Writing in Disciplines
What is Writing in the Disciplines?
At Springfield College, students must complete two Writing Across the Curriculum courses in order to fulfill their undergraduate degree requirements. One of those courses must be in the students’ major and completed during their junior or senior year. Fulfillment of that second course requirement is an example of what is known as Writing in the Disciplines.
So Writing in the Disciplines (WID) is one form of Writing Across the Curriculum. Writing assignments of this sort are designed to introduce or give students practice with the language conventions of a discipline as well as with specific formats typical of a given discipline. For example, a biology lab report includes much different information in a different format from an annual business report.
WID assignments are typically, but not exclusively, formal papers prepared over a few weeks or even months. The final papers adhere to format and style guidelines typical of the professional papers they are helping students learn about. Teachers comment primarily on the substance of these assignments, but teachers also expect students to meet professional standards of layout and proofreading (format and mechanical correctness).
Why Assign WID tasks?
The single most important reason for assigning writing tasks in disciplinary courses is to introduce students to the thinking and writing of that discipline. Even though students read disciplinary texts and learn course material, until they practice the language use of the discipline through writing, they are less likely to learn that language thoroughly. Additionally, teachers cite other specific advantages of WID tasks, large and small.
Such writing helps students to:
- Integrate and analyze course content·
- Provide a field-wide context to course material
- Practice thinking skills relevant to analyses in the discipline
- Practice professional communication
- Prepare for a range of careers in the field
Writing Forms that Mimic Professional Writing
Although the research paper is the most common type of WID assignment, it’s not the only format that students can use to learn about disciplinary writing conventions.
If professionals in your field use any of these types of writing, consider using these formats to help students understand the thinking and writing of your discipline:
- Project or lab notebook
- Progress report
- Management plan
- Position paper
- Interpretive essay
- Review of literature
- Journal or professional article
- Project proposal
- Grant proposal
- Lab/field reports
Combining Writing to Learn activities with WID
In addition to discipline-specific formats, other kinds of writing assignments can help students learn the language and ways of thinking of a discipline, even though they may not mimic its professional writing. Any of these writing activities can provide the basis for a longer, more formal assignment, or can be used only to promote class discussion and/or thinking about course material:
- Reading journal
- Jargon journal
- Rhetorical analysis
- Popular article
Helping Students to Write in Chunks
Students can sometimes feel overwhelmed by WID assignments because they are sure how to start. Faculty can help students by setting up a sequence of writing tasks that help them complete the assignment one step at a time, in chunks or parts.
Two ways to sequence tasks:
- Create several smaller assignments that, taken together, constitute the larger assignment. An example of this would be a review of literature assignment that first asks students to annotate articles before synthesizing or evaluating them.
- Ask students to turn in parts of the paper before they turn in the whole paper, so you can give them feedback on the work they’ve done so far. For example, you can learn a lot about what a student knows and where they’re headed with an assignment by reading just the first page.
Grading and evaluating papers is never an easy task, but is generally made less painful by following a consistent and clearly articulated procedure. Students need to know how you are going to evaluate their writing before they write their papers, so time spent explaining your criteria is always worthwhile. The choices for evaluating students’ papers are varied and usually depend on the type of assignment and your goals as a teacher. A number of methods are discussed in Reading Writing, by Springfield College faculty Richard Andersen and Dan Fraizer. Writing Support Services can also help you to customize your approach to evaluating student writing.