The term scholarly discipline refers to a collection of research methods and communication norms shared among a group of scholars with similar interests. Scholarly disciplines are useful for narrowing research efforts and for creating ongoing dialogues about particular subjects. For example, biology could broadly be considered a scholarly discipline with the specific goal of studying organisms. Understanding scholarly disciplines can help you differentiate between specialists in particular fields and the language or methods they might use. To identify a scholarly discipline, it can be useful to examine common subjects, sources, jargon and methods of study or analysis.
Scholarly disciplines tend to focus on particular subjects for study. For example, the scholarly discipline of English studies focuses on how the English language is used in literature and popular media such as video gaming or film. Focusing on particular subjects allows researchers to learn in-depth information that is inevitably lost in broader analysis. Identifying common subjects shared among groups of scholars may indicate an existing discipline because scholars often build on the work and ideas provided by other scholars.
Most scholarly disciplines privilege particular types of sources. For example, biology scholars study plants, animals and microorganisms, while English studies scholars tend to focus their attention on forms of literature such as plays, poems and novels. Such primary sources of information often are supplemented by secondary sources -- essays and research articles written by other scholars in the discipline. It also is common for members of a discipline to privilege particular primary and secondary sources -- such as the works of William Shakespeare and essays written about him -- and assume that others in the discipline are at least familiar with the privileged sources.
Often, scholarly disciplines develop jargon -- words with specific or technical meanings -- in order to facilitate communication. For example, in English studies the term “close reading” refers to carefully observing the facts, details and complications of a text in order to discuss those contents in some other context, according to the Writing Center at Harvard University. Jargon helps to build a shared understanding of discipline-specific subjects.
Common methods of study and analysis develop within scholarly disciplines to speed up communication and the discovery of new knowledge. For example, scientific papers in many scholarly disciplines have several standard sections including the introduction, methods, results and discussion. A standard format for papers allows other researchers in scholarly disciplines to find information easily. For example, you might be interested only in a researcher’s results but not his or her discussion, and knowing exactly where to look for that information can save time.