S641: Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis


Spring 2010


Susan Herring


Thursday 1-3:45 p.m.


Library 037


LI 030


(812) 334-8883




herring @ indiana.edu

Instructor's Office Hours: M & Th 4-5 p.m. and by appointment

Class listserv: cmda-l @ indiana.edu

Required Reading:


The required readings for each week are listed in the Course Schedule at the end of this syllabus. Articles not accessible on the public web will be made available electronically on e-reserves or Oncourse.

1.   Course Description

Computer-mediated discourse (CMD) is human-to-human communication carried out over computer networks or wireless technologies; it is produced by typing, speaking, or other means. It is the discourse that takes place via computer-mediated communication (CMC) technologies such as chat, IM, texting, MUDs, email, news groups, web boards, blogs, wikis, 3-D virtual environments, and other digital media. Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis (CMDA) is a set of methods grounded in linguistic discourse analysis for mining CMD for patterns of structure and meaning. CMDA methods can also be used to extract indirect evidence of socio-cognitive phenomena related to networked communication, such as collaboration, disinhibition, engagement, identity, power dynamics, and trust.

This is a methodology course. It provides practical training and hands-on experience in applying computer-mediated discourse analysis methods (no previous knowledge required), in designing research that make use of such methods, and in interpreting their results. The focus of the course is on micro-analytic, quantitative methods. Systems for visualizing and automating the analysis of computer-mediated discourse are also presented.

2.   Course Objectives

The primary goal of this course is to provide training in applying a set of empirical analytical methods to computer-mediated discourse. A broader goal is to instill an understanding of the CMDA process that will enable you to design and carry out your own CMDA research, and to modify the methods or devise new methods as needed to address questions and data of interest to you.

Specifically, as a result of completing this course, you should be able to:

  descriptively classify a variety of CMC types

  apply discourse analysis methods to analyze participation, structure, meaning, interaction, and social behavior in CMD

  design and carry out an original CMDA research project that captures the nitty-gritty of language use, but also relates it to some broader phenomenon (e.g., social forces, community factors, cognitive/behavioral effects)

3.   Student Requirements

The assigned readings are to be completed before class each week. You will not be tested on the readings or be asked to keep notes on them, but you will be expected to apply concepts and techniques from them, so it is important that you read and understand them fully.

There will be five oral and written reports during the semester in which you will apply methods of discourse analysis from the readings and the class lectures to a sample of computer-mediated data of your choice and report on your findings. The oral reports will be brief, about 5 minutes in length, and will require you to be selective in your presentation of findings. The written reports, which are due one week after the oral reports, should be 3-4 typed pages long, excluding appendices. The written reports will follow the same guidelines as the oral reports, only your presentations of findings should be more complete. Specific guidelines for each report will be posted at least one week before the oral reports are scheduled to be presented.

The best kind of data to analyze for the reports is one continuous log of interactive, text-based CMD.
It is normally expected that you will use the same sample for all five reports. An appropriate sample size for asynchronous (email-type) CMD is 35-50 messages, depending on the length of the messages. For synchronous (chat-type) CMD, an appropriate sample size is about half an hour of chat or 200 messages, whichever is longer. It is highly recommended that you collect and store more data from your source than you will need for the purposes of the reports, as a backup. We will discuss possible sources of data in more detail during the first class meeting.

The major requirement for the course is a research paper, due at the end of the semester, analyzing in depth some feature or features of computer-mediated discourse in data of your choice. The data may or may not be of the same type as you analyzed for the reports throughout the semester. They may include the sample you already analyzed, plus additional data as determined by the nature of your research question(s), or you may analyze a new sample. The written paper should be in the range of 4500-7500 words long, not counting references and appendices, and should follow the conventions for a publishable-quality research article, including footnotes and citations of scholarly work in APA (American Psychological Association) style. For examples of APA conventions, see articles in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication  (http://jcmc.indiana.edu/).

The last two weeks of the course will be devoted to conference-style oral presentations (15-20 minutes, depending on the number of students enrolled) of your term paper research to the rest of the class.  You will be expected to prepare PowerPoint slides for all oral presentations.

4.   Student Evaluation

Your final grade in the course will be calculated as follows:


Attendance and participation
Oral reports (5 x 3%)                       


Written reports (5 x 5%)


Oral presentation of term paper


Term paper




Grading Policy

    A late written report will be accepted once during the semester, no questions asked, provided it is turned in two days before the next class meeting, to allow me time to grade it. I reserve the right to subtract one-third of a letter grade (from A to A-, A- to B+, etc.) for each day a report is late beyond the due date or this one-time extension. This penalty also applies to the final paper.

    Class participation means speaking in class in an informed way about the topics under discussion. A good rule of thumb is to try to speak at least twice in each class session. In order to be able to speak intelligently about a topic, you will need to have done the readings for that topic before class. You will also need to be physically present and attentive (e.g., NOT surfing the Web or reading email). Participation cannot be made up if you miss a class.

    Oral reports will be graded with a check mark to indicate a satisfactory presentation. A satisfactory presentation is one that makes a good faith effort to address all the questions in the guidelines given in advance for each report, even if the report contains some errors. This method of grading is intended to encourage you to try to apply the methods, even if you feel somewhat uncertain how to do so.

    Written reports, the oral presentation of your term paper research, and the written term paper will be assigned letter grades (A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, etc.). A composite grade such as A-/B+ means that the grade is between an A- and a B+ (i.e., 89.5%). Grades in the 'A' range indicate outstanding work. Grades in the 'B' range indicate very good to good work. Grades in the 'C' range indicate average work, and a grade of 'D' or below is poor work.  Graduate students are expected to perform at a 'B' level or above.

    Written reports should be concise (3-4 typed pages) and written in continuous prose (NOT outline style). Elaborate introductory and concluding paragraphs are unnecessary, but each report should begin with a statement of the topic that the report will address and should be sure to answer explicitly all questions asked in the guidelines for the report. DO include examples from your data and/or summary tables and graphs of your analytical results in your report, to support your claims. If including these supporting materials in the report would disrupt its flow, they may be appended to the report as an appendix. An 'A' quality written report is written clearly and concisely, answers all the questions asked, applies the methods correctly, and interprets the results plausibly and convincingly.

    The oral presentation of your term paper research will be graded primarily on form: how well it is organized, how informative it is, and how clearly and professionally it communicates to your audience (i.e., the rest of the class). An 'A' quality oral report conveys an appropriate amount of information given the time allotted for the presentation, is presented in a clear and concise manner, and is logically organized (usually following the schema: identification and motivation of your research question, brief background, data sample and methods of analysis, your findings, and some interpretation of the findings).

    The written term paper will be evaluated on content, including the quality of the project design—originality of the research question, appropriateness of the data and methods used to investigate the question, plausibility of your interpretations—and form—organization (similar to that for oral presentations), clarity and quality of written expression, and appropriate use of scholarly conventions such as citations and footnotes. An 'A' quality term paper addresses an interesting research question, makes use of an appropriate empirical method to address the research question(s), applies the method(s) systematically, and interprets the findings thoughtfully, in addition to being well-organized and clearly and professionally written.

Academic honesty:  Most of your activity in this course will involve producing original research. However, in writing about your research, and especially in your final paper, it may be necessary to reference previous work. As a rule of thumb, when in doubt, cite the source! In accordance with the policies of Indiana University, plagiarism, copyright infringement, and other types of academic dishonesty will not be tolerated.

5. Tentative Course Schedule

(Subject to change with advance notice)


Week 1 (1/14):

Introduction to the course. Types and classification of computer-mediated discourse. Selecting data for analysis.

Read (if you haven't taken S543):

1. Herring, S. C. (2002). Computer-mediated communication on the Internet. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 36, 109-132. http://ella.slis.indiana.edu/~herring/arist.2002.pdf

2. Herring, S. C. (2007). A faceted classification scheme for computer-mediated discourse. Language@Internet, 4, article 1. http://www.languageatinternet.de/articles/2007/761/index_html



Week 2 (1/21):

CMDA as empirical social science. Data sampling and management. Getting approval from the Human Subjects Committee (HSC) to conduct your research.

In class: Describe the type of interactive, text-based CMC you will analyze in this course. Classify it in terms of key medium and situation variables as presented in Herring (2007).


1. Herring, S. C. (2004). Computer-mediated discourse analysis: An approach to researching online behavior. In Designing for Virtual Communities in the Service of Learning, S. A. Barab, R. Kling, and J. H. Gray (Eds.). New York: Cambridge University Press. http://ella.slis.indiana.edu/~herring/cmda.pdf

2. Finish reading articles from Week 1 if you haven't already.


Take the Human Subjects Protection test at: http://www.indiana.edu/~rcr/


Week 3 (1/28):

Analyzing participation: Descriptive statistics.

Finalize your data sample. Submit request for HSC approval.

1st Oral Report: Basic descriptive statistics about your data. (Tip: Read this week's articles before preparing report.)


1. Herring, S. C., Johnson, D. A., & DiBenedetto, T. (1998). Participation in electronic discourse in a 'feminist' field. In: J. Coates (Ed.), Language and Gender: A Reader (pp. 197-210). Oxford: Blackwell. [e-reserves]

2. Lipponen, L., Rahikainen, M., Lallimo, J., & Hakkarainen, K. (2003). Patterns of participation and discourse in elementary students' computer-supported collaborative learning. Learning and Instruction, 13, 487-509. [Oncourse]


Week 4 (2/4):

Analyzing structure: Word and utterance length; word frequencies.

1st Written Report due: Basic descriptive statistics about your data. What do they reveal about participation and activity level?

Guest Presentation: Muhammad Abdul-Mageed


1. Cho, T. (In press). Linguistic features of electronic mail: A comparison with memoranda.  In S. Herring (ed.), Computer-Mediated Conversation. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press. [e-reserves]

2. Ko, K-K. (1996). Structural characteristics of computer-mediated language: A comparative analysis of InterChange discourse. Electronic Journal of Communication/Revue électronique de communication, 6(3). [Oncourse]


Week 5 (2/11):

Structural analysis (cont.)

2nd Oral Report: Structural analysis of your data sample.


1. Yates, S. (1996). Oral and written linguistic aspects of computer conferencing.  In S. Herring (Ed.), Computer-Mediated Communication: Linguistic, Social and Cross-Cultural Perspectives (pp. 9-46). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. [Oncourse]

2. Herring, S. C., & Paolillo, J. C. (2006). Gender and genre variation in weblogs. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 10(4), 439-459. Preprint: http://ella.slis.indiana.edu/~herring/jslx.pdf

Demo: The Gender Genie and LIWC


Week 6 (2/18):

Analyzing meaning: Speech acts.

2nd Written Report due: Structural analyses of your data. What do they reveal about the degree of 'orality' or 'written-ness' of the sample?


1. McLaughlin, M. (1984). Ch. 4. Conversation: How Talk Is Organized. Sage. [e-reserves]

2. Francis, G., & Hunston, S. (1992). Analysing everyday conversation. In M. Coulthard (Ed.), Advances in Spoken Discourse Analysis (pp. 1-34). London: Routledge. [e-reserves]

3. Herring, S. C., Das, A., & Penumarthy, S. (2005). CMC act taxonomy. http://www.slis.indiana.edu/faculty/herring/cmc.acts.html (Look over.)

Practice coding speech acts in class.



Week 7 (2/25):

Meaning analysis (cont.): Functional moves.

3rd Oral Report: Acts in your data sample.


1. Herring, S. C. (1996). Two variants of an electronic message schema. In S. Herring (ed.), Computer-Mediated Communication: Linguistic, Social and Cross-Cultural Perspectives (pp. 81-106). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. [e-reserves]

2. Osman, G., & Herring, S. C. (2007). Interaction, facilitation, and deep learning in cross-cultural chat: A case study. The Internet and Higher Education, 10, 125-141. Preprint: http://ella.slis.indiana.edu/~herring/osman.herring.pdf

Practice interrater reliability assessment in class.


Week 8 (3/4):

Analyzing conversational interaction: Topic development.

3rd Written Report due: Acts in your data sample. What kinds of communicative activities are the participants engaged in?


1. Herring, S. C. (2003). Dynamic topic analysis of synchronous chat. In: New Research for New Media: Innovative Research Methodologies Symposium Working Papers and Readings. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication. [e-reserves]

2. Herring, S. C., & Kurtz, A. J. (2006). Visualizing Dynamic Topic Analysis. Proceedings of CHI'06. ACM Press. http://ella.slis.indiana.edu/~herring/chi06.pdf

Demo: VisualDTA


Week 9 (3/11):

Interaction analysis (cont.): Turn-taking and coherence.

4th Oral Report: Topic development in your sample.


1. Herring, S. C. (1999). Interactional coherence in CMC. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 4 (4). http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol4/issue4/herring.html

2. Condon, S. L., & Cech, C. G. (2001). Profiling turns in interaction: Discourse structure and function. Proceedings of the 35th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Los Alamitos: IEEE Press. [Oncourse]





Week 10 (3/25):

Analyzing social behavior: Politeness and conflict.

4th Written Report due: Topic development and coherence in your sample.


Discuss term paper research ideas in class.


1. Brown, G. & Levinson, S. (1987).  Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage (pp. 59-84). Cambridge University Press. [e-reserves]       

2. Herring, S. C. (1994). Politeness in computer culture: Why women thank and men flame. In M. Bucholtz, A. Liang, L. Sutton, & C. Hines (Eds.), Cultural Performances: Proceedings of the Third Berkeley Women and Language Conference (pp. 278-94). Berkeley: Berkeley Women and Language Group. [e-reserves]

Practice politeness coding in class.


Week 11 (4/1):

Social analysis (cont.): Critical Discourse Analysis.

Turn in a 500-word proposal for term paper research, describing your topic, research question, data, methods, preliminary observations, and including a minimum of five references.


1. Van Leeuwen, T. (2009). Critical Discourse Analysis. In: J. Renkema (Ed.), Discourse, of course: An overview of research in discourse studies (pp. 277-292). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. [Oncourse]

2. Fowler, R. (1991). Analytic tools: Critical linguistics. In: Language in the News (pp. 66-90; 110-119). London: Routledge. [Oncourse]

3. Mautner, G. (2007). Mining large corpora for social information: The case of 'elderly.' Language in Society, 36, 51-72. [Oncourse]


Week 12 (4/8):


Applications of CMDA. Automating discourse analysis.

5th Oral Report: Politeness and conflict in your sample.

1. Newman, M. L., Pennebaker, J. W., Berry, D. S., & Richards, J. M. (2003). Lying words: Predicting deception from linguistic styles. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 665-675. [Oncourse]

2. Twitchell, D. P., & Nunamaker, J. F., Jr. (2004). Speech act profiling: A probabilistic method for analyzing persistent conversations and their participants. Proceedings of the 37th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Press. [Oncourse]

3. Spertus, E. (1997). Smokey: Automatic recognition of hostile messages. Proceedings of Innovative Application of Artificial Intelligence (IAAI) '97. American Association for Artificial Intelligence. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=


Week 13 (4/15):


Challenges for CMDA: Media convergence; dynamic visual interfaces; Voice-over IP.

5th Written Report due: Politeness and conflict in your sample.

1. Zelenkauskaite, A., & Herring, S. C. (2008). Television-mediated conversation: Coherence in Italian iTV SMS chat. Proceedings of the Forty-First Hawai'i International Conference on System Sciences. Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Press. http://ella.slis.indiana.edu/~herring/hicss08.pdf

2. Herring, S. C., Kutz, D. O., Paolillo, J. C., & Zelenkauskaite, A. (2009). Fast talking, fast shooting: Text chat in an online first-person game. Proceedings of the Forty-Second Hawai'i International Conference on System Sciences. Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Press. http://ella.slis.indiana.edu/~herring/hicss.bzflag.pdf

3. Wadley, G., Gibbs, M., & Benda, P. (2007). Speaking in character: Using voice-over-IP to communicate within MMORPGs. Proceedings of the 4th Australasian conference on Interactive entertainment, article 24. Association for Computing Machinery. [Oncourse]


Week 14 (4/22):

Oral presentations



Week 15 (4/29):

Final papers due 5:00 p.m.

Last updated: 3/24/10