Academic writing in a college setting can generally be divided into three main categories or genres: writing in the humanities, writing in the sciences, and writing in business. Each genre has its own specific requirements in terms of style, content, and format.
Writing in the Humanities
Academic writing in the humanities explores questions that deal with human values. The ultimate goal in writing in the humanities is to explain or understand the human experience—to use writing as a tool to reflect upon life. The "humanities," as a discipline, includes not only literature, but also philosophy, ethics, performing arts, fine arts, history, aspects of anthropology and cultural studies, foreign languages, and linguistics. In a humanities class, you might be asked to analyze a poem, a performance or play, a painting, a film, or even a musical work.
Writing in the Sciences
Science writing includes writing in two main categories: natural sciences and social sciences. In each genre, the writing focuses on informing readers of new discoveries and assisting them in discovering truth through facts and firm, detailed data.
These include physical sciences such as biology, chemistry, engineering, geology, physics, and so forth. This type of writing is generally concise and includes genres such as lab reports and reviews of scientific literature.
The social sciences, on the other hand, focus on human behavior and societies. They involve documenting actual events as they happen. Categories of social science include psychology, anthropology, political science, sociology, education, and economics.
Research-based writing in the sciences generally uses a formal tone, third-person voice, and avoids personal references and needless adjectives. Depending on the assignment, you might also write an analytical, explanatory, or persuasive paper in any of these fields for a popular or professional audience.
Writing in Business
Business writing often means explaining a situation, event, or change in order to compel the reader toward a very specific action. Format is key to a well-written business document, since its structure should allow the reader to quickly find particular sections and a contact person who can answer further questions. Writing in business can include memos, cover letters, resumes, project reports, proposals, thank you letters, emails, and business plans. While adherence to conventional grammar, spelling, and punctuation is important in every discipline, this one places the most emphasis on mechanics.