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WRTG 3030 Writing on Science and Society: Topics in Writing


Merrit Dukehart



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.


No Required Text


Your Weekly Discussion Board Posts (9, 25 pts each—20 pts for the response, 5 pts for replying to 2 students’ posts) 225 pts
Plus responses meant to provide feedback for students argument paper, grant proposal, and final conference presentation (3, 8 pts each) 24 pts
3 Workshops 10 points each 30 pts
Argument Paper 50 pts
Grant Proposal Needs Assessment 15 pts
Grant Proposal 100 pts
Conference Presentation 80 pts
Self-learning Assessment 25 pts
Total 549 pts

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