Notes: Meyer, K.A. A Study of Online Discourse at The Chronicle of Higher Education

Meyer, K.A. (2010). A Study of Online Discourse at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Innovative Higher Education (2010) vol. 35 pp. 143-160.

Abstract: Given the explosive growth of online communications, new forms of discourse are an intriguing topic of study. This research focused on ten online discussions hosted by The Chronicle of Higher Education, using content and discourse analysis of the postings to answer several questions. What is the “conversational scaffolding” used by posters in higher education-related online discussions? Are academic online discussions more like speech or writing? Additional questions dealt with how posters identify themselves, who their audience is, what motivates them, how accurate and political they are, and what the experience of reading these online discussions is like. Based on the analyses, these posters were more likely to write correctly although with diary-like personal insights. Through the analysis I also identified both positive and negative aspects of the online discussion experience.

on discourse analysis:

Baron’s research (2008)1 offers a type of “discourse analysis” (Fulcher n.d.), which has a long research tradition in the communications and media literature. Discourse analysis is a way of understanding social interactions, which online discussions are although they depend on writing to communicate and a web site as the medium. To engage in discourse analysis, a conversation is transcribed and deconstructed, each utterance is examined (in this case, a posting to the discussion served as an utterance), and themes are noted.


Discourse analysis is defined by Palmquist (n.d., ¶ 4)2 as the “application of critical thought to social situations and the unveiling of hidden (or not so hidden)” politics, motivations, issues, and perceptions. It is a form of deconstruction, identifying features in the text (such as themes and word choices) in each sentence or thought (Fulcher n.d.)3 . In discourse analysis, several items are analyzed, including sentence construction, grammar, stress, tone, and word choice; there are no set formulae for conducting discourse analysis (Rogers 2004)4.


In May 2009, I pulled ten online discussions from the Forums section of The Chronicle of Higher Education; these ten discussions were less than 10% of the 124 discussions available at the time.

ethics clearance:

Since they were posting to a public web site and they opted to use screen names that may or may not identify them, human subjects review and approval was not needed. This also means that the subjects did not consent to be involved in this study although their choice to post to a public site assumes that they were willing to have their words read and analyzed.


Data collected on each discussion included:

1. total number of posts
2. number of sentences
3. average number of sentences per post
4. total number of words in the discussion
5. average number of words per post
6. range in number of words in posts
7. percent of abbreviations (e.g., NSF for National Science Foundation or “lol” for “laughing out loud”) per discussion
8. percent of acronyms
9. percent of contractions
10. percent of emoticons
11. percent of spelling errors
12. percent of punctuation errors

DN: so? none of these 12 types of data get at the discourse. what is the pattern of interaction? levels of engagement? etc… this is simple content analysis. After talking about discourse analysis in the intro, they revert to content analysis?


DN: basically, that people post stuff online. they may or may not do it anonymously. they may or may not post about academic stuff. they are, apparently, human, and do stuff that humans do. The paper isn’t much use to what I’m doing, but some of the references are interesting for background.

  1. Baron, N. S. (2008). Always on: Language in an online and mobile world. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ↩︎

  2. Palmquist. R. (n.d.). Discourse analysis. Retrieved June 4, 2009 from ↩︎

  3. Fulcher, E. (n.d.). What is discourse analysis? Retrieved June 4, 2009 from [ discourse_analysis.html]( discourse_analysis.html) ↩︎

  4. Rogers, R. (2004). An introduction to critical discourse analysis in education. In R. Rogers (Ed.), An Introduction to Critical Discourse Analysis in Education (pp. 1–18). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. ↩︎

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