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Writing Across the Curriculum

BIO 167: Principles of Biology: Organisms
Writing in the Majors Guidelines
Professor Liesl Jones

Role of Writing

Students in biology must learn to disseminate information to various audiences including collaborators, the larger community of scientists, and lay audiences. Certain common scientific genres enable this dissemination: lab reports, journal articles, and grant proposals. Lab reports are a gateway to writing scientific peer-reviewed articles with the same components: introduction (what we asked), methods (what we did), results (what we found), discussion (what it means), and citations. In Bio 167, we work on lab reports and grants at a lower level – a skeletal version, having all the components without the same level of depth – that will enable students to succeed in upper-level courses (such as the 400-level course now being proposed as an introduction to the 700-level Grantsmanship).

Students learn to ask research questions, locate primary source material, and identify experimental methods pertinent to their questions. Once the materials have been found, students write an introduction and propose an experimental design that meets their research question. Asking questions is a goal-directed process, and the research that accompanies it helps students discover what there is to be known. Writing is essential to science because without grants, research would not take place. Even beyond academic science, doctors have to write up reports and notes, and pharmaceutical researchers must state accurately what their drugs do and how the researchers know this, in order to have the drug approved as safe. Writing helps us not only to communicate with others, but with ourselves; it helps us to discover what it is that we know and what we want to know.

Disciplinary Writing

In Biology, as in most STEM courses, there are three main genres of writing. In this course students will read and develop writing skills in these three genres:

  • Peer-reviewed articles (similar to lab reports) that pose questions and describe methods and findings.
  • Grant proposals that argue for the significance of a proposed study and the funding needed to enact it.
  • Articles written for a lay audience in order to disseminate information more broadly.

Student Expectations in a WIM Course

In this course students will:

  • Learn to write up lab assignments as lab reports.
  • Learn how to write a research question and then put it into a grant format.
  • Learn how to focus their question.
  • Learn how to find background material to help defend their question.
  • Write a write a one-page background that surrounds their question with a hypothesis.

Faculty Expectations in a WIM Course

In this course the instructor will:

  • Guide students through writing a research question.
  • Provide written guides as well as in-class discussion.
  • Provide techniques for focusing their question and allow for a rewrite of the question to help the students understand what a good question is.
  • Provide written as well as in-class feedback and edits to support the progression of the assignment.

Criteria for Assessing Student Writing

  • Is the research question clearly stated?
  • Do the articles chosen work well to elicit the research question?
  • Do the methods chosen have the ability to help answer the question?
  • Do the proposed results suggest an answer to the question?
  • Does the overall work show an understanding of the question asked, and is the writing clearly presented?