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Chapter 5 Discipline-Specific Writing

In the previous chapters, we have discussed general traits of all (or most?) academic writing and all academic writing processes. But, as you will no doubt notice, there are some significant differences between writing in different disciplines. It may sometimes seem like faculty members just want you to keep changing your writing to fit their individual preferences. While we all have our own preferences, faculty members also are trained specialists within their own disciplinary backgrounds, and part of their job is to teach you about those disciplinary backgrounds—including the writing conventions of those disciplines.

To help you navigate the discipline-specific writing conventions you encounter in your courses, we have consulted with faculty in departments at the University of Puget Sound. Based on our conversations with them, we have compiled the following guidelines. Try using these guidelines when you write your next paper; you may find that that seemingly quirky assignment makes more sense than you initially thought!

While this chapter emphasizes many skills that are specific to writing in different disciplines, don’t despair at the impossibility of learning them all! Writing skills developed in one class will also be useful in other courses and disciplines, especially between similar disciplines like Biology and Chemistry or like English and Art History. Transfer refers to the application of academic skills developed in one context to another context. While a literary analysis paper and a research paper are very different, a student might apply skills like argumentation and evidence incorporation that they learned in one of these contexts to the other. This requires a conscious or unconscious understanding of the similarities and differences between the two contexts. For example, how does the contextual framing of a lab report in chemistry differ from biology? How is it similar? Understanding these expectations explicitly will help you successfully transfer writing skills across the disciplines--and into the writing you will do in your life beyond college. Section 5.17 addresses transfer between scientific disciplines for writing lab reports.