How People Talk - Discourse and conversation analysis

Discourse Analysis is a form of desk-based qualitative research that can reveal astonishing insights into how people think and what they plan to do in the future, by analysing the words they use.

Imagine a client who wants to position a product as 'fresh'.

Is 'fresh' the right word?  What does 'fresh' mean to the target market for this product?  Yes, we can conduct in-person qualitative research to find that out - to a degree.  It is actually easier, quicker and more insightful to examine how that word 'fresh' appears in the public discourse. By public discourse I mean anywhere where we might see the word such as on packaging, advertising, websites, regulatory material and so on.

Privacy is another great example. When people use that word, what do they mean? 

The meaning of words like 'fresh' and 'privacy' change subtly over time. I don't mean the dictionary definition. I mean how people use that word and what they assume that word means. Just think of 'woke'

At Susan Bell Research we use discourse analysis to analyse spoken and written language

We use discourse analysis in three ways:

1. Top down analysis of written material such as websites

  • Discourse Analysis reveals the public discourse about a particular topic. For example, how are ideas about 'cyber safety' communicated to the public?

  • When used in tandem with our qualitative research technique Sensemaking, we then compare this public discourse with how people themselves talk and think about this topic (i.e 'the private discourse')

A major differences between the public and private discourse should be a red flag to any organisation. This flag signals that the organisation is failing to communicate to its target market, and may also have misunderstood the needs of the market.

2. Bottom-up analysis of written information, such as

  • Media, and 

  • Corporate communications

This analysis helps organisations identify how to communicate more clearly and persuasively.

3. Analysis of spoken information, such as:

  • Qualitative interviews 
  • Other kinds of conversation

By focusing on how something is said as well as what was said, Discourse Analysis analysis reveals what people really think and feel beyond what they actually said. It exposes the sub-text.

Take advantage of Sue Bell's knowledge of language. 

As an academically-trained linguist, Sue Bell is one of the few commercial researchers in Australia with skills in discourse analysis. 

We have an ebook on discourse analysis and several blogs. Ask Sue for details.

Tags: Discourse Analysis, Language