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
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
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
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
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
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 wonâ€™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
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 isnâ€™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
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
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
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
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.
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
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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Published on Jun 2, 2014