Explore Science Writing This Winter with Writing 410/510

Are you interested in exploring other areas of technical communication while also earning elective credit? Consider taking WR 410/510 Science Writing, a brand-new course being offered this Winter Quarter. 

About the Instructor

The Science Writing course will be taught by Professor Jacob Tootalian, an adjunct instructor in the Masters of Professional and Technical Writing program. His research and teaching focus on the interconnections between the humanities and the sciences. Specifically, his scholarship focuses on the writing practices of early modern natural philosophers and other scientific practitioners, and explores the tensions between scientific methodologies and the rhetorical and poetic structures of discourse. He believes that this kind of historical analysis helps shed light on the power of communication in modern science. He’s currently working on a book project titled Mists and Uncertainties: Poetic Figuration and English Scientific Prose, 1640-1671.

Professor Tootalian’s study of literature, rhetoric, and the history of science has informed his approach to teaching technical writing. He is incredibly excited to have the opportunity to design and teach the Science Writing course, citing it as a long-time career ambition of his. He looks forward to collaborating with students to make sure that the class successfully addresses all of their needs and interests.

Class Description and Major Assignments

The class will explore various genres of science communication, from specialist research reports to popular science journalism. Students will study how scientific knowledge is generated and shared through these forms. They’ll have the opportunity to adopt a role they can imagine themselves playing in the science writing ecosystem and select a scientific topic to study by surveying the published research. 

The first set of assignments will center on research reports as the basic unit of scientific knowledge. Students will perform a literature review on a scientific topic of their choice, using the sources they collect to practice genre research and rhetorical analysis. Then, they’ll get transform one of their selected sources into either a poster presentation for a specialist audience or a podcast or Youtube video for a public audience.

Students will also complete a course project in a common science writing genre, choosing between a research proposal or a popular article or blog post.

The Ecosystem of Science Writing

The course will primarily revolve around the idea of science writing as an ecosystem. In the diagram below, Professor Tootalian has mapped out the major genres of science communication, the roles that writers and readers take on in relation to those genres, and some of the institutions that play a gatekeeping role in the execution of scientific research. 

Unlike science writing classes at other universities, which tend to focus on either writing for specialist audiences or for the public, this course will cover both. Professor Tootalian remarks that “The special thing about this class is that we have the chance to survey a fuller picture of how scientific knowledge takes shape in language, which means we get to trace out the way that insights into nature are developed, honed, applied, and popularized.”

The class will also:

  • Touch on the theory of knowledge that influences scientific discourse and look at some of the examples from the history of science to help us see that knowledge-making in action.
  • Explore questions of media, addressing how print versus digital formats have affected research reporting and how audio and video can impact the popularization of scientific ideas.
  • Confront issues of specialist expertise and identity, such as the dynamics of interprofessional collaboration and the significance of demographic representation in research communities and science journalism.

Whether or not you plan to pursue a career in science communication, the Science Writing course will give you the chance to explore a new field, gain experience with common technical writing genres, and create professional deliverables for your portfolio.

Registration for WR 410/510 is open now! Register through Banweb.

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