In courses where writing is not rooted in the curriculum, it can be easy to overlook nurturing writing skills. There is also a tendency to assume that students have acquired or will acquire writing skills from their composition courses.

However, writing takes place in a variety of settings, many of which require unique conventions. For the full development of our students, it is worthwhile to consider how writing can be effectively taught and nurtured beyond composition courses. This is to the benefit of the student, the University, and potentially, your field of study.

Utilizing writing in your classroom also provides a long list of benefits. Below are some helpful suggestions and resources for teaching writing in non-writing courses.

General Strategies

When assigning a writing project, it’s important to give your students tools to be successful. To ensure your students are able to develop their writing skills and turn in their best work, you can use examples, model your writing process, scaffold your assignment and use peer review groups.

Use Examples: Provide examples of what you are looking for. This helps students become familiar with the style and conventions of your discipline. It also allows them to visualize your expectations.

Model Writing: Share your writing process with your students to provide clarity on how you develop a piece of writing. This may require you to brainstorm out loud. By modeling brainstorming and processing, you will help your students understand your train of thought when it comes to writing assignments. Keep in mind that while modeling your process may help some students, the writing process is unique to each writer. What works for you won’t work for everyone.

Scaffold Your Assignments: Scaffolding your assignments means using milestones to help students finish larger projects. These could be thesis statements, evidence collection and reflection, and working drafts. At each stage be sure to provide examples.  Scaffolds provide students the opportunity to incorporate feedback during the course of the project.

Engage in Peer Review: Peer review activities are cornerstones of writing courses that can be incorporated into any course, in any department, on any assignment. Peer feedback often happens in groups of two to four. Give students guidelines on what to give each other feedback on; for example, do you want students to check formatting? Use of specific details? Source citations?

Encourage all members of the group to read each other’s papers, make notes, and then engage in a discussion. This gives students an opportunity to point out issues, ask questions, and get clarification. By the end of a successful peer review, students will gain new perspectives, incorporate feedback, challenge ideas, refine their drafts, and more! Learn more about peer review here. Additional information about effective strategies for peer reviewing can be found here.

Each of these practices not only leads to better assignments in your class, but in all classes. This is because you’ll be developing and nurturing not only a writer, but a critical thinker, and a creative mind.

Writing in STEM

STEM writing typically adheres to a specific format. Keep the following considerations in mind when writing in scientific contexts:

  • Explain the purpose and features of the scientific writing format to students. For example, explain that a lab report’s specific details about procedures are meant to allow a reader to replicate an experiment.
  • In addition to specifying that personal pronouns like I, me, and my aren’t used in scientific writing, explain why.
  • Provide opportunities for students to see STEM writing that is simple and straightforward by providing examples.
  • Point out vocabulary nuances. Sciences use highly technical language that is rarely flexible. Help students understand the specifics of the vocabulary.
  • Show students how to present data and inferences. Explain that, in research, we do not write definitives but rather, “The data suggests that x might be the case.”

By providing context and encouraging students to practice STEM writing best practices, you can help your students produce better STEM writing.

Writing in Business

Resumes, cover letters, emails and memos all have their own specific conventions. Here’s how you can help students adopt stylistic practices for professional settings:

  • Encourage students to keep their language formal. Show them ways to avoid idioms, colloquialisms, and casual vernacular.
  • Specify the intended audience. Paint a picture of who the students should imagine their reader is. Share what that person’s purpose and time frame for reading might be.
  • Showcase using proper titles and headings.
  • Frame timing as a key driver for business, including writing. Encourage communication that respects the audience’s time.

Additional Resources

Carnegie Mellon University – How Can I Help Students Become Better Writers in the Discipline When I am Not a Writing Teacher?

University of North Carolina – Sciences

“Scientific Writing: Strategies and Tools for Students and Advisors” by Vikash Singh and Philipp Mayer

“A Guide to Writing Mathematics” by Dr. Kevin P. Lee

“Guide for Writing in Mathematics” by Dr. Therese Shelton

Harvard Business School – Resumés and Cover Letters

“Brief Guide to Business Writing” by Dr. Kenneth G. Brown and David J. Barton

College of New Jersey School of Business – Guide to Writing

Miami University – Business Writing