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

The Department of Chemistry’s undergraduate program within the College of Science and Engineering comprises 43 faculty and over 400 undergraduate students. This program provides a world-class education through its classroom and laboratory teaching and creates new scientific knowledge through research aimed at solving some of society’s most important human health, energy, and environmental problems.

Chemistry Writing Plan

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Writing in Chemistry

Chemistry is a broad field of science, and we value the correct use of discipline-specific terminology.  We further value the ability to appropriately represent chemical phenomena, whether it be through the graphical representation of data, plotted clearly to allow facile interpretation by an expert in the field, or effective drawing of chemical structures that illustrate bonding, three-dimensionality, or reaction pathways.

In our discipline, we communicate our scientific results through both the written word as well as via graphical, tabular, and structure-based illustrations.  We value concise and clear prose for disseminating results.  As such, the most important aspects of writing are the articulation of data-supported hypotheses, well-crafted arguments that use data to describe our findings, and an effective summary of these findings (through structural, graphical, or tabular representations or via explicit written arguments) to justify our conclusions.  

Finally, we value scholarship in our written documents, including appropriate use of the literature and its corresponding accreditation as well as incorporation of feedback in the editing process of scientific documents. As such our learning abilities have been structured around these characteristics of effective scientific communication.

Writing Abilities Expected of Chemistry Majors

The Chemistry faculty generated the following list in response to the question, “With which writing abilities should students in this unit’s major(s) graduate?”

Minimum Requirements for Writing in the Major

  1. Describe an experimental investigation (e.g., lab report or directed research paper) by formulating a scientific hypothesis, concisely describing procedures, and supporting conclusions via communicating a logical progression of experimental results.
  2. Analyze and interpret results in written and graphical form
  3. Organize data to draw effective conclusions
  4. Use chemical terms and language accurately to describe chemical phenomena
  5. Demonstrate the ability to convey chemical information through the use of structures, schemes, figures, and tables
  6. Effectively evaluate scientific writing (e.g., primary literature, popular press, peer writing) 
  7. Appropriately evaluate and cite literature for proper attribution
  8. Edit effectively and incorporate written feedback

Menu of Grading Criteria Used in Chemistry Courses

  1. Conveys the importance of an experiment by placing it into the context of a broader scientific field, highlighting known experimental precedents, and naming the overall goals of the successful experiment.
  2. Presents a hypothesis as a direct statement that can be tested with experiments conducted by the student.
  3. Moves logically through all relevant results, aligning interpretations of each result with the final conclusions.
  4. Draws final conclusions from results and places them in context of the goals of the experiment. Includes key results that support or refute the hypothesis in concluding remarks.
  5. Describes the significance and implications of an experiment’s results using quantitative (rather than qualitative) terms to convey the significance of the results.
  6. Applies statistical analyses for experimentally acquired data.
  7. Uses uncertainty to compare data between different experiments in order to evaluate the significance of the data.
  8. Organizes data in an effective fashion such that it is concise, accessible to the reader, and appropriately formatted (e.g, textual, graphical, or tabular form) for the experiment under study.
  9. Communicates findings using a narrative and an interpretation of the data (regardless of whether the data are in textual, graphical, or tabular form).
  10. Includes a conclusion that summarizes findings in the context of the background and/or theory used to interpret the data.
  11. Employs accurate discipline-specific language when writing including the nomenclature for chemical substances, processes, and general principles of chemistry. 
  12. Conveys the essence of an idea, result, or concept graphically such that its meaning can be understood when viewed in the absence of accompanying text or commentary.
  13. Content is presented in a clear and concise manner [the mechanical content] that also demonstrates an understanding of the underlying science [the informational content].
  14. Visualizations of chemical structures convey information through representation of molecular structures in both written form and through use of the appropriate software in the field and meet expectations regarding specific structural criteria.
  15. The scheme must convey a sequence of chemical reactions.
  16. The figures convey meaningful representations of data through graphical representation (often in the form of a graph, where Excel is the primary software) or in non-graphical form to illustrate a process or idea through the illustration of concepts, ideas, or molecules.
  17. Presents experimental data in an organized tabular fashion in Excel, Word, or Chemdraw. 
  18. Summarizes scientific writing (whether from from the popular press or peer-reviewed literature) in their own words, by identifying and describing the important findings that support the final conclusions or significance of the work concisely while avoiding plagiarism.
  19. Distinguishes novel findings from routine findings when summarizing the literature. 
  20. Cites literature that is appropriately authoritative on the subject under discussion, such as the peer-reviewed literature or textbooks, rather than non-peer reviewed websites, or opinion-pieces.
  21. Summarizes literature from previously published findings using their own ideas and words and thus avoids plagiarizing writing from others. Plagiarizing is defined as misrepresenting as your own work any part of work done by another.
  22. Uses simple sentence structures and contains only the words necessary to convey meaning. Chemistry writing includes complex language but can be conveyed in conventional grammatical forms.
  23. Constructed of well-organized paragraphs, such that the length and number of topics described maintain the focus of the topic sentence.
  24. The text uses tenses properly and consistently based on the objective of the scientific writing.
  25. Student texts will show evidence that the writer incorporates feedback from commentary to improve clarity and effectiveness. 

Highlights from the Writing Plan

For its second-edition writing plan, the department will undertake its first self-directed teaching with writing workshop for new graduate students. Building on the work of the first edition, faculty in each subdiscipline have reviewed their rubrics for lab courses and are highlighting the connection between course level writing expectations and the Departmental writing criteria. Faculty will also continue to gather for an end-of-semester lunch to discuss innovations and insights for effective implementation of the writing plan across a broad selection of writing intensive courses.