McDaniel juniors learn to write in the language of their fields

April 02, 2012

Physics, Art and Philosophy – and every other major at McDaniel – share a few course listings, among them the junior writing experience. But the similarities among these courses begin and end with the writing-in-the-discipline (WID) designation.

A requirement of the McDaniel Plan, WID courses are specific to each discipline and designed to teach students how to write in the language their fields, whether it is evidential support for a scientific assertion, a critical analysis of a work of art, or an argument reinforcing philosophical thought.

In some departments, writing is simply incorporated in the courses required of the major. Others guide students through a series of assignments that culminate in a final paper that mirrors the writing they might do in career or grad school.

Early in her WID class, which is anchored in the art and life of 17th-century artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini, professor Susan Scott helps her students learn how to really look at a work of art.

“First we use art the students know fairly well – then something new to them. I ask them to describe it to someone who is blind to help him learn how to see,” says Scott, who fashions the course to be meaningful for Studio Art and Art History majors alike. “I like having a mixture of majors in the class because they learn from each other.”

The students move on, learning to analyze and interpret. Eventually, after writing a personal statement, resume, descriptive analysis, comparative and critical analyses, Scott’s students are ready to write a research paper. And that serves them well when as seniors they produce an in-depth research paper, their capstone.

“As a capstone student, labeling the various writing types such as comparative, descriptive, and historical essays helped me when writing the multiple parts of my research paper,” says senior Art History major Anna Martin from Delmar, N.Y. “The course (Bernini and the Art of Writing in the Arts) helped me fine-tune my writing skills in art.”

In Philosophy and Physics, the WID classes take a different form. Physics professor Apollo Mian’s students, in the way of scientists, are performing experiments, making assertions and supporting that discovery or finding with evidence. Mian also teaches error analysis and how to handle data in the Physics WID class because both are integral to sound, repeatable scientific experimentation.

“Scientists need to communicate their discovery – to convince people the experiment was reliable and to provide evidence to support it,” says Mian, who taught scientific writing before the required writing in the discipline and also incorporated it in his courses, noting that at least one Physics major was hired because of his ability to write. “We as a department feel it is important.”

In Philosophy professor Peter Bradley’s class, the goal is clarity and conciseness – short, dense writing that is distilled to its essence through many spoken presentations.
“If you can write philosophy, you can write almost anything academic,” Bradley says. “You present to peers a lot, and then when you know what you think, you sit down and write.”

But OMG these are Millennials – texting and tweeting is a way of life. Do they rite in Art, Phys. & Phil. as if chatting on FB w/ their BFF? LOL!!!

“Students switch gears very easily,” says Bradley, a social-media enthusiast. “We don’t write in Philosophy the way we talk or the way we tweet. I have never seen text spellings in papers, and I don’t know anyone who has.”