What Is a Discourse Analysis Essay: Example & Guide

Discourse is the way people talk about any specific topic. It’s also the way in which language is used to convey social and historical meanings. Discourse analysis is the process that helps to understand the underlying message of what is being said. Sounds interesting? Keep reading to learn more. 

The picture shows the definition of discourse analysis.

This in this article, our custom writing team will:

  • define discourse and its analysis; 
  • explain how to write a discourse analysis essay step by step; 
  • provide an essay sample.

🤔 What Is a Discourse Analysis?

To write a good discourse analysis, it’s essential to understand its key concepts. This section of the article will focus on the definition of discourse itself and then move on to its analysis.

Discourse: Definition

Discourse is verbal or written communication that has unity, meaning, and purpose. In linguistics, discourse refers to a unit of language that is longer than a sentence. When you analyze discourse, you examine how the language is used to construct connected and meaningful texts. 

One crucial thing that can’t be neglected when it comes to discourse is the context. In linguistics, there are different ways to classify contexts. Here is one such classification:

Linguistic context The relationship between the words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. For instance, the participants must know where they are in time and space. It affects the expressions they use and the way they are interpreted.
Situational context The relationship between the participants, the environment, time, and place in which the discourse occurs. Situational context is usually approached through the concept of register, which focuses on the interrelationship of language and context.
Cultural context The culture and customs of epoch in language communities in which the speakers participate. Language is closely connected to the social structure and value system of society. Therefore, it’s influenced by such factors as social role and status, sex, age, etc.

The knowledge of context is crucial for discourse analysis, as it helps interpret the text’s meaning. For that reason, it’s essential to keep the context in mind while analyzing the discourse. No context simply means no discourse.  

Discourse vs Syntax: Difference

  • Syntax is one of discourse’s dimensions. It encompasses rules for composing grammatical sentences. Unlike discourse, syntax can also be applied to non-verbal instances such as music or any other code.
  • Discourse is one level above syntax. It studies how the sets of sentences following syntactic parameters work together and convey the meaning.

Spoken Discourse vs Written Discourse

Discourse itself can be classified as written and spoken (or oral.) One of the main differences is that spoken discourse uses spoken words to transfer information, while written one uses written words. There are also some other differences:

  1. Spoken discourse needs to be understood immediately. It also usually contains discourse markers—words that create pause or separation of ideas such as “you know,” “like,” or “well.” 
  2. Written discourse can be referred to several times. For the written discourse to happen, the participants need to know how to write and read, requiring specific skills. It’s also often tied to the genre or structure of the language it uses to imply the purpose or context of the text. 

Discourse Analysis Definition

Discourse analysis is a technique that arose in the late 20th century from the growing interest in qualitative research. The main purpose of discourse analysis is to understand the message and its implications. It can be done by studying the text’s parts and the factors that influence people’s understanding of it.

Discourse analysis is deeply connected with linguistics, anthropology, sociology, socio-psychology, philosophy, communications studies, and literature. It challenges the idea that we should take language for granted and instead encourages more interpretative and qualitative approaches. That’s why it is used in various fields to:

  • describe organizational change;
  • read between the lines while analyzing policy texts;
  • provide greater depth to qualitative accounting research;
  • use multiple fields to synthesize information. 

Content Analysis vs. Discourse Analysis

Content analysis and discourse analysis are research techniques used in various disciplines. However, there are several differences between the two:

  1. Content analysis is quantitative. It focuses on studying and retrieving meaningful information from documents.
  2. Discourse analysis is qualitative. It focuses on how language is used in texts and contexts.

🔬 Preparing to Write a Discourse Analysis Essay

Now let’s talk about writing a discourse analysis essay. Before you start to work on your paper, it’s best to decide what type of discourse analysis you plan to do and choose the correct approach. It will influence your topic choice and writing techniques. Besides, it will make the whole process easier.

Types of Discourse Analysis: How to Choose

The picture shows the 4 types of discourse analysis.

Critical Discourse Analysis Characteristics

Critical discourse analysis or CDA is a cross-disciplinary methodological and theoretical approach. It focuses on the issues of power and inequalities in linguistic interactions between individuals and groups. It’s closely related to applied linguistics, cultural and social studies, anthropology, intercultural communication, and critical pedagogy.

Choose a critical discourse analysis if you want to do the following:

  • Study meaning and context of the verbal interaction or a text.
  • Focus on the topics of identity and power.
  • Examine the potential for a change in an area.
  • Explore the connections between power and ideology.

Cultural Discourse Analysis Characteristics

Cultural discourse analysis or CuDA is a method of studying culturally distinctive communication practices in our world. In the communication field, CuDA is most often used by scholars of Language and Social Interaction.

Choose a cultural discourse analysis if you’re interested in:

  • Studying culturally-specific means of communication in various local contexts.
  • Seeing how people talk about identity, relations, actions, and feelings.
  • Proving that the differences should be acknowledged, embraced, and celebrated in intercultural dialogue.

Political Discourse Analysis Characteristics

Political discourse analysis or PDA focuses on the use of language in politics, political texts, and documents. It also includes the recipients of communicative political events, such as the citizens and the general public. Therefore, it can be said the discourse is located in both political and public spheres.

Choose a political discourse analysis if you want to do the following:

  • Deal with the concepts of political power, powerabuse, or domination.
  • Examine the discursive conditions and consequences of social and political inequality.
  • Analyze the words and actions of politicians.

Multimodal Discourse Analysis Characteristics

Multimodal discourse analysis is a technique that implies looking at multiple modes of communication such as text, color, and images. It studies how they interact with one another to create semiotic meaning.

Each mode of communication plays a specific role in the analysis. A picture, for instance, can easily depict something that takes too long to describe in words. Colors are mainly used to highlight specific aspects of the general message.

Choose a multimodal discourse analysis if you plan to:

  • Look at several modes of communication at once.
  • Conduct a nuanced and complex analysis of visual media.
  • Work with online sources and platforms. 

Approaches to Discourse Analysis: How to Choose

Now that you’ve chosen the type of discourse analysis, it’s time to choose a suitable approach. There are two approaches to discourse analysis: language-in-use and socio-political discourse analysis.

  • The language-in-use approach mainly focuses on the regular use of language in communication. It pays attention to sentence structure, phonology, and grammar. This approach is very descriptive and is mainly used in linguistics or literature.
  • The socio-political approach focuses on how a language influences the social and political context and vice versa. One of the main socio-political approaches is Critical Discourse Analysis, born out of Michel Foucault’s work Discipline and Punish. It identifies two types of power: normalized and repressive (you can read about in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on Foucault.) 

The language-in-use framework involves identifying the technicalities of language and investigating how the features are used in a particular social context. 

Example:

the English language usually uses affixes and suffixes but not infixes. If an English speaker says something similar to “that’s un-flipping-believable,” the questions for this approach would be “What role does the infix play?” or “What is the goal of using such an infix?” 

Now let’s see an example of a socio-political approach. We’ll take the power dynamic between a teacher and a student as an illustration.

Example:

A teacher threatening a student with detention if they don’t stop speaking in class can be classified as a repressive power. Normalized power, in contrast, isn’t actively asserted. It’s the power that makes students not want to talk in class. It’s manifested in the subtle clues from our environment that tell students how to behave.

👣 How to Do Discourse Analysis Step by Step

Now you are finally ready to start writing your discourse analysis. Follow our step-by-step guide, and you’ll excel at it.

Step #1: Choose the research question and select the content of the analysis.

Coming up with a clearly defined research question is crucial. There’s no universal set of criteria for a good research question. However, try to make sure that you research question:

  • clearly states the purpose of the work;
  • is not too broad or too narrow;
  • can be investigated and has enough sources to rely on;
  • allows you to conduct an analysis;
  • is not too difficult to answer.

Step #2: Gather information.

Go through interviews, speeches, discussions, blogs, etc., to collect all the necessary information. Make sure to gather factual details of when and where the content you will use was created, who the author is, and who published it.

Step #3: Study the context.

This step involves a close examination of various elements of the gathered material.

  • Take a closer look at the words used in the source text, its sentences, paragraphs, and overall structure.
  • Consider 3 constructs of context: participants, setting, and purpose. These 3 characteristics reflect information about the individual, their emotional state, and their identity as members of a societal group.

Step #4: Review the results.

Once you’ve researched and examined all the sources, it’s time to reflect on your results and place your analysis in a broader context.

  • To establish a broader context, you may consider what events have impacted the topic you are writing about and the consequences.  
  • Finally, draw conclusions that answer your research question. 

Step #5: Make an outline.

Before you are all set with your discourse analysis, one last step is to write an outline. Usually, a discourse analysis essay consists of six parts:

Introduction It includes a brief description of the topic along with some background information.
Aim and research questions In this part, you need to state why you’re doing this research, its primary goal, and the question you will focus on.
The model of analysis Here you can explain how you’ll analyze and what approach you plan to use.
The data used In this section of an essay, you can talk about the type of data you’ll use for your research and introduce some sources.
Results Elaborate on the results of your research. Explain what the results imply and how they answer the question of your essay.
Conclusion Summarize the information, draw conclusions, and see how they help answer your research question.

📑 Example of Discourse Analysis Essay

Now that you know all about discourse analysis, we will introduce an example of a discourse analysis essay. From this sample, you can see what the layout of this kind of essay usually looks like. 

Introduction My project explores the problem of sexual violence, which continues to be a social issue, and the positive impact the #MeToo movement has made to solve it. #MeToo is a social movement that openly discusses the problem of violence and speaks up against sexual abuse and harassment.
Aim and research questions The guiding research question for my analysis is:what is the most significant positive change that came from the #MeToo movement?
The model of analysis My approach includes an analysis of tweets and the #metoo hashtag, as they help trace the movement’s development and reflect people’s honest opinions on it.I started with the essential tools: a laptop and a Twitter account. From there, I used the search bar to type in the hashtag #MeToo, and then I randomly selected a sample of 50 tweets. I coded the data based on the categories I produced while also being mindful that one tweet can fall into several categories. For that reason, all the tweets are coded with the appropriate numbers.
The data used Before working on categories, I researched factual information regarding the topic and examined literary materials published within 5 years. After reading these sources, I came up with 4 categories in order to make the coding process easier. The categories that I decided upon are:
  • Rsing awareness, 
  • Victims getting financial restitution,
  • Introducing protection/laws protecting workers,
  • Banning nondisclosure agreements.
Results The conducted research provided me with all the necessary information to illustrate the answer to my question. The conversations about sexual harassment and violence worldwide are being spread through the use of the hashtag #MeToo. This was shared through many news stories, events related to the topic of sexual harassment, and information referencing facts.
Conclusion In conclusion, a critical discourse analysis of 50 tweets illustrates the significant positive change that came from the #MeToo movement. This sample illustrates that thanks to the campaign, people’s awareness of the crimes of sexual assault has risen, as most tweets were coded as such. The sharing of this discourse is powerful in preventing the worldwide spread of sexual violence. It keeps the conversations going and raises awareness. 

You might also want to check out the discourse analysis samples below.

Thanks for reading till the end! We hope you’ve enjoyed the article and found lots of helpful information. If you did, feel free to share it with your friends. We wish you good luck with the discourse analysis essay!

Further reading

❓ Discourse Analysis FAQs

What is literary discourse analysis?

Literary discourse analysis is a type of discourse analysis that deals with literature and is viewed as a relatively new approach to it. It integrates the analysis of literature and non-literary genres in an innovative study of discourse.

What is a rhetorical discourse?

Rhetoric uses language to appeal to emotions to persuade, inform, or motivate the audience. Rhetorical discourse is used to study texts aimed at specific audiences. Such texts often try to convince or persuade people by using particular language and arguments. 

What is critical discourse analysis?

Critical discourse analysis focuses on issues of power and inequalities in linguistic interactions between individuals and different groups. It studies the role of power in the social construction of difference and examines how it’s created, questioned or inflicted through communication.

What is discourse analysis in qualitative research?

Discourse analysis is a blanket term that encompasses a range of qualitative research approaches that analyze the use of language in social contexts. These techniques help understand the underlying message of what people say and how they say it, whereas in face-to-face conversation, non-verbal interaction, documents, or images.

How do you write a discourse community analysis?

To write a discourse analysis of any community, you need to examine and understand it. Ask yourself these questions and try to identify the patterns:

1. What ideas or concerns keep the community together?
2. What kind of langue does it use?
3. Does it produce any written documents?

🔍 References

This article was developed by the editorial team of Custom-Writing.org, a professional writing service with 3-hour delivery.
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