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Writing  in  EnvironmentaL   Science   An  in  Depth  Look  in  the  Major   By  Cole  Caulkins    


Table  of  Contents      

Introduction..............................................................................................................Page  1   Chapter  1:  Literature  Review………………………………………………...……Page  2   Chapter  2:  Genres  in  Environmental  Science……………………………….Page  7   Chapter  3:  Interview  with  an  Environmental  Science  Major…..…..Page  11   Chapter  4:  Proposal  for  Change……………………………………………..….Page  13   Conclusion………………………………………………………………………………Page  16          

                                 

 

 

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Introduction                Writing  in  science  is  often   overlooked  and  the  importance  is   ignored  because  of  the  systematic   nature  of  science.  This  book  will   analyze  the  format  and  style  of   scientific  writing,  and  the  roles  it  plays   in  science.  An  in  depth  look  will  be   taken  from  many  different  angles  on   how  writing  in  science  works.                The  first  chapter  is  a  literature   review  on  the  style  and  format  of  peer   reviewed  articles  and  lab  reports.   Both  guides  to  writing  in  the  scientific   format  and  style,  and  examples  of  peer   reviewed  journal  articles  are  used.   This  is  to  show  how  scientists  expect   scientific  articles  to  be  written,  and   also  give  an  example  of  how  it  is  done   correctly.  The  chapter  focuses  on  the   basic  principles  of  writing  a  scientific   paper,  such  as  the  sections  that  are   included,  and  being  clear  and  concise   in  your  writing.                Chapter  two  is  an  up  close  look  at   five  different  genres  and  how  they  fit   into  the  big  picture  of  environmental   science.  The  genres  range  from  tightly   structured  peer  reviewed  articles  to   documentaries  for  the  general  public.  I   will  show  how  each  genre  is   interconnected  in  one  way,  and  why   each  one  is  important  to  make  sure   the  field  works  smoothly.  While  each   genre  fills  different  roles,  it  is   interesting  how  they  have  similarities   in  the  basic  format  and  style.  When   deciding  which  genre  to  use,  it  is   dependent  on  your  goal  and  which   audience  you  are  trying  to  appeal  to.                For  chapter  three,  I  interviewed  a   senior  at  DU,  Chris,  who  is  a   graduating  environmental  science  

major.  This  chapter  focuses  on  his   experience  in  the  major  at  DU,  and   how  some  of  his  experiences  are   similar  to  some  of  those  that  I  have   had  already.  Environmental  science   core  classes  can  be  difficult  for   underclassmen,  because  teaching   assistants  often  have  higher   expectations  for  the  students’   scientific  writing  skills,  while  many   freshman  have  never  written  a  formal   lab  report.  Chris  discusses  ideas  that   he  has  for  the  improvement  in   undergraduate  writing  in   environmental  science.                Chapter  four  is  a  proposal  to  the   University  of  Denver  to  implement  a   scientific  writing  specific  writing  class   for  freshman  science  majors.  This   class  would  likely  improve  students’   ability  to  write  scientific  papers,   especially  lab  reports.  This  course   would  establish  a  solid  base  for   writing  in  the  sciences.  As  of  now,  labs   and  lab  reports  are  not  as  effective   because  of  the  lack  of  connection  the   student  has  with  the  material.  This   class  would  help  the  students  to   understand  scientific  procedures   better,  and  therefore  the  labs  would   be  more  valuable.                This  book  provides  a  solid  look  into   what  it  is  like  to  be  an  environmental   science  major  and  the  kinds  of  writing   a  science  major  encounters  most   often.  I  will  explain  the  reason  for  the   styles  you  see  in  scientific  writing  and   the  roles  that  different  genres  fill  in   the  field.  In  addition,  I  will  analyze   some  problems  with  writing  in  science   at  DU,  and  how  those  could  be   addressed.            


Ch  1:  literature  review    

Writing in the sciences can be very difficult for many students who are new to the format of scientific papers. Scientific papers are all structured very similarly and this is to be able to effectively communicate information among scientists. Most scientists agree there is a widely universally accepted format for most types of scientific papers. Just like an employer reading a resume, a scientist should be able to skim a scientific paper and pick out the important details. There are expectations within the field for what kinds of information should be in the paper. For example, in a resume people expect to see a section on previous work experience, and in science, scientists expect there to be a section on the methods of an experiment in a peer review article. While there are specific guidelines to the writing expected of science majors, it can be a difficult form of writing to grasp as a new student in higher education because it is so systematic. These guidelines will vary between each kind of scientific genre, but in this chapter we will focus on the peer review article and lab report format; two of the most structured and methodical forms of writing in science that are very similar to one another. So what exactly are the traits of an effective and well-written scientific paper? While there are many different topics in science, there are certain characteristics that will be present in most, if not all peer review articles or lab reports. Many instructions I found for writing scientific papers come from universities that create them as a source for undergraduate students, the group that likely needs the most guidance in this area. The three most helpful  

guidelines I discovered were from the University of Central Arkansas, Dartmouth College, and Bates College. There is noticeable overlap between all three sources and while each has its own style tips, the themes and formatting guidelines are all similar. The first and most noticeable similarity between the three was the organization of the paper. All three sources insist a scientific paper must contain an introduction, methods, results with data tables and graphs, a discussion breaking down the results, and a conclusion followed by works cited if needed. The UCA guidelines, which are more lab report specific, did not request more than those elements. However, Dartmouth and Bates were more geared towards a peer review article format, also require an abstract. As I mentioned earlier, each section serves a purpose for the paper, and in order to do so each piece contains certain information. A peer review article begins with an abstract, while lab reports usually do not. In the guidelines give by Dartmouth College, they explain an abstract as, “A brief section in which you describe the study, state the important results and summarize the general conclusions.” (Dartmouth 2) Because the abstract includes elements from all parts of the paper, they suggest the abstract should be written last so the author can pick out the most important parts from the paper. The abstract’s purpose is to allow the reader to read a short paragraph and then decide if the article is what he or she is looking for. Following the abstract in a peer review, and beginning the lab report, the instructions serve to give the reader a background of what is being tested, and to give an overview of the experiment. This includes goals and hypotheses for

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the experiment. The introduction should give the reader a general idea of what to expect, and to explain the relevance for the experiment. As with any paper, the introduction should make the reader feel like the rest of the paper is worth reading. Next are the materials and methods; this section serves to describe the steps and materials used in the experiment. In the guide given by Bates College, it instructs the writer to, “Describe the procedures for your study in sufficient detail that other scientists could repeat your work to verify your findings.” (Bates) This section is where the author gains credibility, because if the methods are accurate they can always be double checked. The methods will also give the readers context to how the results were found when they are delivered in the next section. Once the writer explains the purpose of the experiment and the process, he or she will present the findings to the reader. Bates’ website on writing scientifically says, “The function of the results section is to objectively present your key results, without interpretation, in an orderly and logical sequence using both text and illustrative materials (Tables and Figures).” (Bates) In concurrence with Bates’ website, the guide given by Dartmouth also states, “The text of the results section should merely highlight the main features of the data. Do not give a complete description of the details of tables and figures; the reader is free to look at any details that interest her/him.” (Dartmouth 2) As stated by both sources, the results simply give the reader the results without trying to make any conclusions at this point, because the reader is free to do so on their own.

 

The discussion is arguably the most impactful part of a peer reviewed article or lab report because this is the scientist’s chance to analyze the results and make conclusions. While the reader might have made conclusions on his or her own from the results section, the author can confirm those findings, or add a new conclusion that can be drawn from the results. Often the discussion will also include flaws of the experiment that could have impacted the results in one way or another, and also where the author feels more research can be done specifically relating to the experiment to clear up any uncertainties. While the structure of a peer reviewed article or lab report may be the most standard and noticeable similarity in scientific papers, the language, tone, and sentence structure are also a very important part of scientific writing. In the instructions provided by Dartmouth, they emphasize being concise, “Scientific writing places a huge premium on efficiency of communication. If your paper is well written, you should be surprised (perhaps even dismayed) at how brief it is.” (Dartmouth 4) This is so the reader can easily and efficiently read the paper and gain important information about the experiment without reading something twice. Because scientific writing is not judged on things like creativity and how well it flows, the main objective is to get the information across to the reader. The more brief, the better, as long as important information is not excluded. Even if you were focusing on being to the point while writing the paper, there is likely more that can be done to condense your writing through revision. “In your editing, ruthlessly eliminate surplus words, extraneous details, vacuous sentences and repetition of ideas. When

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in doubt, delete it.” (Miami 3) Here is an example from The Journal of Wildlife Management in the article “Effects of Wolves on Livestock Calf Survival and Movements in Central Idaho” displaying concise and effective scientific writing:  “Wolf  prey  selection  patterns   seemed  to  favor  younger  calves   disproportionately;  our   research  supports  this   observation.  Wolf  prey  selection   patterns  may  be  explained  via   active  selection  by  wolves  for   individuals  that  are  particularly   vulnerable  due  to  smaller  size   or  impaired  escape  abilities…  at   this  juncture,  we  are  unable  to   evaluate  the  importance  of   these  factors  in  domestic   livestock.  Thus,  maternal  age   and  experience  level,  as  well  as   birth  date  of  calves,  should  be   evaluated  more  fully  as   potentially  predisposing   livestock  to  wolf  predation.”                             (Oakleaf,  2003,  p.  303)   This was taken from a discussion section of a peer reviewed journal article. As mentioned earlier, the discussion is the part where the scientist can connect the results and observations from the experiment back to the initial hypothesis. Offer any comments on the experiment and suggest future research. In the guidelines given by Dartmouth College, they instruct the student to focus on the following, “Interpret and critically evaluate the results. Compare the results to your expectations, and to the results of previous studies with which you are familiar. Be sure to respond to the hypothesis(es) and objectives stated in the introduction.  

Draw conclusions.” (Dartmouth 3) In the section taken from The Journal of Wildlife Management, notice that the author does not repeat the statements he has already made. The first sentence refers to the hypothesis and how the research supports this. Next the author gives a possible explanation for the results, but also mentions that there needs to be more research done due to the uncertainty that came out of the experiment. Corresponding to the guidelines given by Dartmouth, Bates, and UCA, the paragraph is concise, yet very effective and communicates the findings of the experiment very well. While this is nowhere near the entire discussion from the article, it is a good example of effective writing in science. It is difficult to reach a point where you feel confident writing an effective lab report or peer reviewed journal article, but it is something that is very important to learn in order to be successful in environmental science. Writing in environmental science requires a lot of practice, because it is very different from the typical kinds of essay writing you would find in high school. There is a fairly set in stone way of writing in each genre in science, and this is so the writing doesn’t distract too much from the information. Being clear and concise is expected when writing a peer reviewed article or a lab report. Every lab report or peer reviewed article contain the same sections with a specific format on how it should be done, and what content should be in which section. Writing in science is difficult but it could be much easier to learn if things were done slightly different. This book will show different genres and their roles, as well as explaining why they are important. I will also present a possible solution to the difficulties that many

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underclassmen have with labs and writing scientifically. This book will provide insight into what it is like to be a science major at the University of Denver, and some of the difficulties you might encounter. In addition to that, I will provide possible solutions that we students can push for to improve our academic experience at DU.

Ch 2: Genres in Environmental Science Introduction While chapter one focused one two genres in science, lab reports and peer reviewed articles, chapter two will analyze what makes up a genre, and how different genres in science are interconnected to fill different roles. Genres have been created over many years because of the need to classify different forms of writing based on similarities. There are many genres in environmental science, but we will discuss five prominent genres including lab experiments, peer reviewed journal articles, grant proposals, popular articles, and documentaries. Each genre has a different place in environmental science that fits a different purpose. This chapter will discuss genre theory and how it applies to the five genres mentioned above in environmental science. Something unique about the genres in science is that they can all work together in one way or another on the same topic. This chapter will show how some of these genres are interconnected and why they are dependent on one another. Genre Theory Similar to how a biologist might classify plants and animals by a genus and species, different works of writing  

with similar themes and styles are classified by genres. In the article “An Introduction to Genre Theory” by Daniel Chandler, he describes the meaning of a genre, “The word genre comes from the French word for 'kind' or 'class'. The term is widely used… to refer to a distinctive type of 'text'” (Chandler 1) One of the most difficult questions in genre theory is how are genres classified? What are the criteria to fit a specific genre? In Chandler’s article he says, “Specific genres tend to be easy to recognize intuitively but difficult (if not impossible) to define.” (Chandler 2) In biology, a species can be placed into a genus if it has certain physical characteristics, or a specific genetic code, but it is very difficult to look at literature with the same strategy. As mentioned in the article, genres in literature are intuitive rather than definitive. As new forms of writing developed with different themes and styles, new classifications had to be made, just as a newly discovered species must be placed into a new genus. The response to new forms of writing has created different genres. For example, in music there are older genres such as classical music, and there are newer genres like electronic music. Once electronic music became more widespread, people responded by making it a genre in music. Each genre fills a different role in the broad spectrum of literature. For this chapter, genre theory will be discussed specifically on its presence in science. In science, the main goal is to perform research, make observations, and inform people about the findings. Each genre in science fills a specific role in carrying out the goal from start to finish. One genre leads into the next, and they all

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work together to advance the knowledge of our society. Lab Experiments As a student, the genre I interact with most is the lab experiment. While we are not necessarily discovering new things within environmental science as freshmen, we are learning the process of performing an effective experiment. For lab experiments, there are multiple parts that could be sub-genres such as lab instructions, a pre-lab, the actual experiment, and a lab report. The lab instructions are posted online prior to the lab so the student can read through the lab and write a pre-lab. The student produced pre lab contains background information, an overview of the methods, and tables for results. This is so the student has a better understanding of the procedures and the lab will be more efficient this way. Each genre fills a different role; in science, lab experiments are the means in which students can gain practical, hands on experience in science. Along with hands on experience, students spend a great amount of time learning and practicing scientific writing techniques, which can be difficult to grasp. The point of a lab for students is to understand lab procedures, practice making observations, and work on scientific writing techniques. The skills acquired through labs are important in the professional field of science when you are designing experiments, and using peer reviewed journal articles to convey the findings. Peer Reviewed Journal Articles Peer reviewed journal articles are the best way for scientists of all disciplines to present primary research to other scholars. Scientific research won’t help

 

anybody but the scientist if it is not communicated effectively to an audience. In this genre, the audience consists of other scientists and scholars with solid background knowledge in the subject. The peer reviewed article has a very similar structure to a lab report, which was discussed in chapter 1. Similar to lab reports, the most effective papers in this genre are concise, specific, and yet communicate the information effectively. The main difference between a peer reviewed article and a lab report is that a peer reviewed article is written about primary research on hypotheses that have not been entirely explored yet, where lab reports are intended to practice the techniques used professionally in the experimental process. Peer reviews will include an abstract at the beginning of the article, whereas most lab reports do not. The abstract is a way for the author to take the most important parts of each section and organize it all into one short paragraph. The abstract should be able to give the reader an idea of what they will find throughout the entire paper. A good abstract will relay to the reader what was done and what was found in the experiment, and it will give them insight into whether or not it contains what the reader is looking for. After the abstract, a peer review will include the same sections as the lab report, an intro, methods, results, and a discussion. This will be approached the same way as a lab report outlined in chapter 1. The writing style is the same as writing a lab report; it is important to be clear and concise. The reader should expect to see the same contents in each section. The only difference is the writer is writing about an experiment with primary information. Every genre has its role, a peer reviewed article has its own; it

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serves to give all the important information pertaining to the experiment. Everything from background information to results and future research is included. A reader should be able to read a peer reviewed article and know how the experiment was done, what was found, and what still needs to be done. These experiments often take a long time, decades for some, and they require a source of funding. Grant Proposals This leads us to the next genre in environmental science; grant proposals are how a scientist can convince a backer that the experiment is worth the time and money. A scientist will start by explaining the funding opportunity that is available, or where the money will be coming from, and giving an introduction to the grant proposal. Within the full proposal the writer must include and introduction that explains why the area of study is important. Then one must also include what has already been studied in the area, and why this isn’t sufficient. Once that has been stated, the scientist must explain how the proposed study would be more effective than the previous ones, and how it will advance knowledge in the field. After all of this, the writer will explain exactly what research will be done; this would be similar to the methods and materials sections in peer reviews and lab reports. The hypothesis must then be presented, and it must be explained how the research with support or disprove the given hypothesis. Once the study has been presented, the scientist must then give a specific budget explaining the reasons why the funding is needed. It is important that the writer is as specific as possible with the budget, because a vague budget is unlikely to get funding

 

due to the uncertainty of where the money is going. Most people would like to know as much as possible about how their money is being spent for the study, because it is an investment for them. It is important that the writer explains that the components of the budget are necessary for the experiment and the advancement of knowledge. A timeline is then given for the study, and again like the budget, it is important that this is as specific as possible as well. While materials cost money, time is money as well, and it is crucial to show whoever is funding the study what will be done and when. Most likely no one will want to fund a study where there is not a structured timetable or deadlines within the study, because time management is very important for getting a study done right. A good grant proposal will include all of this, it will be concise and clear what will be done, and it will give the backer confidence in your abilities to get the study done and done right. Once the study has been performed, a peer review will be written and if the information is relevant, it is possible that it will be published for the public to read. However, it is important to understand that a grant proposal is a crucial genre in science, because without it very little research would get done. Without scientific research, our society would not be as advanced as it is today. Popular Articles The point of all the research that is done in science is to advance our knowledge as a society, not just within the scientific community. While the interaction between scientists through things like peer reviews are crucial, it is important that findings in the scientific community are relayed to the public. It is

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very likely that most people would not clearly understand the results and connections made in the previous formats because those are designed for communication among scientists. It is important that there is a genre in science that is simpler and clearer for the average person. Once all the research has been done and analyzed by the scientists, the findings could be published in a popular article in a magazine such as National Geographic, or on a website such as Science daily. Many of the science websites and magazines are filled with popular articles rather than articles in a peer review format. The audience would be way too small and it would not accomplish the goal of relaying information to the public. If you read a scientific popular article, you will likely see many similarities to a peer review article, but it will be much less specific and easier to read for the average person. Even though it is a popular article, it is important that the author sticks to a concise way of writing. Someone reading a science article is looking for information and evidence, not a plot structure. The writer should give the audience just enough to understand what was found, how it was found, and the evidence to support whatever the findings were. For example, an author might include a brief summary of the methods so the reader can understand the results better. Then they will move on to proving their point by giving some statistics, quotes, and a lot of analysis and connection so the reader doesn’t have to ponder the results very much on their own. Unlike a peer review in a scholarly journal, it isn’t important that the audience knows exactly what was done to the point where they can perform and tweak the experiment.

 

However, it is very important that the major results are given, and that the discussion is presented in a way to convince the reader of the findings in the experiment. Where a peer reviewed article aims to communicate within the scientific field, a popular article’s audience is the general public. The audience and the goals of the writing are often what shape the genre. A popular article in science needs to be informational yet understandable. However, for some audiences a scientific article isn’t all that interesting, and because of this a new genre emerged. Documentaries As we advance further into the age of technology, movies and short clips are becoming a more popular medium for communication. People are switching from reading the news to watching the news, or from reading sports articles to watching shows like Sports Center. This form of media combines imagery with a script to make a more impactful intellectual experience for the viewer. For example, if Sports Center is talking about an athlete, if there are clips of the athlete while the player is being analyzed, the viewer does not have to mentally recall clips of the player. This is much more effective because it adds imagery to the description. In environmental science documentaries, the goal is often to raise awareness for an environmental issue, and to convince the audience that something needs to be done. Similar to Sports Center, the message is much more effective for the audience with imagery. For example, if a documentary is trying to motivate the audience to protect an area of wilderness, it is most effective to pair that statement with a clip of beautiful scenery to remind them why it is

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important. The content in a documentary is derived in some way or another from all of the other genres mentioned before. The funding, processes, and results all lead to the information that is presented in a clear and effective way that will be seen by many that would not have read the information if it were in text. A documentary appeals to the audience with the least scientific background and its goal is spreading awareness and gathering support. Scientific documentaries can be made for people of all ages and educational backgrounds. Increased awareness and support leads to more funding and more research. Each genre has its role, and they are all interlinked in one way or another. Conclusion Genres in science are unique in the way that one leads to the other, and they work together to complete a circle of communication in a way. Without certain genres, the information would not be communicated fully to all the necessary audiences. Each genre fills a part of the circle and spreads the information to a different audience. For example, without a grant proposal, investors would be unaware of the need for funding and research would rarely get done. Or without a popular article or documentary, the public audience would be uninformed about the need for more research in environmental science. Without public support, the research is more difficult to fund and support. Because each genre fills a specific role with a different audience, each genre is equally important in advancing scientific knowledge, and it is important that each genre communicates the necessary information well to the audience to be as effective as possible. While it may seem simple, scientific writing can be a

 

difficult style to master. Most students encounter true scientific writing for the first time their freshman year at a university. It can often be a struggle for the first year or two, but it is important to understand how to write scientifically. Chapter three will analyze an interview with a senior at DU and his four year experience here as an environmental science major. We will discuss the struggles of being a science major, and how the learning process could be improved for underclassmen.

Ch 3: Interview with an Environmental Science Major In  my  first  year  at  DU  as  an   environmental  science  major,  I  have   done  quite  a  bit  of  scientific  writing  in   lab  reports.  Although  I  have  had  some   practice  this  year  with  the  scientific   writing  format  and  style,  it  can  still  be   difficult  for  me.  I  had  the  opportunity   of  interviewing  a  senior  at  the   University  of  Denver  that  is  also  an   environmental  science  major,  Chris.   Being  a  freshman  at  DU,  it  was   valuable  for  me  to  hear  about  a  four   year  experience  in  the  science   department  at  DU,  as  it  was  almost   like  a  preview  of  what  is  to  come  for   me  and  what  to  expect.    Many  of   Chris’s  experiences  are  similar  to   what  I  am  experiencing  so  far.  For   much  of  the  interview,  we  talked   about  what  makes  good  writing  in   science,  and  the  struggles  that  can   arise  for  a  freshman  environmental   science  major.  However,  Chris  and  I   agreed  the  major  issues,  most   commonly  lab  reports,  could  be  solved  

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with  a  little  more  direction  and   support  from  teaching  assistants.              One  thing  that  came  up  during  the   interview  was  how  unprepared   freshman  students  are  for  writing   detailed  lab  reports.  Some  students   have  never  written  a  full  lab  report   before,  and  they  are  expected  to  have   it  figured  out  for  the  first  week  of  lab   freshman  year.  From  there,  not  much   is  done  to  help  the  student  improve   other  than  giving  poor  grades  and   some  feedback  to  go  along  with  that.   On  this  topic,  he  said,  “As  a  freshman,  I   was  unprepared  mostly  just  for  the   labs,  the  lectures  and  exams  went   okay  for  me,  but  I  tended  to  struggle   with  the  lab  reports  especially.  I   hadn’t  ever  really  written  a  formal  lab   report  before  coming  to  DU.”  This  is  a   fairly  common  issue  among  freshman   students,  and  it  shows  how  most  high   school  science  classes  are  mostly  or   entirely  classroom  based,  without  any   in  depth  labs.  In  my  personal   experience,  I  had  one  class  that  had  a   very  short  and  basic  lab  section,  and  it   would  not  be  followed  up  with  a  lab   report  of  any  kind.  Increased  exposure   to  lab  experiments  and  lab  reports   could  help  improve  students’  ability  to   write  scientifically  in  college.                Writing  a  lab  report  can  be  very   difficult  because  it  is  important  to  be   very  structured  and  methodical  in   your  writing  when  we  have  been   taught  for  many  years  to  write  in   essay  format  and  style.  For  example,   while  presenting  the  results,  you   cannot  include  any  connections  or   conclusions  from  the  results,  or   anything  that  could  have  affected   them,  whereas  in  an  essay,  you  would   connect  the  major  theme  once  an   important  point  is  presented.    The   essay  style  of  writing  is  more  often    

than  not  subjective  writing  in  which   the  writer  is  trying  to  get  a  point   across.                Being  objective  makes  the  paper   and  experiment  much  more  credible   in  the  scientific  field,  because  they   trust  they  are  reading  about  what   actually  happened.  Presenting  the   information  objectively  makes  the   reader  feel  like  the  information  is   being  presented,  and  they  can  make   their  conclusions  based  on  the  results.   Chris  explained  that  in  science  it  is   important  to  learn  this  technique   because  science  writing  is  and  should   be  objective.  He  states,  “If  scientific   reports  were  subjective  you  could   pretty  much  manipulate  the  results   however  you  want  to  prove  your   hypothesis.”  Objectivity  is  what  makes   scientific  reports  credible  and   professional.  If  reports  were   subjective,  peers  reading  the  report   might  question  the  findings,  because   they  feel  as  if  the  author  may  have   created  an  experiment  to  favor  the   hypothesis.  However,  with  objective   reports,  the  data  and  procedures  are   presented,  and  it  is  clear  how  the   experiment  was  done.  He  says,   “Something  like  a  peer  review  is  a  lot   more  useful  to  a  scientist,  and  easier   to  trust…  (compared  to)  an  article  on   CNN  that  is  written  for  the  public,   because  there  is  a  lot  less  uncertainty   when  you  can  see  exactly  where  the   writer  got  their  conclusions  from.”   People  can  be  hesitant  to  believe  facts   or  data  without  seeing  where  they   came  from,  especially  scientists.   Which  is  why  it  is  important  to  back   up  conclusions  with  unbiased  results.                Although  it  is  very  important  to   learn  to  write  scientific  reports  for  a   job  in  science,  this  person  stressed   that  there  should  be  more  of  a  variety   12  


of  writing  within  the  sciences  at  DU.  It   is  more  often  than  not  lab  reports,  lab   reports,  and  more  lab  reports.   Speaking  of  the  variety  of  writing  in   the  sciences  at  DU,  he  said,  ”While  lab   reports  are  helpful  to  get  a  base  of   writing  in  science,  doing  an  intro,   methods,  results,  discussion,  and  all   that,  they  get  to  be  repetitive,  and  it   would  be  kind  of  nice  to  write   something  different  every  now  and   then,  like  a  research  paper  on   whatever  you  want.“  This  could  be  a   good  elective  for  science  majors,   where  they  could  still  advance  their   knowledge  in  environmental  science,   but  it  would  be  voluntary  and  more   enjoyable  for  the  student.                We  talked  about  some  options  for   classes  that  could  make  writing  as  a   science  major  more  interesting,  and  a   class  that  strayed  away  from  the  lab   report  or  peer  review  format  would   be  great.  From  personal  experience,  I   took  a  class  in  high  school  in  which  we   chose  any  topic  we  were  interested   and  wrote  a  thesis  paper  on  that.  I   browsed  around  for  a  while,  but  I   ended  up  writing  about  climate   change  and  ecology.  It  was  one  of  the   most  time  consuming  papers  I  have   written,  but  it  was  also  one  of  the   easiest  for  me  to  write.  The   interviewee  and  I  were  on  the  same   page  with  having  something  like  this   at  DU.  We  both  felt  as  if  something  like   this  would  be  a  fun  class  to  take  and  to   research  any  scientific  topic  you   wanted  to  in  order  to  learn  about   something  you  might  not  in  your   typical  lecture.  He  finished  the   interview  by  saying,  “With  all  that   being  said,  I  do  feel  comfortable   writing  scientific  papers  and  I  feel  like   I  am  prepared  for  the  professional   world.”  While  labs  and  the  lab  reports    

that  follow  can  be  boring  and   strenuous,  they  are  necessary  for   students  to  develop  the  necessary   skills  for  becoming  a  professional  in   environmental  science.                  While  the  student  I  interviewed  is   about  to  graduate,  and  I  am  just   starting  here  at  DU,  I  was  surprised  to   see  that  I’m  already  having  a  similar   experience  with  the  sciences  here  in   just  my  first  year.  But  it  was   interesting  to  hear  more  about  what  a   four  year  experience  is  like  at  DU  for   an  environmental  science  major.  At   some  point  within  the  first  year  or   two,  students  often  figure  out  what  it   takes  to  write  a  good  scientific  report,   but  these  two  years  can  be  difficult.   There  are  a  few  possible  to  solutions   to  this,  and  chapter  four  will  analyze   and  propose  a  possible  solution  to   improve  the  scientific  writing  of   underclassmen  students.      

Ch 4: Proposal for Change                          The  common  problem  I  have  seen   within  writing  in  science  is  the  lack  of   practice  and  guidance  freshman   students  have  writing  truly  scientific   papers.  While  there  are  a  few  different   genres  in  science  writing,  a  scientist   or  student  will  mostly  work  with  peer   review  articles  and  lab  reports.  In  high   school,  most  students  have  written   research  papers  that  end  up  being  in  a   similar  format  to  essays  you  might   write  in  an  English  class.  Having  said   that,  as  an  undergraduate  science   major,  the  majority  of  my  experience   with  writing  in  science  is  struggling   with  weekly  lab  reports.  This  style  of   science  is  crucial  within  the  scientific   world;  however,  students  often  are  

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unaware  of  how  to  write  an  effective   paper  in  these  genres.  Many  students   that  I  have  interacted  with  would   agree  that,  especially  as  a  freshman  at   a  university,  the  expectations  are   often  higher  than  the  student  is   capable  of  producing  right  away.   Providing  freshman  students  with   more  support  and  guidance  through   their  first  quarter  of  science  classes,   by  implanting  a  freshman  writing   class  dedicated  to  developing   scientific  writing  skills,  would  make   lab  experiments  a  better  learning   process  for  underclassmen.  As  it  is   now,  it  can  be  difficult  and  stressful  to   write  a  good  lab  report.                  At  DU,  it  is  important  that  more   guidance  and  instruction  in  writing   scientific  papers  is  provided  in  the   near  future.  I  propose  that  DU   implements  a  major  specific   component  to  the  freshman  writing   sequence.  For  science  majors  in   particular,  this  would  include  one   course  focused  on  teaching  scientific   writing  techniques,  and  it  would  fulfill   one  part  of  the  common  curriculum   writing  requrements.  While  it  would   be  most  helpful  for  freshmen  to  take   this  course  in  the  fall  in  order  to   prepare  themselves  for  the  rest  of  the   year,  it  would  be  difficult  to  do  with   the  FSEM  in  the  fall.  Students  would   be  encouraged  to  take  this  science   writing  specific  course  in  the  winter,   but  it  would  be  available  in  the  spring   as  well.  Even  if  a  student  didn’t  take   the  course  until  spring,  he  or  she   would  still  have  the  skills  needed  for   the  more  difficult  science  courses   offered  throughout  sophomore  year   and  on.  This  course  could  be  taken   with  a  core  science  class  that  has  a  lab   component,  and  the  class  time  would   be  almost  like  a  study  hall  dedicated    

to  lab  reports.  There  would  be  help   available  to  the  students  while  they   worked  through  the  lab  reports  or  lab   activities.  The  course  would  likely   meet  twice  a  week  for  two  hours  at  a   time.  It  would  be  ideal  to  have  one   hour  of  instruction  and  conservation   time,  and  one  hour  to  work  on  the  lab   report.  During  the  first  hour,  the   instructor  would  give  tips  or  examples   of  scientific  writing,  and,  along  with   that,  the  class  could  review  the  lab   before  they  begin  writing  up  the  lab   report  to  ensure  the  students   understand  the  concepts.  For  the  rest   of  the  class  time,  the  students  could   work  on  the  lab  report  and  have  a   teaching  assistant  accessible  for  any   questions  or  assistance  they  need.   While  this  would  be  an  effective   solution  to  the  gap  between  students’   abilities  in  lab,  and  the  expectations  of   the  students,  it  could  be  difficult  to   persuade  DU  to  implement  this  into   the  curriculum.                One  of  the  main  obstacles  in   implementing  this  is  that  some  may   feel  a  quarter  long  class  is   unnecessary  to  teach  students   something  that  is  expected  to  be   understood  by  the  time  they  enroll.  By   spending  a  whole  quarter  on  teaching   and  assisting  students  in  writing  lab   reports,  not  a  lot  of  material  would  be   produced  for  grading  in  that  class   section.  Because  of  this,  it  is  difficult  to   give  a  full  4  credit  hours  and  satisfy   half  of  the  writing  requirement  for  a   class  without  much  work.  For  some   people,  learning  to  write  lab  reports  is   done  through  the  labs,  and  by  trial  and   error.  Often  it  works  out  because   learning  to  write  labs  is  a  learning   process,  but  it  can  take  time  to  figure   out  some  techniques  and  styles   involved.  Because  not  every  student   14  


catches  onto  the  important  keys  to   writing  a  scientific  report,  it  would  be   helpful  and  much  faster  to  have  a   system  in  place  that  will  help  the   student  with  the  process.                  One  idea  that  often  comes  up  is  to   have  a  writing  center  for  science   majors  that  focuses  on  writing   scientific  papers  like  lab  reports.  This   would  allow  for  the  same  goal  to  be   accomplished  by  having  a  resource   available  to  science  majors  to  assist   with  writing  for  lab  reports  and  major   scientific  papers.  This  would  require   fewer  resources  from  the  university   and  would  also  require  fewer  changes   in  the  curriculum.  While  this  would  be   easier  to  implement,  it  is  likely  that   the  participation  would  be  much   lower  than  if  there  were  a  designated   time  for  students  to  be  somewhere  for   help.  While  it  is  available,  something   that  is  more  readily  available  at  a  set   time  each  week  would  be  a  better  use   of  time  for  students  and  teaching   assistants.  By  being  in  a  classroom   setting  each  week  that  is  dedicated  to   working  on  scientific  writing,  the   participation  and  university  wide   improvement  would  be  much  higher.                The  end  goal  of  the  freshmen   writing  sequence  is  to  prepare  the   student  adequately  for  writing  in  the   rest  of  his  or  her  college  career.   Because  science  majors  will  write   mostly  lab  reports  and  in  the  scientific   format  throughout  their  college   career,  it  would  be  the  most  helpful   for  them  to  figure  out  scientific   writing  rather  than  writing  a  fairy  tale,   for  example.  The  class  would  allow  for   science  majors  to  focus  more  on  their   major  while  being  able  to  fulfill  the   writing  requirements,  and  it  would   make  the  labs  reports  better  

 

understood  and  more  effective  for  the   students.              Its  normal  for  a  college  freshman  to   have  little  to  no  experience  writing   scientific  reports,  because  throughout   high  school  research  papers  were  the   main  genre  used  in  science.  High   school  is  establishing  a  base  of   knowledge  in  science  whereas  at   universities  they  aim  to  gear  the   students  towards  research.  While   students  have  learned  about  the   scientific  method,  it  is  unlikely  that   many  are  completely  comfortable   performing  experiments,  and  more  so   writing  lab  reports.  The  objective  of   this  class  is  to  bridge  the  gap  between   high  school  science  writing  and   writing  at  DU.  Just  as  there  is   orientation  for  freshman  to  adjust  to   life  at  DU,  there  should  be  some  kind   of  orientation  to  help  freshman   science  majors  adjust  to  writing   expectations  in  their  classes.  The  class   would  provide  the  necessary  guidance   for  students  to  make  a  cleaner   transition  to  labs  and  the  work  that   goes  with  them  at  the  University  of   Denver.        

Conclusion  

  Many people often wouldn’t think of writing in science being that important, because it is based on evidence and observation. However, the goal of science is to advance our knowledge of our surroundings as a society, and it is important to be able to communicate the evidence in an effective manner. In order to do this, once research has been done, the results must be communicated to other scientists or the public in an effective way. The purpose of scientific

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research is usually to prove a hypothesis rather than argue a point. Although the ultimate goal is to persuade the audience that your findings are correct, it is done in a different way. There are many different audiences in science. They can be other scientists, students, a backer for a proposal, or just general public. As a result, there are many different genres in science including, peer reviews, lab reports, lab instructions, popular articles, and proposals. There are specific guidelines and formats for peer reviews, lab reports, lab instructions, proposals, and to some extent popular articles, too. Because it is easy to say the conclusions you are presenting came from a study, without actually doing the study, it is widely agreed upon that the author needs to explain how he or she came about the results. By doing this, other scientists can either agree with you’re conclusions, or test them on they’re own and see what they get. The structure of writing in science, and the presentation of evidence, is what gives the writing credibility. Even though, writing such as lab reports and peer reviews are the most common for scientists to write, it is often difficult for students to learn and become effective with the format for scientific articles. This is a problem because after the research is done, it is essential that the results can be communicated to other people. There must be a better way of solving this issue than making students learn from trial and error in their labs. I believe that providing a freshman writing class at DU dedicated to writing in science will greatly improve the overall understanding of how to write a scientific paper. While I have almost already had a full year of labs under my belt, it can still be unclear what the TA

 

expects in the reports, and many of my peers would agree. Even if the format were clear, it would be helpful to have a teaching assistant helping students learn techniques to write a good science paper hands on. It would be much better to get suggestions in person rather than criticism on paper with a grade. Since the freshman writing sequence is intended to prepare students for their remaining years at DU, it would make sense to have a class to prepare science majors for three more years of scientific writing. In order for this to become a reality, University of Denver students need to show the school that there is support and good reasons for something like this. Student support is one of the best ways to show that a change is needed and to bring attention to an issue. This is especially important to science majors, as we are the ones spending hours and hours writing lab reports without complete certainty of what we need to do to earn a quality grade. Because science is very methodical and structured in its writing, this class and the added assistance to students would be very beneficial. It would truly be a class that would be useful for years to come for science majors. It would make learning about writing scientific papers much smoother, and limit the trial and error experience that so many students have in their labs. By working to help the students in writing in science, the University of Denver would help create a much better situation for the students and faculty involved in scientific writing.  

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Works Cited

 

"How to Write A Paper in Scientific Journal Style and Format: Table of Contents - Bates College." How to Write A Paper in Scientific Journal Style and Format: Table of Contents - Bates College. Bates College, 27 Sept. 2012. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

"Writing a Biology Lab Report." Writing a Biology Lab Report (2009): 1-10. UCA. University of Central Arkansas. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

"Research in Ecology: How to Write a Scientific Paper." Research in Ecology How to Write a Scientific Paper (n.d.): n. pag. University of Miami: Biology. University of Miami. Web.

"Writing a Scientific Paper in Ecology." Writing a Scientific Paper in Ecology (2008): 1-4. Dartmouth College. Dartmouth College. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

"How to Write a Good Abstract and Introduction." Buckley Ecology Lab. University of Queensland, 1 Aug. 2013. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

V. How to Write a Theoretical Ecology Paper That People Will Cite (2006): n. pag. Cornell University. Cornell University, 17 Feb. 2006. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

Braine, Geogre. "Writing in Science and Technology: An Analysis of Assignments from Ten Undergraduate Courses." Writing in Science and Technology: An Analysis of Assignments from Ten Undergraduate Courses. University of Texas Austin, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

Oakleaf, John K., Curt Mack, and Dennis L. Murray. "Effects of Wolves on Livestock Calf Survival and Movements in Central Idaho." JSTOR. The Journal of Wildlife Management, n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.

Ecological Society of America. "Sage grouse losing habitat to fire as endangered species decision looms." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 April 2014.  

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Writing in environmental science  
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