Writing in the Discipline
1. In what ways is writing important to your profession?
Effective writing in biology is important to facilitate clear communication within and beyond the scientific community, and to enable forward progress of the discipline. Writing is important for all steps of the scientific process, such as experimental design, generating hypotheses, recording observations, describing results, and drawing conclusions. Written communication in biology takes many forms, for example: field notes, correspondence, scientific posters, peer-reviewed articles, popular press articles, technical manuals, educational materials, and grant applications.
2. Which courses are designated as satisfying the WID requirement by your department? Why these courses?
The Biology Department has chosen Plant and Animal Form and Function (BIOL 213) and Biology Senior Seminar (BIOL 460) as the designated WID courses in the Biology BS program.
BIOL 213 is a required course that leads students over the bridge from 100-level introductory courses to upper-level courses which focus on specific areas of content. The laboratory component of this class has been designed to include a significant writing element so that all students moving forward in the program have acquired the knowledge and skills necessary to write research reports in the upper-level courses.
BIO 460 is the Biology program’s capstone course and is the venue for students to integrate their knowledge of biology and apply it to the interpretation of a current research article. Students demonstrate their success in this endeavor through both oral and written communication.
3. What forms or genres of writing will students learn and practice in your department’s WID courses? Why these genres?
Students will learn to write a research report in BIOL 213. The structure of this type of scientific document teaches students to break down the elements of discovery into its four essential parts: the research rationale, the methodology, the results, and the analysis. Writing in this genre provides the opportunity for students to sharpen the skills essential in all scientific writing, namely to write cogently, precisely, and succinctly.
In BIOL 460, students will focus their writing on a review paper. This genre compels students to understand the scientific reasoning, methodology, observations, and conclusions of a technical research article, and reinterpret them for a general audience. This genre also requires students to do extensive reading of the relevant background scientific literature and to integrate the ideas into a cohesive and updated narrative.
4. What kinds of teaching practices will students encounter in your department’s WID courses?
BIOL 213 includes explicit instruction on writing the scientific research report. In addition to drafting and finalizing the research report, weekly assignments include readings from a writing textbook, work on editing, and work on citations. Further, BIOL 213 uses both instructor and peer review of report components.
BIOL 460 emphasizes writing using primary literature as the source material. Students share information and expand their knowledge in group discussions with peers. They develop a final review paper through a series of preliminary drafts and instructor feedback, with clear expectations for improvement with each draft.
5. When they’ve satisfied your department’s WID requirement, what should students know and be able to do with writing?
Once students have completed Biology’s WID courses they will be able to:
- Produce scientific writing that is recognizable as such to scientists.
- Communicate scientific concepts in writing to audiences beyond scientists.
- Write cogently, precisely, and succinctly while properly citing ideas that belong to others.