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Writing Across Subjects and Disciplines: Writing

An introduction to writing across disciplines

Although many qualities that define 'good' writing apply equally from one subject area to the next, writing between disciplines can vary in interesting ways. In addition to studying the content of your field, you should aspire to better understand how your field's ideas and findings are communicated in writing, from academic essays and dissertations to journal articles and books.

The 'general resources' section of this guide contains training and information to get you started. You can then jump to the heading for your faculty to find writing support specific to your research area.

Guide contents

Fast facts

  • There isn't a one-size-fits-all answer to academic writing: best practices vary from one discipline to the next.
  • Writing conventions that may differ between subject areas include use of personal pronouns, formality of voice, verb tense, formatting, referencing practices, argumentation style, use of evidence, and more.
  • To improve your skills as a writer in your discipline, specifically, learn from published authors in your field: pay attention to the 'moves' they make and the voice they use in their articles and books.


General resources for writing across disciplines

 – Specific types of writing (University of Toronto)

Guidance on several main subject areas and particular kinds of assignment.

Brief guides to writing in the disciplines (Harvard University)

A great place to start for an introduction to writing in your academic field.

Writing for different subjects and scenarios (Skills for Study*)

Learn about the modes of writing you may need to switch between from one assignment to the next, including evaluative, comparative, argumentative, descriptive, and reflective. [*Log in with 'University of Southampton' as your institution.]

Subject-specific writing (Purdue OWL)

Links to information on writing in journalism, healthcare, social sciences, and more.

Analyzing disciplinary expectations (Queen's University)

Straightforward steps to help you read like a writer and better understand conventions in your field.

Academic phrasebank (University of Manchester)

An invaluable tool for getting to grips with the turns of phrase, sentence structures, and word choices commonly used to express ideas and findings in academic writing. Save to your favourites!


Writing in environmental and life sciences

Writing in the disciplines: biology (University of Richmond)

A guide that goes through structural and stylistic elements of biology writing.

– Think, do, and communicate environmental science (Ivanochko, 2021)

Students about to embark on an environmental science research project, including dissertations, will benefit from this thorough but approachable guide: research questions, data collection and analysis, writing strategies, and more.

 How to do your dissertation in geography and related disciplines (Parsons & Knight, 2015)

Access this book for practical and approachable support as you undertake a dissertation or other research project in geography or a related field.

– Writing for psychology: a guide for psychology concentrators (Harvard University)

Thorough support in critical reading, coherence in writing, and pitfalls to avoid.

Writing in psychology: experimental report writing (Purdue OWL)

A detailed look at the main sections of the writing, with an annotated sample paper to illustrate.

Presenting psychology: essay writing guides playlist

Short videos on using sources, critical evaluation, planning, structure and more.

Sciences (UNC Chapel Hill)

Brief handout with tips on clarity, precision, and detail in science writing.

How to write well: a guide for health and social care students (Keeling et al., 2013)

Includes everything from planning to proofreading strategies, with a great section on adapting your writing to different formats (e.g. essays, portfolios, posters, oral exams, and more).

Be more critical: a practical guide for health and social care students (Oxford Brookes University)

Feedback say your work is too 'descriptive'? That it needs to be more 'critical' and 'analytical'? Check out this guide for help.

– How to write your nursing dissertation (Glasper & Rees, 2013)

Covers models for critically appraising evidence, explorations of qualitative and quantitative research, time management while writing, and much more.

– How to do a systematic literature review in nursing: a step-by-step guide (Bettany-Saltikov & McSherry, 2016)

Guides you through the process of conducting a systematic literature review, from developing your question and protocol to writing up and editing.

– Research methods for nurses and midwives: theory and practice (Harvey & Land, 2017)

Chapters include specific guidance on evaluating research and writing up academic assessments, research proposals, and more.


Writing in the humanities and arts

A student's writing guide: how to plan and write successful essays (Taylor, 2009)

What does it mean for an essay to be analytical and coherent? How can you build an effective structure? Where should you begin? This book can help you answer those questions and build a strong foundation in academic writing.

Writing about history (University of Toronto)

Concise but helpful guidance on developing a good topic or question for historical research.

Writing in the disciplines: history (University of Richmond)

Covers some common types of historical writing as well as pitfalls to avoid.

A student's guide to reading and writing in social anthropology (Harvard University)

Covers best practices of style/voice, types of assignment, using sources and more.

Writing a philosophy essay (University of Toronto)

Support with critical evaluation and philosophical questioning.

A guide to philosophical writing (Harvard University)

Comprehensive support with purpose, audience, argumentation, narrative, and style.

A guide to writing in religious studies (Harvard University)

Support for each stage of the writing process, from thesis development through conclusion.

How to do things with pictures: a guide to writing in art history (Harvard University)

An engaging look at both the pre-writing and writing processes that will interest writers in other creative fields, too.

Writing in literature (Purdue OWL)

Includes sections on writing about general literature, poetry, film, fiction, and world literature, with a clear glossary of literary terms to use in your essays.

 – Writing in the disciplines: creative writing (University of Richmond)

Beginning foundations in creative nonfiction, flash fiction, character development, and poetry.

Writing in the disciplines: theatre and dance (University of Richmond)

Move beyond general observation or opinion and into richer critique.

Writing in the disciplines: music (University of Richmond)

Includes helpful advice on what to do and what to avoid in writing critically about music.


Writing in the social sciences

– Writing in the disciplines: political science (University of Richmond)

Includes tips on integrating sources and data as well as advice from professors.

Political science (UNC Chapel Hill)

Outlines the key qualities of strong writing in political science.

 – Writing economics (Harvard University)

Explores types of economic papers (theory, empirical, combined), research, structure, and more.

Sociology (UNC Chapel Hill)

Advice on argument, evidence, analysis, and more in sociology writing.

– How To write better law essays: tools and techniques for success in exams and assignments (Foster, 2016)

Covers case analysis, using specialty legal sources, critical and judicial thinking, tackling extended projects, and more: a must for any law student.

Legal writing (Webley, 2016)

Includes examples of student writing, guidance on different writing tasks (exams, essays, dissertations, etc.), help avoiding plagiarism, and other key writing skills for law students.


Writing in engineering and physical sciences

Writing in engineering: vidcast playlist (Purdue OWL)

Videos to support writing in engineering, including reports and memos.

Writing in engineering (Purdue OWL)

Guidance on writing engineering reports, including typical structure and visual design.

 – Writing in the sciences (University of Toronto)

A helpful starter guide covering verb tense, use of jargon, headings and more.

The scientist's guide to writing: how to write more easily and effectively throughout your scientific career (Heard, 2016)

A comprehensive book/e-book covering the writing process, structure in scientific writing, and more.

How to write a good scientific paper (Mack, 2018)

A book/e-book to assist science and engineering students in producing papers of publishable quality.

So, you have to write a literature review: a guided workbook for engineers (Berdanier & Lenart, 2020)

A 'couch to 5K'-style workbook to help engineering students with every step of drafting a literature review.

Explaining the future: how to research, analyze, and report on emerging technologies (Bains, 2019)

Explores how to tailor scientific/technical writing to your target audience, from voice to structure.


Writing in medicine

Successful scientific writing: a step-by-step guide for the biological and medical sciences (Matthews & Matthews, 2014)

A detailed handbook full of writing examples to illustrate its key points.

Writing in English for the medical sciences: a practical guide

Designed to help students and professionals alike identify and correct errors in their writing.

Research in medicine: planning a project – writing a thesis (Usher-Smith et al., 2010)

Particularly suited to postgraduate students and beyond, with an emphasis on managing a significant research project.

– Reflective practice: writing and professional development (Bolton & Delderfield, 2018)

A must for medical students working to critically reflect upon their practice.

 – A guide to the scientific career: virtues, communication, research and academic writing (Shoja et al., 2020)

Covers research ethics, academic writing, plagiarism, grant proposals, literature reviews, systematic reviews, and more.

 – Journal article writing and publication: your guide to mastering clinical health care (Gutman, 2016)

Explores manuscript structure, data handling, and more, with a section on transforming academic work into a publishable article.