Writing Across The Disciplines

Writing for the Humanities and Fine Arts

Some subject areas that fall under the category of humanities would be literature, languages, philosophy, history, and theology. Other humanities-related fields are sometimes classified as fine arts: drama, music, or painting, for instance. These loose categories are not meant to be exhaustive of the humanities subject areas, but rather to give you a general idea of what type of writing you might be doing in these classes.

Key points to remember when writing for the humanities:

  • Emphasis is placed on content and ideas.
  • Emphasis is placed on how you express those ideas. For example, organization, unity, and clarity of your ideas are essential elements to a well written paper.
  • Taking a rhetorical stance is often part of a paper assignment. Papers may focus on developing an argument, expressing multiple viewpoints, informing readers of new information in the field, defining a problem, comparing and contrasting two works, analyzing and evaluating someone else's ideas, or exploring the causes and effects of a controversy. Practically every paper you write has some inherent rhetorical angle; most of the time, your professor will alert you as to which rhetorical strategy you should employ in your writing assignments.
  • Reading and writing go hand in hand. Reading other works and articles helps to develop your own thoughts on an issue. Many times you will be writing in direct response to works you've read, or you will research and read a variety of material before you begin writing on your topic.

Note: MLA (Modern Language Association) documentation is commonly used as a style for citing sources in humanities-related essays.

Writing for the Natural Sciences

Some subject areas that fall under the category of the natural sciences are biology, chemistry, physics, or astronomy. An investigation in the natural sciences attempts to build on empirical evidence or observable, verifiable information.

Key points to remember when writing for the Natural Sciences:

Write to Inform

When you inform readers, use precise descriptions of the sequence of events. Mathematical and quantifiable precision is also necessary, especially in lab reports. Remember that informative writing can have a more specific rhetorical twist. For instance, you could be defining a problem, classifying different species, comparing and contrasting two studies, or analyzing scientific findings.

Write to Argue or Persuade

Most scientists want to do more than inform their audience; they also want to persuade them through claims and evidence. The process of scientific inquiry deals with an on-going cycle of published reports and challenges to those reports.

The Lab Report: a Generic Sample

Warning: specific science teachers may have their own lab report specifications; always follow your instructor's guidelines.

I. Introduction

Define the problem or question to be studied.
State the hypothesis you're investigating.
Give your reasons for investigating this particular subject

II. Materials and Methods

In concise, complete sentences, chronologically describe how you performed the experiment. For example, describe what you studied, what instruments you used, and the method of analysis you incorporated.
Try to use past verb tense (present tense is reserved for published data) and passive voice. For instance, say, "The liquid was poured into the beaker," rather than "I poured the liquid into the beaker."

III. Results

Clearly state your findings or the data you accumulated throughout the experiment.

IV. Discussion

Finally, you want to interpret your findings and discuss the ramifications of them. In other words, "what do these findings mean?"

Writing for the Social Sciences

The social sciences study human society, examine relationships in society, and observe patterns of human behavior. Some subject areas that fall under the category of social sciences are: sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, and political science. Although this list is not exhaustive, it gives you an idea of subjects which fall under the social sciences.

Key points to remember when writing for the Social Sciences:

  • Write to inform. Much of the writing done in the field of social sciences centers around informing the reader. Informative writing may take any of the following forms: Social scientists may describe the process by which something occurs; they may compare and contrast two theories; they may classify or define something.
  • Write to make arguments. After researching and reporting their findings, social scientists establish arguments by making claims and supporting those claims with evidence. To advance their field of knowledge, social scientists will challenge current theories and propose new theories. Finally, social scientists support their claims with written research, collected data, field studies, or lab reports (just to name a few methods for finding evidence).
  • Reading is vital to the writing process. Before making your own arguments and claims, familiarize yourself with the current thought in your field. Reading articles, reports, field studies, and other written data in your particular social science field will prepare you. Adding your voice to the written discussion requires research and critical thought, so start reading before you start writing.

Note: APA (American Psychological Association) documentation is commonly used as a style for referencing sources in a social science paper. APSA (American Political Science Association) is often used in Political Science classes.