You will soon find or have already found that the requirements and purposes of writing at the graduate level will depend on your discipline. For example, a literature review serves different purposes across majors (e.g., economics, psychology, mathematics, engineering, and education). It can be a short description, providing background information to the topics in question. A literature review could also be a rigorous analysis and synthesis on a certain concept discussed in previous literature. Or, it could be a concise overview of existing studies and a place to show the research niche and the importance of the research. Due to different writing conventions, citation, and reference practices, an essential part of writing practice at the graduate level, vary across disciplines as well (Pecorari, 2006; Samraj, 2004). “Five-paragraph essays”, familiar to many of you, no longer exist.
ESL composition teachers, having a background in English composition, applied linguistics, and language education, cannot require you to write a literature review without first telling you what a literature review is in the class and whether you can adapt the literature review to the specific requirements of your disciplines or not. Clear definitions and explanations are always important. If the information is missing, you are entitled to request it. However, it poses a challenge to instructors to determine what they should teach and require of graduate students with different fields of study. Which genre should the teachers teach so that you feel the content is still relevant to your study and maintain motivation throughout the semester? If an instructor just asks you to write a literature review on a general topic, such as “Should animals be used in labs?”, not related to your field, you are likely to feel this class is not helpful to your career or even a waste of your time. Many students in the past mentioned teachers should focus more on grammar in general, often a perennial request from students. While grammar exercises may seem familiar or easily able to demonstrate some kind of progress with, not only is basic grammar something that you have likely already mastered, but more subtle uses of grammar are also often discipline-specific. A common grammatical practice, particularly related to tone, positioning, word choice, audience, etc., in humanities and social science might be frowned upon by scholars from other fields, and vice-versa.
In this case, teaching and learning a decontextualized grammar and writing genre will not be helpful to you to be successful in your discipline. Instead, teaching and learning how to analyze essential components and functions of writing in a specific context and reflect upon the involved writing process will benefit you in the long term. That is, learning how to write at the graduate level in ESL class should not be about mastering a certain written genre, but to develop your skills that can be transferred when writing contexts change. Transfer means using “prior knowledge in new ways and in new situations” (Wardle, 2007, p. 68). Thus, this chapter is dedicated to train you on transfer skills that you can internalize and apply to your future writing practice in your disciplines.
To make skill transfer happen across disciplines, it is important to balance the local and general knowledge being taught and learnt in class. Larsen-Freeman (2013) points out that “if knowledge is too tightly bound to the context in which it was learned, transfer to superficially different contexts will be reduced significantly… general knowledge that works together with local knowledge is important for transfer” (p. 115), which is supported by Green (2015) who claims that transfer failure occurs when “learning in formal education contexts is often highly localized (or ‘domain specific’) and, hence, does not lend itself to transfer to other contexts” (p. 3). With this being said, although writing across different curricula requires various foundations of local knowledge as each subject in each major is unique, this chapter particularly pays attention to your analyzing and reflecting skills, rather than your knowledge on a specific writing genre (e.g., literature review). More specifically, this chapter focuses on analyses of writing conventions in different disciplines, understanding metacognitive languages, and the internalization of the writing process.