Paper 1—Discourse Community Memoir

ENGL 1301-071 and 073: Critical Reading, Thinking, and Writing


Assignment Overview

For this paper, you will make an argument explaining how you became part of a discourse community.


People form discourse communities when they share interest in or knowledge about a topic and when they communicate with each other about that topic. Members of discourse communities share specialized vocabulary, cultural or content knowledge, traditions, and values; knowing this information allows them to understand and interact with other members of the community. As a result, discourse communities are like clubs in that they tend to have insiders and outsiders. The knowledge and proficiencies that support the values of the group provide the keys to membership in the group.


Whether you realize it or not, you are already an “insider” in numerous discourse communities, e.g., those centered around your church, your workplace, your hobbies, your favorite sport or sports team, your favorite band or type of music, your favorite television show, cooking, etc. Your discourse community memoir will make a case that you tried and perhaps succeeded at becoming a full-fledged member of a group. This membership could be official as in the case of a sports team or unofficial in the case of becoming an accomplished musician or lover of literature. 


You don’t need to do any outside research for this paper because the topic is yourself. You will, however, need to reflect deeply on your own experiences in order to produce detailed evidence to demonstrate that you have mastered the knowledge and skills required to be accepted into the discourse community.


Writing Processes

Invention (e.g., discovering what you have to say)

  1. Your first task is to brainstorm about the discourse communities to which you belong. What are your hobbies? What do you do in your spare time? What subjects (in and out of school) are you an expert in or an authority on? Create an “authority list” of things about which you are an authority.


2.      Once you’ve identified some possible topics for your essay, pick two or three favorites and list all the texts, terms, traditions, knowledge, and values you can think of that are important to that community. You will need to make the case that the discourse community you chose includes shared vocabulary and content or cultural knowledge.

·         Example: If brainstorming about your struggle to become a first string varsity football player, you could make this case by focusing on football vocabulary, shared knowledge about football history and current events, and knowledge of your team’s playbook. You might also consider discussing the conflicts that occur within the discourse community.


3.      Once you have identified one particular topic about which you could write an entire essay, use the “Schema for the Discourse Community Memoir” to brainstorm examples of your transition from “outsider” to “insider” in your discourse community. When did you first discover the discourse community? When did you decide you wanted to become a member? What struggles did you encounter? When and how did you know you had become an “insider”? What skills, knowledge, texts, and traditions did you have to learn in order to become a member? What values are common to the group you became a part of?  Do you still hold those values?


  1. Work to formulate a main claim for your essay. Why does your group constitute a discourse community? What do you want “outsiders” to know about the benefits and drawbacks of being an insider in your community?


5.      Make sure you come across to readers as a person of good sense, good character, and good will. In order to accomplish this:

·         know what you’re talking about. Provide enough details and evidence to show that you’re reflected deeply on your experiences, and provide evidence to support your claims.

·         show respect for your readers and come across as approachable and thoughtful, not arrogant or insensitive.

·         consider alternate viewpoints and treat opponents with respect—don’t ignore or demean the opinions of others.

·         be careful and meticulous in your writing, not sloppy and disorganized.


  1. Your intended audience for this essay is your instructor and the other members of your ENGL 1301 class. You should assume that we are not part of the discourse community you discuss in your essay. You’ll want to appeal to your readers by:

·         presenting a clear, well-organized, well-supported narrative that shows you’ve reflected on your experiences.

·         evoking emotions (sympathy, outrage, anger, delight, pride, awe, shame, horror, etc.) in your audience that are likely to help make your argument more convincing.

·         evoking sensations (seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling) that make your writing vivid and cause your audience to experience things imaginatively.

·         appealing to values (freedom, justice, tolerance, fairness, equality, etc.) that you and your audience share.


Arrangement (e.g., organizing the parts)

Once you’ve completed your invention stage, you should arrange the parts of your memoir in the order that will prove most effective with your audience. Your memoir should be objective and analytical rather than inward and subjective. In other words, your memoir will make an argument based on your past experiences. A good argument includes a main claim supported by good reasons and evidence, so you must select your materials carefully and include rich details. Relate important moments that show learning that helped you become a fuller member of the discourse community. Make sure to give plenty of specific examples of things you’ve learned and experiences you’ve had.


Also, don’t assume that just because your instructor and peers will read your argument that they will automatically be interested in what you have to say. Generate reader interest by demonstrating what is at stake in your narrative and why it is important.


Style (e.g., using appropriate language)

Draw on the lessons of Chapter Nine in They Say/I Say, namely mixing standard written English with “the kinds of expressions and turns of phrase that you use every day when conversing with family and friends” (115). This paper gives your instructor and classmates a chance to know you better—not just your life experiences, but also the way you express yourself. 


Make sure you proofread your paper carefully to avoid errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and mechanics. Consult your handbook if you’re unsure about rules and conventions.


Evaluation Criteria

Final Draft:


·         Makes a well-developed case that the subject discussed is a discourse community with shared knowledge, vocabulary, text, and traditions.

·         Examines how becoming a member of the discourse community involves sharing or accepting certain values.

·         Evidence from experience has been carefully selected to support the claims made about entrance into the discourse community and the discourse community’s values.

·         Experience is presented effectively, using appropriate argumentative techniques and rich details.

·         Experience is reflected on, not merely presented.

·         Material is coherent and well-organized.

·         Sentences are complete, clear, and relatively error free.

·         Essay is 4-6 pages in MLA Style (no Works Cited necessary) in 12pt. Times New Roman font.


Writing Process:


·         Complete drafts turned in on time. Drafting process shows evidence of revision of content and style.

·         Provided adequate help to peers during peer review.


Due Dates

Note: You may email me ( your draft as an attachment during your drafting process and I will email back my comments on your essay (I won't edit it for grammar, spelling, etc., but will comment on common problems and larger issues.) Please also email me any questions you may have about your paper.