Westmont faculty discuss writing in their disciplines

Maddy Simonsen, Staff Writer

Writing is a necessary skill in all academic practices; however, different disciplines utilize the skill in distinct manners. Dr. Alister Chapman of the history department, Dr. Brandon Haines of the chemistry department, and Dr. Eric Nelson, a licensed clinical psychologist and the director of counseling services, shared how their disciplines use writing. 

While most academic disciplines extensively utilize writing, academics employ the skill for divergent purposes. Chapman stressed that the practice is essential to history, as “it’s the typical way historians communicate, and help students to be better communicators.” Historians must elegantly write to captivate their audiences with their ideas. 

Chemists creatively engage with their writing through numerous methods, even by including narrative elements, anecdotes and jokes.”

While important in all disciplines, writing adopts distinctive features within each field of study. Haines shared, “Writing in chemistry is usually pretty technical and is geared toward experts.” Haines explained that chemists must share the details of their experimental techniques so that other scientists can replicate the experiment. While scientific papers are precise, it should be anything but dry or boring. Haines clarified that chemists creatively engage with their writing through numerous methods, even by including narrative elements, anecdotes and jokes.

Writing in clinical practice tends to include more speculative and tentative language. Nelson elaborated that “phrases such as ‘seems like,’ ‘could be,’ or ‘may be’ are often used when speculating about the root causes of symptoms.” Additionally, he maintained that clinical psychologists typically include specific observations about sessions in their writing. 

If anyone wishes to improve their writing, they must become familiar with the needs of their discipline. Chapman asserted that students can improve their writing by utilizing simple words and sentence structure, as complicated and long-winded sentences can diminish clarity. 

Haines believes that students can improve by creating an outline to intentionally organize their thoughts. According to Haines, because writing in chemistry is generally used to explain complex ideas, unclear presentation can lead to confusion. 

Nelson advised students to use speculative language when writing for clinical practice, and noted, “It is important to separate the reported and observed symptoms from the individual themselves.” Furthermore, he explained that individuals should write about sessions cautiously and considerately because a patient may read the report.

In most disciplines, writing is an integral skill used in many different ways. While each discipline possesses distinctive features, writing is ultimately an essential medium for communication.