discourse analysis (DA)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Language discourse study
"In the end, discourse analysis is one way to engage in a very important human task. The task is this: to think more deeply about the meanings we give people's words so as to make ourselves better, more humane people and the world a better, more humane place" (J. P. Gee, An Introduction to Discourse Analysis, 2005). blackred / Getty Images


Discourse analysis is a broad term for the study of the ways in which language is used in texts and contexts. Also called discourse studies.

Developed in the 1970s, the field of discourse analysis is concerned with "the use of language in a running discourse, continued over a number of sentences, and involving the interaction of speaker (or writer) and auditor (or reader) in a specific situational context, and within a framework of social and cultural conventions" (Abrams and Harpham, A Glossary of Literary Terms, 2005).

Discourse analysis has been described as an interdisciplinary study of discourse within linguistics, though it has also been adopted (and adapted) by researchers in numerous other fields in the social sciences. Theoretical perspectives and approaches used in discourse analysis include the following: applied linguistics, conversation analysis, pragmatics, rhetoric, stylistics, and text linguistics, among many others. 

See the observations below. Also see:



  • "Discourse analysis is concerned with language use as a social phenomenon and therefore necessarily goes beyond one speaker or one newspaper article to find features which have a more generalized relevance. This is a potentially confusing point because the publication of research findings is generally presented through examples and the analyst may choose a single example or case to exemplify the features to be discussed, but those features are only of interest as a social, not individual, phenomenon."
    (Stephanie Taylor, What is Discourse Analysis? Bloomsbury, 2013)

  • "[Discourse analysis] is not only about method; it is also a perspective on the nature of language and its relationship to the central issues of the social sciences. More specifically, we see discourse analysis as a related collection of approaches to discourse, approaches that entail not only practices of data collection and analysis, but also a set of metatheoretical and theoretical assumptions and a body of research claims and studies."
    (Linda Wood and Rolf Kroger, Doing Discourse Analysis. Sage, 2000)
  • Grammatical Analysis and Discourse Analysis
    "The grammarian's 'data' is typically the single sentence, or a set of single sentences illustrating a particular feature of the language being studied. It is also typically the case that the grammarian will have constructed the sentence or sentences he uses as examples. . . .

    "In contrast, the analysis of discourse . . . is typically based on the linguistic output of someone other than the analyst. . . . More typically, the discourse analyst's 'data' is taken from written texts or tape recordings. It is rarely in the form of a single sentence. The type of linguistic material is sometimes described as 'performance data' and may contain features such as hesitations, slips, and non-standard forms which a linguist like Chomsky (1965) believed should not have to be accounted for in the grammar of a language."
    (G. Brown and G. Yule, Discourse Analysis. Cambridge University Press, 1983)
  • Discourse Analysis and Rhetorical Studies
    "The focus of rhetoricians' attention is widening . . . from public to private spheres, from official to vernacular rhetoric, from oratory to written and multimedia discourse, from the carefully crafted to spontaneous discourse emerging from fleeting everyday situations. Now we are asking not just about the rhetoric of politics, but also about the rhetoric of history and the rhetoric of popular culture; not just about the rhetoric of the public sphere but about rhetoric on the street, in the hair salon, or online; not just about the rhetoricity of formal argument but also about the rhetoricity of personal identity. To address these new concerns and sites we need to continue to supplement traditional modes of work with new techniques for analyzing the language of text and talk with ways of describing the sociocultural and material contexts of discourse. . . .

    "Scholars in rhetoric and composition studies have also issued calls for the inclusion of discourse analytic methods. [Susan Peck] Macdonald has termed discourse studies 'the interconnected fields of rhetoric and composition and applied linguistics' (2002)."
    (Christopher Eisenhart and Barbara Johnstone, "Discourse Analysis and Rhetorical Studies." Rhetoric in Detail: Discourse Analyses of Rhetorical Talk and Text. John Benjamins, 2008)