10 What is a Discourse Community?

Tracy L.F. Worley, DM PMP

Everyone belongs to a discourse community, but what exactly is it? A discourse community is a group with shared customs, practices, disciplines, beliefs, assumptions, goals, and/or values. The discourse of the community has a common way of communicating, and it can be a local community (like a school or business) or a focal community (like an accounting or project management association). Determining your discourse community requires an assessment of your interests, academic major, employment, social group, or organizational memberships. Knowing your discourse community will help you to create within a context that is common to your audience. Knowing your discourse community will also help you to craft a compelling treatise that uses lexis (lingo, language) that is common to your discourse community.

A linguist, John Swales, has studied discourse community and genre analysis. He is most well-known for his distinction between local, focal, and folocal (a term he coined) discourse communities.

Explore Swales’ Concept of Community Discourse in Composition Forum, published by the Association of Teachers of Advanced Composition.[1]

  1. Swales, J.M. (2017). Composition Forum 37, The Concept of Discourse Community: Some Recent Personal History. Composition Forum. http://compositionforum.com/issue/37/swales-retrospective.php