Course Proposal: Scientific Writing

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Scientific Writing, HRP 215, Fall 2006
Class Information: Tuesdays 3:15-5:00 pm in T138
Instructor Information:
Kristin Cobb
[email protected]
Class website: http://www.stanford.edu/~kcobb/writing
TA Information:
Sean Young
[email protected]
Course Statement/Objectives:
This course aims to demystify the writing process and teach the fundamentals of effective
scientific writing. Instruction will focus primarily on the process of writing and publishing scientific
manuscripts. The course will be presented in two segments: Part (1) teaches students how to write
effectively, concisely, and clearly and part (2) takes them through the preparation of an actual scientific
manuscript or other paper. We will also discuss science writing for the lay public.
The course may be taken for 2 or 3 units. Students taking the class for 2 units will be asked to
attend a weekly lecture and to complete some short writing and editing exercises. Students taking the
class for 3-4 units will additionally develop a manuscript of their choice and will meet periodically
with the instructor for individual editing sessions.
Required Texts (should be available at the Stanford Bookstore):
Sin and Syntax, Constance Hale
Successful Scientific Writing: A step-by-step guide for biomedical scientists, Matthews and Bowen
Please take the course for credit/no credit.
If there is a pressing reason that you need to take this course for a grade, you must clear it with me
first.
Course Outline
I.
Segment One: Demystifying the Writing Process
September 26: Introduction
Lecture: What makes good writing? Are there “good writers” and “bad writers”?
Words, word choice, the basic elements of sentences and sentence structure. Writing in the
active voice.
Homework One:
 Read chapters 1-4 Sin and Syntax (pp. 1-87)
 Read Chapter 7 of Successful Scientific Writing (pp. 141-164)
 Mini editing exercise 1: revise sentences for clarity and brevity.
October 3: The News Article
Lecture: Dissecting the news article
News-writing is the art of maximizing information and minimizing words; it’s the barest-bones
form of writing. The fundamentals of good writing can be learned by dissecting news articles.
In-Class Exercise: Sorting through news articles.
Homework Two:
 Exercise: pick a lengthy feature article (3000+ words) from a popular magazine, on any
subject (have fun with it!) and rewrite it as a bare-bones news article.
 Read chapters 5-8 of Sin and Syntax (pp. 88-128)
October 10: Writing Basics I
Lecture: Punctuation and Parallelism. Tricks for clarity, brevity, and finesse.
In-Class Exercise: Peer interviews and write-up mini-profiles (1)
Homework Three:
 Read chapters 9-10 of Sin and Syntax (pp. 129-168)


Read Chapter 5 of Successful Scientific Writing (pp. 99-118)
Editing exercise
October 17: Writing Basics II
Lecture: Paragraphs, logic, and organization. Organizational strategies.
In-Class Exercise: Peer interviews and write-up mini-profiles (swap)
Homework Four:
 Read chapters 11-12 of Sin and Syntax (pp. 169-195)
 Exercise: more sentence re-writing exercises
October 24: Writing Basics III
Lecture: Putting it all together…
In Class exercise: group rewrites of hard-to-read scientific snippets
Homework Five:
 Read chapters 13-16 of Sin and Syntax (pp. 197-finish)
 Read Chapter 6 of Successful Scientific Writing (pp. 119-140)
 Began work on your manuscript or paper (3-unit students only)
II.
Good Writing Applied: The Scientific Manuscript
October 31: Introduction to the scientific manuscript
Lectures:
I. Overview of the steps of the scientific manuscript publication process.
Homework Six:
 Read chapter 1 of Successful Scientific Writing (pp. 1-22)
November 7: The Abstract, Introduction, and Discussion
Lecture/s: Getting to the main point and summarizing effectively. How to conduct literature
reviews.
Homework Seven:
 Read chapter 2 of Successful Scientific Writing (pp. 23-52)
+
 Write the introduction section for your ongoing manuscript (3-unit students)
November 14: Methods and Results Sections
Lecture/s: How to present data effectively. How to write prose that complements a table or
figure.
In-Class Exercise: Discuss a variety of journal articles that present data in different ways.
Homework Eight:
 Read chapter 3-4 of Successful Scientific Writing (pp. 53-98)
 Write the discussion section for your ongoing manuscript (3-unit students)
III. Communicating effectively with the media and lay public
November 28: Writing about science for the lay public; communicating with the media
Lecture/s: How to write articles for the lay public. How to deal with the media. Also: how
to write a peer review.
Homework Nine and Final!:
 Read chapter 8 of Successful Scientific Writing (pp. 165-189)
 Exercise 4: complete the exercises on pp. 188-189 (do not need to hand in—answers
provided in book)
+

FINAL PAPER DUE DEC. 4th (3-unit students), arrange copy-editing session with
instructor
CLASS CALENDAR
Sunday
September
(Part I)
October
Monday
Tuesday
26
first class
3
mini exercise and reading
due
10
NEWS ARTICLE
and reading due
17
mini exercise and reading
due
24
mini exercise and reading
due
(Part II)
31
November
7
reading due
reading due
14
reading due
INTRODUCTION DUE
(3-unit students)
21
NO CLASS,
THANKSGIVING
HOLIDAY
28
LAST CLASS
DISCUSSION DUE (3unit students)
December
4
Final paper due (3-unit
students)
Wed.
Th.
Friday
Saturday
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