Rhetoric and Composition/Teacher's Handbook/Writing in the Sciences

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Scientific writing is distinct from other forms of writing, yet unique conventions often pertain to specific disciplines. This page is intended to provide an overview of scientific writing as well as some activities that can be used in any classroom.

Course Ideas and Activites[edit]

A variety of exercises can help students become active not only in the research process, but also in the various ways language operates within the sciences and the world around them. The following exercises and ideas can help you center your writing classroom on the sciences, or even your science classroom on writing.

Selecting a Course Theme

An entire course can be focused on a scientific topic that has faced considerable debate (i.e., climate change, pandemics, bioethics and informed consent, HIV/AIDS, genetically modified organisms, fossil fuels, animal experimentation, artificial intelligence).

Doing so may enable students to investigate the vast variety of resources on respective topics, the genres associated with those topics (i.e., research articles, reports, scientific journalism, organizations dedicated to particular causes), and how those sources contribute to public opinion. An analysis of such genres can illuminate classroom discussions on not only scientific topics, but the persuasive elements that pertain to each source.

Utilizing Technology in the Classroom

There are many ways to integrate technology with writing instruction that focuses on the sciences. Teachers should experiment with using blogs, wikis, and other learning management systems (LMSs) to provide guided instruction through collaborative online platforms. If using a blog or wiki, teachers should integrate multimodal text (either original or reposted from other sites) to enhance instruction. Teachers and students can now create videos, podcasts, and digital stories with relative ease, so long as they have access to a modern computer, the Internet, a digital camera, or even a smartphone.

Sample Activities

Even if you do not choose to focus on a theme or utilize digital technology in your class, look to following exercises for some interesting ways to integrate writing and the sciences:

  • Assign weekly investigations of both traditional and multimodal texts (i.e., research articles, news articles, videos, podcasts, interactive maps) to workshop with and closely investigate the characteristics of each.
  • Provide students with a scientific article and allow students one our to find outside sources. Students should critique the article in question based the the supplementary materials they find. Students must have access computer or library access for this assignment.
  • Assign students to collect articles from three different media outlets that cover the same science story. Analyze how each organization or institution covered the story in a different way. Students will provide more thorough and focused analysis if they are provided with prior instruction/activities on rhetorical patterns, Aristotle's appeals (ethos, pathos, logos), fallacies, and visual rhetoric.
  • Assign the students to cover a scientific meeting and report on it. Some communities may not have access to meetings, so provide them with the option to view meetings and conferences via webcast, videos of recorded evens, and even listen to podcasts of speeches or panels.
  • Invite students to follow a celebrity scientist for the duration of a term and write an essay about their work for a final assignment. Conversely, if the scientist works in a field of interest, students can write final research essays on a more focused area within that field. If you are thinking about focusing a class on a particular scientist's work, contact that scientist at the beginning of the term to both let them know and inquire if they are interested in providing updates periodically throughout the semester. Some scientists may even be willing to conduct a webcast for your students.
  • Famous scientists from the past can also serve as interesting figures to focus classroom themes, topics, or activities. While many students may be more familiar with Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, and Stephen Hawking, look to figures who have not received a great deal of attention in the field. Respecting contributions from underrepresented scientists may involve a close study of the language used in historical articles, an investigation of their scientific methods and procedures, and the value of their contributions to research and theories today.
  • Assign students to present mock conference presentations on their research articles. Prepare students prior to class so that they can be active and participatory listeners, ask questions, and provide valuable feedback for presenters.

Organizations and Resources[edit]

The National Association of Science Writers

Teaching Science Writing to Undergraduates: a Presentation from the Purdue OWL