A modern history of written discourse analysis

Robert B. Kaplan, William Grabe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


The term discourse analysis has been used interchangeably in two separate contexts - spoken discourse (i.e., multiple-source dialogic) and written discourse (i.e., single-source monologic). Such a distinction, however, oversimplifies the situation; while there are obvious overlaps between the two, to some extent each has evolved in its own direction. Written discourse analysis, the subject of our discussion, is obviously closely connected with work in literacy, but it implicates a great heterogeneity of topics and approaches, including at least some from psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics. Discourse analysis, in the sense in which we are using it, emerged in the early 1970s. A modern history of written discourse analysis is perhaps best covered within a 40-50-year time span. In the course of that time, a number of new and emerging disciplines and research fields have contributed to systematic analyses of the linguistic features and patterns occurring in written texts. At the same time, other continuing disciplines have provided contributions that have been important and are ongoing. It should be fairly evident that any attempt to cover such a broad spectrum of views and disciplines would not be appropriate in a single article. We therefore intend to limit the scope of this paper to analyses of written discourse that explore the actual structuring of the text via some consistent framework. Our goal is to highlight and describe historically the various efforts to find the structures and linguistic patterns in texts that contribute to how they are understood, interpreted, and used. It seems to us that, in order to comprehend what has happened in the context of L2 writing research, it is necessary to understand the extensive work that has been done in discourse analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)191-223
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Second Language Writing
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2002


  • Cognitive models
  • Composition studies
  • Contrastive rhetoric
  • Discourse analysis
  • English studies
  • Hermeneutics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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