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WRTG 3030 Writing on Science and Society

Instructor Contact:

Merrit Dukehart


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 don’t 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’re 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’ll 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 goals of the course and CCHE requirements are:

Class Goals (use these to help with your self-learning assessment):

This semester we will review skills you learned in writing 1150, challenge, and improve them, as we move through a series of weekly topics, assignments and readings. The course will address the following areas

  • To 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, 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.
  • To write in consideration of your 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’ll often pretend to be writing for someone besides a teacher—potential employers, 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.
  • To 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 content that is required for a grant proposal or a conference presentation or a blog post. In this class we’ll study what characterizes each of these genres and how best to fulfill the often unspoken rules and expectations of each genre.
  • We will improve upon your Writing process: The writing process refers to a) Generating ideas, writing and revising drafts of an essay, 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; 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.
  • To 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.
  • We will strengthen your writing conventions: This means a) Sharpening your ability to issue claims, lines of reasoning and evidence, paragraph structure, appropriate vocabulary and genre conventions; b) master grammar, syntax, and 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 of 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 Desire2Learn (D2L), require you to understand how to use the library and internet to glean research, improve your understanding of how to use and access voicethread, powerpoint, prezi, and google drive.

Required Texts:

All readings and homework assignments will be available on Desire2Learn (D2L) as a pdf. or URL

If you struggle with grammar, you must purchase a reference guide. My personal preference is:

  • Troyka, Lynn Q and Hesse, Douglas. Quick Access, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2014.


The discussion board will serve 2 primary functions:

  1. To explore and better understand the significance of the readings—I will regularly ask students to respond to a prompt that will probe your understanding of a reading and require you to express a viewpoint (similar to a blog post). Your posts should invite further conversation.
  2. To provide an opportunity for interaction and sense of community
    1. You will provide a thoughtful response to at least 2 classmates’ posts each week.
    2. You will provide a thoughtful response or feedback to at least 4 students final presentations.


You will participate in three workshops using google drive. The workshops will serve 2 valuable functions 1) improve your approach to the writing process and your actual writing, and 2) provide you with practice using google drive. Students often wait until the last minute to do their writing. The workshop process will give you a reason to start you writing in advance, and allow for a crucial moment of rest between the workshop and your due date that allows you to see your writing with a fresh eye. These moments of “marination” often improve writing. Moreover, in reading other students work we gain opportunities to reflect and improve based on what we’ve learned from others. On an even more practical note, most employers expect their employees to be able to work and edit over google drive, so this will give you a great opportunity to practice. I will provide you with questions and pointers to help guide your feedback to other students.

Argument Paper

After a brief introduction to rhetoric, and how we can apply the concept of rhetoric and argument to science, you will select an editorial from a list I generated. The editorials I selected directly address scientific issues. Ironically, the controversial part of several of the editorials is often that someone has an opinion on an issue considered factual by scientific communities. Read and select this editorial very carefully, as your argument paper will be inspired or a direct response to the editorial.

Grant Proposal Needs Assessment

Teams of experts in their field will often spend a year doing the research necessary to propose a winning grant. You will not have the time to do that in this class, but you will need to demonstrate there is a need for your project. Before you begin working on the grant, please submit a 1-3 paragraph research essay demonstrating there is a need for your project. This essay will require you obtain academic research to demonstrate the need for your project.

Mock Grant Proposal

You will apply for funding from a mock granting institution. Unless you’re really lucky, at some point in your life most of you will have to ask for money from someone to work on a problem with a solution that requires your skill set. This paper will provide you with practice finding an audience for your ideas and using rhetoric to make that idea exciting to them. If you are working on your own or with faculty to apply for an actual grant, you may use this class to get feedback on that proposal. Otherwise, we will pretend that we have a solution to a social problem, and we’re asking a funding group for money for our idea.

Mock Conference Presentation

You will construct a 6-8 minute presentation based on the TED talk format using google presentation, video with voiceover, or you may choose your own medium. Your presentation should be targeted to an American audience, be visually captivating, and aim to persuade others of the importance and significance of your work—keeping in mind the difficulties Americans have interpreting scientific data. Obviously, you will have to make up some of the significance of your study since it is not within the realm of this course to complete your actual proposal. Here’s your chance to think BIG and use your imagination for the sake of learning.

Self-Learning Assessment

You will write a short paper discussing what you learned in this class, and use the contents of this paper to fill out a short survey that will help us continue to improve online learning.


  • 225 Points – Your Weekly Discussion Board Posts (9, 25 pts each—20 pts for the response, 5 pts for replying to 2 students’ posts)
  • 24 Points – Plus responses meant to provide feedback for students argument paper, grant proposal, and final conference presentation (3, 8 points each)
  • 30 Points – 3 Workshops (10 points each)
  • 50 Points – Argument Paper
  • 15 Points – Grant Proposal Needs Assessment
  • 100 Points – Grant Proposal
  • 80 Points – Conference Presentation
  • 25 Points – Self-learning Assessment

549 Total Points

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