Writing Plan Phases
Collecting Baseline Data
First Edition Writing Plan
Second Edition Writing Plan
Third Edition Writing Plan
  • phase completed
  • phase in-progress

The College of Biological Sciences (CBS) has a complex interdisciplinary structure, including five academic departments and seven academic majors. The College enrolls more than 2,200 students who pursue Bachelor of Sciences degrees in those eight majors. Although the specializations of the majors differ, they share a foundational core curriculum, and thus undertook the WEC process as an entire college rather than working department by department.

The College of Biological Sciences is one of the few WEC units that is engaged as an entire college and has been implementing a writing plan as a single unit. The decision to participate in WEC as a unit grew out of the recognition that diverse disciplines within the biological sciences have shared goals for writing instruction and student writing abilities. Further, the vertical curriculum, with shared foundational coursework, required a shared writing plan if we were to think about disciplinary writing as a developmental set of abilities.

College of Biological Sciences Writing Plan

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Writing in the College of Biological Sciences

The CBS faculty generated the following evolving list in response to the question, What characterizes academic and professional communication in this discipline?” Obviously, there are multiple genres aimed at a variety of audiences, so not every piece of writing would be expected to evidence each of these characteristics.

  • Cohesive: Arguments contribute to a conceptually logical narrative, building from one point to the next.
  • Evidence-centered: Ideas and conclusions are based on research, its results and analysis, rather than the scientists as actors in producing that research.
  • Internally consistent and adequately evidenced: Arguments and conclusions are logically based on data, either one’s own or from the body of relevant scientific literature.
  • Framed in terms of foundational concepts and ideas: Arguments acknowledge and build on the conceptual contributions of others. Much scientific writing includes a description of a hypothesis based on current knowledge in the field and interprets newly generated data in light of other published work.
  • Synthetic: Arguments or conclusions are based on the analysis and synthesis of the scientific literature, pulling together ideas and results from multiple sources.
  • Underscores the idea that knowledge is conditional and nature is variable: The writer recognizes and appreciates that research findings depend on the unique characteristics of the system being studied. Variability is inherent in natural systems and must be considered and acknowledged when generalizing or applying results to other systems.
  • Accurate/precise in the description of biological processes: Wording is unambiguous; terminology is used appropriately; writing avoids teleology and anthropomorphism.
  • Overt: Ideas are presented in a comprehensible (reader-friendly) manner, taking into account the intended audience.
  • Persuasive to specific audiences: Writing is persuasive to the targeted audience, be it lay, political or scientific.
  • Concise: Arguments or descriptions are direct and to the point.
  • Replicable: Procedures and findings are presented completely and concretely to allow others to replicate them.
  • Organized using typical scientific formats: For example, research reporting is organized in terms of an Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion, and incorporates graphics and tables with appropriate and informative legends (captions).

Writing Abilities Expected of the College of Biological Sciences Majors with Aligned Assessment Criteria

By the time they graduate, students in the College of Biological Sciences will have had opportunities to become proficient in the following writing abilities.

Crafting a Scientific Narrative

  • Create cohesive narratives that are structured to flow logically from one point to the next.
  • Formulate research or thesis questions that are appropriate in scope and topic.
  • Develop independent, logical conclusions by synthesizing information from disparate sources, including original data and published studies.
  • Select appropriate (i.e., peer-reviewed) sources from the primary and secondary literature; interrogate those sources by evaluating them for logic, consistency, and soundness; and acknowledge those sources appropriately.
  • Recognize the importance of variability in biological systems in the design and interpretation of research and in the synthesis of findings across studies.
  • Describes significant biological mechanisms that underlie the research hypotheses tested.

Assessment Criteria:

  • Describes significant gaps in scientific knowledge by articulating a target question or problem and describing its significance.
  • Directly communicates a scientific narrative using an overt logical structure: moves from problem, to procedure, data, conclusions, and back to target problem.
  • Identifies potential problems with study and alternatives to interpretation or approach.
  • Draws logical conclusions from synthesis of evidence.

Data Analysis and Interpretation

  • Interpret, construct, integrate, and properly caption and format figures and tables.
  • Recognize the importance of variability in biological systems in the design and interpretation of research and in the synthesis of findings across studies.
  • Describe biological observations and procedures concretely including quantitative analyses.
  • Effectively communicates unsuccessful or "negative" data, conveying that failure of a hypothesis is as important as success.

Assessment Criteria:

  • Makes appropriate choices about which data to represent visually, and orients readers to figure and table contents with informative legends.
  • Uses appropriate statistics and describes them according to conventions in the literature.
  • Describes procedures in a way that can be replicated.

Organization and Style

  • Write concisely, avoiding unnecessary language or information.
  • Write with biological accuracy (i.e., precisely, using proper terminology, and without teleology or anthropomorphisms).
  • Write credibly and persuasively to a variety of assigned audiences, using terminology that is appropriate for the intended audience.

Assessment Criteria:

  • Presents information in a concise manner.
  • Utilizes scientific template (abstract, introduction, methods, results, and discussion) or another appropriate format.

Managing the Writing Process for Lifelong Learning

  • Use writing to develop and deepen thinking.
  • Work and write collaboratively (e.g., provide constructive peer review).
  • Effectively revise and/or self-edit written work.
  • Use a citation manager to organize and keep relevant literature.
  • Recognize personal biases when trying to achieve "objectivity" desired by courses.
  • Manage time effectively such that writing is paced and deadlines are met and/or that alternative arrangements are requested.
  • Realize that access to knowledge can be limited by the language that is used.

Highlights from the Writing Plan

Themes of the three initial editions of the CBS Writing Plan included:

  • Introducing undergraduate students to scientific writing expectations (why scientists write, the characteristics of scientific writing and how they overlap and differ from characteristics of writing in other disciplines, and how to navigate writing assignments for success).
  • Developing discipline-relevant in-class writing activities (e.g., five-minute writing prompts and workshops) and making them available to instructors across the college curriculum.
  • Supporting graduate student instructors responsible for offering instruction and both commenting on and grading student writing in multi-section and lab courses.
  • Improving writing instruction and support for upper-level WI courses and particularly in capstone-level writing assignments where support courses were developed for both honors and non-honors students.
  • Increasing the number of WI courses available in CBS majors.

For the WEC Legacy-Edition Writing Plan, the college will focus its efforts on:

  • Coordinating and enhancing writing instruction across the CBS curriculum and, in particular, supporting writing instruction as it occurs in courses offered earlier in the shared core curriculum (e.g., in foundational or core courses). Examples of this coordination include:
    • developing a faculty-facing website to house and communicate both structural and pedagogical information related to writing instruction within and across CBS curricula.
    • revising and redesigning the approach to writing and writing instruction in the Nature of Life program for incoming students.
    • collaborating with a peer teaching and peer-observation approach. 
    • developing tools for supporting data visualization and writing with and about quantitative data.
  • Ensuring effective, equitable, and inclusive approaches to discipline-specific writing instruction and assessment across the college. Activities in support of this goal include panel discussions and workshops for instructors that focus on using writing as a tool to learning, incorporating relevant AI and ML tools into instruction, using writing to develop and demonstrate quantitative analysis and communicating about unanticipated/negative experimental outcomes, and promoting equity in writing instruction and assessment.