Textual Analysis

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This week's readings were about textual analysis.

Carol Berkenkotter's chapter form Research in Technical Communication
provides a thorough overview of how to do textual analysis in STC research. Berkenkotter points out the the term "textual analysis" can mean a lot of different things to different people, but that it should come down to using a "structured and systematic approach" to analyzing text. She acknowledges that "structured and systematic" may seem vague on the face of it, but she provides a helpful pointer on page 48: "Researchers with an empirical orientation will generally agree that structured and systematic procedures are those that can be communicated or taught to other researchers for the purposes of replication and/or independent conformation or disconfirmation."
Making this explicit makes it possible to keep an overarching goal in mind when thinking about textual analysis. I can see this being helpful when considering or planning textual analysis for a project. I might ask question such as the following:

  • What systematic approach can I use to best understand these texts?

  • How can I describe this approach to myself in such a way that I can use it consistently?

  • How can I describe it to others in such a way that they can know what I was trying to do?

Interestingly, Berkenkotter opposed the "empirical tradition" of textual analysis to the "critical theory or cultural studies tradition" in the very next sentence. Although I don't think that this putting these two concepts in opposition to each other undermines her excellent article, I do question the polarity of these two concepts. How are critical studies or cultural studies not empirical?
This may be a decent segue into another article we read, Schryer et al.'s analysis of chile abuse correspondence. Schryer et al. use the concept of "boundary objects" to frame their understanding of the letters that doctors write when providing input into determinations of whether a child's injuries have resulted form abuse or not. The convolutedness o the previous sentence points to how difficult this issue is: the doctors have to make a medical determination without pronouncing guilt. The authors of this paper find that the doctors use certain lexemically based linguistic strategies to put each case into one of the three categories: Strategies indicating abuse, strategies in the grey area, and exoneration strategies. The authors argue on p 221 that the letters represent an emerging genre "attempting to function as a boundary object." Although this observation seems to jibe with the study, in terms of the paper itself it seems problematic, since the authors don't rely on any established genre theory to frame their understanding of genre itself.


  • How can Schryer et. al make claims about genre without being explicit in their use of the term? How problematic is this un-grounded move for the rest of their paper?

  • Does it make sense to put textual analysis in opposition to critical theory or cultural studies? Couldn't you do a critical textual analysis?

Berkenkotter, C. (2002). Analyzing Everyday Texts in Organizational Settings. In Research in technical communication (pp. 47-65).
Schryer, C. F., Afros, E., Mian, M., Spafford, M., & Lingard, L. (2009). The Trial of the Expert Witness. Written Communication, 26(3), 215.

1 Comment

Hm. Great reflection on the Schreyer et al. article. I really did think they outlined the genre of the letter--but perhaps you felt it was still too abstract? You also include helpful insights here about textual analysis and the need to be systematic. Yes indeed. Being extremely systematic pays off in the end for textual analysis.

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This page contains a single entry by Joshua Welsh published on November 7, 2010 1:42 PM.

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