The word “discourse” is a fairly common one, although we may interchange it for the word “discussion” or “conversation” in everyday speech. To better understand the full meaning of the word, we will look at how it is defined within The Oxford English Dictionary. The Oxford English Dictionary provides us with several definitions of the term “discourse”. The first two definitions below are somewhat archaic now, but still hold relevance for out discussion:
- “Process or faulty of reasoning”, as in the phrase “discourse of reason”
- “A spoken or written treatment of a subject, in which it is handled or discussed at length”
- “Familiarity with a subject; conversancy” and “mutual intercourse of language”
Briefly think about what discourse, or conversation, between individuals requires. They need to speak the same language, for example. Discourse is further facilitated by shared assumptions, cultural cues, and values. Groups of people who communicate with these shared qualities can be called discourse communities.
What is Academic Discourse?
Academic disciplines are just one example of discourse communities. Attorneys, physicians, carpenters, and any other profession you can identify make up their own discourse communities. Discourse communities share common understandings, norms, and conventions for communicating in their discipline, particularly in writing. You might imagine that all biologists, for example, agree on certain facts and use specific terminology to describe those facts. This notion of discourse communities will help you understand some of the varieties of language and search vocabularies used in various search tools as you do your own research.
Scholars and researchers share some distinctive habits and practices, especially in their methods of communicating with each other. Many rely heavily on their colleagues for information about new developments in their fields. They may confer by phone, communicate by e-mail, pass drafts of research articles back and forth by regular mail or e-mail, and attend conferences in their specialities where they learn by word-of-mouth about the latest research, teaching practices, or other trends in their disciplines.
Because they use informal communication channels, scholars and re searchers are often described as members of the invisible college. The invisible college is a network or web of informal communication among individuals with similar interests. It contrasts with the more formal ways that scholars use for obtaining information, such as doing literature reviews in libraries. The invisible college lacks formal organizational structure, and formality in its method of communication. “Invisibility” describes a component of its very existence.
More formal ways in which researchers communicate are through the publication of conference papers, journal articles and books. Publications of this type usually undergo a strict “peer review” which ensures the quality and accuracy of these professional, researched materials.