21W.777 | Spring 2017 | Undergraduate

Science Writing in Contemporary Society


Assignments 16-25

Assignment #16

Continue preparing for presentations and working on your revisions of your Investigative Essays.

Assignment #17a - Oral Presentation - Due Session 18

Your oral presentation for this class will be a report on your findings in tracking a topic on an online site. You’ll focus on what the site aims to do, how it does it, and how well it succeeds.

  • 8-10 minutes per speaker, plus 4-5 minutes of Q&A.
  • Your main task will be to clearly describe what you found, what you thought your source did well (using specific examples), and what questions your findings raised: these may be questions about science, values, the way science is covered, or all three.
  • You will want to guide your audience through some sample screen shots of the site to illustrate your talk.

Here are some suggestions re: what kinds of things to include, copied from the Reading Journals assignment:

  • What is the web environment like? What is foregrounded? How are sections and or stories arranged (sequential? embedded? etc.)
  • How do the visual elements enhance and/or distract from the experience of reading the stories?
  • What’s the tone of the stories like? Does it feel consistent; does it change with writers and/or topics?
  • What seems successful in the way material is presented?
  • What do you think could be improved?
  • What raises questions for you?

Depending on your site, and your own background and knowledge about the main topic(s), you should have some specific observations related to its purpose and audience.

Note: See also the Rubric for Oral Presentations for aspects of the talk on which you’ll be evaluated.

Assignment #17b - Revise Essay 2: Investigative Essay - due the day after Session 17

Create a worksheet answering the below questions and place it before the 1st page of your revised essay. Make sure you have cited using Nature style, and include a list of References.

  1. What is the thesis of this essay?
  2. Why does this matter? To whom?
  3. Is there anything you think should be in this essay that you weren’t able to fit into this draft?

Assignment #18 - Due Session 19

  1. Read: Session 18 readings

For class discussion: Notice what kinds of things the writers do in these little review essays–how and where do they provide critique of the book? What ideas do they focus on? What else do you notice? There is no one perfect book review essay, so the point here is to notice different possibilities.


  • Please check out your classmates’ revised Investigative Essays–they are terrific, and you may have a comment or two that will help them polish the essays for the portfolio.
  • If you haven’t already done so, start reading your book for the Book Review Essay.
  • If you haven’t already done so, please upload your 2nd batch of Journal entries to the course website.

Assignment #19 - Due Session 20

  1. Read: Session 19 readings

For class discussion: These essays are a bit of a change of pace for us—rather than being urgent, of-the-moment essays, these are more reflective—Hirsch’s in the exploratory mode, Berry’s persuasive. They “work” very differently and have different purposes, yet they share a thematic interest in the abstract vs. the practical or material.

What kinds of moves do you see the writers making? How do they structure their essays? What are their concerns? Do these essays still feel relevant today? Why or why not?

Also note examples of good writing.

Assignment #20 - Essay 3: Book Review Essay - Due the day prior to Session 22

Workshop in class Session 22

4-5 p. double-spaced (~1250 words)

This essay should be enjoyable; it gives you a chance to enter into an extended discussion with a writer whose work is esteemed by his or her peers and by the general reading public. It gives you a chance to mingle your words with those of an eminent writer, which is one of the pleasures of critiquing work that has literary merit.

Further assignment details

Don’t be deceived by the (short) length of the assignment: book reviews are challenging. For one thing, you must accurately represent the work you’ve chosen to review. Whether you agree or disagree with the writer’s views and approach, you must present them to readers in a form that the writer would recognize as his or her own. But you don’t want to spend the whole review summarizing the book; that’s a précis, not a review. Like the reviewers whose work we read, you want your chosen book to become a springboard for a discussion of one or more current issues in science or technology, or an idea re: our relationship with science that you think is due more attention. Another challenge will be quoting: you want to quote enough to give the reader the flavor of the book, yet you don’t want your review to be a string of quotes.

You want to engage with both the content of the book—its validity, reasonableness, usefulness—and also with the writing: is it highly abstract? Repetitious? Is the writing vivid? Are examples abundant and well chosen? Is the writer a master of metaphor? Does s/he rely heavily on analogies? What audience does the book seem to be addressing? Who should read this book? What are the particular pleasures of this writer’s style? (Don’t try to answer all these questions; they’re just prods for your thinking.)

Recall that most of the reviews we read actually spent relatively little time on judgment, and more time describing the book and discussing issues. This is a good way to go, unless you have a good reason for wanting to strongly praise or criticize your book. Remember also that judgment may be included in phrases throughout your essay—it needn’t be “saved up” for a section of its own. Readers do, however, expect some kind of summary evaluation, albeit brief.

Remember, too, that while this is a book review it is also an essay. Therefore you don’t want to write 4 pages of: “ … and another thing about this book … ”—you want your review to develop an idea, to get your readers thinking about something.

A note about sources: I prefer that you do not use any outside sources for this essay. You may of course include ideas drawn from other writers, such as our own readings, as you reflect on your book. This kind of essay doesn’t call for citation, but please attach a list of any sources you use for my information.

Note: Please include a 1-2 sentence author bio at the end of your essay—i.e., a bio of you, the author of this review.

Assignment #21 - Due Session 22

Prepare to workshop Book Review Essays

  • Print, read and comment on, and bring to class your classmates’ essays.
  • Also bring a clean copy for the instructor.
  • You may want a clean copy for yourself, to take notes on.

Here are some things to consider re: this essay:

  • Does the introduction pull readers in?
  • Do you get a clear sense of what the book’s author is aiming to do?
  • Do you get a clear sense of what the book is like?
  • Do you seem a theme or focus in the essay? Do you see why that focus matters?
  • Is the writing clear and energetic?
  • Does the essay’s organization work?

Assignment #22 - Due Session 23

  1. Read: Session 22 readings

For class discussion: Think about the ideas these pieces raise in relation to each other as well as some of our earlier readings. What can we take away from them that helps us see a way forward, to more effectively communicate about science?

Assignments #23 & #24

Begin to prepare your portfolio. You will need to:

  • Revise Science in/and Culture (Essay 1). 
  • Re-revise/polish Investigative Essay (Essay 2)
  • Gather your journal entries—include ones I’ve commented on along with any additional ones

Note: Revising the Book Review Essay (Essay 3) is optional

Use these cover worksheets for revising Essays 1 and 2.

For class Session 25

Bring some text that you want to polish—sentence level issues, word choice + phrasing, finding images and analogies, etc.

You can send some passages and I will copy & distribute them so that we can work on them together. If you want to work on 1 sentence in a paragraph, include some surrounding text so that readers have context. Figure on sending 3-4 sentences each; fine to send more if you want to.

Assignment #25: Portfolios - Due the day after the final class

Portfolios and cover letters described below.

Assignment details

Why: Portfolio Cover Letter

The purpose of the Portfolio is to give you and me an opportunity to reflect on your work this term. To aid in this reflection, please address the following questions in your cover letter, which should be 1 to 1-1/2 pages:

  • What has changed in your writing and/or your approach to writing this term?
  • Has anything changed in your reading practice?
  • Which of your essays do you like best? Explain.
  • Anything else you want to comment on regarding your writing?

What and How

In a simple 2-pocket folder, please arrange your drafts and cover sheets as follows:

  • In the left-hand pocket, put your journals and your first letter to me, with your Portfolio Cover Letter on top.
  • In the right-hand pocket, put drafts of essays.
  • Include the version of each draft that was marked by me along with cover sheets. Put newest drafts on top.
  • Your Portfolio MUST include a re-revision of your Investigative Essay, and the essay must include correct in-text citations plus a list of References.
  • Use the cover worksheet for Re-Revisions. Please use a Post-It or some other way of bringing to my attention optional revisions or re-revisions.
  • Do NOT print out clean drafts of essays—the ones that are marked up tell the story best.

When and Where

Portfolios are due at our last class meeting, or in my office no later than noon the next day.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2017
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments