Regardless of the academic discipline in which you conduct research and write, and the heart of the research and writing processes lie the same principles. These principles are critical reading and writing, active and creative interpretation of research sources and data, and writing rhetorically. At the same time, as a college writer, you probably know that research and writing assignment differ from one academic discipline to another. For example, different academic disciplines require researchers to use different research methods and techniques. Writers in different disciplines are also often required to discuss the results of their research differently. Finally, as you probably know, the finished texts look different in different disciplines. They often use different format and organizational structure and use different citation and documentation systems to acknowledge research sources.
All these differences are rhetorical in nature. Researchers and writers in different academic disciplines do what they do because they have a certain rhetorical purpose to fulfill and a certain audience to reach. In order to make their research understood and to enable others in their intellectual community to follow their ideas and theories, academic writers conform to the expectations of their readers. They follow the research methods and procedures as well as the conventions of presenting that research established by their academic community.
As a college student, you have probably noticed that your professors in different classes will give you different assignments and expect different things from you as a researcher and a writer. Researching this chapter, I looked for the types of writing and research assignments that professors of different academic disciplines assign to students at the university where I work, by browsing websites of its different departments. As I expected, there was a considerable variety of purposes, audience, and research methods. I saw assignments ranging from annual accounting reports assigned in a business class, to studies of various countries’ political systems in a political science course, to a web search for information on cystic fibrosis in a cell biology class. All these assignments had different parameters and expected writers to do different things because they reflected the peculiarities of research and writing in the disciplines in which they were assigned.
This variety of assignments, methods, and approaches is universal. A study by Daniel Melzer examined the kinds of research and writing assignments students in various colleges and universities across the nation receive in different disciplines. Melzer’s shows that students in various academic disciplines are asked to conduct research for a variety of purposes, which ranged from informing and persuading to exploration and self-expression (91). Also, according to Melzer’s study, students in different disciplines researched and wrote for a variety of audience which included not only the instructor of their class, but also their classmates and for wider audiences outside of their classes (95).
Despite this variety of goals, methods, and approaches, there are several key principles of source-based writing which span different academic disciplines and professions. These principles are:
- The purpose of academic writing is to generate and communicate new knowledge and new ideas.
- Academic writers write "from sources." This means that new ideas, conclusions, and theories are created on the basis of existing ideas and existing research
- Academic writers examine their sources carefully for their credibility and appropriateness for the writer's goals and objectives.
- Academic writers carefully acknowledge all their research sources using source citation and documentation systems accepted in their disciplines.
So, while one chapter or even a whole book cannot cover all the nuances and conventions of research and writing in every academic discipline. My purpose in this chapter is different. I would like to explore, together with you, the fundamental rhetorical and other principles and approaches that govern research writing across all academic disciplines. This chapter also offers activities and projects which, I hope, will make you more aware of the peculiar aspects of researching and writing in different academic disciplines. My ultimate goal in this chapter is to enable my readers to become active and critical investigators of the disciplinary differences in research and writing. Such an active approach will enable you to find out what I cannot cover here by reading outside of this book, by talking to your professors, and by practicing research and writing across disciplines.