One of the key concepts of discourse analysis in linguistics is the understanding of conventions of language use. Many years ago, Jerry Morgan defined conventions of language use as "govern[ing] the use of sentences, with their literal meaning, for certain purposes. [...] Conventions of usage are a matter of culture (manners, religion, law)" (261, 269). Morgan goes on to note that conventions of use involve contextual occasions and purposes (269), giving rise to the "purpose-meaning connections between the occasion of usage and the expression used" (271). At the time Morgan was writing, conventions of use were assumed to be simple and straightforward: Morgan's example is the utterance Can you pass the salt?, with its literal meaning of ability and its conventional meaning of a request. But as research in discourse analysis developed over the past twenty-five years, conventions have come to be seen as complex and abstract connections between the repeated use of a linguistic feature and its function or interpre tation in a text or context. Conventions range from small and specific linguistic features (e.g., the conventional use of supportive back channels like um-hmm by female speakers) to longer stretches of text (e.g., the convention in some denominations of beginning a sermon with the recitation of a Bible verse). Sometimes conventions of language use are the result of active attention by the speaker to his or her use of language (e.g., telling a story in different ways to different audiences), and other times conventions of use are the habituated results of community practices of language use (e.g., answering greetings appropriately). In short, conventions describe a relationship between the repeated or typical use of a feature (e.g., the recitation of a Bible verse) and its function in context (e.g., to signal the beginning of a sermon, and to preview its theme). Conventions of use are established primarily through repetition and recognition by members of a speech community, and speakers internalize their knowl edge of the conventions of language use much as they internalize their knowledge of the rules of language structure (following the way that linguists called the latter linguistic competence, Dell Hymes called the former communicative competence, defined as speakers' knowledge of the practices of using language appropriately in socio-cultural contexts). Configurations of conventions lead to larger discourse structures such as the different genres of spoken language (e.g., conversational narratives, accounts, lectures, sermons, etc.). As noted by Morgan, conventions of language use are closely associated with their contexts: in fact, one way to identify conventions is to think about their variation across contexts (e.g., compare greetings and responses like hey in casual conversation with the use of full names and titles in more formal institutional settings like medical appointments). The aim of research in discourse analysis is to describe the conventions of language in context, thereby articulating the conne ctions between the structure and function of language in use.
The field of linguistics has just seen the publication of a comprehensive resource for discourse analysis -- Barbara Johnstone's new text Discourse Analysis. Johnstone describes the method of discourse analysis as a heuristic:
[T]he basic question a discourse analyst asks is "Why is this text the way it is? Why is it no other way?" [...] We can divide the questions that need to be asked about a text into six broad categories. Each of these aspects of text-building is both a source of constraint -- a reason why texts are typically some ways and not others -- and a resource for creativity, as speakers, signers, and writers express themselves by manipulating the patterns that have become conventional. (9)
The six categories are as follows:
Discourse is shaped by the world, and discourse shapes the world.
Discourse is shaped by language, and discourse shapes language.
Discourse is shaped by participants, and discourse shapes participants.
Discourse is shaped by prior discourse, and discourse shapes the possibilities for future discourse.
Discourse is shaped by its medium, and discourse shapes the possibilities of its medium.
Discourse is shaped by purpose, and discourse shapes possible purposes. (9)
In the chapters of her text, Johnstone explores topics in discourse analysis research that are related to each of these categories. In considering the imbrication of discourse and the world, she discusses cross-linguistic research on language and worldview, on language and verbal art, and on language and ideology. The chapter on discourse structure explicates the notion of convention in connection to grammar and genre: Johnstone looks at the structure of utterances in oral language, the rules for turn-taking in conversation, the structure of oral narrative, the given-new organization of utterances and sentences, and the way that language is constantly emergent as speakers utilize conventions and resources. In reviewing topics associated with discourse participants, Johnstone covers the literature on power and solidarity in discourse, social roles and discourse roles, politeness theory, the performance of social identity, and agency. The chapter on prior texts and prior discourse covers intertextuality, repeti tion, register, and genre. A chapter on discourse and medium includes discussions of orality and literacy, textual variation, and new media. The chapter on discourse and purpose reviews speech act theory, contextualization cues, and rhetorical approaches to discourse analysis.
Johnstone's text is an ideal introduction to discourse analysis: an instructor new to the Field would easily be able to structure a first-time course around the book to be taught in linguistics, literary studies, composition studies, communications, or other areas (the chapters include discussion questions, sample analyses, and ideas for projects, with a number of activities specifically aimed at students in different fields, particularly English studies). A researcher new to discourse analysis could use the book to survey the field, identify topics of interest, and provide background for the research literature. Teachers, students, and researchers interested in discourse analysis might also look to a second, more specific, volume by Johnstone, Qualitative Methods in Sociolinguistics; this volume is not solely about discourse analysis, but it includes useful information for planning discourse analysis research projects.
There are other new resources available for an overview of discourse analysis as it is practiced in linguistics. Teun van Dijk's two volume Discourse Studies. A Multidisciplinary Introduction casts a wide net, as its title indicates. Volume 1, Discourse as Structure and Process, includes essays on discourse semantics, discourse and grammar, narrative, argumentation, and social cognition and discourse. Volume 2, Discourse as Social Interaction, includes essays on conversation analysis, gender, institutional discourse, discourse and politics, discourse and culture, and critical discourse analysis. For those who are particularly interested in conversation analysis, Paul ten Have has written Doing Conversation Analysis: A Practical Guide. For those who are particularly interested in critical discourse analysis, Ruth Wodak and Michael Meyer have edited Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis. There are two new and similarly titled volumes on conversational narrative: Elinor Ochs's Living Narrative: Creating Lives i n Everyday Storytelling and Neal Norrick's Conversational Narrative. Storytelling in Everyday Talk. An overview of language and gender, with a number of discourse analysis articles, is Jennifer Coales's Language and Gender: A Reader; an older volume focused specifically on discourse analysis is Deborah Tannen's Gender and Conversational Interaction. A variety of critical theory approaches are described in Adam Jaworski and Nikolas Coupland's The Discourse Reader, published by Routledge. Sage Publications specializes in methodology texts in the social sciences, and its offerings include a number of texts on discourse analysis: Stefan Titscher, Michael Meyer, Ruth Wodak, and Eva Vetter's Methods of Text and Discourse Analysis: In Search of Meaning; Margaret Wetherell, Stephanie Taylor, and Simeon Yates's Discourse Theory and Practice: A Reader; Deborah Cameron's Working with Spoken Discourse; and Linda Wood's Doing Discourse Analysis: Methods for Studying Action in Talk and Text. Moving back more towards lingui stics, Deborah Schiffrin, Deborah Tannen, and Heidi Hamilton have edited The Handbook of Discourse Analysis, a useful volume with overview essays and useful references. James Paul Gee has published An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method, a textbook that focuses on his well-known distinction between discourse with a small d (language in use, from the more specific perspective of studying stretches of language in specific contexts) and discourse with a capital D (language constituting social practices, from the broader perspective of studying socio-cultural ways of performing and recognizing identity).
In sum, discourse analysis as it is practiced in linguistics asks and answers questions about the structure and function of language in use. It keeps a careful focus on the organization of language itself, looking for sentential structures, interactional routines, and textual features that conventionally create and reflect the reciprocal relationship of language and context.
Discourse Analysis in Composition Studies
If discourse analysis is to be a method that deserves a larger role in the field of composition studies, the argument I have set myself for this essay, it must be shown that it contributes to the investigation of central questions in the field of composition studies (and not just to the field of linguistics). More specifically, it must be shown that the use of discourse analysis creates unique knowledge about the production, interpretation, and acquisition of written language in ways that other methods do not.
An argument for discourse analysis in composition studies has some history to overcome, unfortunately, since the field of composition studies has had an uneasy relationship with the field of linguistics. In the 1950s and 60s, linguistics seemed to hold considerable promise for composition studies, both theoretically and methodologically. Theoretically, the focus in the linquistics of the 1950s on descriptive rather than prescriptive grammar and the focus in the linguistics of the 1960s on competence rather than performance held out the possibility of a richer conceptualization of language that was not narrowly focused on school grammar and writing errors. Methodologically, the scientific nature of the field of linguistics beckoned towards rigorous empirical research and the promise of generalizable knowledge in composition. To the field of composition studies in the later 1970s and 80s, however, neither linguistic theory nor its methodological approach seemed relevant any longer: a view of language that fore grounded structure (whether descriptive or cognitive) seemed inadequate for a growing conceptualization of language as the material of identity and social practice, and a view of research that promoted empirical investigation seemed problematic to a field that had enthusiastically taken a theoretical turn. By the 1990s, notes Lester Faigley in Fragments of Rationality: Postmodernity and the Subject of Composition, an important work that set out a theoretical interpretation of composition studies, "linguistics is no longer a major contributor of ideas" (80).
I would argue, however, that while the conceptualization of language in the field of linguistics did indeed become less relevant to the field of composition studies, the growing conceptualization of discourse and the development of discourse analysis has consistently been relevant in the research of composition. In the 1970s, for example, the productive relationship between composition studies and discourse analysis can be seen in the well-known body of research on cohesion and coherence. Many researchers, including Faigley himself in collaboration with Stephen Witte, as well as Jeanne Fahnestock, Robin Markels, Sandra Stotsky, and W. Ross Winterowd, used the systemic linguistics framework of M. A. K. Halliday and Ruqaiya Hasan to investigate the textual features of student writing. This research uncovered much of interest, both in terms of findings and in terms of implications. The findings of these studies described the ways that sets of texts reflect conventions of student writing in the context of the ac ademy: for example, Witte and Faigley's article "Coherence, Cohesion, and Writing Quality" showed that student essays with relatively dense cohesion (that is, lexical and other kinds of ties across sentences) were judged to be of higher quality than essays without this kind of textual density. Other findings described the ways that student writers approached the tasks of writing and revising their texts: in "Topical Structure and Revision: An Exploratory Study," for example, Stephen Witte meticulously compared student drafts and revisions, only to find that student writers revised primarily in terms of surface structure only, not attempting discourse level revisions in their texts (more of this work on revision appeared in two co-authored articles with Faigley, "Analyzing Revision" and "Measuring the Effects of Revisions on Text Structure").
This body of research helped define composition studies as a disciplinary field that took a primary interest in student writing, contributing to the field's founding argument that there is much more to writing, both in process and in product, than surface matters alone. This research has stood the test of time, remaining of interest (and controversy) today: Robert Connors's recent CCC article "The Erasure of the Sentence" has argued for the continued relevance of the findings from early studies of textual analysis. The implications of these studies, however, were equally important to the developing field. While early studies in textual analysis identified features and concepts that could be defined linguistically, like cohesion, they also pointed to concepts that couldn't be defined simply in terms of identifiable features: coherence, for example, and complexity, as pointed out by Faigley ("Names"), Joseph Williams, and others, were concepts that did not seem amenable to definition in terms of specific lingu istic features. Here, too, though, the contributions of early textual analysis were important: they essentially forced researchers who were interested in empirical linguistic analysis to consider more closely the relationship between a text and its context, looking for complementary analytic concepts of a more abstract and situational nature. In other words, these early textual analyses prepared the way for later, more discourse-oriented analyses that would focus more specifically on the interaction of texts and contexts.
The seminal article that moved the field of composition studies towards discourse analysis defined in terms of text-context relationships was Thomas Huckin's "Context-Sensitive Text Analysis," published in Kirsch and Sullivan's 1992 collection Methods and Methodology in Composition Research. Huckin argues that discourse analysis is of value to composition studies when it considers the contexts of texts in terms of discourse communities:
[M]ore and more researchers are drawing attention to the social dimension of writing. They are seeing the writer [...] as a member of one or more discourse communities, each having its own values, norms, and ways of knowing and communicating. Since discourse communities are defined primarily by texts, those texts become a major part of the context within which any act of writing takes place. (84)
Huckin then offers a primer of the methods of discourse analysis in composition that remains valuable today. He describes selecting an initial corpus of interest to the field; identifying salient patterns in the texts through holistic reading and close analysis; making a determination of interestingness (i.e., how and why are these texts and their internal patterns are of interest to the field); selecting a study corpus (sampling); verifying the pattern (empirical analysis); and developing a functional-rhetorical analysis and interpretation of the data (90-93). Huckin's article was the first description of the method of discourse analysis from the perspective of the field of composition studies. His emphasis on the connection between the discourse analysis and the questions and issues of interest to the field of composition studies demonstrates the way that discourse analysis is best incorporated into the field--that is, as a method that answers research questions of primary interest to the field of compositi on.
Recent research that has incorporated the perspective and methods of discourse analysis has developed in several areas of the field of composition studies. First is a long-established tradition of discourse analysis in applied linguistics, with a focus on academic discourse. Second is recent work in discourse analysis within composition studies, with a focus on analyzing texts in a wide variety of contexts. Third is interdisciplinary work in discourse analysis within English studies, with a focus on developing methods aligned with theories in literature, rhetoric, and philosophy. In the remainder of this review, I discuss some key texts and new resources in each of these areas of discourse analysis research in composition studies.
Applied linguistics grows out of the tradition of teaching of English as a second language, and one area of interest within this huge field investigates what is called English for Specific Purposes or English for Academic Purposes (see the journal English for Specific Purposes). This area of applied linguistics grew out of interest in the situation of many speakers of English as a second language who are working as researchers and graduate students who wish to (or have to) publish their work in English as an international research language. The focus of this area of applied linguistics is academic discourse, particularly the organization of disciplinary discourse. The seminal work in this area is John Swales's 1990 text Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. Swales was interested in the ways that genres are structured and the ways in which they operate within discourse communities, particularly academic disciplines. Following Carolyn Miller, he defines genres rhetorically and functionally as communicative events which serve communicative purposes recognized by members of the discourse community (58); genres are typically associated with conventions of content, positioning, and form (52). Examples of genres recognized by the members of the academic discourse community include the course description, the qualifying exam, the plenary lecture, the grant application, the survey article (like this one), the review of the literature, and the research article (55) (note the way we can name these genres with the definite article). Of these many academic genres, the genre of research article has received the most attention, since it is the premier vehicle for the dissemination of scholarly research. The research article has a conventional generic structure--introduction, methods, results, discussion--and each of these sections of a research article has complex conventions that can vary in interesting ways across disciplines (for example, the length, organization, and information included in a methods s ection varies considerably across the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities).
The publication of Genre Analysis generated an enormous amount of research on academic discourse, and I can mention only a few key resources here. A great deal of research has been conducted on the history and development of academic discourse, particularly in the sciences: Charles Bazerman's Shaping Written Knowledge: The Genre and Activity of the Experimental Article in Science is a classic in this area, with its developmental account of the genre of the research article in the natural sciences. More recently, Dwight Atkinson has published Scientific Discourse in Sociohistorical Context, a discourse analysis of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London from 1675 - 1975. Methodologically, Atkinson combines quantitative analyses of textual features and rhetorical analyses of textual function in the development of the scientific disciplines. M. A. K. Halliday and J. R. Martin use a systemic-functional linguistic framework to investigate the language of science at the sentential level in Wr iting Science: Literacy and Discursive Power. Research has been conducted on specific fields: Greg Myers, for example, in Writing Biology: Texts in the Social Construction of Scientific Knowledge, looks at the ways writers manage knowledge claims in a variety of texts, including grant proposals, research articles, and popularizations of science in the media. A useful source for methods in genre analysis is Vijay Bhatia's Analysing Genre: Language Use in Professional Settings. Ann Johns has investigated genres within classroom contexts, in two volumes: Text, Role, and Context: Developing Academic Literacies and Genre in the Classroom: Multiple Perspectives. Ulla Connor summarizes cross-linguistic research on genre in Contrastive Rhetoric: Cross-Cultural Aspects of Second-Language Writing, and the authors in Anna Duszak's collection Culture and Styles of Academic Discourse review cross-linguistic research on disciplinary discourse in English compared to other languages. Other collections on academic writing inc lude Diane Belcher and George Braine's Academic Writing in a Second Language; Chris Candlin and Ken Hyland's Writing: Texts, Processes, and Practices; and John Flowerdew's Academic Discourse. In Disciplinary Discourses: Social Interactions in Academic Writing, Ken Hyland has recently published a discourse analysis of eight disciplinary communities, looking at a wide variety of texts and an interesting array of conventions (citation in research articles, criticism and praise in book reviews, conventions of credibility and membership in abstracts, and metadiscourse in textbooks). Swabs provides a novel update of genre analysis in Other Floors, Other Voices: A Textography of a Small University Building; in this book, he responds to critiques of the concepts of genre and discourse community, arguing that disciplinary and discourse communities
have a settled (if evolving) sense of their roles and purposes [and have] evolved a range of spoken, spoken-written, and written genres to channel, develop, and monitor those roles and purposes [...]. To "old-timers" these genres have self-evident discoursal and rhetorical characteristics [... in] an interactive system or network that additionally validates the [discourse community's] activities. (204)
The conventions of genres and the interaction of genres within disciplinary contexts remain the focus of an ever-growing body of research literature in applied linguistics.
Within this body of research on genre, there are several works that establish direct connections with the field of composition studies. Charles Bazerman's work is perhaps best-known here: his early article comparing the discourse conventions of the natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities ("What Written Knowledge Does: Three Examples of Academic Discourse," reprinted in Shaping Written Knowledge) was crucial in advancing the study of disciplinary discourse in the field of composition studies. Bazerman's work investigating the conventions of disciplinary discourse was taken up by Susan Peck MacDonald in Professional Academic Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences, where she looked at the interaction of sentential features and discourse organization in the different ways disciplines articulate the construction and presentation of knowledge. Carol Berkenkotter and Thomas Huckin's Genre Knowledge in Disciplinary Communication: Cognition/Culture/Power developed a socio-cognitive theory that de scribes genres as "dynamic rhetorical forms that are developed [in response to] recurrent situations and that serve to stabilize experience and give it coherence and meaning" (4). Amy Devitt's forthcoming volume Writing Genres also focuses on genres as dynamic, arguing that genres and genre systems mediate between individual texts and their cultural situations. (Two other volumes in composition studies could be mentioned here -- Jack Selzer's Understanding Scientific Prose, and Charles Bazerman and James Paradis's Textual Dynamics of the Professions. Strictly speaking, neither of these volumes is a collection specifically in genre analysis or discourse analysis. Understanding Scientific Prose is a collection of analytic approaches to the interpretation of one particular text, an article/essay by Stephen Gould that, many authors in the collection point out, violates the conventions of academic discourse to great effect. Textual Dynamics of the Professions is a wide-ranging volume that looks at texts in context s as varied as manufacturer's brochures to jury instructions; this volume is one of the first sources in composition studies [outside of technical and professional communication] to focus on the interaction of texts and contexts in a wide variety of settings beyond the classroom.)
Research in genre analysis, whether in applied linguistics or in composition studies, investigates many questions of interest, including descriptive questions about the structure and function of academic discourse, the development of disciplinary discourse overtime, the interpretation of genre conventions (and their violation) by readers, and the acquisition of genre knowledge by new members of discourse and disciplinary communities. This approach to discourse analysis is a long established methodological paradigm within and across the fields of applied linguistics and composition studies, answering a variety of questions about the production, interpretation, and acquisition of written language in academic contexts.
A new volume with chapters by authors aiming specifically at posing and answering research questions within the discipline of composition studies is Ellen Barton and Gail Stygall's Discourse Studies in Composition. This volume presents a variety of methodological approaches in discourse analysis that have emerged within the field of composition studies over the past decade. Each chapter describes a particular method and then illustrates it with a case study. The chapters vary across features, texts, sites, methods, questions, and theories. Some chapters describe methods that focus on specific features of language and their functions in texts and contexts: Wallace Chafe, for example, reviews the general features of oral vs. written language ("Writing"); William Vande Kopple reviews the literature on metadiscourse, looking at studies of both reading and writing; and Susan Peck MacDonald focuses on the interaction of sentential features and textual organization in disciplinary discourse with a case study from an thropology. Other chapters focus on methods for investigating written language in various sites: chapters by Mary Fuller and Jean Lutz and by Martin Nystrand examine the interaction of spoken and written language in classroom settings; George Dillon investigates language in Web sites; and Davida Charney argues for the use of protocol analysis for usability testing in workplace settings. Still other chapters focus primarily on describing different methods of discourse analysis, some more and some less theoretically articulated. Ellen Barton, for example, argues that an inductive approach to discourse analysis fits in with a variety of theoretical approaches, describing a method of discourse analysis in terms of discovering "rich features--linguistic features that point to the relation between a text and its contexts. Rich features have both linguistic integrity (i.e., they can be defined, categorized, coded, and counted) and contextual value (i.e., they can be connected to matters of meaning and significance)" through conventions at sentential and discoursal levels ("Inductive" 23). In "Critical Discourse Analysis," Thomas Huckin describes this highly articulated theoretical approach that focuses on the ways discourse reflects "underlying factors of ideology, power, and resistance" (156). Jeanne Fahnestock and Marie Secor review the methods of classical and contemporary rhetorical analysis. Gail Stygall describes narrative analysis in a chapter that presents a case study in the analysis of legal discourse. One of the newest methods of discourse analysis in composition studies is presented in Cheryl Geisler and Roger Munger's chapter entitled "Temporal Analysis: A Primer Exemplified by a Case from Prehospital Care." Geisler and Munger argue for the investigation of writing as a temporal process:
When we include an explicit temporal dimension in our analysis of composing, we commit to looking for the patterned distribution of writers' actions over time: what typically gets done when, in what order, and for how long. By using temporal analysis, in other words, we assume that writers' work is subject to typification. [...] Typification results in the well-known phenomenon that texts exhibit generic structure. (285)
Geisler and Munger illustrate temporal analysis with a description of the way writing takes place during ambulance runs, showing how routine writing plays an important role in emergency medical technicians' reflective understanding of their actions during the course of patient care.
The volume Discourse Studies in. Composition describes multiple methods for using discourse analysis to investigate two central areas in composition studies--the uses of writing in academic contexts, including classroom contexts, and the uses of writing in workplace contexts. There are a few other resources on discourse analysis as it has developed in composition studies. Some texts on research methods include information about discourse analysis. Mary Sue MacNealy's Strategies for Empirical Research in Writing has a chapter entitled "Discourse or Textual Analysis," where she relates discourse analysis to qualitative and quantitative research paradigms, following the empirical approach first described in Janice Lauer and William Asher's Composition Research: Empirical Designs. Cindy Johanek's Composing Research: A Contextualist Paradigm for Rhetoric and Composition develops a methodological framework for empirical investigations, including discourse analysis. A two-volume special issue of the Journal of Busi ness and Technical Communication edited by Davida Charney describes "Prospects for Research in Scientific and Technical Communication." A number of the methodological approaches to the investigation of writing in workplace settings involve discourse analysis, although not always named as such.
Another volume edited by Charles Bazerman and Paul Prior and entitled What Writing Does and How It Does It: An Introduction to Analysis of Text and Textual Practice considers a variety of methods of discourse analysis more broadly conceptualized within English studies as an interdisciplinary enterprise. In this volume, Ellen Barton's chapter on rich feature analysis is the one most closely based upon linguistic discourse analysis ("Linguistic"). But many of the other chapters describe analytic approaches that have developed within and across the discipline of English studies. Thomas Huckin, for example, reaches across to communication studies and describes the method of content analysis, with reviews of several well-known studies and suggestions for utilizing content analysis in corpus studies ("Content"). Several other authors describe approaches connected to literary and rhetorical theory and analysis: Philip Eubanks, for example, considers issues of replesentation and poetics in a discussion of close readi ng; Charles Bazerman contributes a comprehensive review of the concept of intertextuality; Anne Wysocki considers imagery in a variety of multimedia texts; and Jack Seizer provides an overview of the methods of rhetorical criticism. Returning to composition studies, one of the innovative areas explored in this volume is what Paul Prior calls process analysis--the investigation of writing practices in composing. In two lengthy chapters (one with co-author Kevin Leander), Prior describes and analyzes the ways that the situated practices of writers result in texts in various contexts. Prior looks at concepts such as initiation, motivation, and intertextuality in case studies of writers. He suggests an array of methods suitable for process analysis, including text analysis, protocol analysis, and the analysis of observational and interview data.
The volume What Writing Does and How It Does It describes multiple methods for analyzing texts, moving across the disciplines of composition studies and English studies. In an interesting way, this volume is particularly compatible with Barbara Johnstone's Discourse Analysis described above, because both texts pay sustained attention to the place of discourse analysis in the investigation of issues of interest to researchers and students in English studies.
The object of study in discourse analysis in composition studies is the connections between texts and contexts. with a focus on the repeated use of linguistic features (rich features, Barton would call them) and the associated conventions that establish their meaning and significance in context. To conclude with a final argument in support of the role of discourse analysis in composition studies, I must make a case that this kind of investigation offers a unique contribution to our understanding of the production, interpretation, and acquisition of written language. Let me consider these areas of interest and investigation in reverse order.
For the investigation of the acquisition of written language, the argument is easiest to make: a discourse analysis of repeated features and their associated conventions that describes their appearance, use, and disappearance over time can build a very specific account of writers' development across the lifespan. Discourse analysis research on the development of writers ranges from Robert Gundlach's work on children's earliest writing, where the rich features are conglomerations of letters and pictures, to Ruth Ray's work on writing groups in nursing homes, where the rich features are the meaningful details and emerging themes of autobiographical narratives. Through discourse analysis, we can generalize from texts to descriptions of how writers conceptualize and organize discourse, utilize conventions, and, generally, construe the contexts of their writing, with evidence for the arguments that consists of the repeated use of features across texts, across time, and across groups of writers, Of particular note in the area of acquisition is the utility of discourse analysis in studies of the socialization and acculturation of new members of disciplinary communities. Carol Berkenkotter, Thomas Huckin, and John Ackerman's study of a graduate student acculturating to the discipline of composition studies is an excellent example here, as are the discourse studies that are part of Cheryl Geisler's Academic Literacy and the Nature of Expertise: Reading, Writing, and Knowing in Academic Philosophy and Dorothy Winsor's Writing Like an Engineer. In all of these studies, the results of the discourse analyses were essential to developing and supporting the argument that new members of disciplinary communities become socialized into practicing members of the community in part by learning and deploying the conventions of written language particular to that discourse community. We are what we write, in other words, as we become members of a community, either by choice, as in the case of graduate student training, or not, as in th e case of students mastering academic discourse, from kindergarten through college. Discourse analysis of our texts shows how we are moving along the way.
For the investigation of the interpretation of written language, discourse analysis studies are less common, hut here, too, an argument can be made that the study of features and conventions o1 written language are important to an enriched understanding of the interpretation of discourse, particularly disciplinary discourse. Protocol studies of members of disciplinary communities reading texts have looked at the actual operation of the conventions of academic discourse, revealing a fascinating mismatch. Bazerman's description of physicists reading scientific articles, for example, showed that they rarely read an article from beginning to end, instead mining the article for points of interest and, more interestingly, points of contention (Shaping). The readers, in other words, recognized but resisted the conventions of the text, preferring to develop critical readings based on their own evaluations of the articles and assessments of its validity and usefulness (cf. also Davida Charney's article describing scie ntists reading Stephen Jay Gould in Understanding Scientific Prose). Similarly, Geisler's analysis of the reading protocols of graduate and undergraduate students in philosophy showed that the two groups followed quite different conventions of reading: undergraduates read primarily for summarizing content and relating material to personal experience, but graduate students read primarily to respond critically, not unlike Bazerman' s scientists. Danette Paul, Davida Charney, and Aimee Kendall have recently argued that reception studies, which include protocol analysis of readers reading, are an essential complement to discourse studies of texts. As members of disciplinary communities, we write in preparation for an imagined reader who cooperatively interprets our discourse conventions, but we read not as this reader but as a critical reader of our own design. Discourse analysis is a valuable method, then, in the investigation of the complex relationships between reading and writing, especially in disciplinary c ontexts.
For the investigation of the production of texts, I would argue strongly that discourse analysis is essential. Traditional discourse analysis would seem not to be focused on production: it is typically retrospective and often removed from the context of production--a researcher selects an existing body of texts of interest and works backwards from the features of the texts to an understanding of the contexts. The body of discourse analysis research on student writing, for example, worked back from students' texts to understandings of their construal of the context of academic discourse. The value of discourse analysis in this kind of retrospective research is clear: by identifying repeated features and articulating their associated conventions of meaning and significance, we arrive at an understanding that is often beyond the active consciousness of the writers themselves. In an example from my own work, I argued that a discourse analysis of evidentials (metadiscourse expressions that express a writer's attit ude toward knowledge; examples include words and phrases like probably, generally, I think, I believe, and oddly enough) reveals the ways that experienced and inexperienced academic writers take an epistemological stance (a perspective on knowledge-making) (Barton, "Evidentials"). Briefly, the argument in the article was that experienced academic writers use evidentials in constructing a critical and oppositional epistemological stance typical of the academy, but inexperienced writers use evidentials in constructing a general epistemological stance where knowledge is the product of shared agreement by all members of society. This is why argument essays written by student writers often contain expressions like I think that as members of society we all agree, while argumentative essays written by experienced academic writers typically do not. My point here is that student writers themselves generally seem largely unaware of the epistemological stance they construct through conventional discourse devices in their papers (at least, no undergraduate student writer has ever talked to me in terms like these). It is, though, the discou rse analysis across a body of texts written by a variety of writers that reveals the common features, conventions, construction, and construal of academic writing, knowledge and practice that is deeply internalized through a lifetime of experience with reading and writing. Discourse analysis brings this knowledge and practice to descriptive light. This argument for the value of discourse analysis is a familiar one to those who work in the field, especially in the analysis of academic and disciplinary discourse.
I would like to present one more argument in support of the potential contributions discourse analysis makes to research on the production of written language. Research in composition studies has moved actively into investigations of contexts themselves, through observational methods such as ethnographies and case studies of writers in classrooms and workplaces (cf. Wendy Bishop's Ethnographic Writing Research; Peter Mortensen and Gesa Kirsch's Ethics and Representation in Qualitative Studies of Literacy, which includes a number of case studies; and the aforementioned special issue of Journal of Business and Technical Communication edited by Davida Charney, which focuses on research in workplaces). I would argue that discourse analysis is a crucial method to include in observational research on the contexts of writing, for the reasons mentioned above. It provides a window onto production, by generalizing from bodies of texts to understandings of the writers' construction and construal of the interaction of te xts and contexts. It provides an enriched understanding of interpretation, by developing ideas out of the mismatch between writers' use of conventions and readers' interpretations of them. It develops a rich picture of acquisition, by showing how the features and conventions of writing change and develop over time. In sum, discourse analysis is a valuable method in composition studies for the insights it brings to all manner of studies of the production, interpretation, and acquisition of written language.
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Ellen Barton (email@example.com) is a professor in the Department of English at Wayne State University where she teaches in the Linguistics Program and the Composition Program. In linguistics, her research interests include discourse analysis, particularly the analysis of medical discourse. In composition studies, her research interests include discourse analysis, particularly of student writing; the rhetoric(s) of disability; and the development of research methods. Her work has appeared in Discourse Studies, Discourse and Society, Discourse Processes, TEXT, Narrative Inquiry, College English, College Composition and Communication, Written Communication, Journal of Business and Technical Communication, and other journals and edited collections.
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