21W.777 | Spring 2017 | Undergraduate

Science Writing in Contemporary Society


Assignments 1-7

Assignment #1 - Due Session 2

Please read each article, and pause to note your reaction—what issues it raises for you, and what you think about them—before going on to read the next one. (You may want to start taking notes for your first Reading Journal entries and/or for ideas to follow up in your essays.) Can you abstract some common issues or themes, or do these seem like an array of several disparate things? We’ll spend much of next class discussing the readings and your reactions to them.

  1. Read: Session 1 readings
  2. Write: Either for next class, or at the latest for Session 3, please write a letter to me introducing yourself to me as a writer: What’s your relationship to writing? What are your hopes (and fears?) for this class? What happened with you and writing in high school, or more recently? Anything else about you & writing you want to tell me? –e.g., is English your second language, writing you’ve done on your own, what you like to read …
    • 1 page, word processed, single-spaced with space between paragraphs (i.e., letter format)

Assignment #2 - Due Session 3

For class discussion: These readings both address ways in which our digital devices are affecting the way we live our lives and relate to each other. They come at the issues in different ways, however: Lightman’s essay is what I would call a “think piece,” an essay that reflects on the writer’s own experience to build up an idea or ideas. Turkle’s chapters, on the other hand, grow out of her research, for which she conducted many interviews with children, teens and adults. As you read, notice your own reactions to the ideas of these writers. What, in each reading, do you find convincing or not convincing? Why? Also consider what they do differently—i.e., what are the different possibilities and limits of each method?

  1. Read: Session 2 readings
  2. Write: If you haven’t already done so, this would be a good time to begin your Reading Journal.
  3. Also: Select the science website you want to follow and email me your choice before next class.

Assignment #3 - Due Session 5

For class discussion: Proctor’s essay, like “Just Add Science,” has wide-reaching ramifications. We won’t need to take a lot of time to discuss it, but may want to return to it as it relates to later readings and/or your own writing. Kleeman and Gefter: These are two especially well-crafted essays, chock-full of information but somehow feeling nimble. So we’ll take some time to discuss how they did it—choices they made, what they do well, and what’s at stake with their topics.

  1. Read: Session 3 readings

Assignment #4 - Reading due Session 4

  1. Read: Atul Gawande’s recent New Yorker essay, “The Heroism of Incremental Care.” This essay displays the qualities that have made Gawande such a successful writer about medical issues. When I read one of his essays or books, I find that he always makes me think, but he never makes me feel stupid.
    • How does he do that?
    • What do you notice about the way he puts his essay together?
    • What do you think of the issue(s) he raises?
  2. Write: a 1-paragraph proposal for Essay 1: What do you want to write about? Why? Post proposal to class website prior to Session 5.
  3. Also: Select a book for your Book Review Essay. Tell me your choice in class on Session 5.

Assignment #5 - Essay 1: Science and/in Culture - Due the day prior to Session 6

5 p. double-spaced (1500 words)

Reflect on the relationship between some aspect of science, technology, nature or medicine and culture, drawing on your own experience, your reading, and a bit of research. The goal of this essay is to help readers see something relevant to their lives, in a fresh way.

Your essay may be exploratory or persuasive, but avoid the temptation to write a polemic. Like Gawande, you want to get your readers thinking, without making them feel ignorant, or like you’re preaching.

And like all essays, this one will succeed to the extent that it balances ideas and examples—that is, it should embody ideas in scenes, stories, your own experiences or those of others you know …

You may take one of our readings—say, Lightman or Turkle, or something you’ve read outsides class—as a starting point, and have a conversation with the writer—that’s one way to approach this kind of essay. But that’s just one possibility.

Two hints for Essay 1:

  1. Tone: I don’t think you would do this, but just in case: Even though this essay is meant to include your own reflection, that doesn’t mean it needs to take a portentous or deadly serious tone—and of course, you never want to be preachy. Let the tone emerge from the writing. Some of the topics might even lend themselves to humor.
  2. This is easier said than done, but aim to strike a balance between mapping out what you want to do—your main evidence & examples, where you think you want to go with your argument/exploration—and letting yourself be surprised by where you find yourself going. No plan usually means you end up with stream of consciousness—not an essay—but if you are too programmatic, you might be quashing some creative spark that could ignite an even more interesting discussion than the one you originally planned. The corollary here is that you need to give yourself time to edit what you write.

Assignment #6 - Various due dates

  1. Prepare: for next session’s workshop. Bring to class copies of your classmates’ essays. Everyone, bring a clean copy of your essay for me and your classmates. You will probably want a draft for yourself on which to take notes as well. Due Session 7.
  2. Post comments for your three classmates after we’ve workshopped the essays in class. Include comments on the main idea(s) and how they are developed, structure, evidence & reasoning, and language—in other words, some macro issues, and some local issues. Don’t strain to find things to comments on; go with what seems most important to you. Feel free to make suggestions for improving the essay, but avoid language like “You should do this…" Due the day after Session 7.
  3. Write: a proposal for your Investigative Essay (Essay 2).

Your proposal should be 1 paragraph, including:

  • What do you want to investigate and write about?
  • Why?
  • Why do you think this will make an interesting essay? For what audience especially?
  • Do you have a particular question or problem in mind around which you want to build your discussion? (It’s OK if you don’t have one now, but you should have one before you sit down to write the draft).

Post to class website by Session 8.

Assignment #7 - Readings due Session 8

  1. Read: Session 7 readings

For class discussion: What do you see as the purpose of each of these essays? How are the essays structured? What do you think is particularly effective in each? Any questions that they raise for you?

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2017
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments