Welcome to the Academic Writing Community! -->

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Welcome to the Academic Writing Community!


Rachel Grammer
By Rachel Grammer, Writing Consultant

Recently, as I sat staring at the blank computer screen, I felt myself shrinking from the keyboard. I knew what I wanted to write in this email to the director of my department, but I also knew that it had to be different than the one-sentence emails with emoticons that I shot off to my colleagues frequently. I struggled to find the words that meant precisely what I wanted to say, and I started to feel that familiar self-talk creep in: I must be incompetent or incapable. I’ll never learn how to navigate this world of corporate language.

It is times like these when I have to remind myself of the truth: It’s not a deficit in me. It’s a new discourse! And I’m not alone.

Discourse is another way to describe the way we speak and write. When I talk to friends on the phone (with a few of those long Minnesota Os thrown in), that is one area of discourse. When I sit down to write a formal letter to my supervisor, that is a different area of discourse. In fact, linguists classify these areas as discourse communities in order to show that environment or context changes our use of language. It’s similar to switching between languages. However, you don’t have to be bilingual to be in multiple discourse communities at once. In fact, within a day people usually navigate among many discourse communities and communication contexts: home vs. school, elders vs. peers, speaking vs. writing, and so on. 

We are all born into discourse communities and we often define ourselves by them, but some must be learned. For example, as I entered the world of overseas teaching, I had to learn how to communicate in a particular bilingual discourse community of Turkish- English speakers. Another such learned discourse community is that of academic writing.

While your dialect, accent, or native language may not match that of academic writing, the good news is that you are not alone: No one speaks a standard language by nature, so everyone has to learn the discourse of academic writing! And once you master it, you can choose to span more than one linguistic community at a time.

So the next time you feel that academic language is stifling your true language, remember to take a step back and let yourself breathe. You’re not alone! It’s not an attack on your identity or any deficit in you—you are simply entering into a new discourse community, and your peers are all there with you. To meet some of these peers, “like” the Writing Center on Facebook.

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