Bio, and Chem, and Math, Oh my!
February 12, 2014
Working with Non-Humanities Papers
by: Tyler Lane
So there you are, sitting in the writing center after a session with another ENG 1000 student, when you look at your upcoming appointment only to see they’re working on…a lab report?! Or could it be…THE NOTORIOUS MATH PAPER?! Don’t panic! You’re a trained professional! Or something like that…But really, do not be intimidated by students writing in disciplines completely foreign to you. Just because when you hear you think apple or cherry instead of 3.14 doesn’t mean you can’t help someone write about math. Here are some things to remember:
Think about effective communication. While it’s true that most of us here in the center are more comfortable with writing in the humanities, remember that your job is to help people communicate effectively through writing. You can do this regardless of what they’re writing about. Don’t get hung up on not understanding the technicalities of what the student is talking about. Focus instead on the quality of their writing. Are they being clear? Is their paper organized logically? How about their formatting? These kinds of elements are universal to all kinds of papers.
Conciseness is usually the key. In most papers for scientific subjects, particularly lab reports, the goal is to be as clear as possible. While flowery language is appropriate for some papers, this isn’t one of them. In these cases, it’s often necessary to help students reduce wordiness in an effort to promote clarity. Again, while you may not understand all the intricacies of what the student is talking about, you can tell if they are being clear and concise or not, and this should remain a top priority when working with non-humanities papers.
Use all the available resources. Here in the writing center, there are lots of great resources to help you help students. For example, there are handouts on writing in all kinds of disciplines, as well as on different citation styles you may be less familiar with. And don’t be afraid to seek guidance from other consultants! There is a wide array of knowledge and strengths among the consultants here, so ask around if you need help.
Pay attention; you just might learn something. One of the most exciting parts about working in the writing center is getting to read and learn about things that you never would have otherwise. If you’re working with a student writing in a discipline that’s unfamiliar to you, look at it as a potential learning experience. Maybe you’ve never taken a Biology class before, and helping a student with their bio paper gives you the chance to discover something new about the world. And even if it isn’t a topic of interest to you, you’re still gaining experience that will allow you to become a better writing consultant.