Many argue that writing instruction works best when it is taught as part of particular disciplines. Writing is not a separate skill to be learned in a vacuum and then applied to any situation that may arise; rather, writing occurs within disciplinary discourses, and the most effective writing instruction involves recognizing that writing is integral to the forms of critical thinking specific to each discipline.
As we all know, students do not emerge from first-year writing courses fully equipped to write lab reports, case studies, research proposals, and literary analyses, for each of these genres involve discipline-specific ways of thinking through a problem. These ways of thinking cannot be accommodated by generalized introductory instruction in grammar and composition; rather, the critical thinking that is integral to writing practices are properly part of the content of all courses at all levels of education. Essentially, writing instruction varies in each discipline, so writing instruction is everybody's job.
Writing in the sciences, for example, engages a particular set of assumptions and processes. Robert Mitchell, Associate Professor in the Department of Geology at Western Washington University, explains that his "primary goal is to help students develop their scientific thinking through writing," and he finds that "students who have difficulty putting their thoughts into words typically lack a deep understanding of the concept" (Mitchell).
Mitchell's practices recognize that writing is not a separate skill that can be applied to his discipline, but a particular "way of knowing" that is integral to his discipline. As explained by Michael Carter, the Associate Director of the Campus Writing and Speaking Program at North Carolina State University,
It is primarily in writing the lab report…that doing becomes knowing. More than merely evidence of having completed the lab and having found the right answers, the lab report frames the doing as a scientific way of knowing: introduction, methods, results, discussion; establishing a hypothesis, testing the hypothesis, accumulating evidence related to the hypothesis, determining whether or not the hypothesis is accepted and why. It provides an opportunity for students to reflect on the relationship between the lab and the scientific concept of the lab and to frame the doing of the lab in the structure of scientific reasoning. (Carter, Michael. "Ways of Knowing, Doing, and Writing in the Disciplines." College Composition and Communication. 58.3 (2007): 385-409)
Framing quantitative data and the practice of scientific experiment in the written explanation of scientific reasoning, helps students "develop an understanding of the scientific process so they can think through a problem critically while interpreting data" (Mitchell).
Recognizing that writing is central to all disciplines, the Writing Centre is working to provide a range of resources from within and outside the college. These resources are meant to help the RMC faculty to teach writing in the contexts of their disciplinary "ways of knowing."
If any faculty member would like to share an assignment that they have found particularly effective, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
- Writing Instruction Resources for Faculty and TAs
- The University of Toronto Writing Centre offers a great deal of helpful advise on such topics as designing effective assignments, responding to papers, deterring plagiarism, and helping ESL students.
- Writing in the Disciplines
- The University of Toronto has compiled a very useful bibliography on writing in the disciplines.
- A Reference Guide to Writing Across the Curriculum
- Charles Bazerman et al. trace "the Writing Across the Curriculum movement from its origins in British secondary education through its flourishing in American higher education and extension to American primary and secondary education."
- College Composition and Communication
- The last four years of College Composition and Communication are available free online (You will have to create an account to view the articles).
Writing in the sciences
- Thinking Scientifically Through Writing
- Dr. Robert Mitchell, Western Washington University, describes how teaching students to write effective reports is integral to teaching scientific process. He also provides a sample of his syllabi and examples of his assignments.
- Shaping Written Knowledge: The Genre and Activity of the Experimental Article in Science
- Charles Bazerman's book "traces the history and character of the experimental article in science, calling attention to the social and rhetorical forces that shaped its development."
- Behrens, Laurence, and Leonard J. Rosen. A Sequence for Academic Writing. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 2010.
- Rosenwasser, David, and Jill Stephen. Writing Analytically. 3rd ed. Boston: Thomson/Heinle, 2003.
- This is an especially useful resource.