McCreight

Marianne Frontino McCreightPicture

3 December 2016

(Revised essay and Reflection Essay

follows this draft)

Discourse Community Analysis of Project Semicolon’s Facebook Communications

Introduction

It was a sight that would become familiar after I joined Twitter in May of 2015: A  photo of someone with a semicolon punctuation mark tattooed somewhere on their body and a story that started with words similar to, “My name is xxx and this is my story.” With my curiosity duly aroused, I searched to discover why people were getting punctuation tattoos that had a significance I couldn’t imagine.  

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(Images uploaded to Project Semicolon Facebook & Twitter posts or the media articles linked below.)

I discovered a movement called Project Semicolon (PS). The movement had a website, a blog, and a presence on the social media platforms Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter where I first saw the semicolon tattoos. This unlikely community is an encouraging, worldwide movement of strangers linked without personal connection or formal membership. They are voluntarily involved in a movement that uses the Internet, a blog, and social media to communicate their message. I found that these platforms were all places where some people came to give, some came to receive, and some came to do both. In this essay, I will explain and analyze how the rhetorical communication of Project Semicolon’s Facebook web community works.ur story isn't over yet.png

Movement Background

Amy Bleuel, from the Green Bay, Wisconsin area, started Project Semicolon in April of 2013 in memory of her father, who committed suicide. She has also attempted suicide, suffered from bullying and rape, and fought depression and self-harm tendencies through cutting. The Project’s Twitter profile says: “Project Semicolon is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who struggle with mental illness, suicide, addiction, and self-injury.” Their website says this is their Mission Statement (adding “global” before “non-profit”). The website also explains the tattoo’s significance.

A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen

 to end their sentence but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.” (Project)

Their tagline is the affirmation:

 “Your story is not over.”

The personal stories shared on their blog by different members all bear the affirmation:

“Hope is Alive.”

The movement gained viral popularity through their own social media and blog posts, and then stories in traditional media like magazines, Internet news like Huffingtion Post and  London’s Daily Mail, website blogs, radio, YouTube, and TV stations like Tampa Bay’s ABC Action News, Boston’s ABC2 News,  Grand Junction, Colorado’s Western Slope Now news station, and London’s BBC Trending News. Partnerships with high-visibility organizations like the company Vans and a NASCAR racing car have also helped the movement spread globally. These organic or unpaid sources of advertising, combined with their own social media, have increased the project’s reach to a worldwide audience. news.png

            racecar.png              vans.png

Rhetorical Discourse

To effectively explain the rhetorical discourse on PS’s Facebook page, I conducted a discourse community analysis, which is described by Professor John Swales in his essay titled “The Concept of Discourse Community” from the book Writing about Writing. Swales describes a discourse community (DC) as a rhetorical framework used to analyze how people use language and texts to achieve common goals (Swales 215). He formulated the following six criteria or things to look for when conducting a discourse community analysis: “Common goals, participatory mechanisms, information exchange, community specific genres, a highly specialized terminology, and a high general level of expertise” (Swales 221). Despite these six criteria, Swales says that, ”It is the commonality of goal, not shared object of study, that is criterial” (Swales 220).  

Swales differentiates a discourse community from a speech community by saying that discourse communities:

He makes the distinction between discourse and speech community to help us determine if a community qualifies as a DC. It is these criteria and distinctions that I use as the framework for this rhetorical analysis of how the written communications on PS’s Facebook page accomplish the group’s goals and form a discourse community.

Analysis Lexicon

        It is necessary to define some of the terms I will be using for the sake of clarity.

Target Audience

        The target audience for PS discourse, as communicated in the PS Mission Statement, is “people who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction, and self-injury” (PS Mission). People with these conditions form the body of people targeted by PS leadership discourse, whose goal is “to encourage, love and inspire” (PS Mission) their audience to “achieve lower suicide rates in the US and around the world” (PS Vision).

When you look at the organizational Vision published on PS’s website, though, you see that their vision includes a broader group of people, those who are the sufferers and also people who support the sufferers. The PS Facebook DC consists of this larger target audience.

Membership Designation

There are only two outward signs of membership in the PS Facebook DC:

My analysis showed membership in the community is voluntary and informal and is demonstrated by sharing texts (discourse) on PS’s Facebook page, in whatever form the texts take. This discourse (and that shared in all of PS’s DCs) fall into two broad origination categories: Those shared by the owners (leadership) of the PS platforms and those written by people in the general public (members). The two forms of texts shared in the community are textual and graphic discourse.

Rationale for Choosing Facebook Platform for Analysis

While Instagram has traditionally been a social media that uses graphic image discourse with some text, and Twitter has been a micro-blogging (text) social media platform with some graphic image discourse, these discourse modes are in flux. In my analysis, I found that PS’s Twitter, Google+, and Instagram platforms have some re-postings or comments from PS leadership but any original messages are almost exclusively by community members using the #ProjectSemicolon hashtag. The PS leadership create original texts on the Facebook page or on the PS blog. I chose the Facebook discourse community to analyze for this reason.  

Community Specific Rhetorical Genres

        One of the criteria Swales gives for determining if a group constitutes a discourse community is that DC’s have community-specific rhetorical genres. He demonstrates in his essay that different discourse communities have genres that even people outside the community recognize. That makes sense to me when I think about the notes from a Stenotype machine used by a court reporter. While most people who look at the paper notes generated by a Stenotype machine cannot read what they say, they are able to recognize it as stenotype writing.

In the last paragraph of the introduction to Swales’ essay, the book says that, "It might be helpful to think of genres as textual tools used by groups of people as they work toward their desired ends” (Swales 216). This was helpful but I thought I needed more direction to figure out the genre(s) of PS’s DC. I went to Professor Kerry Dirk’s essay, “Navigating Genres” from the book Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, Vol. 1. She explains that people use genres or types of texts that they know about to help them construct their own writing so it meets the needs of the community the text works in. The community recognizes these texts because genres recur and develop over time so they have seen them before (Dirk 203).

Swales says, “a discourse community has developed and continues to develop discoursal expectations. These may involve appropriacy of topics, the form, function and positioning of discoursal elements, and the roles texts play in the operation of the discourse community” (Swales 221). From my interpretation of Dirk's essay on genre, the form, function and positioning he is talking about are what make up the accepted genres in that community. But then he quotes Martin, explaining, “In so far as ‘genres are how things get done when language is used to accomplish them’, these discoursal expectations are created by the genres that articulate the operations of the discourse community”(221-222). So, genres are the framework for the expected forms of communications of a discourse community.

Dirk explains that knowledge of genres goes beyond discussing types and says it is helpful to look for common features, the style, and the tone to help in determining genre (Dirk 250). She quotes Devitt who said, “Genres have the power to help or hurt human interaction, to ease communication or to deceive, to enable someone to speak or to discourage someone from saying something different” (252). Dirk paraphrases him in saying, “Knowing what a genre is used for can help people to accomplish goals” (253). Dirk quotes Devitt again when he points out that “location is surely among the situational elements that lead to expected genres and to adaptations of those genres in particular situations” (“Transferability” 218).(255) She quotes this to explain when she says that “two texts that might fit into the same genre might also look extremely different” (253).

Based on these explanations of genre, PS’s different types of Facebook texts, which I list in the Leadership Discourse and Member Discourse sections below, would mostly fall into different genres, including biographical story texts, graphic texts, inspirational/affirming texts, promotional texts, and informational texts.

Discourse Community Text Analysis

I looked at the discourse style on all of PS’s social media platforms, their website, and their blog to begin my analysis. Some patterns emerged from the different texts and platforms so I decided to complete my analysis by following the same grounded-theory approach of categorizing the discourse as William I. Wolff did in his Twitter Bruce Springsteen fandom analysis titled “Baby, We Were Born to Tweet” (Wolff). This simply means that I evaluated the various texts and grouped them based on common characteristics that weren’t predetermined and aren’t dependent on any criteria to be part of the PS discourse community.  

Leadership Discourse

PS’s leadership texts in the Facebook DC are generally shared to their other social media platforms. I categorize the texts in the following ways:

The PS leadership regularly post links to a national suicide hotline with the message that PS doesn’t provide crisis outreach, and occasionally PS communicates requests for donations to the movement or relays the availability of the movement founder for speaking engagements. Sometimes the leadership texts are promoting an event where PS supporters and/or leadership will be, like in the Vans or NASCAR posts illustrated above.

Public Member Discourse

In contrast to these project leadership texts, the original member posts fall into three categories in the vast majority of texts I analyzed. The majority of DC member texts have a graphic showing a semicolon tattoo and seem to come in forms as varied as the body parts members show them etched onto. The graphics always have texts with them. Some are short messages of thanks for providing the forum and an explanation of the personal symbolism of their tattoo or their inspiration for getting it; others are long postings where the member tells their personal story.

The various stories include such reasons as memorializing a successful accomplishment in their struggle against one of the target diseases, memorializing a person(s) lost to suicide or one of those diseases, as a reminder of their commitment to healthy behavior, or as a sign of their support for the sufferers and against the stigma that comes with the diseases.

The second most prominent type of texts that originate with members are the responses to other members’ personal stories. These communications between community members create connections based on their lives, experiences, and overcoming similar suffering. The responses are most often affirmations of the original writer, and sometimes they are offers of encouragement or information on resources for further assistance.

The third most common type of text originating from community members are messages from people who are connected in some way with people suffering from the target illnesses. This includes family and friends of sufferers as well as professionals who treat them. Some may argue that since hey are not the ones suffering from the conditions, they should not be members of the community. However, it is undeniably true that people who have a loved one that killed themselves are definitely a “survivor” of suicide (as the loved one left behind). And the families of people with addictions or who self-harm usually suffer as much as survivors of failed suicide attempts or the other diseases. 

Overall Discourse Analysis

All these text types or genres seem to work together to provide the support that is the goal of the community; they create a shared identity and feeling of membership and demonstrate how the community members achieve the common goal of providing hope and love to those suffering from mental illness, addiction, self-injury, or suicide.

If you group all the leadership and member writings together, the links sharing personal stories from members who have gotten semicolon tattoos were most common. After those texts, I found the posts with links to content from other organizations most prevalent, followed by the encouraging new comments on other members’ posts and links to specific resources in mostly equal numbers. Then there were just a few promotional communications from DC leadership and partners.

I was surprised that the second most common type of text, the encouraging responses to member stories, were most commonly from community members who read the stories of the people who have gotten tattoos. While the posts on Facebook and the blog all originate with the Semicolon Project leadership, the story messages and responses to them are mostly texts written by community members and not initiated by the community leadership. In my opinion, this is a shortcoming on the part of the community leadership because it appears from my analysis that it is one of the most important forms of discourse shared in the community.  

I compared the Project Semicolon Facebook DC to other organizations within the larger genre of suicide prevention and assistance outreach. DC analysis helped me discern that it is noticeably different than these other communities because it doesn’t do emergency counseling or outreach. This was apparent while doing the analysis because I was looking at the function and content of the texts to help define exactly what the discourse is accomplishing.

I also found some web communities that have the same or similar goals as PS and also do not provide outreach. The organization To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.

The Trevor Project is geared to LGBTQ youth, ages 13-24. They do outreach but they also have a social networking site called Trevor Space where LGBTQ youth and their friends and family interact which is very similar to the PS Facebook DC. The National Eating Disorders organization has a blog where visitors can also interact in the same way. Proud2Bme is their site where people with any eating disorders can go for news, inspiration, learning, and to get involved.

 Live Through This is an organization started by a girl who photographs and interviews people and then puts their stories on a website to provide hope and encouragement to others. While the resulting images and texts are very similar to PS’s, the founder is actually having first-hand discourse with the people and writing the stories after the live interviews and photo shoots.

 There is also an online community called The Mighty which says it is for people who face disability, disease and mental illness—together. They also do outreach and other support but they have a blog that is meant to provide a story-based health community by publishing the real stories of the visitors meant to inspire and encourage others.

Conclusion ~ Designation as a Discourse Community

 In this essay I have explained and analyzed how the rhetorical communication in Project Semicolon’s Facebook web community works. In accomplishing this goal, I have described how the PS Facebook participants create a discourse community according to Swales’ six necessary criteria:

The community shares common goals, as evidences in the texts of both the leadership and public members. While the goals are enumerated on the organization’s website, they are demonstrated in the Facebook web discourse community. participatory mechanisms, this is shown through the different communication platforms and the different types of messages, textual and graphic. Graphic editing, internet use, uploading attachments

The members exchange information, as demonstrated through the comments members leave in response to other members’ messages as well as the informational posts by the DC leadership and professional membership.

There are community specific genres, demonstrated in the story messages posted by the PS leadership that are always formatted the same, and also in the community specific symbol, a semicolon.

The community members show a highly specialized terminology, shown in the member texts that refer to terminology specific to the diseases targeted by PS. “Cutting” refers to people who inflict self-injury through cutting their skin; “inked” refers to getting a tattoo, etc.

And finally, the community members show a high general level of expertise, which is demonstrated by the high-quality of the resources linked in the informational posts and sometimes shared by public members who are professionals in the healthcare fields pertinent to the targeted audience.

            Discourse community?  Affirmative.


Works Cited

Bleuel, Amy. “Project Semicolon.” http://www.projectsemicolon.org.

Dirk, Kerry. “Navigating Genres.” Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, Vol. 1, edited by Charles Lowe and Pavel Zemliansky. Parlor Press, 2010, pp. 249-262.

National Eating Disorders Association. “Proud2BMe.” http://www.proud2bme.org.

Porath, Mike. “The Mighty.” https://themighty.com.

Stage, Dese’Rae L. “Live Through This.” http://livethroughthis.org. 

Swales, John. “The Concept of Discourse Community.” Writing about Writing, edited by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs. Macmillian, 2014, pp. 214-228.

The Trevor Project. “TrevorSpace.” www.trevorspace.org.

Tworkowski, Jamie. “To Write Love on Her Arms.” https://twloha.com.

Wolff, William I. “Baby, We Were Born to Tweet: Springsteen Fans, the Writing Practices of In Situ Tweeting, and the Research Possibilities for Twitter.” Kairos, Special Issue Editors Stephanie Vie & Douglas Walls, Iss 19.3, Summer 2015. http://technorhetoric.net/19.3/topoi/wolff/index.html.


(Revision project reflection essay starts on next page)


Revision Project Reflection Essay

The best thing about having the opportunity to revise a class project is that you have had an opportunity to reflect upon what you did, on the comments of your peer reviewers and professor, and you then get another chance to create a piece of writing that you will hopefully feel better about. That is what happened in this assignment. I was reminded of something David Bartholomae said in the article “Against the Grain.”

“The manuscript was sometimes incomplete, sometimes overdone, and often disorganized. And so I learned to add, subtract, and rearrange - the kind of revision that comes when you can step back, look again, and rework a piece you have begun. I find this kind of work to be fundamentally different from the kind of work that is involved in putting words on the page for the first time. I am, frankly, grateful to be able to do this kind of revision, since it allows me a certain grace or forgiveness when I pound out a draft" (195).

 That explains exactly how I feel about my original Web Genre/Discourse Community project, which is why I chose to revise for this assignment. Although I worked on the original (Pages 1-16 above) for hours, really agonizing over every little detail, there were many parts of it where I wasn’t sure they were what my professor was looking for or if it was meeting the goals of the project. I told him it was as hard as birthing a baby, mostly because it was birthed and was my baby (for a few days, anyway).

I realized when I was contemplating a project revision that my Web Genre/Discourse Community project was all wrong and I needed to throw the baby out with the bathwater (so to speak). The original above was almost totally focused on the community for the first third of the project, but it shouldn’t have; it should have been focused on the topics of genres and discourse communities for internet writing with the Project Semicolon organization’s Facebook page merely used for examples/reference. (That’s how I interpret it, anyway).

                In re-visioning this assignment, my goal was to create a conversational, blog post style document that anyone could read and learn what genre and discourse community meant. I intended to make it witty or humorous, which is not academic style but certainly blog post style. I know some of my classmates say you should never use a contraction in an essay, but I think the writing should flow like conversation, and that means using contractions so your dialogue isn’t stilted. Writing it blog post style freed me to do just that.

                I think I was also channeling Sara Allen who wrote the essay "The Inspired Writer Versus the Real Writer" because I wrote about how I thought I was an “inspired writer” before starting my degree and have since learned that it’s not so easy. She said on page 36 of the essay,

". . . the great irony of this figure’s story is that the Inspired Writer is really the transcendent distortion of real-life writers. It’s much more likely that most of those great, real-life writers got their inked hands from gripping too hard their quills or pens in frustration, as they hovered over pages with more slashes, margin-notes, and edits than clean, untouched sentences set in perfect lines."

 I was that real-life writer for this project.

                In another part of her essay, she is explaining her feelings about being a writer. On page 38 she says,

"I didn’t know the vocabulary; I didn’t know the issues; I didn’t think in the right order; I didn’t quote properly; and I was far too interested in the sinking, spinning feeling that writing—and reading—sometimes gave me, instead of being interested in the rigorousness of scholarly work, in modeling that work, and in becoming a member of this strange discourse community" (38).

I can totally relate to what she says because I felt like I struggled with these things doing this project the first time, and that I was able to think clearer to accomplish this scholarly work in the revision. Near the end of her article, Allen says, "if they have written anything in their lives worth writing, then it took some effort to do so“(41). Somehow I am comforted into thinking that this revision essay is “real” writing.

                When I was re-visioning this project, I was reminded of Paul Lynch’s essay, “The Sixth Paragraph: A Re-Vision of the Essay.” The style I was trying to mimic in this re-write is like what he described on page 296:

"The essayist here sounds like a peer or a friend rather than an expert or a professional. What’s more, she takes a mundane experience and tries to turn it into something more serious, and thus she finds a subject that might interest her more than the standard research topics that demand us to be 'for' something or 'against' something . . .” (296).

                The hardest part of this project has been to make it shorter. I thought I did good in my revision but found it was only about 500 words shorter than the original when I was done. I immediately went back to the chopping block and ruthlessly began shearing off slices. It made me sad to cut out some of my pithy comments that made me feel so witty but I was determined to cut, cut, cut. I managed to remove over 600 words without feeling like it would bleed to death.

                That is another reason why I love revision projects. I bet if I picked it up every week, I could cut a little each time and eventually end up with a concise, coherent, and organized writing. However, I believe this revision as a blog post is much better than the original. My goal for this revision project was to write an essay that anyone could read and understand; I think the result meets my goal.

(Revision Project starts on next page)


Genre and Discourse Community in Rhetorical Analysis of Writing

Learning what writing style and technology are, in relation to the study of writing, is a task for the strong-hearted among us. Indeed, I have worked harder in this last semester of college to earn my bachelor degree than I have worked throughout the last 3 years I have been pursuing this higher education. (I never had to pull all-nighters in court reporting college, either.) This isn’t my first rodeo (this is my second college experience). I have lived a varied and full life for 50+ years, including many writing experiences throughout that time, so I expected the time I spent earning a writing degree to be fairly routine and boring, simply going through the motions to get the degree required for a technical writing career. Almost every semester my classes prove that my assumptions about the education I’d get were all wrong.

Now that I am looking back on the semester and my writing education, my thoughts about writing all seem to funnel into one general idea: I thought I knew more about writing when I didn’t know anything about writing than I do now, after two years of writing instruction. That is a good thing; it means my education has been effective. As Aristotle put it (paraphrasing), you don’t know what you don’t know until you know. You know? Over the last few years, while I’ve learned more than I ever dreamed there was to learn about writing, I’ve also learned there’s a lot more to learn.

Two topics I have learned about this semester are what genre and discourse communities are, when it comes to the rhetorical analysis of writing. I can say I knew what genre and discourse community were, and also what rhetorical analysis was, before the semester started. However, I definitely didn’t know as much as I thought I knew about them.

Just about everyone in the US, from adolescence up, has heard of “genre.” If we watch TV or movies or listen to music, we know what genre means. I could and did apply the term to the study of writing and came up with a pretty good idea of what it means in relation to professional writing. (I didn’t know what I didn’t know, though.) With regard to the concept of discourse communities, once again, after a simple explanation of the term I thought I knew all about them. In fact, I studied discourse communities in my 400 level technical writing class as well as my technical writing senior seminar class last fall and winter. However, here again, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

We studied the work of two writing professors to learn more about genre and discourse communities in relation to writing. Initially, I thought this was going to be more of the same old stuff. However, once we began to delve into the intricacies and nuances of what genre is, and how you can use the concept of discourse communities to analyze genre in rhetorical writing, I was fascinated.

John Swales, a retired professor of linguistics from University of Michigan, wrote the article ''The Concept of Discourse Community," in the book Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. He gets into the nitty-gritty on using the tool of discourse community analysis to rhetorically study writing in groups. Part of that analysis includes the genres of the community. It is high-level, dense reading but he clearly explains what a discourse community is in the rhetorical analysis of writing.

Professor Kerry Dirk, writing instructor from Virginia Tech, wrote the article “Navigating Genres” for the open source, online college writing textbook Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, Volume 1. Her conversational essay geared toward first-year college students, goes into the study of genre to a degree I never dreamed possible, all without blowing the writing student out of the water.

After reading these and other articles this semester, I think I even know enough to be able to explain to you what genre and discourse community mean. To do that, though, it will be useful to choose a writing community for examples. I chose a writing platform most people are familiar with: Facebook. The community I will use in this discussion is the page of the non-profit organization “Project Semicolon.” I learned about Project Semicolon a few years ago from posts I saw on Twitter and Facebook during the summer of 2015 semester. I was intrigued by their social media posts so I dug a little deeper to find out more. Now I want to get a semicolon tattoo!

Swales describes discourse communities (DC) as rhetorical frameworks used to analyze how people use language and texts to achieve common goals (Swales 215). He formulated the following six criteria to look for when conducting a discourse community analysis: “Common goals, participatory mechanisms, information exchange, community specific genres, a highly specialized terminology, and a high general level of expertise” (Swales 221). He also says: “It is the commonality of goal, not shared object of study, that is criterial” (Swales 220).  

If you’re like me, you read that last paragraph and said, “Yeah, sure, whatever you say.” Of course, you can read it slowly, break it down, dissect the pieces, and figure out what he is saying. But why would you want to?  Speak English, man! Here’s my layperson or simple translation: Some people want to study the rhetorical significance of written communications within different groups. One type of group, called a discourse community, shares writings. Performing a discourse community analysis (DCA) will help you determine if a group falls within the definition of a “discourse community.” A DCA is best done using the structure Swales gave us by looking at the six different criteria. Following this framework will help you figure out how people communicate and achieve the goals of their community. (Why didn’t he just say that?)

So, if you want to (or need to) write something that you are not sure what to say or how to say it, you could use Swales’ six criteria to analyze texts from the discourse community you are writing for. The questions you should try to answer in your analysis are as follows: What are the community’s shared goals? (This is the most important criteria; they must share goals.) How do community members participate? (What tools do they use? What habits do they follow?) How do community members exchange information? (Homing pigeons, smoke signals, Morse Code?) What are the specific genres of communication within the community? (Hate speech? Political mumbo jumbo? Empty promises?) Do they have a special terminology that is just theirs or that they all understand? (I had bubble-gum talk, a secret language shared with my friends in middle school.) Do they have a high general level of expertise in the subject of their community? (Horticulture, deep sea diving, bank robbing?)

Once you have evaluated your group and found they meet all six criteria, you can say they are a discourse community. The only criteria that was a bit vague for me was the “specific genres of communication.” Looking to Kerry Dirk’s essay for help Navigating Genres here (Yes, that’s a pun on the name of her article I cite in this essay. Puns are another thing we learned about in Writing Style this semester.), she explains that people use genres or types of texts they know about to help them construct their own writing so it meets the needs of the community in which the text works. The community recognizes these texts because genres recur and develop over time so people in the community have seen them before (Dirk 203). This means that you use a previous memo to learn how to write a new memo (or grocery list or business letter) so readers will recognize it.

Swales explained how a discourse community develops discourse expectations, including whether a topic is appropriate, how it is formed, how it functions, where its parts are positioned, and what roles it plays in the operation of the discourse community (Swales 221). That means groups have expectations for their writings. These accepted genres of writing can change over time. (Thank goodness; Old English writing is so hard to read.) So, we use genres to communicate in written language, and the expected forms of the different written communications, called genre, tell us how the discourse community works (Swales 221-222).

Dirk explains in her article how knowing the differences between various genres involves more than just types of writings and says it’s helpful to look for common features like style and tone to help identify genres (Dirk 250). She also says, “Knowing what a genre is used for can help people to accomplish goals” (253) and explains, “two texts that might fit into the same genre might also look extremely different” (253). She quotes Devitt, who said that “location is […] among the situational elements that lead to expected genres and to adaptations of those genres in particular situations” (255). So that means, for example, that you would use a different genre when reporting a house fire than your kids would use while running around the bonfire pit out back and yelling “fire!”

All of this is easier to understand when you actually apply it to a group or community, which is what I did with Project Semicolon’s Facebook page.

Project Semicolon Facebook Page Discourse Community Analysis

Criteria 1:  What are the community’s shared goals?PS vision mission.png 

(Image of Project Semicolon Website Vision page)

These are Project Semicolon’s goals, as stated on their website and Facebook page. Public members demonstrate these shared goals in their texts posted on Facebook or in their comments to other people’s posts that are written in a loving, encouraging way. Public members have the additional goals of sharing their tattoo photos and stories about why they got them, or telling their personal story to get support in their struggle or provide encouragement to others.

(The Images beloware all screenshots copied from Project Semicolon’s Facebook Page.)

Criteria 2:  How do community members participate?

tatt.pngmayo pic.png

All participation is accomplished by posting text (with or without graphics) on the Facebook page using the Internet and a computer or a mobile device. Public members upload photos of their semicolon tattoos and write texts about why they got them. Leadership members post photos/text of Project Semicolon events and also post the personal stories from some public members. Membership in the community is voluntary and participation is informal, demonstrated by participation in the discourse in whatever form it takes, including images of semicolon tattoos.

Criteria 3: How do community members exchange information?

info2.pngcrisis.png

Texts exchanged in the community originate from the PS leadership or public members (people from the general public who choose to voluntarily participate). Information exchanged takes the form of textual, graphic, and video discourse. All exchanges occur on the Facebook page in original messages or comments in response to original messages or re-posts of messages/information from other places.

Criteria 4: What are the specific genres of communication within the community?

The genres of writings on Project Semicolon’s Facebook page include promotional, inspirational, informational, personal stories, and tattoos (These are my labels.). I started by looking at the posts on all of PS’s social media platforms, their website, and their blog. Some patterns emerged from the different texts and platforms which I also saw in the Facebook community. I used a grounded-theory approach of categorizing the discourse, which I learned from an article William I. Wolff did on his Bruce Springsteen Twitter fandom analysis titled Baby, We Were Born to Tweet(Wolff). This simply means that when I evaluated the various texts, I grouped them based on common characteristics that weren’t predetermined and aren’t dependent on any criteria.story pic.png

Personal story discourse genre is the public member personal stories, which are the most prevalent genre in the community. Personal story posts by PS leadership are uniformly formatted with graphics and are personal stories of hope and recovery. All personal stories, without exception, share a core of hope and love and are inspirational, providing insights learned from their experiences that may help others.

Supporter discourse genre is the writings from people connected with others suffering from the target illnesses, including family and friends of sufferers as well as professionals who treat them. Sometimes they post original messages and sometimes they post supportive comments on messages.inspire.png

The informational discourse genre are posted by PS leadership and include
writings/messages linked to outside organization resources and information like the WEB MD post above. These published articles are on subjects that support people with the conditions encompass
ed by the community, including suicide attempts, depression, mental health, mental illness stigma, anxiety, domestic violence, bullying, addiction, and self-injury.promo2.png

Promotional genre writings are written by the PS leadership and promote products sold for fundraising or the founder’s public appearances and speaking engagements or the movement’s partners. PS leadership regularly posts links to a national suicide hotline, sometimes with the message that PS doesn’t provide crisis outreach.

Inspirational genre discourse includes the encouraging messages meant to provide love, hope, and encouragement to people. Inspirational texts can be either stand-alone messages or comments in response to a text post (Like in the image with the tattoo photo above).tatt2.png

Tattoo discourse originates with public members and include a graphic of their tattoos. The posts usually include text, typically short messages of thanks for providing the forum and an explanation of the personal symbolism of their tattoo or their inspiration for getting it. Most tattoo posts are commented on by other public members.

The various stories in the tattoo posts, where they tell why they got a semicolon tattoo, include things like memorializing a successful accomplishment in their struggle against one of the target diseases, memorializing a person(s) lost to the diseases, a reminder of their commitment to healthy behavior, or as a sign of their support for the sufferers and against the stigma that comes with mental illness.

All these communications between community members create connections based on their lives, experiences, and overcoming similar suffering. The comments in response to public member posts are usually affirmations for the writer and sometimes encouragement or information on resources for further assistance. The text genres work together to accomplish the goal of the community; they create a shared identity and feeling of membership and demonstrate how the community members achieve the common goal of providing hope and love to those suffering from mental illness, addiction, self-injury, or suicide. The links sharing personal stories from members who have gotten semicolon tattoos are the most common.

Criteria 5: Do they have a special terminology that is just theirs
or that they all understand?  

The special terminology shared by the Project Semicolon community is the symbol they are named for, a semicolon. These texts come in forms as varied as the body parts members have them etched onto. Size, color, where it’s located, permanent or temporary, etched within other graphics or alone, this is the critical element common to the community that forms the connection between members, as one community member stated in post:

“Grammar pedants have long known that punctuation is everything. And even casual language buffs can tell you that commas save lives (surely you’ve seen the ‘Let’s eat Grandma’ vs. ‘Let’s eat, Grandma’ meme). But to thousands who may have never thought twice about a dangling modifier or a misplaced appositive, the semicolon has become their reason for enduring.

Thanks to Amy Bleuel, the often misunderstood symbol has morphed from a simple punctuation mark to a badge of pride for those who struggle with depression, suicide, addiction, anxiety, and self-injury.”

(Excerpt of Facebook post by author Cindy Alix Foley)

Criteria 6: Do they have a high general level of expertise in the
subject of their community?

Members of the community post resource and information articles from professionals in their fields. In addition, many of the general membership posts and comments on posts are made by mental health professionals. Public members who share their stories are experts on their stories and the experience of depression or whichever group they fall into. They are frequently the only people who “understand” someone who shares their depression story on the site. There are frequent stories and comments where people say those who haven’t been there just don’t understand them, which contributes to sufferers’ feelings of isolation and lack of support. The comments on posts say that they understand, they have also been there, or that they thank the posting members for the story that helps them not feel so alone.

I was able to discover the work that Project Semicolon does, and how that work takes place, by analyzing their Facebook page using the framework of a discourse community analysis, exactly what the process was intended to do. At this point, I bet you can say that you, too, know what a discourse community is. When I read Swales’ summary of traits, I thought of many different groups I’ve been in or known about throughout my life, including the Writing Style and Technology class discourse community I wrote this essay for.

Think about the groups or communities in your life and decide for yourself: Are they a group of people who share common goals, have mechanisms/tools to participate in the community, exchange information, have community specific genres, show a highly specialized terminology, and show a high general level of expertise? Now you have a tool you can use to help you write any new document for your different discourse communities.


Works Cited

Bleuel, Amy. “Project Semicolon Facebook page.” Created 16 Apr 2013. https://www.facebook.com/projectsemicolon. Accessed 27 Oct. 2016.

Dirk, Kerry. “Navigating Genres.” Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, Vol. 1, edited by Charles Lowe and Pavel Zemliansky. Parlor Press, 2010, pp. 249-262.

Swales, John. “The Concept of Discourse Community.” Writing about Writing, edited by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs. Macmillian, 2014, pp. 214-228.

Wolff, William I. “Baby, We Were Born to Tweet: Springsteen Fans, the Writing Practices of In Situ Tweeting, and the Research Possibilities for Twitter.” Kairos, Special Issue Editors Stephanie Vie & Douglas Walls, Iss 19.3, Summer 2015. http://technorhetoric.net/19.3/topoi/wolff/index.html.