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Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), prepares students to research, plan, and implement the management, protection, and enhancement of fisheries and aquatic resources, wildlife resources, and biological diversity. Graduates find employment as fisheries and wildlife scientists and managers, naturalists, zoo biologists, environmental biologists, environmental educators, and other natural resource professionals. The program also provides students with the fundamental science background needed to enter a wide variety of graduate programs in biological and natural resource sciences, as well as professional programs in veterinary medicine, environmental law, and environmental education. Because studying and influencing policy and resource management is based in developing and communicating research findings to multiple stakeholders, students in this major are challenged to write both for research-oriented audiences and lay audiences.

Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology Writing Plan

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Writing in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology

The FWCB faculty generated the following list of descriptors in response to the question, “What characterizes academic and professional communication in this discipline?".

  • Descriptive, analytical, and explanatory: Research writing tells a descriptive and analytical research story according to formal rules so that others can replicate, analyze, evaluate, and/or leverage procedures and findings. There are few universal truths in ecology, and so careful description of the scope of inference is important.
  • Critical: Much research uses observational methods, and even in cases of true field experiments, researchers usually have only partial controllability over other factors that influence the outcome of what we are measuring. Critical writing involves identifying the key factors to emphasize from amongst a myriad of factors that could be discussed.
  • Concise: In this field, writers strive to use simple verbiage: Thus, “An overwhelming assemblage of avian species...” becomes “Many birds.” Active voice usually leads to simpler construction. With tables and figures, there is the challenge of how to incorporate them into the text without being redundant. Throughout, the challenge is to obey rules about brevity, but still remain interesting and engaging.
  • Persuasive: The faculty was divided in discussion of the role of persuasion in their writing. Some members maintain that there is no place for advocacy within the discipline and others argue for an important role (this may be an important distinction between the Wildlife and Conservation Biology disciplines).

Writing Abilities Expected of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology Majors

The FWCB faculty generated the following list in response to the question, “What writing abilities should majors be able to demonstrate by the time they graduate?”.

Report complex data or findings:

  • Choose an appropriate method for summarizing results (i.e., table, figure, or text).
  • Designing figures that can represent complex data.
  • Organize complex ideas, methods, or results for logical flow.  

Create precise descriptions:

  • Describe research methods so that they are replicable by others in their field.
  • Limit coverage to the key points, particularly in results and discussion sections.
  • Avoid superfluous wording.

Argue a position or evaluate hypotheses based on evidence:

  • Create a debatable thesis (identify the problem, review reasons for the problem, offer proposed solutions to the problem).
  • Translate findings into policy (taking a position based on what’s known [and unknown!] and using it to inform policy or management actions).
  • Support analysis with adequate evidence (drawn from their own data or using results from other studies).
  • Take disparate data sources and identify common patterns (moving beyond parts to a whole; i.e. what is the collective wisdom from these seven papers?).  

Analyzing and evaluating ideas:

  • Summarize research papers and apply findings to new problems/situations.
  • Translate scientific concepts to different stakeholder groups without over-simplifying.
  • Learn to recognize and mimic attributes of good writing by reading other work.
  • Choose appropriate theoretical frameworks for analysis.

Use correct grammar and syntax:

  • Understand the differences between spoken and written discourse styles and recognize that written discourse needs to be more formal.  

Address non-technical audiences with appropriate terminology, style, and formats (in, for example, professional correspondence, memos, policy papers, and popular communication to lay audiences).

Record and archive data:

  • Accurately and carefully record field data.
  • Use effective design in data sheets and field notebooks.  
  • Include meta-data so that their data can be interpreted by others.

Communicate uncertainty:

  • Communicate proper levels of uncertainty to lay audiences or managers so as to remain accurate but avoid losing credibility.

Provide effective peer review:

  • Provide effective critique to student colleagues on early drafts.

Menu of Grading Criteria Used in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology Courses

The FWCB faculty translated the above list of desired writing abilities in the following criteria menu:

Criteria Shared by Technical and Non-technical Writing

The text…

  • Articulates clear objective(s).
  • Identifies a problem and builds a case for its importance.
  • Reviews reasons for the problem.
  • Proposes solutions that resolve uncertainty.
  • If appropriate, employs appropriate theoretical framework to frame analysis.
  • Organizes information logically, and where appropriate, within the IMRAD framework.
  • Uses grammar and syntax that enhance writer’s credibility.
  • Avoids superfluous wording (i.e. “It has been shown that…”).
  • Recognizes its audience and uses an appropriate level of formality.
  • Makes an argument that follows the introduction-support-conclusion structure.
  • Centers on a clearly stated thesis, hypothesis, or objective. Avoids tangential topics.
  • Supports or refutes the thesis based on evidence.
  • Makes recommendation for action that relates to thesis or claim and acknowledges uncertainty.

Criteria Related to Reading and Interpreting Literature

The text…

  • Identifies important shortcomings, if present.
  • Summarizes key findings from research papers.
  • Applies findings to new problems/situations.

Criteria Related to Technical Writing (Research Reports, Journal Articles)

Title and Abstract…

  • Are clear, concise, and informative; tell potential readers what is covered.
  • Provide concise and informative overview of all key parts of the paper: What was studied; Why it’s important; Where, when, and how it was done; What was found out; and What you think it means.

Introduction Section…

  • Articulates clear objective(s).
  • Identifies a problem and builds a case for its importance.
  • Reviews reasons for the problem.
  • Proposes solutions that resolve uncertainty.
  • If appropriate, employs appropriate theoretical framework to frame analysis.

Methods Section…

  • Describes methods so they could be replicated.
  • Distinguishes between important and  unnecessary detail and includes only the former.

Results Section…

  • Conveys information using appropriate media and formats for summarizing data or results (e.g., text, table, or figure).
  • Refers to tables or figures without simply repeating the data found there.
  • Accurately and clearly represents complex data using figures or tables.
  • Supports analysis with adequate evidence/data sets.
  • Emphasizes biological (A 1.3-fold larger than B) as opposed to statistical (P = 0.003) results.

Discussion Section…

  • Describes findings so that relevant results are brought forward and tied to the bigger picture.
  • Generalizes from a specific study/finding to suggest how those findings can contribute to answering a larger problem/trend.

Literature Cited…

  • Finds and includes relevant literature. Avoids superfluous citations.
  • Cites papers appropriately (based on target audience/journal) and consistently.

Highlights from the Writing Plan

An initial faculty-identified objective has been to identify and correct important writing gaps early in students’ experience in the major. As a first step, the department proposed to analyze curricular pathways across a large sample of students to track what courses students take before and after enrolling in FWCB. The department also hosted two faculty workshops, one on designing small, focused writing assignments and one on developing and using five-minute writing workshops in various courses.

A second objective has been to use their list of assessment criteria for key writing abilities to develop useful and shareable rubrics and teaching modules. The faculty envisions modular rubrics that can be used by instructors to help articulate clear and useful writing assignments, by teaching assistants to facilitate transparent and fair grading, and by students to understand instructor intent and help them improve their writing. Teaching modules would be short 5–10 page PowerPoints (or pdf facsimiles for student use) that would facilitate in-class teaching of “5-minute Writing Workshops” or serve as online resources for students to help refresh their memory.

Finally, in response to faculty conversations about the importance of visuals and scientific posters in FWCB, the professors who teach FWCB 5051: Analysis of Populations added a "Research Night" event to the course in which teams of students created scientific posters about their collaboratively written scientific articles and then presented them at an evening event attended by 150 people, including professional affiliates of the department. The event gave students practice creating and presenting research posters, as well addressing authentic audiences for their projects.