Student/teacher interaction via email: the
social context of Internet discourse
The Ohio State University, 196 Arps Hall, Columbus, OH 43210, USA
While email has been used in L2 composition classrooms as a way to develop ¯uency, it
can also be used as a means of creating and sustaining relationships, as it is often used
outside the classroom. This paper examines the way students in a graduate-level ESL
course used email on their own initiative to interact with their instructor. The paper
examines 120 email messages received by the instructor during the course and categorizes
them into four areas: (1) phatic communion, (2) asking for help, (3) making excuses, and
(4) making formal requests. From these categories, representative samples were chosen to
illustrate what rhetorical strategies the writers used to achieve their purpose for sending the
email messages. The results show that the students were able to employ a wide variety of
rhetorical strategies to interact with their instructor outside of the traditional classroom
setting. For these students, email seemed to be an important means for interacting with their
instructor. Moreover, the students exhibited a good ability to switch between formal and
informal language, depending upon the rhetorical context of the message. In the conclu-
sion, some of the issues regarding teaching the use of email are discussed.
# 2002 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.
Keywords: ESL; Composition; Computer-mediated discourse; Email; Rhetoric; Social anthropology;
Heteroglossia; EFL; Netiquette; Asynchronic discourse
A student recently told me how she broke up with her boyfriend by sending him
an email message. While this story primarily impressed on me the virtue of being
happily married in the age of electronic romance, it also indicates the power of the
Internet and its primary reliance on the written word for establishing and
Journal of Second Language Writing
11 (2002) 117±134
Tel.: 1-614-292-6360; fax: 1-614-292-4054.
E-mail address: email@example.com (J. Bloch).
1060-3743/02/$ ± see front matter # 2002 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.
PII: S 1060-3743(02)00064-4