Overview of Unit Two: Analyzing Texts

In Unit Two you will continue your exploration of the functions of language by investigating how language is used in particular ways (and with particular purposes) within specific academic disciplines or discourse communities. In this unit, you will be practicing the process of text analysis (using an analysis tool that will be given to you), then conducting an analysis of your own, choosing, drawing conclusions based on your findings, and writing an essay in which you discuss your conclusions, comparing them with those of one of your practice text analyses.

The most important part of this unit is your ability to interpret your findings and to draw conclusions based on these interpretations. Your essay will go beyond mere reportage of the discipline's language conventions to examine why and how these conventions are used, and what bearing they have on how writers in this discipline view themselves, their topics, and the discipline/field itself. For instance, let's say you are analyzing two texts: one from the field of biology and one from the field of law (particularly criminal defense). The topic of both of these texts might be the use of DNA evidence during trials. Yet an investigation of the language conventions of each group might reveal strong differences in the way they communicate about this "shared" topic. What would be the implications of these differences? In what ways do lawyers and scientists use language differently? And why? (What are their purposes for writing about the topic in the way that they do?) How do these differences shape the kind of writing they do on the job, for publication in journals, or for publication in the popular press? And what do these differences reveal about the values of each discipline regarding language conventions, the assumptions authors in each discipline make about the topic, and the ways that they view themselves as authors within their respective disciplines? These are examples of the types of questions you will address after completing your analyses, in an effort to understand not only what authors in different disciplines write about and how they do it, but why they do it in the particular way they do, and what this says about their fields.

Although this process of analysis might seem quite complicated right now, it will become much clearer once you have actually conducted a text analysis or two. You will have opportunities to do this in class, when your instructor will ask you to analyze, compare, and contrast texts on a common topic coming from different discourse communities. Writing these practice analyses will allow you to learn the process of analysis and the types of conclusions that you are expected to generate in your essay. You will then be ready to do all of this on your own.

Some of the skills you'll develop and refine in this unit include:

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