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A discourse community is a conglomerate of individuals that share common knowledge and use the same rhetoric to communicate ideas within a specialized topic. The financial sector is a prime example of an extremely exclusive discourse community that is very difficult to become a part of without formal education or training. The finance and economics discourse communities share many of the same rhetorical methods such as the use of highly specific jargon and quantitative models. This paper analyzes the strategies used by these communities in order to effectively communicate novel ideas within specialized topics. The exclusivity of this discourse community can be explained in layers: first of all, the jargon and language used by this community are very specific in order to clearly convey ideas to other members of this community. Second, this community uses visual aids such as charts or graphs to describe for example, trends in the economy or stock market. These visual representations would be very difficult to interpret without context for someone outside of this community. Finally, the type of work that professionals in this community perform is exclusive in itself, where participants are either directly or indirectly involved with managing the money of households and corporations. This requires a level of understanding of the intricacies that arise when using financial language to communicate within this community. The communication that takes place via scholarly journals, web communities and the professional work setting share a common goal of the efficient transfer of ideas through community-specific rhetoric.
Financial and economic scholarly journals use unique rhetoric to communicate ideas to their specific discourse community. An individual must possess a distinct background in this field and knowledge of specific topics in order to understand many of the financial or economic journal publications. The majority of jargon only exist in this specific community and is rarely used outside of this community. For example, the word ‘equity’ is used in Financial discourse communities to describe an ownership stake in a corporation in the form of common stock; however, the word ‘equity’ can have a different meaning in other contexts. Individuals outside this community can misinterpret ideas based on the lack of understanding of the rhetoric being used. The diction created for use in scholarly journals is meant to be precise, which can be a cause of confusion for members outside of this community. In the article, ‘Corporate expansion during pro-market reforms in emerging markets: The contingent value of group affiliation and diversification’, the exclusive use of diction can be seen immediately in the abstract, where the author states that ‘This study examines how emerging economy firms pursue growth in the domestic market during pro-market reforms’. The reader gets an immediate sense of the academic tone used, and it becomes clear that the journal relates to finance/economics. As the reader goes through the abstract, they get a sense of whether they will be able to understand the full contents of the article. With highly specialized sentences such as, ‘the effect of pro-market reforms is likely to vary depending on organizational forms and prior logic of competition’ and ‘prior diversification has a negative moderating effect on the relationship between pro-market reforms and corporate expansion through new investments’; This type of language gives a sense of the level of exclusivity that exists within this community. The examples of the diction used also suggest how the journal is clearly interned for scholarly persons to utilize.
Another layer of exclusivity that exists within scholarly journals in this community relates to the analyses of results and the visual representations used to convey those results. In the same scholarly journal, the results are presented in a regression analysis format that can only be understood by people who have knowledge of advanced statistics. Tables are used to present the descriptive statistics and correlations of the studied results. An interesting observation is that the journal transitions into a highly quantitative study on pro-market effects on emerging economies. Terms such as ‘multicollinearity’ and ‘linear models’ are used to describe results of the study, limiting the scope of the audience that the journal can fully extend its ideas towards. Almost all of these statistical results require prior knowledge of the subject and would be very difficult for a member outside of this discourse community to interpret.
Web communities such as the Brookings Institute and the Wall Street Journal seek to provide an outlet for professionals in this community to learn more about and discuss affairs related to the economy and/or the financial industry. One similarity between scholarly journals and web communities in this particular field is the use of highly specific language and diction which can only be understood with prior background or training in this area. A report published on the Brookings Institute titled ‘Macroeconomics and Market Power’ reveals the same communication standards that exist in scholarly journals. The opening paragraph of the report includes buzz-words such as ‘measured profit rates’, ‘price-cost margin’, and ‘labor’s share of income’. By using these words, the author makes an assumption that the audience already possesses a level of knowledge about the terminology and financial models that will be used. The use of references is also abundant in these publications, which reveal to the audience that this community highly values accredited and peer-reviewed research. The author provides examples to support the thesis of the report by citing accredited economists. Unlike other discourse communities such as those related to the arts or creative fields, this community places a strong emphasis on evidence-based research or endorsed economic theories. Another similarity between these web communities and scholarly journals is the use of quantitative models to further convey a message or theory. In the same report by Syverson, advanced mathematical models are used extensively throughout the paper to demonstrate ‘concentration as a measure of market power’. This idea is developed further with pages upon pages of the development of a mathematical theorem. The use of these quantitative models reveal that the author assumes the audience has an advanced level of mathematical understanding to follow along the arguments presented.
The existence of this web community and its reputation as an independent think-tank and research institution attracts professionals who work to add importance to these communities. Therefore, what we can understand from this community is that writers and providers of information use language that is consistent with their audience. In terms of writings in both web communities and scholarly journals, there are minimal differences in the language and jargon, with both channels writing in language that assumes a general level of knowledge within those specialized topics.
A professional working environment differs from scholarly journals and web communities based on the face-to-face interactions that take place between employees and clients. Often times the rhetoric remains the same, however the means of delivery has to change based on the level of formality that takes place during these communications. During my co-op experience working under the Fixed Income group at State Street Global Advisors, I had interactions not only with members of my team, but with other groups as well including Senior Economists, Portfolio Managers, Traders, and Product Strategists. The majority of communications that I took part in were internal, which included e-mail communication and meetings. The biggest surprise that became apparent to me during my experience, was the amount of unique jargon used to communicate complex fixed income portfolio strategies and product decisions. My manager had set expectations for me early on the job, handing out a list of terms and concepts for me to learn such as ‘convexity’ and ‘duration’, and asking me to synthesize various complex performance analyses to share with internal stakeholders. My knowledge of the terminology used within this field was minimal, despite taking courses that covered the basics of Finance and Economics. This revealed to me that a lot of the jargon used in this community is learned through experience or formal training upon joining this field. Another interesting aspect of the communication that took place within the workplace was the degree of complexity my manager and coworkers would use to explain concepts related to fixed income. When sitting in meetings with groups unrelated to the investment process, such as Compliance or Risk Control, language that is much less concerned with financial jargon is used to get a point across about what measures to take to have deliverables up to compliance standards. In meetings with Portfolio Managers or Economists, the topics discussed are entirely different and the language use in these meetings are consistent with the language use in both Scholarly Journals and Web Communities.
Specific rhetorical strategies that are used by professionals in this community exist across multiple channels of communication such as scholarly journals, web communities, and even in a real-life work setting. These strategies assume a basic working knowledge of terminology used in this field, and a significant degree of quantitative knowledge to be able to understand and decipher the highly specialized contents that arise within these topics. The fervor of consistency across these communication channels reveal another interesting aspect of this community: estimates from 2017 show that about 93% of Americans have a bank account1, and 54% of Americans participate in investing activities in financial markets2. With such a large chunk of the population consuming financial products to store savings or retirement money, or even to invest in the stock market, what percentage of this population can truly comprehend the writings, disclosures and legal documents attached to these products? Do consumers know the risks associated with taking out loans, mortgages, or other debt instruments from banks? As discussed earlier, an individual that exists outside of this discourse community will find it extremely difficult navigating through the plethora of jargon and financial documents that come along with these products. The complexities of these financial products, and the lack of understanding by the consumers who use these products is a precise reason for the Financial Crisis of ’08. To put shortly, when large amounts of people buy into financial products they do not understand, bubbles can occur in the market which can lead to an eventual crash. The fundamentals of the topics that make up the main areas of discussion within this community are inherently complex and do not resonate with the average American. A basic level of financial literacy must be expected of participants in this community which can ultimately lead in a disparity of information, where those less versed in financial terminology get taken advantage of by large institutions due to their inferior understanding of the various products they buy into. Though the use of extremely specific rhetoric, highly complex mathematical models, and accredited research is a major deterrent for participants outside of this community, one can argue that a high level of complexity is necessary to truly communicate a field that is ever-changing.
The values of this community are emphasized by a desire to understand and study the intersection of economics in the largest sector in the business world, and to ultimately create a harmonious market place that bridges together borrowers and lenders.
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