Researching Discursive Practices - NIU - Writing Across the Curriculum


The NIU Writing Consultants Handbook

Researching Discursive Practices

How do members of a particular discipline usually speak to one another? What is the specific vocabulary that they use in conversation and written communication? What are the rhetorical characteristics of the articles that are published in their most popular journals? These are questions consultants must address. Thus, consultants begin work in hosting departments by listening and reading. They must attempt to understand communication patterns before any advice can be offered on how to improve a given form of communication.

Indeed, this process of moving into a new culture can be disorienting and challenging, but it is a necessary step toward maintaining a campus-wide emphasis on improved writing skills. A crude yet useful analogy is to view consultants as people in a foreign country, strangers in a strange land. The sooner they can speak the native language, the sooner relations will improve and a bridge of respect and trust will be built.

Communicating with trust and respect is of primary importance because consultants are also responsible for conducting discourse analyses, reviewing writings of a given discipline and determining how its rhetoric is structured. For example, an examination of a particular chemistry journal over a ten-year period could reveal useful information about the preferred format, documentation style, and average length of articles.

In addition, the careful reading of introductory paragraphs in journal articles is a useful technique for gaining a familiarity with those scholars who are heavily cited and thus influential. Such an activity requires more than just a cursory familiarity with the culture of the hosting department; it requires a commitment to existing within that culture until its vocabulary and its common communication practices are absorbed.

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