Discourse community

Collection of people or groups that work towards a common goal through communication. This group develops a process for communication, a unique vocabulary of jargon, and a power structure tied to the source of their community. John Swales maintains that genres both “belong” to discourse communities and help to define them (Borg, 2003).  He outlined six characteristics of discourse communities: 1) common public goals; 2) methods of communicating among members; 3) participatory communication methods; 4) genres that define the group; 5) a lexis; and 6) a standard of knowledge needed for membership (Swales, 471-473). 


Borg, Erik. "Discourse Community." ELT Journal 57.4 (2003): 398-400. Print.

Swales, John M. "The Concept of Discourse Communities." Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. Cambridge [England: Cambridge UP, 1990. 21-32. Print.


Discourse communities become more visible in a digital world; for example, a group of fans of British science fiction television can unite on message boards and Facebook pages to  discuss their hobby. Their group is defined not by physical gatherings, but rather by their written communication.

However, any social group can function as a discourse community.  Academic journals, sports fans, and even families work as discourse communities when they create rules, vocabulary, and hierarchy around shared topics. 

Other Notable Uses: 

Orlikowski, J.W, and J. Yates. "Genre Repertoire: The Structuring of Communicative Practices in Organizations." Administrative Science Quaterly 39.4 (1994): 541-74. Print.

Porter, J.E. Audience and Rhetoric: An Archeological Composition of the Discourse Community. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1992. Print.

Original Use: 

Some sources point to Matrin Nystrand’s 1982 book What Writers Know: The Language, Process, and Structure of Written Discourse as the first use of discourse community,1 but Nystrand's major focus is defining speech communities. John Swales is the first to focus on discourse communities in his 1990 book Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings.

(1) Baker, Paul, and Sibonile Ellece. Key Terms in Discourse Analysis. New York, NY: Continuum International Group, 2011. Print.

Contributed by: 

Katie Wilson

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