“Unfamiliar” Writing

Why did Alexis Greiner title her piece “Tutoring in Unfamiliar Subjects” and not something else? After all, there are lots of ways that writing might differ, not just by subject!

Today we’ll explore the notion of “unfamiliar” writing. I hope we get to do some group work (twice) that will help us see our range as tutors of writing with texts and situations that are outside our comfort zone. We should try Greiner’s strategies as we work, and reflect on what additional questions we could ask in order to make sure consultations are successful to our tutees. All the while I’d like to backfill with some helpful information from my field of composition and rhetoric, telling you a bit about what we as a field know about “Writing across the Curriculum” and “writing in the disciplines.” We’ll come back around at the end to what we think about “expertise” in writing and how much you all think you need to have in order to tutor well.

First our discussion-leading group!

Now more of our time, and I hope to pick up where they left off. First let’s:

  • Name some of the classes outside of ENGL in which you’ve written papers. A list!
  • Did you ever have moments writing a paper in these other classes, in which you realized that you had to sound less “English-y”? More like scholars from another discipline or field? What did you do, what did you change in your writing?
  • Did your instructors give these kinds of writing names, like genres of writing? What were they?
  • Did they ever teach you their disciplinary habits of mind–as in how to “think like [that profession],” for example thinking like a historian or anthropologist?

A video from East Carolina University’s Writing Center WID page breaks down the ideas pretty well:

One of the things that Griener explores is being unfamiliar with academic topics, sure. But what are other ways that writing can vary from class to class? What other aspects of writing does this video say can vary across disciplines?

Let’s look at a paper from JOUR (Journalism) and the assignment prompting it. Read it over–it’s way short–and then get into groups. If someone walked into a writing center with these two things, how would you approach working with this person? What would you turn his/her attention to in the draft?

Share out as a team!

I hope we have even more time! We could talk about these things:

  • WAC as writing across the curriculum–the understanding that writing varies by discipline in pretty major ways
  • The challenge of GE (General Education) courses: because these course are open to ALL majors, sometimes the writing in them is very “general,” not tied to a disciplinary form (reading responses, argument papers, problem/solution essays). But as we move into GWAR classes and W courses in the major, the specificity of the genre conventions increases until people are writing EITHER the kinds of things expected of them in the workplace (after graduation) OR the things the professors themselves write. Additional challenges??
  • Well, hmm. What do these professors want you to sound like when writing? Yourself, or someone else?

Hey! I'm a professor of Rhetoric and Writing in the English dept. at Chico State. Also disc golf player, indie music listener, and vanilla Marxist.

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