Discourse community

Collection of people or groups that work towards a common goal through communication. "A 'discourse community' is a group of individuals bound by a common interest who communicate through approved channels and whose discourse is regulated" (Porter 1986, 38–39). 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.  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 1990, 471-473). 


Porter, James E. 1986. "Intertextuality and the Discourse Community." Rhetoric Review 5 (1): 34–47.

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


Bizzell (1982) focuses on the academic discourse community in discussing student composition. Porter gives the examples of engineers whose research area is fluid mechanics; alumni of the University of Michigan; Magnavox employees; the members of the Porter family; and members of the Indiana Teachers of Writing.

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.

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. Patricia Bizzell brought the term to prominence in composition studies in the U.S. in 1982: “Groups of society members can become accustomed to modifying each other's reasoning and language use in certain ways. Eventually, these familiar ways achieve the status of conventions that bind the group in a discourse community, at work together on some project of interaction with the material world. An individual can belong to more than one discourse community, but her access to the various communities will be unequally conditioned by her social situation.” 
Bizzell, Patricia. 1982. "Cognition, Convention, and Certainty: What We Need to Know About Writing." Pre/Text 3 (3): 245–269.

See also Baker, Paul, and Sibonile Ellece. 2011. Key Terms in Discourse Analysis. New York, NY: Continuum International Group.

Contributed by: 

Katie Wilson; Carolyn Miller


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