This Writing Intensive (WI) course is a capstone Biochemistry Laboratory class with three meetings a week, two laboratory classes (3 1/2 hr each) and one lecture class (50 min). During the laboratory sections of the class, students will perform experiments with an emphasis on modern biochemical techniques. At the beginning of each week, an accompanying lecture provides relevant background information and outlines experiments to be performed during the week as well as covering the basic concepts of formal scientific writing. The objectives of the WI aspect of this class are 1) to improve the overall written communication skills of students and 2) to introduce students to several disciplines of formal scientific writing. Hopefully, students will gain experience in several writing formats necessary for success in scientific careers as well as many other potential careers.
Students will generate a total of 11 different writing assignments, the majority of which will be created outside of the classroom. There will be six distinct types of writing assignments: scientific writing exercises (semi-formal; total of 5 assignments, each several pages with the length depending on the exercise), a formal laboratory report (formal writing in scientific format; 1 draft report and 1 revised final report, each 10-15 pages), peer-review of formal draft report (semi-formal; 1 review, 1-2 pages), a group research proposal (formal writing in scientific format; 1 draft proposal and 1 revised final proposal, each 8 -10 pages), group peer-review of research proposal (semi-formal; 1 review, 1-2 pages), and one lab notebook (informal; more than 50 pages). Writing assignments will coincide with the laboratory classes, utilizing experimental data produced by students, or covering research topics during the weekly laboratory classes.
Scientific writing exercises will be graded either by the TA or the instructor based on detailed rubrics. Formal draft and final report, group proposal draft and final proposal, peer-reviews, and lab notebooks will be graded by the instructor to ensure consistency of grading and to provide a high standard of feedback to the students. Students will be graded based on clarity and quality of writing, scientific content, data presentation and interpretation of results. Students will also be graded on whether answers to additional questions are coherent and argued in a logical manner. The lab notebooks will be collected in the middle and at the end of the semester and graded for clarity, completeness of experimental outline, data collection, and interpretation of results. Writing assignments will make up 60 percent of the students grade; the remaining 40 percent will be based on two written exams and one laboratory practical exam.
Writing assignments will be evenly distributed throughout the semester in that most weeks of the class, students will compose and hand in either a scientific writing exercise (several pages/exercise) or a formal report (10-15 pages). Exceptions are weeks when written or practical exams are held. Because the general format of the scientific writing exercises will serve as model for the formal report, students will be prepared during the first part of the semester for writing of longer and more detailed formal reports. The formal report is due in the middle of the semester. The group research proposal is assigned early in the semester and due at the end of the semester. Peer-reviews (1-2 pages) are due the week after each formal draft (report and proposal). In addition, students are expected to maintain their informal laboratory notebook on a weekly basis before and during laboratory class periods.
Spring semester 2018 will be the third time I have taught this class, and I will be teaching one section of this course. The WI format of this class is based on my previous experiences, and similar to the format of other Biochemistry instructors who have taught or are currently teaching this class such as Dr. A. Heese, Dr. B. Peculis, Dr. V. Peterson and Dr. J. Thelen. I modified previous applications for the WI proposal by incorporating my own experiences throughout my scientific career relevant to scientific writing. I will keep the number of writing assignments and expectations similar to that of last semester’s classes, but am changing the requirements to a single formal report with the addition of an important scientific writing format, the research proposal. As most students in our department do not have any experience in scientific writing, I will dedicate a portion of each lecture on how to write individual sections of a scientific paper. Generally, our students have an overall limited knowledge of using computer programs and web-based learning in the laboratory setting. Therefore, I will include additional assay questions that utilize internet-based computer analysis programs. These assay questions will be directly relevant to weekly experiments, in that they are essential for students to analyze and interpret their data. Thus, these assignments will not only deepen student’s scientific knowledge on our laboratory topics but students will gain valuable scientific computer skills.
Describe writing assignments:
In this WI class, the main focus is on three types of writing assignments, namely scientific writing exercises, the formal report, and the group proposal. Writing assignment are word-processed documents that are written in third-person narrative using complete sentences, proper English spelling and grammar, and correct use of scientific terminology. The use of scientific graphing programs for computer-generated graphs is encouraged. Hand-written calculations or graphs that are neatly written in ink, however, are also acceptable.
For each assignment, students will be provided with specific rubrics outlining the specific exercise format and grading expectations for each report. Students will be graded based on clarity and quality of writing, scientific content, data presentation and organization, and interpretation of results. Students will also be graded on whether answers to additional questions are coherent and argued in a logical manner.
1. Weekly laboratory scientific writing exercises (total of 5 individual assignments, due once a week). The length of each assignment will vary depending on the specific exercise (one and a half spaced using standard fonts of 11 or 12 point with margins of 1 inch for top and bottom; and 1.2 to 1.5 inches for left and right).
The objectives of each scientific writing exercise are to ensure that students a) learn the proper format of all major sections of a scientific paper, b) comprehend the experiments and background information on biochemical topics covered that week in the experimental laboratory section of the class, c) understand how to present and analyze data from different types of experiments and subsequently interpret results using critical thinking and reasoning, and d) effectively express concepts and results clearly and concisely. Furthermore, these exercises introduce students to scientific writing. Importantly, the general format of the scientific writing exercises serves as model for formal reports, thus preparing students for writing the longer and more detailed formal report (see below). Scientific writing exercises are graded by the TA or the instructor.
There are five types of scientific writing exercises that will be covered in the class: introductions, materials and methods, results, discussions, and figures. Scientific writing exercises are written in scientific writing style and format. Each exercise will be relevant to the laboratory work performed that week, and will include a title, answers to additional questions raised in the laboratory manual that are relevant to experiments meant to deepen the students understanding of the topic covered in that week, as well as the following information listed below for each type of exercise:
1) The introduction (one each semester) will contain a literature review performed by the students to discuss the history and relevance of each laboratory experiment, relevant background information as well as a clearly written objective for that weeks topic examined in the laboratory. The introduction will also include a reference list in a format utilized by many scientific journals.
2) The materials and methods (one each semester) includes the proper format utilized in scientific literature including the materials, potential sources of the materials including company catalog numbers, and a detailed protocol of the experimental procedure that was utilized in that weeks laboratory section.
3) The results (one each semester) includes experimental raw data collected throughout the lab period, graphs (reduced from raw data) and relevant calculations important to interpret results. Data and graphs will be presented in the appropriate tabular or graphical manner as requested in lab manuals. In addition, students describe their findings in written statements in one or two paragraph.
4) The discussion (one each semester) includes interpretations and discussions of obtained results. If results diverge from expectation, students should include alternative explanations or hypotheses here.
5) The figures (one each semester) includes presentation of multiple forms of data in a visual representation often used in scientific literature. Students are expected to create professional quality images generated from data obtained during the experimental portion of the course.
Formal laboratory report (one draft and one revised final formal report on selected experimental topic not covered by scientific writing exercises)
Length of each report: 10-15 pages (one and a half spaced using standard fonts of 11 or 12 point with margins of 1 inch for top and bottom; and 1.2 to 1.5 inches for left and right)
In addition to those described for the scientific writing exercises (see above), objectives for the formal report are to get students acquainted with formal scientific writing and to teach them how to compose a scientific paper using their own experimental data. Furthermore, students will learn how to write concisely and clearly, so that peers can understand their reasoning and can follow and reproduce described experimental procedures. For the formal report, students will compose a draft version that is reviewed by the instructor and one of the class mates (peer-review) to provide constructive criticism. Students will incorporate suggestions and corrections provided by instructor (and if applicable, by peer), thus improving the quality of the report. Students will then return the revised draft version as the final formal report that will be graded by the instructor.
The formal report will be composed in a formal scientific writing style and format consisting of the following sections: title, abstract, introduction, materials and methods, results, discussion and references. More specifically,
1) The title is a brief heading describing the weekly experimental topic.
2) The abstract provides a concise summary of objective, material and methods, results and conclusions (250-300 words).
3) In the introduction, background information is provided, so that the reader is able to understand the topic of interest and the objective of the experiments, namely the reason for why the experiment was performed.
4) Materials and methods provide the detailed outline of the experimental procedure, so that peers can use this protocol to perform the described experiment. Any deviation from the original protocol must be clearly stated.
5) The result section includes experimental raw data collected throughout the lab period, graphs (reduced from raw data) and any relevant calculations important to interpret results. Data and graphs must be presented in the appropriate tabular or graphical manner as outlined in lab manuals and must include Figure legends. Every graph or table must be referred to in the text as Figure 1 or Table 1, etc. In addition, students must describe their data (findings) in written statements in paragraph format.
6) In the discussion, conclusions are drawn based on obtained data (shown in result section) by correlating data and expected results (hypothesis). If applicable, i.e. if results diverge from expectations, students should provide possible explanation in this section. This section also contains the answers to additional questions raised in lab manual to expand the students understanding of the topic of interest.
7) References are listed using standard methods for referencing (author, year, title, journal, volume, page number) in a consistent manner. References should be cited throughout the text.
Group research proposal (one draft proposal and one revised final research proposal on a selected experimental topic relevant to the topics covered in the course)
Length of the proposal: 8-10 pages (one and a half spaced using standard fonts of 11 or 12 point with margins of 1 inch for top and bottom; and 1.2 to 1.5 inches for left and right)
The objectives for the research proposal are to get students acquainted with another major format utilized to fund almost all scientific research, and to teach them how to compose a scientific proposal. Students will be required to think about how to persuade others to help support the proposed research endeavors while critically thinking about how to start and perform complex research goals while evaluating the costs, materials, and benefits from doing the proposed research. Students will be asked to evaluate potential outcomes of proposed experimental results, and to conjecture on what the results mean to the big picture research topic. Furthermore, this is a semester-long group assignment designed to foster collaboration between students to accomplish a major task.
The research proposal will be composed in a formal scientific writing style and format consisting of the following sections: title, introduction, proposed research goals, methodology and interpretation of potential outcomes, materials required, and references. More specifically,
1) The title is a brief heading describing the proposed research project.
2) In the introduction, background information is provided so that the reader is able to understand the research problem, the topic of interest, the objective of the proposed experiments in relation to the research problem, and a summary of the background literature leading up to the research proposal.
3) The proposed research goals is a bulleted list of an overview of all the major types of experiments proposed in the research used to lead to further information about the research topic
4) The methodology and interpretation of potential outcomes provides the specific details of how the work is going to be performed, what types of specific experiments are proposed, and an evaluation of the type of information that can be gained from the proposed experiments
5) The materials required section will provide a listing of all the materials and sources of the materials that will be required to perform the research. All equipment and facilities required to perform the research will also be provided for a total evaluation of the cost, time and labor that is required to perform the proposed research.
6) References are listed using the standard methods for referencing (author, year, title, journal, volume, page numbers) in a consistent manner. References should be cited throughout the text.
In conclusion, the estimated total page-count based on 5 weekly scientific writing exercises (not revised) a formal report (revised), and a group proposal are 48.5 to 70 pages.
This calculation is based on:
Scientific writing exercises = 12.5 to 20 pages
[2.5 to 4 pages x 5 scientific writing exercises, not revised]
Formal reports = 20 to 30 pages
[10-15 pages x 1 formal report, (1 draft and 1 final Formal Reports) => 10-15 pages x 2]
Group proposal = 16 to 20 pages
[8-10 pages x 1 group proposal, (1 draft and 1 final proposal) => 8-10 pages x 2]
The students are expected to collect, analyze and provide reasonable interpretations of their data. Considering that students of this class may be novice in performing experiments and data collection, collected data may vary between students. Because data interpretation is directly linked to collected results, final interpretation may differ from one student to another. Furthermore, it is not uncommon that data interpretation varies from one researcher to another. Thus, there is often more than one acceptable interpretation of an experiment, meaning that there is no correct or incorrect answer.
Additional ways the course uses writing:
In addition to the Result and Formal Reports, this WI class incorporates two additional types of writing assignments, the Lab notebook and peer-reviews.
1) Lab notebook (bound composition book) (mostly hand-written; more than 50 pages)
One of the objectives of this informal writing assignment is to ensure that students come prepared to each lab class. To this end, students are required to write condensed but concise outlines of experimental procedures and to outline tables into this Notebook prior to arriving to each lab class. This assignment will enable students to identify possible problems or questions regarding experimental procedures in advance. Furthermore, this exercise highlights the role of laboratory notebooks as an essential scientific tool to ease data collection during the lab class period and to explore ideas or thoughts related to experiments. Students will also be introduced to the importance of keeping a comprehensible notebook because they are able to utilize their notebooks during their practical laboratory exam. Notebooks will be spot-checked periodically during class periods and collected at the middle and at the end of the semester. Notebooks will be graded by the instructor for clarity and completeness of experimental outline and data collection.
2) Peer reviews of Draft version of Formal Laboratory report (one per semester), and a group peer review of the draft version of the research proposal.
Length: one to two pages (1 1/2-spaced using standard fonts of 11 or 12 point with margins of 1 inch for top and bottom; and 1.2 to 1.5 inches for left and right)
The objective of these peer-reviews is to teach students how to provide constructive criticism of a manuscript. Furthermore, students will learn how to use the peer-review process to assimilate and improve on their own writing, data presentation and interpretation of their formal report.
Students will review a draft formal report of one of their colleague students based on peer-review guidelines provided with a copy of a draft report. Students will also work within a group to peer review a draft proposal. The instructor will grade these assignments for clarity of the review and constructiveness of their criticism.