How are the papers I'm asked to write in my major different from those in English 101, 102, and 105 courses?

The kind of writing you’ll do in college may vary based on the class you’re taking. Each discipline approaches writing in its own unique way by using certain conventions (i.e., specific vocabulary, specific ways of structuring the document). The conventions that you’ll see in a Sociology essay, for example, are not arbitrary but instead are in place to help the writer talk about subject matter in a way that is appropriate and useful to the discipline of Sociology. Consider some of our advice on approaching writing beyond the first-year English classroom.

  • Ask questions. Meet with your professor during his or her office hours and try to get a sense of what he or she is looking for.
  • Know, for example, that your Anthropology paper may need to be written differently than your Biology paper. Here are some possible variations you may look for as move from discipline to discipline:
    • Vocabulary
    • Grammar and punctuation choices (i.e., first or third person; passive or active voice)
    • Citation (i.e., MLA/APA/Chicago; quoting vs. paraphrasing)
    • Appropriate evidence (i.e., personal experience; empirical data; historical research; logic/reasoning)
  • Look at examples. The best way to start is by looking at journal articles and books written by professors doing research in your major. While you might not be expected to work on journal article or book length projects, you can at least get a sense of what kinds of writing and what kinds of projects are typically done in your discipline.
  • Keep in mind, however, that English 101, 102, and/or 105 are designed to give you practice (and confidence!) with processes, conventions, rhetorical and cultural awareness, and critical thinking to help you adapt your writing to new and discipline-specific contexts. In general, some basic rhetorical concepts apply in all writing situations. As you write, think about who your audience is, what your overall goal is, and what tone and what kinds of evidence you need to use to achieve that goal and reach your audience.

What can the Writing Center do to help?

We always begin by looking at the assignment and learning about what the instructor expects. Sometimes the writers who work with us aren’t sure what their instructor wants. In those cases, we help the writer figure that out by giving our interpretation of the assignment and/or by helping the writer formulate some questions to ask his or her instructor. Once we understand what the instructor wants, we talk with you to see what kind of help you need from us.