Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Field Ethnographers

Because of the differences of writing conventions across the disciplines represented in the 108.02 classroom, I encourage the students to be "ethnographers of their fields". I ask them to search for examples of the writing genres we practice in the course - an annotated bibliography, a critical review, and a "long paper" - read them, and look for ways they are similar and different according to the genre characteristics discussed in class. I have them discuss these in their research groups to see if students from the same field agree, then each group reports to the class on the similarities and differences. This raises the awareness of how genre specific writing is done in the various fields not only for the students but also for the instructor, which is important since my research background is in the social sciences, and the writing conventions are also different from other fields. I ask the students to submit the samples and make copies for future quarters. This is a good way to build an archive of samples from various disciplines to use as reference.
There are also several sources that focus on writing in specific disciplines. These include -
  • Writing for Computer Science, Justin Zobel, 1998, Springer
  • Writing in the Sciences: Exploring Conventions of Scientific Discourse, Ann Penrose and Steven Katz, 2004, Bedford/St. Martin's Press
  • Essentials of Writing Biomedical Research Papers, Zeiger (Ed.), 2000, McGraw Hill
  • Writing in the Social Sciences, Steward & Smelstor, 1984, Scott Foresman
  • A Short Guide to Writing about Art, Sylvan Barnet, 2003, Longman
  • A Short Guide to Writing about Literature, Barnet & Cain, 2003, Longman
  • A Short Guide to Writing about Biology, Pechenik, 2004, Longman
  • A Short Guide to Writing about Chemistry, Beall & Trimbur, 2001, Longman
  • A Short Guide to Writing about History, Marius, 2002, Longman
  • A Short Guide to Writing about Music, Porush, 2000, Longman
  • A Short Guide to Writing about Social Science, Cuba, 2002, Longman

11 comments:

cherepaha said...

one of issues that always come up in 10802 and 333 is whether the course focuses too much on general knowledge than local knowledge. Yetta Hansen, when she was a grad student, wrote an article in Written Communication, that was critical of 10802's focus on general knowledge and suggested that the courses be separated. We have discussed this over the years but it is very difficult to arrange.
In 333, the course is divided into half: a class on general knowledge and a tutorial on local knowledge.
Although the students don't believe this, there is still a great deal of general knowledge that is consistent across fields. There are general differences in how long the introduction is, how sources are cited, and smaller things such as whether the results or organization is explained in the introduction.
The real difference is in language. In some fields, like computer science, we find a whole different level of language that sometimes differ from what we normally discuss.

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