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Teaching Writing in Non-Writing Courses

In courses where writing does not feature prominently in the curriculum, it is often easy to overlook the need to nurture those skills. Furthermore, there is a tendency to suppose that students acquire such skills entirely and exclusively in composition courses, effectively discharging every other course from addressing the matter. It is important to appreciate, however, that writing takes place in a variety of settings—many requiring unique conventions—and hence, it is worthwhile to consider how writing can be effectively and economically taught beyond writing departments. Below are some helpful suggestions and resources for teaching writing in non-writing courses.

General Strategies

Many strategies can be implemented directly in the classroom to facilitate writing competency in any subject.

  • Use Examples: Present exemplary samples of writing for the target assignment. This helps students become more familiar with the style and conventions of a certain field and directly acquaints them with expectations.
  • Model Writing: An instructor can model his or her own writing process for students, providing insight into how to develop a piece of writing. This requires taking some time to brainstorm out loud and begin the writing process in front of your students, and possibly adding to the process live, in front of the students.
  • Scaffolding: Scaffold your writing assignment by using milestones, such as early examples of thesis statements, evidence collection and reflection, and working drafts. These assignments can be introduced into the syllabus at strategic times so that students have opportunities to receive and incorporate feedback during the course of a project’s development.
  • Engage in Peer Review: Peer-review exercises are cornerstones of writing courses that can be incorporated into any course in any department. Such collaborative exercises afford students opportunities to gain new perspectives, incorporate feedback, challenge ideas, refine drafts, and much more.

 

Writing in STEM

The divide in academia between the humanities and the STEM fields is more than just disciplinary—it is also stylistic. Keep the following consideration in mind when writing in scientific contexts:

  • Scientific writing conventionally prescribes a manner of writing that prioritizes objectivity and concision.
  • Remain impartial. Avoid personal pronouns like I, me, and my. The perspective is usually to be set in the third-person, unless otherwise specified by the formatting guidelines.
  • Avoid verbosity. Write simply and straightforwardly.
  • Be aware of word choice. Sciences use highly technical language that is not often flexible.
  • Understand that a scientific proof is a fairly high standard. Data should be presented faithfully and inferences should be made modestly. For example, we should not write: “The data proves x.” Rather, we could write: “The data suggests that x might be the case.”

 

Writing in Business

Business writing can be quite variegated owing to the multitude of functions that it can serve. Resumés, cover letters, e-mails, and memos all have different formats, and there is not really a standard design for any given document. Nevertheless, some stylistic concerns should always be appreciated while writing in professional settings:

  • Language should be kept formal. Avoid using idioms, colloquialisms, and casual vernacular.
  • Keep audience in mind and address them directly.
  • Be cordial. Use proper titles when addressing others and verbalize courtesy and gratitude.
  • Keep track of time. This not only means being prompt, but also providing documentation for all time-sensitive information and communicating your message in an efficient way that respects your audience’s time.

Additional Resources

Carnegie Mellon University – How Can I Help Students Become Better Writers in the Discipline When I am Not a Writing Teacher?

University of Leicester – Writing for Science

University of North Carolina – Sciences

“Scientific Writing: Strategies and Tools for Students and Advisors” by Vikash Singh and Philipp Mayer

“A Guide to Writing Mathematics” by Dr. Kevin P. Lee

“Guide for Writing in Mathematics” by Dr. Therese Shelton

Harvard Business School – Resumés and Cover Letters

“Brief Guide to Business Writing” by Dr. Kenneth G. Brown and David J. Barton

College of New Jersey School of Business – Guide to Writing

Miami University – Business Writing 


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