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WRTG 3030 Writing on Science and Society

Instructor Contact:

Diane DeBella

Course Description:

The course framework for WRTG 3030 stresses the role of genre in scientific and engineering communication.

In your work you will frequently be expected to communicate your ideas on science and technology to others–to people both within and outside of your specific field. This course will help you improve your critical thinking, writing, and speaking skills so that you may communicate your ideas effectively. You will not only gain familiarity with professional documents within your field of study, but you will also learn to apply your disciplinary expertise to broader social and ethical issues. For example, because the rate of technological change is so fast, it drives social and cultural change more than any other factor. Emerging technologies also often raise controversial moral issues regarding such things as privacy (information technologies), mixing species (genetically modified organisms), and creating novel forms of life (synthetic biology). As you analyze issues within your own field of study using this interplay of contexts, you’ll learn to exercise your abilities and responsibilities as individuals within the profession and as citizens within your community.

This class will be conducted as an intensive workshop: you will not only present drafts of your work to classmates, you’ll read and critique drafts of others. We will focus on strategies of analysis and argument, and upon shaping your ideas so that your writing becomes both clear and persuasive. 

Course Objectives:

In addition to attaining goals universal to all PWR courses, Professional Writing courses address the demands of particular fields. Effective professional writing grows out of sound, incisive critical thinking. For the professional, exceptional thinking must be grounded in an understanding of the rhetorical context—not only the immediate audience and purpose, but also the professional and social contexts that shape the field. As writers analyze issues within this interplay of contexts, they learn to exercise their abilities and responsibilities as individuals within the profession. Writers in professional contexts understand that writing is a process, involving informed participation in a community of writers as well as attention to the demands of style.

By the end of the semester, students should meet the following core goals:

Critical Thinking

Students should learn to:

  • Analyze issues, problems, or opportunities relevant to their field or profession.
  • Identify and evaluate information sources for relevance, validity, and credibility.
  • Apply advanced rhetorical knowledge in order to recognize the elements of sound reasoning.
  • Pose questions that lead to sustained inquiry and innovative thinking.
  • Frame an issue and develop a stance based on evidence and sound reasoning.
  • Recognize the elements and logical progression of persuasive arguments.
  • Employ rhetorical strategies to produce a coherent and persuasive argument.

Rhetorical Context

Students should learn to:

  • Analyze the professional and, as appropriate, societal context of issues, problems, or opportunities under consideration.
  • Understand writing and other forms of communication as collaborative dialogues among authors, audiences, editors, critics, and colleagues.
  • Recognize and address the imperatives of social responsibility.
  • Understand how constraints such as time, resources, professional protocols, conflicting obligations, or political pressures influence any rhetorical situation.
  • Analyze the values, perspectives, and expectations of different audiences.
  • Base rhetorical strategies from an advanced understanding of audience and a highly focused purpose.
  • Shape rhetorical strategies from an advanced understanding of the elements of genre, persuasion, voice, and style.
  • Use field-specific language appropriate for other professionals that, where appropriate, remains intelligible to a non-expert audience.
  • Understand and employ information technologies in communication. 

Writing Process

Students should learn to:

  • Understand writing as an ongoing, recursive process that requires multiple drafts as well as various strategies for developing, revising, and editing texts.
  • Develop skill in critiquing works in progress, whether it is their own or the work of colleagues.
  • Convey meaning through concise, precise, highly readable language and understand options for shaping meaning through syntax and diction.
  • Use standard grammar and mechanics and develop the habit of proofreading.

Required Texts:

Schimel, Joshua. Writing Science: How to write papers that get cited and proposals that get funded. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Readings accessed as links or.pdf files through the course content, which will be updated in D2L on a weekly basis.


Resume and Cover Letter (short forms of professional communication)

This project asks you to research different career paths and respond to actual position announcements or internship opportunities as you create an effective application package. It also allows you the opportunity at the beginning of the semester to get to know your classmates, their interests and their experiences on a more personal level than you might otherwise be able to do in an online course.

Voice Thread Responses (shorter, supporting, and scaffolding assignments):

You will complete Voice Thread responses on the chapters assigned in Writing Science: How to write papers that get cited and proposals that get funded.

Critical Reading Responses (shorter, supporting, and scaffolding assignments)

The critical response will be a tool through which you can apply reflective strategies to the synthesis and communication of knowledge in this course.  Throughout the semester you will respond to each content specific reading assigned by posting a comment of substantial length to the class discussion board. You will critically examine the purpose, content, tone and style of each piece as you critique the work’s effectiveness. You will be responsible for posting your own response in a timely manner, and for replying to two of the comments of your classmates, so that we can generate meaningful discussion of each piece. I will provide you with additional details regarding posting reading responses.

White Paper (longer project)

The white paper is a formal assignment in which you will identify an existing problem in your field of study, explore potential fixes to the problem while taking into account the impact on both science and society (focusing on ethical considerations), and propose a comprehensive solution based upon your research. The longer project will help you develop more sophisticated ways to communicate knowledge to appropriate audiences, and demonstrate your comprehension of content knowledge through the use of effective communication strategies.

Oral Presentation (presentations including use of visual and multimedia technology):

You will create and deliver an oral presentation related to your white paper. Details of this assignment will be provided. For help with digital projects, visit

Draft Preparation/Peer Critique (genres and activities related to the writing process)

You will provide constructive criticism of your classmates’ work, and you will receive constructive criticism of your own work.  Peer critique and draft preparation is extremely important, and both will count towards your final grade.

Class Participation

Participation is an integral part of the learning experience.  Completing your own work on time and responding to other students’ work in a thorough, thoughtful, and timely manner will count toward your class participation grade.

Comparable Workload: To ensure a comparable workload across all sections of WRTG 3030, assignments will total roughly the equivalent of 50 double-spaced pages of critical responses, drafts, and final assignments receiving substantial comments from peers and the instructor (this includes all of the assignments listed above). See estimated page breakdown in course grade section below.

Course Grade

Learning Activities Percentage
Resume/Cover Letter (6 pages incl. drafts) 20%
Voice Thread Responses (10 pages) 5%
Critical Reading Responses (10 pages) 10%
White Paper (20 – 30 pages incl. drafts) 25%
Oral Presentation (comparable to 10 pages) 20%
Peer Critique 10%
Class Participation 10%


*Grades for each assignment will be entered into D2L.

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