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University of Central Florida Burkes Unending Conversation Metaphor Essay

Burke’s “Unending Conversation” Metaphor; Connecting Projects

When dealing with academic research, it helps to approach “research” as a large, continual discussion that we are only partly-present for. Thinking this way allows us, as readers and researchers, to see there is no finish-line; meaning, no matter how much research we do, or the lengths to which we explore our topics, there will always be more to learn about the topic. Through this lens, we can see how the work we do in P1 and P2 is never fully actualized, but rather contributes to the larger discourse surrounding our research topics.


Metaphor: In 1939, Kenneth Burke created the “Unending Conversation” metaphor about entering a parlor. It goes:

“Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.”

In-Class Reading: Research as a conversation: Burke’s Parlor Tricks: Introducing Research as Conversation | Library Babel Fish (Links to an external site.)

Once you’re done reading, engage in the class discussion concerning the connections you see between the parlor metaphor and the projects (P1 & P2) you’ve been asked to do. P1 can largely be seen as the conversation you listen to upon arriving in the parlor, and P2 is when you begin contributing to the conversation in progress.

Seeing research in terms of an unending conversation can help you realize that your project will not be the definitive end of a conversation or topic. Rather, P1 introduces you to a research topic and familiarizes you with the tenor of discourse. Once the “Research Topic Proposal” has been completed, you time “listening” in the parlor ends. Then, as you begin writing the “Research Essay,” this is where you begin contributing to the current discourse in and around the topic. Ask yourself, how did the “listening” you did in P1 helped prepare you to “enter the conversation” of P2.


  • What connections did you draw from both the readings and class discussion about the potential connection (or lack thereof) between Burke’s metaphor and your research process?
  • Did you gain any insight about research, the research process, or the evolution of ideas? Explain
  • What was one quote, either from the reading, a classmate, or your instructor that stood out to you and why?
  • Respond with your interpretation of this statement: “research is an iterative process.”


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