Genres for Student Writing

One important dimension of teaching a Writing in the Disciplines (W) course is choosing a type of writing that is appropriate for the kind of intellectual work you want students to do and the kinds of writing skills you want them to learn.

Traditionally, faculty have often assigned generic "school writing" forms such as "essays, "reports" and "term papers." However, these terms tell students little about the specific kinds of writing faculty actually expect. Assigning more field-specific types of writing--and discussing models of such writing with students--can help them better understand the task and increase the likelihood that they will produce what you hope for.

Unfortunately, locating appropriate genres--in terms of structure, length, target audience, and so on, can be time consuming. To help you identify the type of writing that best suits the context of your class and your learning goals, this page houses a growing collection of genres listed by field or discipline, along with examples or links to examples.

If you have suggestions for genres we might add to this page, please contact Cary Moskovitz.

Natural Sciences 

Research Reports

This is the standard genre for communicating new scientific research. While students should get some experience with this genre during their undergraduate education, the genre--at least in its entirety--is not a good writing task for every student lab course. For a discussion of the issues and ideas for alternatives, see "Inquiry-Based Writing in the Laboratory Course," Science 20 May 2011.

Research Notes

These mini-reports, common in most scientific fields, can be a good genre for short original research writing. Different journals have different names for this; for example, the Journal of the American Chemical Society calls their version "Communications."

News Report

Extended explanations of recent research conducted by others.

Letters to the Editor

Unlike their cousins in the popular press, letters to the editor of scientific journals are often miniature versions of serious scientific arguments--including citations. Such letters can be good writing assignments for scientists in training--especially when students are asked to respond to two or more pieces of scientific literature that are not fully in agreement.

Social Sciences 

Rand Policy Briefs


  • Information coming soon