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Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management (ESPM), an interdisciplinary major in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) has 54 faculty teaching over 280 undergraduate students. ESPM focuses on interdisciplinary knowledge, research, and community-based experiences; ESPM students are positioned to gain a broad perspective on environmental issues through coursework in the basic natural and social sciences and applied environmental policy, management, communication, and law.
Writing in Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management
The Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management faculty generated the following list in response to the question, “What characterizes academic and professional communication in this discipline?”
- Logically structured, moving either from claims to evidence, or tracking the evolution (or story) of data/findings.
- Supported by evidence including science-based evidence, legitimizers from policy (“the law says...”) or personal experience.
- Concise (for example in consulting, an executive summary that cannot exceed 2 pages tightly written without redundancy or extra words.
- Descriptive: providing concise technical summary of data.
- Clear: makes apt word choice, precise; conveys intended meaning.
- Appropriate for specific audiences, including public, scientific, planners, elected officials, policy makers, businesses, children in school groups, farmers, land owners and managers.
- Culturally sensitive: sensitive about the impact of words on issues related to gender, ethnicity, religion.
- Persuasive and compelling advocating a choice, action, outcome, and/or behavior change by addressing multiple perspectives.
- Synthetic of technical information and data and moves toward recommendations or decision tool (a targeted model or framework composed of multiple variables and perspectives).
- Multimodal: includes prose, graphics, numbers, and charts and maps: visual messaging integrating text forms with non-text forms.
Writing Abilities Expected of Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management Majors
After reviewing ideas submitted by undergraduate majors, graduate student TAs, and faculty colleagues, the Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management faculty generated the following list in response to this question: “With which writing abilities should students in this unit’s major(s) graduate?”
Minimum Requirements for Writing in the Major:
1. Intentionally and sensitively address specific readers
- Set up problems in ways that pique reader interest
- Interpret technical data and translate findings in ways that can be understood by specific audiences
- Write with cultural sensitivity, and avoid alienating audiences by anticipating the impact of word choices on different populations
- Communicate across disciplines in a technically sophisticated way, aware of where one subfield ends and another begins
- Use professional language and specific, technical language where appropriate for audience
2. Describe processes, sites, and data
- Describe sites accurately and objectively and using audience-appropriate terminology
- Avoid superfluous details
- Create accurate, unbiased descriptions that demonstrate an understanding of the science and its implications
3. Make, and provide evidence for, claims
- Offer a well-developed thesis
- Search for, select, and use data and examples that readers will find appropriate, adequate, and credible
- Analyze data: distill data and interpret distillation,
- Demonstrate familiarity with scientific process (collecting, analyzing data and testing hypotheses)
- Synthesize information found in primary literature
- Use technical terms accurately
- Make and evaluate impactful and well-captioned visuals (figures, charts, tables) and provide sufficient explanation for non-text (visual) messaging
- Cite sources appropriately and correctly to avoid plagiarism
4. Make persuasive recommendations
- Distill key points of science, economics, social or cultural perspectives to make a recommendation
- Advocate for a choice, action, outcome, and/or behavior change by addressing multiple perspectives
- As and when appropriate, add value-based opinions
5. Organize content logically
- Transition from analysis of results to discussion of implications and making recommendations as appropriate
- Differentiate between claims and evidentiary support
- Organize in ways that logically and cohesively tracks the evolution of ideas e.g,: chronological narrative or story-style
- Summarize large amounts of background data
6. Revise and proofread
- Revise to ensure that ideas flow logically both within and between paragraphs
- Demonstrate a command of grammar and composition
- Revise to ensure that sentences are concise and well-constructed
Menu of Grading Criteria Used in Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management Courses
The Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management faculty have generated a set of grading criteria that align with the desired abilities for majors.
Intentionally and sensitively address specific readers
- Sets up problems in ways that pique reader interest
- Interprets technical data and translates findings in ways that can be understood by specific audiences
- Uses words and phrases that will not inadvertently alienate intended readers
- Communicates across disciplines by demonstrating an awareness of where one subfield ends and another begins
- Uses professional and technical language rigorously and correctly in order to align with expectations of intended audiences
Describe processes, sites, and data
- Objectively describes sites, data, and processes using accurate and audience-appropriate terminology
- Conveys content as efficiently as possible by avoiding superfluous words and details
- Includes accurate, unbiased descriptions that demonstrate an understanding of the science and its implications
Make, and provide evidence for, claims
- Offers a well-developed thesis in response to a well-defined question
- Supports thesis or hypothesis using data and examples that intended readers will find appropriate, adequate, and credible
- Analyzes data by distilling it and interpreting the distillation
- Demonstrates familiarity with scientific process (collecting, analyzing data and testing hypotheses)
- Synthesizes information found in primary literature by showing ways that diverging sources contribute to answering critical question(s)
- Uses technical terms accurately
- Includes impactful and well-captioned visuals (figures, charts, tables)
- Provides sufficient explanation for non-text (visual) messaging
- Cites sources appropriately and correctly to avoid plagiarism
Make persuasive recommendations
- Distills key points of science, economics, social, and/or cultural perspectives in order to make a recommendation
- Advocates for a choice, action, outcome, and/or behavior change by addressing multiple perspectives
- Adds value-based opinions as and when appropriate
- Demonstrates writer’s ability to effectively choose between making value-based arguments and making evidence-based arguments.
Organize content logically
- Transitions from analysis of results to discussion of implications
- Makes recommendations that effectively address intended audience concerns.
- Delineates between claims and evidentiary support
- Summarizes large amounts of background data by identifying trends and anomalies
- Is organized in a way that enhances writer’s goals and addresses the intended audience
- Moves from question to hypothesis, to testing methodologies, to impacts and assessment
- Incorporates lower-level organization devices such as topic sentences and transitional phrases to increase flow within paragraphs
Revise and proofread
- Arranges and transitions between ideas so that they flow logically both within and between paragraphs
- Demonstrates a command of grammar and composition
- Is composed of concise, well-constructed sentences
Highlights from the Writing Plan
For its first-edition Writing Plan, ESPM identified the building of a cross-departmental “Writing Network” of faculty and graduate students as its principal goal. This Writing Network offered workshops on “Designing Effective Writing Assignments,” “Teaching with Writing in Five-Minute Increments,” and “Writing for Diverse Audiences.”
In its second-edition Writing Plan, approved in Spring 2017, ESPM continues to support the Writing Network’s workshops and discussions along with efforts to map syllabi and writing assignments to identify gaps in addressing desired writing abilities. In Fall 2017, ESPM hosted a community-wide panel discussion on the relevant writing genres in the field. Panelists included stakeholders from environmental science consulting firms, NGOs, and businesses. ESPM also launched an annual TA training workshop in Spring 2018.