WRT533: Seminar in Graduate Writing in the Life Sciences
108 Davis Hall, Department of Communications Studies, University of Rhode Island, Kingston RI 02881
Phone: 401-874-2970; Fax: 401-874-4722
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:
- understanding how scientific writing has evolved within natural science discourse communities and how it is unique from other forms of writing.
- practicing writing some of the most important kinds of scientific writing.
- improving your ability to organize content of your writing.
- enhancing style and readability, with a focus on awareness of readers and meeting reader needs.
- Joseph E. Harmon and Alan G. Gross. 2010. The Craft of Scientific Communication. Univ. Chicago. 225 p.
- H. Ramsey Fowler and Jane E. Aaron. 2001. The Little, Brown Handbook. 8th edition. Addison Wesley Longman. ~1000 p.
Note: The current edition of this handbook is the 11th; it costs about $60. I will give each of you good used copies of the 8th (free).
- Additional materials, downloadable through links from this syllabus (and from: Table of Pages). This includes about 110 printed pages of original text. In addition, there are links within the text to examples and supplementary readings.
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)
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)
- Agent and action: sentence patterns, voice, Is verbs, dummy subjects, personal pronouns (notes | exercises)
- Sentence length and complexity (readability indices)
- Latinizations, redundancy, noun clusters, negatives (notes) | (exercises)
- Nominalizations, missing Wh-connectors (who, what, where, etc.), interruptions (notes | exercises)
- Split infinitives, dangling modifiers, illiteracies, and other common errors
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)
- End punctuation. The comma (notes)
- The semicolon. The colon (notes)
- Apostrophe, quotation marks, brackets, ellipsis (notes)
Reading: Fowler and Aaron, cpts. 27-32, on punctuation, cpt. 21 on modifiers.
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.
- Simple Explanations: Parenthetical, Sentence, Extended, Process (notes)
- Defining Plans: Strategic Planning. (notes)
- Defining alternatives: Feasibility Studies (notes)
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)
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
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