Introduction to Writing Across Disciplines

Writing in Different Academic Disciplines

Academic writing conventions vary substantially according to discipline—that is, whether one is working in the humanities, the social or natural sciences, or business.

Learning Objectives

Identify the key characteristics of writing in different academic disciplines

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Writing in the humanities usually seeks to analyze, interpret, argue, and/or explain thoughts, reactions, ideas, and emotions. 
  • Writing in the sciences focuses on informing the reader of new discoveries and assisting readers in discovering truth through facts and solid data provided in detail.
  • Writing in business often means explaining a situation, event, or change to compel the reader toward a very specific action.

Key Terms

  • creative writing: The art of crafting texts, such as novels, biographies, short stories, and poems, that fall outside the bounds of professional, journalistic, academic, and technical discourse. Creative writing can be used to tell stories, evoke emotions, build empathy, and inspire new ways of thinking about the world.
  • genres: Categories or types of writing, including analytical, creative, explanatory, interpretive, and persuasive (among many others).

Academic writing in a college setting can generally be divided into three main categories or genres: writing in the humanities, writing in the sciences, and writing in business. Each genre has its own specific requirements in terms of style, content, and format. 

Writing in the Humanities

Academic writing in the humanities explores questions that deal with human values. The ultimate goal in writing in the humanities is to explain or understand the human experience—to use writing as a tool to reflect upon life. The “humanities,” as a discipline, includes not only literature, but also philosophy, ethics, performing arts, fine arts, history, and aspects of anthropology, cultural studies, foreign languages, and linguistics. In a humanities class, you might be asked to analyze a poem, a performance or play, a painting, a film, or even a musical work.

Writing in the Sciences

Science writing includes writing in two main categories— natural sciences and social sciences. In each genre, the writing focuses on informing readers of new discoveries and assisting them in discovering truth through facts and firm, detailed data. 

Research-based writing in the sciences typically uses a formal tone, employs a third- person voice, and avoids personal references and needless adjectives. Depending on the assignment, you might also write an analytical, explanatory, or persuasive paper in any of these fields for a popular or professional audience. 

Natural Sciences

Natural sciences include physical sciences such as biology, chemistry, engineering, geology, and physics. This type of writing is generally concise and includes genres such as lab reports and reviews of scientific literature. 

Social Sciences

The social sciences, on the other hand, focus on human behavior and societies. They involve documenting actual events as they happen. Categories of social science include psychology, anthropology, political science, sociology, education, and economics. 

Writing in Business

Business writing often means explaining a situation, event, or change in order to compel the reader toward a very specific action. Format is key to a well-written business document because its structure needs to allow the reader to quickly find particular sections and a contact person who can answer further questions. Writing in business can include memos, cover letters, resumes, project reports, proposals, thank-you letters, emails, and business plans. While adherence to conventional grammar, spelling, and punctuation is important in every discipline, business writing places the greatest emphasis on mechanics.