Spring 2013

WRT533: Seminar in Graduate Writing in the Life Sciences

Assignments | Table of Pages | Office Hours | Dr. Logan
Dr. Patrick Logan
108 Davis Hall, Department of Communications Studies, University of Rhode Island, Kingston RI 02881
Phone: 401-874-2970; Fax: 401-874-4722
Email: mayfly@uri.edu


This seminar is for graduate students in life sciences who want to understand scientific writing and to improve personal writing skills for various scientific genres and for a variety of audiences and purposes. We emphasize content and structure of journal articles, thesis/dissertation, reviews, grants, popular press, and writing for the web. We address style and readability, including formatting for print or screen. Specific outcomes include:



Classes involve lectures, discussions, in-class exercises and workshops. Class size is small and office hours are liberal to promote work on individual writing problems.
We will discuss the content and form of scientific papers, from title to literature citation, and the ways in which papers are written, from first draft to published paper. We will also discuss other forms of scientific writing, such as the thesis / dissertation, reviews, grants, and popular press. We will develop a professional style that is correct, simple, and lucid. You will write regularly, for practice and review.


You will have many written assignments, following a detailed schedule to be distributed in class. You are expected to attend all classes, to be prepared and to participate, and to finish assignments on time.


The course is intended for graduate students in the natural sciences or for seniors intent on graduate school. Students for whom English is a second language are most welcome and I am willing to work with you on ESL-related writing problems, although this is not intended to be an ESL course.

SCHEDULE (Spring 2013)

Tuesday 6:00PM - 8:45PM, Davis Hall Room 009

Week 1 (Jan. 29)
Introduction: Setting Out Expectations

Scientific Writing: The nature of scientific and technical writing; what we will cover this semester.

The Writer's Bookshelf: Dictionary, thesaurus, style manuals, books on writing. (a few suggestions)

The Journal Article: How the scientific method influences the content and organization of the scientific journal article (notes)

IMRAD: Journal article structure: Introduction, methods, results, and discussion.

Before You Write: Audience. Purpose. Choosing a journal for your work. Journal guidelines for authors.

Reading: Harmon & Gross: cpt. 1, Introducing Your Problem

Assignment: Journals, Domains, Guides to Authors.

Week 2 (Feb. 5)
Scientific Communication 1: Structure in Journal Articles

Introduction: Serving your reader well. Opening the inquiry; connecting to the past, setting the stage for the present. Literature: What to include, what not to include, and why. Day on methods, results, and conclusions in the introduction (Notes | Exercise: Paring Down an Introduction )

Methods: Creating parallel structures in methods and results. How much detail? Responsibility to science and your readers. (Notes: "Methods and Results")

Verb Tense in Refereed Journal Articles: Tense? Relax! The rules are simple. (more)

Reading: Harmon & Gross: cpt. 5, Framing Your Methods; cpt. 4., Turning Your Evidence into Arguments: Results and Discussion.

Assignment: Structure and Content of Scientific Journal Articles, Part I

Week 3 (Feb. 12)
Scientific Communication 2: Style, Presentation, Argument, and Scientific English

Results: Tables. Figures. Computer-generated graphs. (notes)

Discussion : Closing the inquiry (notes). Multiple hypotheses. Is good science compatible with good writing? Discussion of Chamberlain (pdf, 1890, reprinted 1965)

The Abstract: How to write and why. (notes)

Giving due credit: Reference citations. Authorship versus acknowledgment. (notes)

Publication process: Submitting for publication. Post acceptance: The galley, revisions, ordering reprints.

The Thesis / Dissertation: What do you do this for? Where do you find the rules for how to do it? Speculation and creative thinking in a graduate thesis or dissertation. (notes)

The Review Article: Where structure and focus come from, and how this may apply to your thesis or dissertation. (notes)

Rhetorical Evolution of the Scientific Article: Historical development of scientific english style, presentation, and argumentation (notes)

Reading: Harmon & Gross: cpt. 2, Distilling Your Research; cpt. 3, Entitling Your Research; cpt. 7, Distributing Credit. (Optional: cpt. 8, Arranging Matters, and cpt. 9, Varying Matters.)

Assignment: Structure and Content of Scientific Journal Articles, Part II

Week 4 (Feb. 19)
Style and Readability

Science speak: Analysis of scientific style—nominalizations, passive voice, noun clusters, and specialized vocabularies. (notes)

Reading: Harmon & Gross: cpt. 14, Composing Scientific English; cpt. 15, Improving Scientific English.

Assignment: Style of Scientific Journal Articles

Week 5 (Feb. 26)

This week will conclude the materials on style and readability begun in week 4, including in-class workshops on the exercises and the assignment.

Week 6 (Mar. 5)

Reading: Fowler and Aaron, cpts. 27-32, on punctuation, cpt. 21 on modifiers.

Assignment: Punctuation

Week 7 (Mar. 19)
Defining Words, Plans, Alternatives

March 11-17 is spring break

Definitions: describing new things with new words, setting future goals and assessing paths toward them, and formal evaluation of alternative means to attain fixed ends.

Assignment: Strategic Plan, Feasibility Study, or Research Proposal (3 options)

Week 8 (Mar. 26)
Grants and Leadership

Proposals: Selling your best ideas to get the funds to carry them out; Traditional granting versus outcome funding (notes)

Collaboration: Leadership style for successful groups and collaborative writing (notes).

Reading: Harmon & Gross: cpt. 10, Proposing New Research.

Week 9 (Apr. 2)
Writing for Speaking

Oral Presentations: How writing and speaking entwine (notes)

Poster Sessions: Focusing a conversation (notes)

Power point: Why Edward Tufte blasted Power Point; suggestions for how to use Power Point nevertheless. (notes | From Tufte's "The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint" | 5 experts critique Tufte | Tips on using Powerpoint)

Reading: Harmon & Gross: cpt. 12, Presenting PowerPoint Science; cpt. 13, Organizing PowerPoint Slides.

Week 10 (Apr. 9)
Writing Science for the Public

The Popular Press. The Critical Need for Effective Translation from the Scientific to the Public Sphere. (notes)

Whale song: Variation in forms and styles for popular writing. (Exercise: Do You Have a Preferred Style?)

The lead and the ending: Suggestions from William Zinnser. (notes)

Assignment: Popular Press | Editing instructions | Review sheet with instructions for editing.

Week 11 (Apr. 16)

Purpose Analysis. Revising after you've written. Analyzing what you said and what you wanted to say. A strategy for moving, adding, or deleting pieces of writing. (notes)

Editing: The editor as Vishnu (the maintainer or preserver) and Shiva (the destroyer or transformer). (notes)

Week 12 (Apr. 23)
Writing With Technology for Print and Web Media

Page Design: Why learn page layout? (notes). How to learn page layout technology? (notes)

Writing for the web: Writing in cyberspace using html, css, etc. What do I have to learn and how is web development done? How is writing for the web unique? (notes)

Job-Applications: Resume and application letter (notes)

Assignment: Resume and Job Application.

Week 13 (Apr. 30)
Teaching Writing and Using Writing to Learn

Writing Across the Curriculum. Should you teach writing? Why, and how? (notes)

Evaluation: In-class discussion of what worked and didn't this semester.

Assignment: Course Critique

Classes end Apr. 30