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After  studying the “Understanding Disciplines” presentation, reflect on the  nature of your discipline: what is it’s area of inquiry? How do people  in your discipline go about studying this  area (experiments? interviews? research into primary sources? something  else?)? How do they report on their findings? How do people in your  discipline share information? What is unique about the way they share  information? What kinds of assignments have you been asked to do by your  professors in your discipline? How do these relate to the discipline in  general?

community of Civil Engineering

Discipline Awareness
After this presentation, you will have a
better understanding of:
• What all types of academic writing have in
• The characteristics of a discipline
• What distinguishes different academic
All academic disciplines share
certain principles:
• generate and communicate new knowledge and new
• write from sources
– new ideas are created on the basis of existing ones
and are part of a larger conversation.
– credibility and appropriateness of sources
– use sources responsibly
• citation (discipline dependent)
Adapted from: Methods of Discovery: A Guide to Research Writing by
Pavel Zemliansky
6 Characteristics of
an academic discipline
1. Disciplines have a particular object of research
(e.g. law, society, politics), though the object of
research may be shared with another discipline.
2. Disciplines have a body of accumulated specialist
knowledge referring to their object of research,
which is specific to them and not another
3. Disciplines have theories and concepts that can
organize the accumulated specialist knowledge
4. Disciplines use specific terminologies or a specific
technical language adjusted to their research object.
5. Disciplines have developed specific research
methods according to their specific research
6. Disciplines must have some institutional
manifestation in the form of subjects taught at
universities or colleges, respective academic
departments and professional associations
connected to them.
Source: “What Are Academic Disciplines?” by Armin Krishnan
(in the following 2 slides you will see an excerpt from Krishnan’s essay
that clarifies some of these points somewhat)
“Not all disciplines have all of the aforementioned six
characteristics. For example, English literature has the
problem that it lacks both a unifying theoretical paradigm or
method and a definable stable object of research, but it still
passes as an academic discipline. Generally it can be said that
the more of these boxes a discipline can tick, the more likely
it becomes that a certain field of academic enquiry is a
recognised discipline capable of reproducing itself and
building upon a growing body of own scholarship. If a
discipline is called ‘studies,’ then it usually indicates that it is
of newer origin (post Second World War) and that it may fall
short of one or more of the abovementioned characteristics.
This would be typically lack of theorisation or lack of specific
methodologies, which usually diminishes the status of a field
of research. These ‘studies’ disciplines can either aim at
remaining ‘undisciplined,’ as women’s studies did in the
1970s, or they can engage in the process of their
disciplinarisation and institutionalisation” (Krishnan 10)
“Furthermore, although there can be no true hierarchy in the world of
science, as each discipline can claim expert knowledge in its own domain,
not all disciplines are created equal. Some disciplines would be considered
to be ‘more useful, more rigorous, more difficult, or more important than
others.’ There are also tremendous differences between the disciplines
with respect to their overall standing within universities, which can be
seen by the number of students and the amount of research money they
can attract and the overall resources that are allocated to them by
universities in terms of teaching personnel, teaching hours, and
equipment. Bigger departments with more staff and more expensive
equipment tend to have greater influence within universities than smaller
and less equipped departments. In the UK this means that vice chancellors
are usually recruited from the science and technology disciplines on the
grounds of greater managerial experience. In addition, some newer
disciplines like IT and management do quite well because of their great
relevance to the business world and therefore greater attractiveness for
students, while other more established disciplines like literature may have
a hard time averting the fate of a slow death” (Krishnan 10-11).
Classification of Disciplines
Psychologist Anthony Biglan looked at what sets disciplines
apart from each other and came up with the following
classification system:
• Distinguishes between “hard” (or “paradigmatic”)
disciplines and “soft” (or “pre-paradigmatic”) disciplines
– This suggests the divide between natural sciences and
humanities/social sciences
• Distinguishes between “pure,” or primarily theoretical (like
mathematics) and “applied” (like engineering)
• Distinguishes between those that engage with “living
systems” (like biology) and those deal with “non-living
systems” (like history)
Where does your discipline fall in this taxonomy?
Things to consider about academic
writing in the disciplines:
• Genres appropriate to or common in your discipline
– For example, in my field, English, the analysis essay is the most
common. However, biography is also a possible genre
– What about your field? Is it a lab report? A study? An interview? What
• Audience
– Obviously in any discipline the audience is other members of that
– But what does that mean? What do people in your discipline expect
from research materials?
• Conventions
– May be closely tied to audience expectations
– What citation format does your discipline use?
• In English literature we commonly use MLA format. Many social sciences use
APA format. What does your discipline use? How can you find out?
– How are essays organized? Are their subheadings? Is it common to
include graphs, charts, tables or graphics?
– What kind of language is used?

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