Academic journal article Science Scope

Fourteen Writing Strategies

Academic journal article Science Scope

Fourteen Writing Strategies

Article excerpt

Byline: Thomas Turner and Amy Broemmel

In 1905, a young scientist named Albert Einstein published a three-page paper presenting his theory of relativity. That brief paper was a major step in revolutionizing how physicists throughout the world thought, and it would change the way that the world in general thought about science (Penrose 2005). That a relatively small piece of writing could be so important certainly illustrates the significance of writing to science. Good scientists record what they do-their results, procedures and operations, observations, and hypotheses, as well as their problems and questions.

Scientists need to develop their writing skills for a number of reasons:

Writing down their ideas and describing what they do and find gives scientists and those that read and depend on their work a more accurate record from which to attempt to replicate results.

Written accounts of what scientists observe, which are recorded at the time of their observations, help scientists remember more accurately and completely.

Written summaries of scientific work allow scientists to synthesize bodies of work and look at them holistically so that they or other scientists can extend and develop ideas further.

Written notes about their work allow scientists to reflect on and mentally process what they have observed.

Written presentations of their work allow scientists to share and publicize their findings, get credit for their work, and, as a result, claim the benefits of their successes.

Written descriptions of planned work enable scientists to obtain funding to continue their often-expensive work.

Written summaries of their ideas allow scientists to share the importance of their work with nonscientists.

Why we need to teach writing in science classes

Any science teacher who wants his or her students to be engaged in real science is going to engage them in real science writing. Students do not intuitively know how to do such writing, nor is instruction in scientific writing necessarily or even likely going to occur in other school subjects. This writing instruction can serve two purposes. It can increase science understanding and engage students in activities that are useful in the assessment process in science itself. Montgomery (2005, p. 28) points out that student writing provides the teacher with "a tangible demonstration of learning and gives students the opportunity to connect their personal experiences to the content." Montgomery goes on to say that well-crafted, thoughtfully planned writing assignments require the student to do a "deep analysis of subject material."

Well-designed science writing assignments essentially have three critical attributes:

They provide authentic purposes for writing.

They motivate students to want to write and to "do" science.

They help students plan and structure both their writing and their science activities.

These attributes are inextricably and symbiotically related. They combine to make the writing assignment comprehensible, authentically important, and feasible. Matsumura and his colleagues (2002) found that the cognitive challenge of the writing assignment had a significant effect on the quality of students' final drafts. That is, when students felt that assignments were cognitively challenging and satisfying to complete, they worked more effectively in producing a finished writing product. Writing experiences should help students feel good about their own writing.

Writing in science should begin with clear, imaginative writing purposes and stimuli that are then scaffolded in such a way that students are able to find an organizational structure for their writing. Writing fluency is often enhanced and supported by experiences like brainstorming or free writing.

Writing assignments that work in science classes

Writing in The American Scientist, Gopen and Swan (1990) asserted that, "The fundamental purpose of scientific discourse is not the mere presentation of information and thought, but rather its actual communication" (p. …

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