Project Overview

Stock image of ink pen

Genres in the Disciplines

Our study involved two phases of investigation:

  • Syllabi Analysis

The first phase of the project involved determining what genres are most commonly taught in undergraduate science, social science, and humanities classes. We surveyed 220 syllabuses from undergraduate general education courses. We coded types of writing assignments and skills (e.g. critical thinking, applying a method, etc.), listed in syllabuses from multiple disciplines. We tallied frequencies of genres and skills. The results showed distinctive disciplinary differences. In Humanities, thesis-driven “essays” involving textual analysis are common. In Social Sciences, analytical “research papers” asking students to apply a theory or synthesize ideas are typical. In Natural Sciences, transactional genres (proposals, reports) dominate.

  • Faculty Interviews

In the second phase, we extended this research to include interviews with instructors from across the campus. Ten faculty were interviewed by a PI and research assistant using eight open-ended questions. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed for emerging themes. Two main themes emerged. First, faculty wanted students to read critically and rhetorically, both to build content knowledge and to understand how to construct an argument in that discipline. Second, faculty wanted students to enact disciplinary research practices by applying a theory or method and by mimicking how scholars evaluate sources, incorporate evidence, and structure their claims. However, faculty did not tend to make these expectations explicit in their writing assignments and instead used generic terms (such as essay or paper) and content-focused prompts that did not cue students to disciplinary expectations.

Ultimately, we hope these findings can improve first year writing instruction at UNC and around the country.