Guiding Students Toward Successful Discipline-Specific Writing

One of the fundamental tenets of WAC pedagogy is that learning in every discipline is enhanced by writing. This is one reason you will often see WAC linked with another acronym, WID. Writing in the Disciplines, or WID, is a category of WAC practice that seeks to “introduce or give students practice with the language conventions of a discipline as well as with specific formats typical of a given discipline.

As has been noted in the Fellows’ Corner before, it can be difficult for instructors to introduce discipline-specific writing in the classroom. The academic, technical, or professional writing in your field may be obscure and full of jargon, rigidly formatted, or otherwise intimidating to novice learners. As instructors, one of the most important things that we can do is to acknowledge the complexities of writing in our respective fields and help students take the first steps toward mastering it.

Providing a variety of examples of professional writing from your field for students is a good way to get started. Even better is guiding them through the first one or two readings. This may mean sharing insights into how you read writing of this kind as an expert in the field, or perhaps assigning simple, informal writing assignments to help students articulate their understanding of content or structure (see this post for more suggestions on assisting with difficult readings).

While professional writing provides good models and can be inspiring for students to see, it can also be daunting. Students may find themselves wondering how on earth they are going to produce writing that looks like the samples they have read, leading to unnecessary anxiety and discouragement. Providing examples of successful student writing can be a counterweight to these negative feelings.

Samples of non-professional writing are concrete evidence that good discipline-specific writing is within reach for students. You may choose to pull samples from the internet (this journal of student writing from Middlesex Community College contains some good examples from a variety of fields) or gather your own. The more unique the assignment is to your course the more you may want to collect one or two exemplary assignments per semester to serve as models to future classes (be sure to get permission from the student to use their work in this way, and always remove the name from the sample).

Supporting discipline-specific writing is a major goal of the WAC program at City Tech. Follow the links in this post for more helpful tips, or contact the WAC fellows through the OpenLab.