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The Web Participatory Environment: a New Genre in Health Exchange


The Internet has provided new and expanded means of communication, incorporating all forms of discourse and registers, including that of medical discussion. Certain sites, in fact, specialise in healthcare and provide information, offering direct access to counsellors (medical professionals qualified to provide advice) and forums in which the role of participants is that of potential nonspecialists who share opinions, gather information on healthrelated issues and ambiguous medical meanings. The benefits of a healthrelated online forum lie in its ability to quickly and conveniently connect people to both important information and to other people with knowledge regarding a specific health predicament. The objective of this paper, through an analysis of recurring patterns of discourse, is to comprehend the nature of the dialogue among health forum users in an online environment. Both communication studies and studies of language corpora have provided the basis for this research, which analyses a corpus of entries obtained from healthcare sites. Starting from the assumption that online health discourse is a recontextualisation of knowledge for a nonspecialist public, a thematic analysis is used in order to determine the prevailing themes of communication within an online health community. A qualitative content analysis will be employed in order to discover whether users are primarily looking for information or seeking emotional support. Posts are then investigated quantitatively and qualitatively in turn, with a view to determining how clinical/scientific medical terminology is dealt with and to verify the extent to which linguistic strategies are involved in the explanation of the scientific terms.