Communication between people can be done through a variety of different techniques including art, spoken word, and written word. However, writing is arguably one of the most important forms of communication and it is one of the things which separates us from other species (we don’t see other species writing novels, theses, and lab reports). Writing is all about expressing ideas, opinions, beliefs, emotions, and knowledge which is one of the reasons that it is used across every discipline. This is what the duration of my presentation will focus on the importance of being able to write across a variety of disciplines throughout one’s life. Every discipline, in this instance I am mainly referring to academic disciplines, require writing of some kind and most of them require it quite frequently. Students who are receiving an education, whether that be in the sciences or the humanities and arts, must not only write often and well, they must also write across multiple subjects. Each requiring different standards and expectations.
Take, for example, these five subjects on the slide-each one is arguably very different from the other, yet there is no way that you can go through any of these without having to do a significant amount of writing. While it is true, and slightly obvious, that the required writings for each would be different styles (a lab report versus an anthology of poems for example), there are certain things which are necessary for any style of writing. As a peer writing consultant I have worked with a number of students from across a variety of disciplines. These subjects include lab reports for organic chemistry, biology 104 and 105, sociology papers, English papers, and philosophy papers. What I have found is that many students have this idea in their head that writing is associated with English and English majors, and that the sciences require less writing and the writing that is included is vastly different. While this is partly true-the writing styles will be different for the most part, there is still a lot writing which is necessary throughout all the sciences as that is a major aspect of communication in the scientific world.
I have also found that when helping students edit their papers, there are many of the same reoccurring errors throughout the different subjects. These errors start with students just wanting to get the assignment done and often overlooking key components that are either included in the rubric or that stem from deeper analytical thinking about the topic or information that is being communicated through writing. Many issues are in regards to how the information is presented- as someone who is not a content expert in many if not all of the subjects that I work with, I am not looking at the accuracy of the information, but rather if the student is presenting this information in a way which is convincing, clear, and concise. Is it worth reading? Do I obtain something from it that I did not know or had not thought of before?
Remember that I am looking at this process through the lens of communication, and so that is what I want the tutee to be aware of when they are writing- are they communicating what they need to be to the appropriate audience? At the University of Iowa a study (more of an interview of faculty and students) found that there are more similarities than disciplinary differences in undergraduate writing assignments that instructors give as well as the different genres that their students are expected to produce in classes. In general, academic skills
(which include, open minded inquiry, critical analysis and use of sources to support one’s argument) were more common than more specialized skills (specialized in terms of the specific discipline). This goes along with much of what I have found as well-students need to be able to utilize these 3 skills to communicate whatever it is they are trying to say. I have found much of this to be true as well, students have a tendency to overlook the basic communication skills (which often end up being related to global organization, the bigger picture you could say) which are actually equally important across the disciplines. It doesn’t’t matter the subject, you are always trying to use writing to communicate something, and to start you need to be able to be convinced of what you are saying yourself. When looking at different sources detailing communication and writing I came across this one by Brian Coppola and Douglas Daniel, in which they detailed the importance and role of writing (speaking as well but we focused on writing) for students in the Chemistry program. One of the first focuses of the paper is about how one never really learns something until he or she has to teach it. This is in and of itself key indicator that communication is a vital part of what writing is. It is being able to teach some piece of information (especially relevant to science students) and to teach you need to be able to communicate what you know. It allows us to compare knowledge and ideas with others, regardless of the subject; this is equally as important in the science world as it is in the liberal arts world. Overall, I have found that writing is something which, in this age of technology, when much of what is communicated is done through written work, is vastly important regardless of the discipline This is something which students struggle with, writing to communicate yet also in a way which is appropriate to the subject and for the audience
Severino, Carol, and Mary Trachsel. “WAC.” • Rewriting Across the Curriculum: Writing Fellows as Agents of Change in WAC” Theories of Specialized Discourses and Writing Fellows Programs, wac.colostate.edu/atd/fellows/severino.cfm.
Daniels, Douglas, and Brian Coppola. “WAC.” The Role of Written and Verbal Expression in Improving Communication Skills for Students in an Undergraduate Chemistry Program, wac.colostate.edu/llad/v1n3/coppola.pdf.