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Let’s talk about discourse analysis for health professional education: What, why and how

Robyn Woodward-Kron


Much of healthcare is facilitated through interactive talk and writing: diagnosing, collaboratively making treatment decisions, conducting treatment, coordinating care, handing over care. For junior health professionals, learning the valued patterns of talk and writing—the discursive practices of healthcare—is part of becoming a health professional. Discourse analysis of texts, written and spoken, can make visible to health professional educators what the valued interactional patterns are and how junior members learn the discursive practices through interaction with more senior colleagues. It can also illuminate “troubles” in communication, such as barriers, power imbalances and misalignment. Doing discourse analysis requires an understanding of how texts work and a meaningful, systematic approach to representing and analysing data. This paper introduces genre theory, a form of discourse analysis that distinguishes between text types according to their social purpose and contextual variables, including what the text is about, who is involved and how the text is organised. This paper outlines some principles of genre analysis and practical “how to” guidelines. It also provides suggestions about how findings of genre analysis can inform teaching in health professional education.


discourse analysis; health professional education; genre analysis; communication

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