21W.036 | Spring 2022 | Undergraduate

Science Writing and New Media: Writing and the Environment


Further details can be found on the readings and assignments pages.

The Distinctive Role of Narrative Non-Fiction

Session 1: Introduction

Readings: None assigned.

Session 2

Reading: Robert Stickgold and Jeffrey M. Ellenbogen, “Quiet! Sleeping Brain at Work.”

Writing: Introductory exercise. 

In Class: Read responses in pairs and introduce one another. 

  • Read and discuss “Three short pieces” by John Muir.
Session 3

Reading: Narrative essays—Where do I belong?

  • E.O. Wilson, “Paradise Beach” from Naturalist [Florida];
  • Aldo Leopold, “February” from A Sand County Almanac [Wisconsin];
  • One of the following:
    • Donald Hall, “Winter” [New Hampshire];
    • Lauret Savoy, “The View from Point Sublime” or “A Stone’s Throw” [Grand Canyon, Arizona];
    • Jack Turner, “Introduction” and “Return” from Teewinot [Wyoming];
  • “Rhetoric: Writing about Personal Experience” from Writing Nature by Carolyn Ross.

Writing: Post Narrative Commentary #1 on assigned readings.

In Class: Narrative writing and self-discovery: uncovering an idea.

Session 4

Reading: More narrative essays—Home and Away.

  • Ellen Meloy: “The Inverse Cordillera” and “The Flora and Fauna of Las Vegas” from Raven’s Exile;
  • Barry Lopez: “Gone Back into the Earth” from Crossing Open Ground and an excerpt from “A Northern Passage” in Arctic Dreams.

Writing: Post Narrative Commentary #2 on reading and Preparation for Narrative Essay.

In Class: Ideas and the narrative essay: why choose this form? 

  • Using a writer’s reference manual & Purdue’s OWL.
  • Review one sample student essay in class.
Session 5

Reading: Two sample student narrative essays (your choice).

Writing: First version of Narrative Essay due in class.

In Class: Distinctive nature of narrative introduction. 

  • Workshop on introductions.
Session 6 

Reading: None assigned.

Writing: Narrative Essay Peer Review. Write up & post comments on partners’ essays.

In Class: Workshop on narrative essay.

Communicating Environmental Science Part One: Documentaries for the General Public

Session 7

Reading: None assigned.

Writing: Final version of Narrative Essay due.

In Class: Thinking critically about documentaries. 

  • View sample pair of documentaries.
  • Begin discussing possible criteria for evaluation.
Session 8

Reading: Sample student critical review.

Viewing: Choose a pair of documentaries and view both at least twice. (Available online.)

Writing: Critical Review Pre-draft Exercise #1 on pair of documentaries.

In Class: Critical Review: Getting from an “opinion” to an idea. 

  • Review general articles on science documentaries.
  • Meet in small groups to discuss documentaries & develop collaborative summaries.
Session 9

Reading: Developing a context for your critical review.

  • Read articles related to the topic of your documentaries (located with help of instructor).
  • Read broader articles on communicating science (posted on class site).

Writing: Critical Review Pre-Draft Exercise #2 on pair of documentaries.

In Class: Recognizing your sources. 

  • MLA documentation. Other documentation styles.
Session 10

Reading: Additional readings on communicating science.

Writing: Critical Review Pre-Draft Exercise #3 on pair of documentaries.

In Class: Getting from an “opinion” to an idea, cont.

Session 11

Writing: First version of Critical Review due in class. 

In Class: Relationship between introduction & essay structure. 

  • Workshop on introductions.
Session 12

Writing: Critical Review Peer Review & Scientific American. Select Two Older Articles. 

  • Write up comments on partners’ critical reviews.
  • Select two possible starting points (see list of articles) for your Scientific American update and post article titles on course website.

In Class: Workshop on Critical Review.

Communicating Environmental Science Part Two: Writing for the General Public

Session 13

Writing: Final version of Critical Review due.

In Class: Library session.

Session 14

Reading: Preparing for the Scientific American update. 

  • Look through the list of topics and articles that can provide a starting point for your Scientific American.
  • Select an article that intrigues you and read it.
  • Read “Reviewing Prior Research,” Chapter Five from Writing in the Sciences (omitting exercises) by Ann Penrose and Steven Katz.
  • Read “Undamming the Rivers: A Review” by Angela Bednarek and “Down Go the Dams” by Jane Marks (from Scientific American).

In Class: Understanding the link between genre and audience. 

  • Discuss differences between a scholarly review article and a magazine article that provides an overview of a topic or issue (audience, function, structure, evidence, language).
Session 15


  • Go back to the article that will provide a starting point for your Scientific American update*.* Read it carefully.
  • Read “Finding Stories” from Ideas into Words by Elise Hancock & “Science and Technology” from On Writing Well by William Zinsser. Think about narrative strategies that you might use for your update.
  • Read two student Scientific American updates.

Writing: Write a two-paragraph summary (c. 200 words) of the article you have chosen.

In Class: Discuss differing documentation strategies for scientific review article and magazine article.

Session 16

Reading: Individual research.

  1. Track down and read a recent (last five years) scholarly review article that covers new research on a key topic within the earlier magazine article.
  2. Send Dr. Taft pdf of review article.
  3. Read at least one more journal article (probably from the list of studies covered by the review article) that focuses on the particular area of research that interests you.


  • List the key advances and/or changes in orientation reported in the recent review article. Provide a two-sentence synopsis of the second, more specific article.

In Class: How do you write a proposal for scientific magazine article? 

  • To consider: How do you preserve the boundary between you and your sources?
Session 17

Reading: Find and read additional material, possibly including recent news articles, to prepare for your Scientific American update. Science News might be a useful source.

Writing: Write proposal for your Scientific American update (150–200 words). 

In Class: Proposal workshop.

Session 18

Writing: First version of Scientific American update due.

In Class: Discuss strategies selected by students.

Session 19

Reading: Neosha Narayanan’s “Saving Our Pollinators” from Angles 2019 and one current student draft.

In Class: Discuss “Saving Our Pollinators."

  • Whole class workshop of draft SA update.
Session 20

Writing: Write up comments on partners’ update articles.

In Class: Workshop on Scientific American update. 

Communicating Environmental Science Part Three: Speaking to the Public

Session 21

Writing: Final Version of Scientific American update due.

In Class: Bring laptop or iPad to class. Discuss oral presentations and slide composition. 

  • View Al Gore’s recent TED talk on Climate Change.
  • Individually, view one of TED talks from assignment list.
  • Together, discuss criteria for slide presentations.
Session 22

Reading/Class Preparation: Watch three TED talks from assignment list.

Writing: Write up brief response to each talk in response to assigned questions. 

In Class: Oral presentations.

Session 23

In Class: Oral presentations.

Refining Your Work: Bringing it all Together

Session 24

Reading: Reread your three major writing assignments for the semester & review the feedback you received. 

  • Select the assignment that you plan to revise a second time.

Writing: Write out at least three objectives to pursue as you revise your selected assignment a second time.

In Class: Final oral presentations.

Session 25

Writing: Continue revising selected assignment. 

  • Post a segment of that assignment (2–3 full paragraphs) for a small group workshop.

In Class: Advanced editing workshop (small groups) 

  • Sentence-level feedback from your peers.
Session 26

Reading: Track down one of your favorite books, stories, or poems, and select a passage or poem to read in class.

Writing: Second revision of earlier paper.

In Class: Read and listen to favorite works.

  • Celebrate the successful completion of 21W.036!

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2022