WRTG 3030 Writing on Science and Society: Topics in Writing

Instructor Contact:

Dawn Colley
Email: colley@colorado.edu

About the Course:

Through selected reading and writing assignments, students examine ethical and social issues that arise within the decision-making processes associated with science and technology. Focuses on critical thinking, analytical writing, and oral presentation. Taught as a writing workshop, the course emphasizes effective communication with both professional and nontechnical audiences. Restricted to junior and senior engineering students and junior and senior physical and biological science majors. Approved for arts and sciences core curriculum: written communication.

Welcome! We’re living in an interesting historical moment in which pseudo-science is readily accepted and actual science is often dismissed or viewed with great skepticism. As you are about to become scientists and engineers, it is critical that you understand what’s happening in the public sphere that has created an atmosphere of distrust for actual science and of credulous approval of pseudo-science. This course, therefore, asks the questions: How is science communicated in the public sphere, how is it used rhetorically in discussions about environmental, social, economic, and political issues, and why is proven science being discredited within the public domain? To answer these questions, we’ll focus on representations of science in news media, in public policy, and in industry.

Because the ways we perceive and choose to interpret science significantly shapes our understanding of our world and how it works, the work of this course will better prepare you to be more savvy, more informed, and more intentional readers and writers so that you can engage in the important political, environmental, economic, and social challenges of our time.

Over the course of the term, we’ll look at various texts to explore these questions:

  • How is scientific knowledge rhetorically constructed/presented?
  • In what ways is science a form of economic, political, material, and social power?
  • Whose science counts?
  • How do we navigate/interpret contradictory scientific accounts?
  • How can we identify and defend against the bunk science that has pervaded our society?

This course also emphasizes thinking, reading and writing critically—that is, thinking, reading and writing that does more than absorb the content of a text but also carefully studies its structure and rhetoric, as well as the cultural values that shape it. We’ll examine the power of language as it functions in various genres with the goal of understanding how good writers make effective choices whether they’re writing a lab report, a blog entry, a resume, or—yes—even a text message.

We will begin this course by attempting to understand how rhetoric intersects with science. Course assignments will provide you with practice writing analyses, crafting arguments, translating your research into a mock grant proposal, composing letters and petitions, and creating a podcast. Throughout the semester, you will post blog-like responses to most class readings, TED talks, and other students’ posts.


By the end of the course you should be able:

  • 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. All writing—from academic essays to cover letters to text messages—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 time we write, our work is constrained by particular 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 practice writing for various readers—experts, professional colleagues, and the general public. To consider your audience means to “put yourself in the shoes” of the people to whom you write.
  • 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 of content that is required for a petition or a multimodal composition. In this class, we’ll study what characterizes each of these genres and how best to fulfill their often unspoken rules and expectations.
  • To improve upon your writing process: Several factors influence the writing process: generating ideas, writing and revising drafts of an essay, editing and proofreading those drafts; workshopping and critiquing your own and your classmates’ work; doing effective research; using technology such as websites, Internet search engines, and electronic databases; evaluating sources for accuracy, relevancy, credibility, and bias; and 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.
  • 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.
  • To strengthen your writing conventions: To achieve this goal, we will focus on the following factors: sharpening your ability to make a cogent argument, working on logical development of ideas, honing paragraph structure (including the use of evidence), considering appropriate vocabulary, following the expectations of the genre, and refining proofreading techniques. By discussing and analyzing, for example, the various conventions of a rhetorical analysis or a petition, 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.
  • To 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, require you to understand how to use the library and Internet to glean research, and improve your understanding of how to use Audacity and Google Drive.

Required Texts:

All course materials are available online and accessible through Canvas. You do not need to purchase any materials for this course.

Assignments and Grading (out of 1000 points):

  • Rhetorical Analysis of Pseudo Science (100 points)
  • Letter Project (125 points)
  • Research Project (150 points)
  • Mock Grant Proposal (125 points)
  • Petition Project (125 points)
  • Multi-Modal Composition (125 points)
  • Participation / Online Forums (200 points)
  • Syllabus Quiz (50 points)

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