Understanding Reading and Writing Differences Across Disciplines
Critical readingA thorough examination of a text to understand and evaluate not just what it says but also its purpose, meaning, and effectiveness. In this context, critical means careful and thoughtful, not negative. requires more than understanding new vocabulary words and identifying the main ideaThe most important or central thought of a reading selection. It also includes what the author wants the reader to understand about the topic he or she has chosen to write about. and supporting detailsStatements within a reading that tie directly to major details that support the main idea. These can be provided in examples, statistics, anecdotes, definitions, descriptions, or comparisons within the work. . Effective readers know that they must use different strategies when they approach different types of writing. Depending upon which academic field you find yourself in, you will find that each disciplineAn area of study, like history, science, or psychology. has its own way of communicating. Even when writing on the same topicThe subject of a reading. , historians, scientists, artists, and psychologists will tackle the topic differently. In this lesson, you will learn how to approach three particular disciplines—science, history, and pop culture.
Whenever you approach a piece of writing in a particular discipline, consider these six aspects:
The writer's purpose for writing. Writers change their purposeThe reason the writer is writing about a topic. It is what the writer wants the reader to know, feel, or do after reading the work. for writing depending on the discipline they are writing for, the topic they will cover, and the goals of that particular writing task.
The writing tone and style. When you speak with someone, you listen for what is said, but you also listen for how it is said. People's tonesThe feeling or attitude that a writer expresses toward a topic. The words the writer chooses express this tone. Examples of tones can include: objective, biased, humorous, optimistic, and cynical, among many others. often reveal more than their words, and the same holds true in writing. Different disciplines will have different tones depending on the material they need to present and their audience. For example, when a writer creates an articleA non-fiction, often informative writing that forms a part of a publication, such as a magazine or newspaper. for a science journal that updates a new finding, the tone will reflect the information or educational goal by presenting the information in a straightforward, possibly formal manner. This would differ from a writer who wants to create enthusiasm for a topic or persuadeTo convince someone of a claim or idea. the reader to take an action. The same is true for style. An article in a science journal would be written in a formal academic style with distinct sections including an abstractA summary of an article often written by the author and reviewed by the editor of the article. The abstract provides an overview of the contents of the reading, including its main arguments, results, and evidence, allowing you to compare it to other sources without requiring an in-depth review. , research and methods, findings, and conclusions. An article in a popular magazine or website, on the other hand, would follow a more entertaining and approachable style.
The reader's goal for reading the text. Your goal as a reader will change depending upon what you are reading. When you understand your goal in picking up a biology text or historical journal, you will save time because you can more quickly find what you should be looking for.
The specific language that the writer uses. Just as Italian is spoken in Italy and Spanish in Spain, all academic disciplines have their own jargonTechnical language pertaining to a specific activity and used by a particular group of people. and language particulars. When you understand these specifics, you will be one step closer to understanding the text.
The organization of the readingA piece of writing to be read. A reading can either be a full work (i.e., a book) or partial (i.e., a passage).. Just as poetry and short stories are structured differently, readings across all disciplines are also organized and structured in specific ways. Becoming familiar with these differences will help you find the essential information while using pre-reading strategies as well during active reading.
The discipline-specific features of the text. Lastly, each discipline has traitsThe specific parts of a person, place, or thing that distinguish it from another. that are specific to that particular field. For example, scientific writing often includes charts and figures that you will not see in a pop culture piece.
|Writer's Purpose|| |
Makes claims based on facts.
Puts focus on research.
Uses concrete evidence and examples.
Uses the facts of history to make a logical argument that X, Y, and Z happened as well as why they happened.
Uses logic and intuition to make sense of the facts.
Engages in a larger discussion with other historians.
Tells what happened.
Explains why it happened.
Explains, outlines, and/or analyzes current trends in music, fashion, film, literature, etc.
Main purpose is to entertain.
Leans to light, current, and subjective topics.
Relies heavily on testimonies and examples as evidence.
|Writing tone and style|| |
Writing tends to be dense, stiff, and formal.
Objective tone; straightforward and informative.
Historically has favored the passive voice; however, active voice is now being used.
Avoids first- and second-person pronouns, i.e. "I" and "you."
Avoids first- and second-person pronouns, i.e. "I" and "you."
More subjective than scientific writing; however, opinions/interpretations need to be backed by evidence.
Can use an informative, persuasive, or entertaining tone depending on the writer, reader, and topic.
Writing tends to be less formal and more friendly.
Uses first- and second-person pronouns, i.e. "I" and "you."
More subjective than history and scientific writing.
Addresses the reader.
Must be attention-grabbing because there are many options (think about magazines at the grocery store checkout line) and topics change quickly.
|Reader's goal|| |
Identify how the writer reached his/her conclusion.
Understand the methodology.
Understand whether or not it is significant/reputable.
Look for the proof.
Understand when it was written so that you can determine whether it is still significant.
Understand the argument that the author is trying to make.
Separate the facts from the author's interpretation.
Find any flaws in the author’s reasoning.
Infer and understand the logic between relationships.
Remember that history is not static, and be open to new interpretations of long-known facts.
Understand the author’s potential biases.
|Understand when the pop culture piece was written as the period will influence your interpretation. This is true with many types of writing, but pop culture writing, like pop music, is especially of its own time.|
|Specific language|| |
Likely to have words that might not be in the dictionary because science vocabulary evolves quickly.
Language is precise. Writers choose to use the most specific word rather than use a word that may be more familiar.
Many words, including the new words, are derived from Greek and Latin; when you see an unfamiliar word, you may be able to piece it together if you know Latin and Greek word parts.
Older primary sources will contain archaic language that will make understanding more difficult.
Uses verbiage that may only have been used in a particular period. Its use may have died out or changed in meaning.
Current sources that discuss past events will focus on the language of causes and consequences of certain events.
Words are specific to both the time and place of the piece.
Language needs to be interpreted in light of when it was written.
Recent events and trends are quickly included in the vernacular.
Taxonomists use classification.
Primary research arranged around the scientific method: observe, research, form hypothesis, test hypothesis, analyze results, and draw conclusions.
Historians organize by categories of action and not chronological order; that is, all events relating to technology may be grouped together, while all education-related events are grouped separately.
Within the each category of action, events are arranged chronologically; uses narrative.
Overall, historians make an argument and support it with evidence.
Uses a variety of organizational strategies, including comparison and narration.
Depends heavily on hooks and story-like qualities that create an interesting and easy flow.
|Discipline-specific features|| |
Figures, tables, graphs, and charts
Often requires basic to advanced levels of mathematical literacy to understand.
Will reference primary sources, that is, texts written in the time you are studying. For example, it you are learning about the Civil War, a primary text could include a letter from President Lincoln to a Union soldier.
References to other historic events.
|Pop culture moves progressively from local to national to international levels.|
Giving the "ok" symbol (formed by creating a circle with your thumb and index finger) is a very positive sign in the United States. It lets others know that you and/or they are doing well. However, if you make that same exact sign in Brazil, you will not make friends because Brazilians understand that sign in the same way Americans would if someone raised a middle finger at them! Reading discipline-specific texts can be equally confusing if you don’t understand how to read them. You risk spending time and effort focusing on the wrong details. As a result, you will not understand the author's purpose or main ideas.
In your career, you may have to read different sourcesA person, book, article, or other thing that supplies information. to gather information for projects or plans. It is important to recognize what type of discipline you are reading for your research. For example, reading a pop culture magazine article on the economy when compiling a report on the financial outlook of your company is probably not the right choice. Instead, you should look for information in peer-reviewedWritings that have been evaluated by experts in a subject before they are published. economic journals or other more fact-based sources.
Below are two introductory paragraphs to two readings that both approach the same topic with two different discipline-specific tactics. Read each passageA short portion of a writing taken from a larger source, such as a book, article, speech, or poem., and consider the following questions about the intended audience, purpose, and differences in the readings.
A. In the early days of World War I, German submarines devastated the British and American fleets. Submariners would sneak up on a moving ship, watch it just long enough to figure out its speed and direction, and then fire torpedoes into the ship's path. There was little that surface boats could do to hide from submarines. Although the military was very good at camouflaging troops and tanks on land, ships couldn't be painted to blend into the background because the colors of the sea and the sky are always changing. But then the British had a startling idea—if they can’t hide them, why not make the ships stand out instead? They decided to paint them in contrasting colors and random patterns, like zebras and giraffes, animals that are easy to spot but hard to track because the patterns they wear break up their outline. The Navy called this disruptive camouflage razzle dazzle: odd, irregular patterns and colors that would confuse enemy gunners and throw off their aim by disguising the shape and motion of their ships.
B. Looking for a red carpet transformation? It's tempting to reach for the go-to tools. After all, a dangerously high heel can make a short frame statuesque, and industrial shapewear can turn a pear into an hourglass. But combine stilettos with a cincher and a swanky affair could end in a visit to the emergency room. Thankfully, this season's hot trend offers an alternative for literal fashion victims in the form of high-contrast stripes and strategic color-blocking all perfectly placed to minimize, enhance, elongate, and taper.
Passage A is beneficial for the reader who has a basic understanding of WW I. It introduces an idea that may have given the British an advantage in the war.
Passage B is written for the reader who is concerned with looking good, especially in regards to her figure. With its discussion of stilettos, it seems to be intended more for women.
Passage A provides needed context to introduce the idea of razzle dazzle.
Passage B uses a question to draw the reader in to the article. It is also trying to convince the reader to abandon high heels and corsets in favor of outfits with stripes and color-blocking.
Passage A tells a story. While overall, much of the language is objective, the author also inserts subjective language, such as startling and devastated.
Passage B uses more informal and friendly writing. Overall, its language is heavily subjective.
Below are two body paragraphsThe part of an essay that comes after the introduction and before the conclusion. Body paragraphs lay out the main ideas of an argument and provide the support for the thesis. All body paragraphs should include these elements: a topic sentence, major and minor details, and a concluding statement. Each body paragraph should stand on its own but also fit into the context of the entire essay, as well as support the thesis and work with the other supporting paragraphs. to two readings that both approach the same topic with two different discipline-specific tactics. Read each passage, and answer the following questions about the intended audience, purpose, and differences in the readings.
A. There are many different methods of camouflage. Octopi and lizards match the color and texture of their skins with nearby rocks and vegetation to blend into the background, and manmade hunting gear is painted or woven to do the same thing. Zebras have wild stripes that disrupt their outlines, especially when they move in groups, and so did dazzle-painted warships in World War I. Moths and caterpillars are shaped like leaves and twigs to fool predators, while cell phone towers are built like trees to hide their industrial clutter from neighbors. Gazelles and whales have counter-shaded sides that flatten and minimize rounded shapes, as do color-blocked dresses.
B. Applying the razzle dazzle idea took a lot more than handing sailors buckets of paint and letting them have it. First, a wooden model of each ship was built to scale and then handed off to artists who designed and painted individualized patterns. Next, the dazzled model was placed next to a matching one painted plain gray and then the two were placed in front of various simulated backgrounds of water and sky. Designers studied the pair through periscopes to judge how well the camouflage worked and made adjustments as needed. After the pattern was approved, precise plans of the color scheme were drafted and sent to where the actual ship was docked.
Passage A is meant for the reader who wants to understand the full scope of camouflage in nature.
Passage B is intended for the reader who wants to know about the process of razzle dazzle from conception to execution.
The purpose of passage A is to explain the different ways that camouflage is used in the natural world.
The purpose of passage B is to inform the reader about the process the Navy used to design and paint razzle dazzle ships.
Passage A uses classification to organize its ideas. The entire paragraph breaks camouflage into a number of different categories, including that of octopi and lizards; zebras; moths and caterpillars; and gazelles and whales.
Passage B, on the other hand, is organized according to time order. It outlines the process of painting the ships. It also uses a number of signal words to identify when the supporting details happened i.e. first, next, and after.
How would you alter your strategies to read a psychology text?
Since psychology is a type of science, I will rely on Greek and Latin roots to help me understand unfamiliar vocabulary. I will also look for charts and figures that may summarize the results. To judge its validity, I will pay close attention to the methodology used to come to particular conclusions.
What about literature or other creative writings?
Reading literature is not like most of my other academic reading. In order to get the big picture, it is necessary to read an entire book from front to back. It is not possible to skip from one chapter to the next. To understand an author or idea, it may be necessary to read more than one text by the same author or along the same theme.
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