Activity Theory Analysis Assignment Information


In this assignment you’ll be doing an analysis of an activity system that represents professional writing of some kind. You may be a current member of the system (community) you choose to study, or you may want to be a member in the future. The activity system you choose to study can be related to any kind of job, volunteer or interest group or profession. It should also be interesting to you in the sense that you should be able to gain useful professional knowledge as a result of studying the community you choose. However, you’ll also need to have easy access to a current member (if you’re not a member). In addition, you will need to be able to easily access the texts (books, social media, websites, etc.,) members of this activity system use to get work done, and conduct (or obtain) an interview with a current member.

Your overall goal in this assignment is to show that you have learned how to analyze a community and its’ texts using the concepts you’re learning in this course (rhetorical situation, genre, activity theory). Because your audience (Prof. Calkins and your peers) won’t know anything about the community you’ve chosen to analyze, your attention to detail throughout this assignment will be essential. You’ll also need to spend some time introducing the activity system you chose, as well as giving background information before you jump into presenting your analysis.


  • 210 points; see “AT Analysis Turn-In” assignment and rubric in Webcourses for more assessment information. There are a few different parts of this assignment you’ll need to turn in throughout the next few weeks, so be sure to carefully review this assignment sheet and Modules 4-7 in Webcourses.

Due Dates:

  • Activity System Worksheet (10 points): Due Friday, February 7th by 11:59pm
  • Interview Data Assignment (50 points): Due by Sunday, February 23rd by 11:59pm
  • Peer Review for Analysis Paper (30 points): Draft posted by Wednesday, February 26th; reply to two peers by Friday, March 28th by 11:59pm
  • Final Due Date for Analysis Paper (150 points): Sunday, March 1st by 11:59pm in Webcourses


Step 1: Using the Activity System Analysis worksheet (see Module 5), write out the various parts of the activity system you’ve chosen to analyze. Make sure you can identify the textual tools, purpose (objectives and outcomes), division of labor, community, and rules for communication and membership for the activity system you’ve chosen. In particular, focus on the textual tools the group uses in order to get its work done, and be as detailed as possible with each part of the worksheet.

Step 2: As you’re completing the Activity System Analysis worksheet, pay attention to any areas where you have a hard time finding information. Jot down questions you have as you go as these can be great questions to Google and/or ask during your interview with a member.

Step 3: Setup a time and location for your interview. The interview should be about 30 minutes in length and done “in person.” Don’t worry, you can conduct your interview online (GoogleHangouts, Sykpe, FaceTime or Zoom), but it cannot be done via email. Email interviews are not of the same quality as those that take place conversationally, and it’s important you gain this experience as part of this assignment. You’ll be submitting “soundbites” (quotes) from your interview as part of the information you’ll turn in with this assignment, so you’ll need to plan to record your interview so you can review the playback. See the “Interview Data Due” assignment in Webcourses for specific information about what you need to submit.

Obtaining an interview is an essential part of this assignment because much of the information about an activity system, especially when it comes to how they use writing to get things done, is known only by those in the activity system. Also, even if you are already a member of the system you’ll be studying, you’ll need to still gather an additional perspective. For example, while I am an Associate Instructor in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric (DWR), if I were studying DWR, I’d want to make sure to still gather perspective outside of my own, because in a system there are many people with different duties, who would all use writing in different ways. While I cannot stress the benefit you’ll get from conducting your own interview, if you are truly not able to do that, you may opt to “collect” an interview instead. See the “Interview Data Due” assignment in Webcourses for more information about that option.

Step 4: Plan your interview questions. If you are conducting your own interview you will need to plan for (and submit) at least 20 questions. I highly recommend you see pages 195-6 in “Writing for a Living” by Brandt (Module 5) for a great set of questions to get you started. Feel free to borrow these questions directly, or modify them as needed.

Step 5: Download a copy of the consent form. See Module 5. If you are conducting your own interview you will need to submit a copy of this form with your “Interview Data Due” assignment, so plan ahead.

Step 6: Collect 3 texts (documents, books, websites, etc.,) members use to get work done. You will need to have access to 3 *specific* texts in order to write your Analysis paper, so jot down specific websites, take photos of paper documents, download PDFs of handbooks, take screenshots of tweets, Facebook posts, etc.

Drafting Your Analysis Paper

Part A:

Answer the following questions, and make sure to cover these ideas in your paper:

  • What do people incorrectly assume or are commonly confused about in regard to what this community does or who belongs?
  • What are the main misconceptions non-members have or what do non-members not understand about this community?
  • What is either not understood or misunderstood about the writing done by or in this community? Why are those assumptions prevalent and what impact do they have on the community and/or others?
  • What does it mean to be a member – for example, what kind of benefits, insight, access, etc., do members have?
  • What does it mean to be a member who is a non-participant (like Alan, in Wardle’s article)? What kind of issues arise from members who aren’t actively engaged with what the community is doing?
  • What do the three “modes of belonging” (Wardle 3) look like in this activity system? What does engagement, imagination and alignment look like in behavior, attitude, or action?
  • In what ways is “mediational work” (Brandt 176) present in this community? What impact does that have on the community members, and how does that shape the writing that is done?
  • Does this community present a “clear institutional voice” (Brandt 179) in their written materials? Give some examples and explain features of this “voice” and how the community ensures that “voice” is maintained. If there is not a clear “institutional voice” (Brandt 179) how does the community maintain consistency across their written materials (or if they do not, what impact does that have, if any)? (Remember, “voice” can be written, but in 2019 it can also be thought of as branding, style, etc.
  • Who has authority in this activity system, and how is it assigned/earned? When it comes to writing, specifically, who has authority and how it that assigned/earned?
  • What role does collaboration play in the writing and work done in this community? If they collaborate, how so, and using what tools?
  • What does it mean to truly and fully identify as a member of this community? What must you give up, accept, or acknowledge about yourself in order to be a true active participant?
  • Overall, what do new members typically struggle with, and why?
  • When it comes to writing or communicating in this community, what do new members typically struggle with, and why?
  • In what ways does the writing this community does differ from what you’d consider “academic writing” (Brandt 180-4); give specific examples. How can a college writing education help new writers in this community be successful, and in what areas do you see gaps between what a community like this expects from new writers/members and what college prepares these students to do?

Part B:

Collect 3 texts (books, social media, websites, etc.,) members use to get work done. You will need to have access to 3 *specific* texts in order to write this paper, so jot down specific websites, take photos of paper documents, download PDFs of handbooks, take screenshots of tweets, Facebook posts, etc. You may want to review Henze’s piece from Module 2 to refresh your mind about the role genre plays in communities such as the one you’re studying.

For your analysis for each collected text, answer the following questions, and make sure to include this information when writing your paper:

  • What is this? How can you categorize it as a genre based on the rhetorical situation to which it seems to be responding?
  • Who had the authority to write this?
  • Who reads/uses this?
  • What does this text help the community do/accomplish?
  • What specific language is used, and why? (What might a non-member not understand?)
  • What does this text show this activity system values, and how/why is that important to understand as a writer/new member/current member/potential member?

Writing Your Analysis Paper

Include the following in your analysis paper:

  • An overall introduction including a detailed description of your interest in and involvement with the activity system you’ve chosen to analyze.
  • An introduction to the activity system – go through the Activity System Worksheet you filled out and discuss each element of the activity system you’re studying, in detail, in your paper. Make sure to cover the textual tools this system uses to get work done, their purpose (including objectives and outcomes), their division of labor, the larger community they’re part of, and the rules for communication and membership the activity system uses. Go back to your worksheet, notes and the questions from Step #3 to help you with this.
  • A detailed discussion of membership, authority and identity using the questions from Part A. Make sure to use support from Kain and Wardle, Brandt, and Wardle’s article about Alan to show what you’re coming to understand about the complexity of what it means to belong to a community. Also be sure to use the three “modes of belonging” (Wardle 3) (“engagement, imagination, and alignment”) to help you contextualize your examples.
  • A detailed analysis of the 3 texts you chose to analyze and what you learned from looking closely at those texts. Include images of the texts you’re discussing (screenshots or photos) and use the analysis questions from Part B (above) to help you write up your analysis for all three texts combined. Specifically, I’m interested in what each of these texts show you this activity system values in terms of writing.
  • A conclusion in which you discuss any major takeaways, perspective shifts, etc. You can also pose questions future students could ask when pursuing research about this community, and what others might learn/understand from further analysis of the writing done in/by this community.

Tips for Success

  • Use subject headings to help you organize your paper. For example, create headings in various places throughout your paper to transition between various parts of the paper, such as: Introduction, Membership, Authority and Identity, Textual Analysis, etc. Think of these as mini-titles that help you and your reader stay organized and break up the overall content in the paper without clunky transitions.
  • Review “Analysis of an Online Activity System” by James Buddendorf to get a sense of what the final product will look like. Keep in mind, this was a first-year student, so I will expect more in-depth analysis from you.
  • There is no word count or page number requirement. The goal here is to think critically and dig deep into your analysis. Focus on being very detailed and specific: don’t assume I know anything about the activity system you’re studying (because I don’t)!
  • Use support from the scholars whose work you’ve read so far, especially Kain and Wardle, Wardle, and Brandt to show what you have learned. You should be working on using a lot of cited paraphrasing and some direct quotes to show me how you’re applying the concepts from the course throughout the sections of this paper and building your own credibility.
  • Use the standard MLA paper heading, including last name and page number in the upper right corner, double-space your paper, use 12 point font, and include in-text citations in MLA format for direct quotes AND paraphrasing. Also, include a Works Cited page on which you cite the article(s) you referenced. If you need more information about MLA citation, see the “MLA” section of The Business Writer’s Handbook. You can also use OWL @ Purdue.