Features of Humanities Writing
English, humanities, and everything else
Disciplines are intersecting more and more every day. It is already nearly impossible to draw boundaries between different fields: you can find English papers about history, history papers about chemistry, philosophy papers about music, art history papers about medicine, and just about any other combination you can think of.
This kind of open exchange between formerly separate fields is a very exciting development. Of course, it can both inspire and frustrate you in choosing topics to write about, since there is such variation in subject matter and in ways of studying it. Still, there are certain basic principles to keep in mind.
Attention to detail is the key
Close attention to detail, especially details of language, is crucial to good writing in the humanities. Learning to write good papers for English class helps train you in such techniques, so it's useful to look at the English paper as an overall model.
As with research papers generally, you find two basic kinds of English paper in high school-the informative paper, which we could call a "book report," and the persuasive paper, or literary analysis.
The purpose of the book report form is to give an overall view of a particular work of literature. Teachers often assign book reports to ensure that their students have read and understood the material. You might have to summarize the plot of a novel, for instance, and name its major themes. You will rarely be asked to write this type of paper in college English courses, however; and as you go through high school, you'll find upper-level English classes emphasizing the analytical form over the book report.
In the analytical essay, as in persuasive papers generally, you present and argue a thesis concerning one or more works of literature. If this essay is also a research paper, you'll need to know what others have said about a similar topic, to help you develop an argument that goes beyond previous work.