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The Art of Writing in the Sciences

First Meeting Course Overview

ACS Survey of 4000 PhD Chemists

One of the primary recommendations: Offer a course in written and oral communication.
C&E News 2/19/2001

Of the academic skills used by students, writing is the most widely required as a demonstration of learning.
And the most difficult to master.

Ron Gould, Emory Univ.

Main Objectives of this Course To become a better writer To develop and enhance your own writing To tell a linear story To report on science with clarity To write so that others understand your science The Three Cs Clear Concise Coherent


Science Writing Course

This is a course in Applied Writing (writing with a purpose) Primarily, we will be writing in the sciences, not about the sciences Nearly all science students need a course like this Nearly all students need a course like this
[Many faculty need a course like this]

Caveat: the instructor does not pose as an expert in writing or English, but is a seasoned practitioner of the art

Science Writing Course

This is not: a remedial English course a theory-driven course a grammar course, although .

Things we will do this semester include

Write, write, write Develop and enhance your writing style Make you a better writer Enhance your appreciation of English, the lingua franca of science today Consider words and how they form sentences Construct sentences to form good paragraphs Create from words, sentences, and paragraphs an effective architecture of science writing

And Certain Things You Just Have to Know

Examples: Common problem words in science writing: affect vs. effect compliment vs. complement its vs. its principle vs. principal Common grammar incidents: He shared the instrument with Fred and I. This is just between you and I. It is a great pleasure for Michelle and I

So, in this course: you will improve your bag of words you will polish your writing tools you will become a better writer

Writing in Your Future/Present

A career in science will require you to write effectively in many different areas, including some (maybe all) of the following: daily laboratory journal weekly/quarterly, etc. research reports e-mail instructions memos conference abstracts journal manuscripts letters position papers funding proposals promotion material/requests

How have others defined good writing?

Good writing does not come from fancy word processors or expensive typewriters or special pencils or hand crafted quill pens. Good writing comes from good thinking. Ann Loring

Writing came easy. It would only get hard when I got better at it.
Gary Wills

Dont think and then write it down. Think on paper. Harvey Kemelman How do I know what I think until I see what I say. E. M. Forster

The computer is the enemy of careful writing.

Annie Proulx

Types of Writing: > Prewriting > Writing > Rewriting Good writing is always rewriting.

Sakai Website

Multipage printout

The Art of Writing in the Sciences Spring, 2012

Willard W. Harrison 354 Leigh Hall 392-7009

CHM 6180
Section 4565

Office Hours T-Th 3rdPeriod, W 6th / 7th Periods (or by appointment)
Meetings: T-Th -- 4thPeriod (10:40 11:30 am) 104 Leigh Hall The Craft of Scientific Writing 3rd Edition -- Michael Alley Springer-Verlag 1996 The Elements of Style 4th Edition Strunk and White Allyn and Bacon 2000


Course: There is a general recognition that the science curricula, while excellent in technical content, are inadequate in helping students develop effective communication skills. This course is an attempt to address the writing needs of students in the sciences. It is not a remedial course; students should have some general grasp of the language. It is also not a grammar course, although basic language elements will be reviewed and emphasized. Writing well in any area requires an appropriate appreciation of mechanics and style. This course will be driven more by application than theory, aiming for immediate practical value to students. We will write early and often, but in manageable proportions (thinking both of the students and the instructor). Examples of good writing and not-so-good writing will be presented and analyzed. Skills will be crafted by addressing specific types of writing that scientists are called upon to do (e.g., abstracts, memos, letters, papers, dissertations). Even e-mail communication, which increasingly consumes us all, can benefit from attention to specific improvement skills. This is a course intended to improve current writing levels and to encourage continued attention to this important craft. No matter how good the science may be, if it cannot be communicated to others, careers can languish. Writing is not easy, but it should not be a source of dread. A goal of this course is to improve your skills to the point that you might even enjoy writing.


Evaluation of your performance in this class will be based on a series of writing assignments (85%) and a mid-term exam (15%). The exam will be given at the time indicated on the class schedule. In general, no makeup exams will be given. If some emergency causes you to miss an exam, see me as soon as possible. Inconvenience does not constitute an emergency All the writing you submit in this class must be your work alone. No assistance permitted from fellow students, mentors, professors, etc. Such help is considered an Honor Violation.



Attendance: You are expected to attend all classes. If you to miss a class, you are still responsible for material covered that day, and note that not all class material will be posted on WebCT. Disability: Please see me if you have a problem in this regard. The university wants us to include the following statement: Students requesting classroom accommodations must first register with the Dean of Students Office, which will provide documentation to the student, who must then provide this documentation to the Instructor when requesting accommodation. Just see me if you have a problem. I begin the class on time (10:40 sharp) and also end on time, so please dont be late to class. And turn off any cell phones.


Coverage includes Science writing -- how its like other writing; how its not Writing writ large -- the many kinds of science writing Applied writing -- with a purpose in mind Learning to write -- effective writing may not come naturally; but as a craft it can be learned and cultivated The writing scientist -- writing on a daily basis Basic writing tools -- the irreducible elements of grammar Word selection -- precise, yet concise Avoiding embarrassment -- commonly misused words Sentence construction -- strive for simplicity Architecture of paragraphs -- telling a story, sentence by sentence Language appreciation -- communication, yes, but with a modicum of style The scientific method -- how it guides the writing Origin of good writing -- clear writing from clear thinking What is good writing? -- some common traits To be avoided -- pet peeves about writing Terror of the blank page -- getting started may be the hardest part. Basic organization skills -- bringing order from chaos Aids in writing -- basic resources you should know and appreciate Personal matters -- CVs, resumes, applications, cover letters Abstracts -- short is not always easy Manuscripts for journals -- telling colleagues what you did (and in a way that they understand) Revise, revise, revise -- assuming three times is enough Revising on a word processor -- maybe too easy Proofreading -- deceptively difficult; always important Research proposals -- seeing the forest and the trees e-Mail writing -- todays oxymoron Writing outside the specialty -- essays, editorial pieces Writing and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics -- reducing entropy

Writing in the Sciences Tentative Class Schedule -- Spring Semester 2012

Week 1 Introduction and overview of class. Forward and Chapter 1 (Alley). First writing assignment. Tips on writing. Science writing: how it differs from other writing. Selected elements of grammar Week 2 Review of first writing. Chapter 2 (Alley). Second writing assignment. Combating writers block. Words you should know. Week 3 Discussion of your writing, with examples. Chapters 3 and 4 (Alley).) Third writing assignment. [Note: some of the assignments may be revisions of earlier work] Other writing sources (e.g., OWLs) Week 4 Review of writing problems, progress. Chapter 17, Actually Sitting Down to Write (Alley). [Why they make this the last chapter escapes me. Sitting Down to Write is something we must do early on.] Fourth writing assignment. Week 5 Review of the first month. Fifth writing assignment. Revision, revision. Chapters 5 and 6 (Alley). Pet peeves about writing (periodic entry). Week 6 Chapters 7 and 8 (Alley). e-mail writing. Sixth writing assignment.

Week 7 Chapter 9 (Alley). Preparing a resume. Seventh writing assignment. Week 8 Chapters 10 and 11 (Alley). Proofreading 101. Writing in the passive voice (not always bad). Eighth writing assignment. Week 9 Critique of science literature articles. Week 10 Week 11 Review of accomplishments; areas yet to cover. Chapter 12 (Alley). Computer assisted writing: strengths and weaknesses. Ninth writing assignment. Week 12 Writing to clarify your research. Style points in writing. Chapter 13 (Alley) Tenth writing assignment. Week 13 Dissertations vs. journal articles: differences and similarities in writing. Chapter 14 (Alley). Eleventh writing assignment. Week 14 The completed manuscript: bringing it all together. Chapter 16 (Alley). Revisions of active writing. Week 15 Review of critical writing elements. Oral presentation: the complement of writing. Chapter 15 (Alley). Week 16 Last week of classes. One class day (Tuesday), April 24). A summing up and discussion of the writing experiences. (Reading Days: April 26-27) Final Exam: Your Major Writing Project Mid-term Exam on March 1

Spring Break (March 3-10)

First Writing Assignment

Writing About Yourself (~500 Words)
Writers are told to write about something they know. We will start with you. Tell me about yourself. Please describe your background, your education, and the process by which you took up a science career path. Describe your background in writing. What are your earliest memories about writing? What writing/composition experiences have you had (e.g., courses, projects, etc.), including UF? How would you describe your attitude about writing? What role has it played in your life so far? What about the future? And what do you realistically hope to achieve in this course? Dont necessarily use the above as an absolute template for the assignment, but do include the requested information. I want to know something about you and your writing experience. In choosing how to package that information you will begin to draw forth the writer within you, no matter how carefully it is now hidden. Re-read, re-write, and revise your work. Consider the advice of William Zinsser, Rewriting is the essence of writing well where the game is won or lost. Tip: start with some bullet notes to plan your paper.

Writing Assignment Submissions

I. Hard Copy Submission

Double spaced (or 1.5) 12 point type Arial or Helvetica font preferred Staple in upper left corner Give your work a title Clearly show your name

Word Mark-up options

And periodic favorite cartoons

Texts for the Course

The Craft of Scientific Writing Michael Alley The Elements of Style (Optional, but recommended) William Strunk and E.B. White

Other suggested sources

Good dictionary (and use it)

Sources I will refer to periodically

ACS Style Guide (and others) On-line writing labs (OWL) including the one at UF Various small how to write books