WRTG 3030 Writing on Science and Society

Instructor Contact:

Matthew Henningsen, PhD

Email: matthew.henningsen@colorado.edu

About the Course:

While scientists strive to relay their research in the most objective and factual terms, they must often use rhetoric to address their peers during conferences, presentations, through academic publications, and, especially, when addressing the public. In this class, rhetoric refers to purposeful language meant to influence or persuade an audience to think or behave in specific ways. The “purposeful” refers to how writing is often for a specific audience, context, purpose, and laden with specific constraints such as time, resources, technology, and decorum. Thinking of science rhetorically can be helpful for young professionals and academics as they advance in their career. Consider, for example, the knowledge gap between scientific experts and the general public. World-altering discoveries are often misunderstood by the general public (think: global warming, GMOs, stem cell research, etc.), sometimes even delaying or putting a halt to research that might benefit the public. Adding fuel to the fire, politicians and corporations capitalize on this knowledge gap, manufacturing and manipulating scientific controversies in service of partisan policies. At the very least, the knowledge gap points to opportunities for rhetoric to help improve the efficacy of scientific communication.

In this class, I assume you, the student, will continue your study of science at the graduate and professional level. Even if you do not plan on an academic career, learning to cater your writing to specific audiences is a skill that transfers outside of the university. At some point, your work or ideas will come in contact with the public. Therefore, this class is designed to help you make the best communicative choices based on the purpose of your communication, the audience you are addressing, and the genre that you engage.

We will begin the course by attempting to understand rhetoric and how rhetoric intersects with science. Course assignments will provide you with practice writing blogs, crafting arguments, composing academic writing and research, and translating your research into a mock grant proposal and a corresponding presentation (we will use TED talks to help us mimic an approach to science that is appealing to a non-academic audience). Throughout the semester, you will post blog-like responses to most class readings, TED talks, and other students’ posts.


The objectives of the course, in addition to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE) requirements are:

  • Gain Rhetorical Knowledge of the Composition Process

This goal refers to a) analyzing the occasion, audience, and purpose of a piece of writing; b) using voice, tone, and structure to weave form and content together successfully; c) writing and reading in several genres; d) sharpening skills of analysis, argument, and inquiry to engage knowledge of ourselves and others.

Writing done in the university and in the world around us uses rhetoric, or the art of adapting one’s language choices to meet the occasion, audience, purpose, and constraints of a piece of writing. Each occasion to compose is endowed with constraints, such as time, resources, professional decorum, and even professional or cultural politics, which influence the things we might write or say. This class will strengthen your rhetorical knowledge so you can succeed in all your writing endeavors.

  • Write in Consideration of Audience

At the university, sometimes it feels like you are only writing for different teachers. But, most of the writing you do in your life is for much different audiences. In this class, we will often pretend to be writing for someone besides a teacher, such as a potential employer, a mock funding institution, and professional colleagues. To consider your audience means to “put yourself in the shoes” of the people for whom you will write. What would interest them? What would attract them to your work? How can you make your work easy for them to understand? Would you address a potential employer different than your best friend? Would you say the same things about your research to the National Science Foundation as you would colleagues at an academic conference? These are audience consideration questions.

  • Consider Particular Genres When Composing

Genre refers to the kind of writing you will do. Each genre of writing has its own set of rules, expectations, and decorum. For instance, the content you would share in a personal statement differs greatly from the kind of content that is required for a grant proposal or a conference presentation or a blog post. In this class, we will study both what characterizes each of these genres, and how best to fulfill the often unspoken rules and expectations of each genre.

  • Improve Upon Your Writing Process

The writing process refers to a) Generating ideas, writing and revising drafts of an essay, and editing and proofreading those drafts; b) Workshops and critiquing your own and your classmates’ work; c) Doing effective research; d) Using technology such as websites, Internet search engines, and electronic databases; e) Evaluating sources for accuracy, relevancy, credibility, and bias; and f) Reflecting on your writing in order to clarify the writing process. With each assignment, we will strive to demystify the writing process and practice writing as a manageable series of actions resulting in a document of which you can feel proud.

  • Sharpen Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking refers to your ability to analyze issues, problems, or opportunities relevant to your 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; and employ rhetorical strategies to produce a coherent and persuasive argument.

  • Strengthen Your Writing Conventions

This means a) Sharpening your ability to issue claims, lines of reasoning and evidence, paragraph structure, and appropriate vocabulary and genre conventions; b) Master grammar, syntax, punctuation, and documenting sources. By discussing and analyzing, for example, the various conventions of a personal essay or a proposal for funding, you will gain an appreciation for how the different parts of these documents fit together and can be changed according to the circumstance in which you write them.

  • Increase Your Capacity to Function in a Digital Environment

Digital literacy refers to the ability to find, navigate, evaluate, and participate in digital environments for a variety of purposes. This class will be conducted through Canvas, and will require you to understand how to use the library and internet to glean research, and improve your understanding of how to use and access voicethread, powerpoint, prezi, and other applications.

Required Texts:

All texts are posted on the Canvas page.

Grading (out of n points):


Your Weekly Discussion Board Posts (7, 25 pts each—20 pts for the response, 5 pts for replying to 2 students’ posts) 175 pts
Plus responses meant to provide feedback for students editorial, grant proposal, and final conference presentation (3, 8 pts each) 24 pts
2 Workshops, 10 points each 20 pts
Genre Analysis of Editorial 35 pts
Editorial 20 pts
Grant Proposal Needs Assessment 100 pts
Grant Proposal 80 pts
Conference Presentation 25 pts
Total 529 possible pts


Now that you’ve selected your favorite Continuing Education courses, email or print the information, including class number, to more easily search Buff Portal and enroll. Still have questions? Contact an advisor.


Monday – Friday
8:00am to 5:00pm


We are located at the corner of University Avenue and 15th Street in a white brick building.


1505 University Avenue
University of Colorado Boulder
178 UCB
Boulder, Colorado