Why Writing Works

Disciplinary Approaches to Composing Texts

Writing in Literary Studies

by Dr. Eric Doise

Writing is, obviously, central to literary studies. Those working in the field read writing, and in the field, “writing” is often broadly defined to include mediums like film and museums. That reading is then presented in written form via articles and books. While we are seeing a slight shift away from the traditional literary criticism essay (see below), writing about literature is intertwined with the reading of it, so the beginning and ending of work in the field is writing.

Types of writing in the field

Literary and film scholars write in print and digital form by producing articles, books, and book reviews. Film scholars and digital humanists also work in visual mediums such as the video essay, in the case of the former, and any number of genres including charts in the case of the latter. Writing tends to be scholarly and theoretical/abstract; however, those who work in sub-disciplines like literature education are more likely to produce professional and practical work.

 The traditional literary criticism essay/book is still dominant, despite the many predictions of its death, and for those who are most interested in reaching experts within the field, that genre is the most impactful. However, as new communication technologies emerge and the barrier to entry into those technologies drops, writing in the field is expanding. For example, some comics scholars are experimenting with writing scholarship as comics. As noted before, digital humanists often incorporate graphs and other forms of data visualization, although they are usually incorporated into fairly traditional essays.

Writing in the classroom

Students primarily write analytical/critical short responses and essays. The shorter responses often serve as a means to arrive at ideas and plans for longer essays, and this process mirrors what many scholars do in the field: writing shorter, exploratory pieces that help them discover, plan, and develop ideas for articles and books. These forms of writing help students to engage in the kind of close reading and interdisciplinary thinking central to the field. Other forms of “writing” include multimodal texts like oral presentations accompanied by visuals and video essays, and because teaching is such an important part of the field, those presentations can be important opportunities to refine communication skills.

Tips for writing well in Literary Studies

Most good writing in the discipline features a narrowly focused argument that is developed through textual evidence and analysis. Summary should be kept to a minimum. Generally, writing should not focus on how a person feels about a text or character but rather on what a text does or does not do and the significance of those characteristics. MLA style should be adhered to. Close attention to word choices and formal elements are crucial while reading and writing. Transitions and reader cues should be present throughout in order to create a unified argument. Language should be academic and formal, although the field does allow for a bit more leeway than some other fields. In most cases, literature/film analysis should be interdisciplinary in nature.