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What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you get up and walk out on me?

The title really has nothing what I'm writing about, unless, perhaps, I'm writing out of tune?
Before this class, I never even considered that writing styles of various academic disciplines, and even of other cultures, are different…sweet! Hubbuch writes that “regardless of whether the paper is a critical study for a history class or a research write-up in biology, one of the basic characteristics of scholarly writing in all disciplines is that a paper will be self-contained? (27). Hmmm..but what in the heck does self-contained mean? Obviously it means clearly explaining one’s argument, but how does each discipline vary in reaching this goal? According to my English TA, it’s his specific way, but according to the other TA, it’s the complete opposite.

Hubbuch also says that “I cannot afford to be ignorant of the fact that, even within the restricted world of academic discourse, there are many modes of writing, each with an attendant style and rhetorical conventions? and then later, “I believe, for example, that all tutors must be aware that different fields have different styles of documenting sources, even if they don’t know the particulars of all these styles? (24). I totally agree with Hubbuch’s proposition. I think it foolish to expect to find tutors that are knowledgeable in every subject: the resources would not be available and I think there are advantages to help a student from an outside view of the subject matter and force the student to take ownership of his/her paper. However, if I do not need to know everything about every subject, then I would ask for more training on the nuances of the different writing styles of each discipline. There was one consultation that I helped with an engineering lab report, and I spent a lot of time asking questions, like “Ok, so for lab reports, are you supposed to do this?? I guess it made sure the student knew what he was doing and made him have to explain it, but I did waste a lot of time asking all of these questions and less time on his writing. I would feel much more prepared in helping an engineering student if I at least had a solid grasp on what his professors expected from a lab report or IT essay or whatever. (I guess I don’t really know if they have IT essays…)

This really shows me how subjective writing can be—in the department of English, I think there is a sort of ambiguity of how to write a paper. My TA for my Survey of American Literature 1 spoke to our class about the correct way to write a paper, as he was a bit disappointed after grading our first paper assignment. He said that most English professors and even professionals prefer papers to be spelled out, like saying “First, I will say…? etc. One girl interrupted and said that she had done that last semester, but her TA graded her down and taught her not to do that. We then had a completely useless argument/discussion about paper-writing—emotions were high, people were getting all riled up, and I just sort of sat there and organized my schedule. Anyway, he was saying that his way was “the right way? and that this is what is expected. So, is this true? Or is paper writing COMPLETELY subjective and it is all about appeasing the personal preferences of the teachers grading your paper?

Have a restful weekend!
Jenna

Comments

I think it has to be a mix of both: given our interesting conversation of writing styles as they vary across disciplinesm there is some kind of general expectation and style that seems to apply to various kinds of writing about certain kinds of things. But at the same time, an instructor's personal preference must factor in to some level - this has been my experience, your experience, and most definitely the experience of 1301 students coming in to the writing center who are working on nearly identical assignments but being graded on totally different skills from content to format to the use of pronouns. I think it's best to try and understand what a particular instructor is looking for, and then see how it applies to the general field - and try to weigh them for yourself. Right now I am doing citations for an ArtH prof - and was all excited to use Chicago, since it's supposedly the history style, but my prof. doesn't want us to use it -fo figure! I guess that's just one more example of never quite mastering the whole writing thing.

There is no easy way to please every TA. Hey that rhymes! Anyway Figuring out what each person expects from you is part of life. Learning to be flexible and read people and deliver is a skill. I use that as a sort of disclaimer when I tutor. "It sounds good to me but I can't speak for your prof..."
Anyway, when I get lab reports and science papers I leave the format up to them and advise them to model the sections and things after another report, but obviously change the wording so as not to plagiarize. If the sentences are clear, complete and in order, what more could a physics or chem prof want?

i like wendy's way of describing "giving a disclaimer"-- i think i do that a lot, too, noting how even within a given discipline, instructor preferences for what's "right" can vary quite a lot. so, if a student seems particularly concerned about getting the structure right, i always tell people to check in with TAs and instructors (find myself doing it a lot, actually). do others find themselves doing the disclaimer? in some ways, it seems a useful strategy-- get students into the idea of initiating conversations about expectations, different writing styles, and looking at discourses critically.

I think I do a similar thing. It's not always a set disclaimer, but I usually hope to keep the student on track with what the instructor is looking for, constantly referring to the assignment sheet. I used to be nervous about telling them to write for someone rather than focus on writing to learn, but not so much anymore. Like Miranda said, I think it is useful. Because of constant human interactions, we need to be aware of audience, even in speech. We aren't writing alone in the world. We're writing for people...different people. Being able to adapt what you learn about clarity and developing ideas is an important skill too...