312-Writing in Biology

Learning Goals

Students who complete any section of Writing in Biology will be able:

  • to communicate biological ideas: in writing, orally, and visually.
  • to write effectively, in paragraphs, appropriate to a scientific audience.
  • to adopt a scientific style of writing and use scientific conventions correctly.
  • to use a scientific figure correctly in a document, presentation, or poster.
  • to assess the significance and reliability of diverse information sources.
  • to navigate the primary literature.
  • to format a manuscript for submission for publication.

Instructor Narratives

Brewer's section:

The goal of my section is to prepare students to confidently write, format, and submit a research manuscript for publication. Much of the work in the course is focused on writing from experience, rather than from sources, and composing text appropriately for each section of a research paper. Each hands-on project builds upon the skills developed in the previous project: a Methods Project leads to a Research Proposal and finally culminates in a whole-class Research Project. In each project, students actually conduct some research, usually related to local ecology, and write a paper in a format that would be suitable for submission to a peer-reviewed journal. In addition, this section brings a focus on visual representation of scientific information: composing multi-panel scientific figures and creating a poster, rather than a manuscript, for the final presentation.

Emel's section:

The goal of this section is for students to develop writing skills that will be applicable to their Biology programs as well as their future careers. To achieve this goal, students will complete a combination of short writing assignments, literature review, data analysis, and peer review. This section will focus on concepts and primary literature from the fields of ecology and evolution, and students will be encouraged to pursue their own interests related to these fields.

Healey's section:

As a biologist you may work in the private or public sector and pursue a career at one of many places: a hospital, a biotechnology company, an environmental consultancy…. The format of writing and presentations is different among these careers but the fundamental principles of communication are the same: clarity, concision and a focus on what the audience needs to understand your point!

In this seminar, we will explore these and other basic principles through four major pieces of writing: two popular science articles, a report, and a presentation. Each piece involves drafts and a final revision and some are based on individual work while others are completed as a team.

Houlihan's Section

Satisfies Junior Year Writing requirement for Biology majors. Students write and revise short papers on subjects likely to be encountered by biologists. Class discussion of papers. Prerequisites: 3 biological science courses, for declared Biology majors only.

Johnson's Section

In this section, we will emphasize (1) writing for diverse audiences, and (2) developing greater fluency with the primary literature. This section will also have a theme, such that many of the readings will involve evolutionary medicine.

Normark's section

In this section, each student is encouraged to explore their own scientific interests by reading the peer-reviewed literature. Each student writes an article for a popular audience, an article for a professional audience, and a research project proposal. Students review each others' early drafts and have the opportunity to revise and resubmit their work. For writing advice, we read and discuss The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker. For research topic ideas, we also read and discuss a few articles on evolutionary medicine.

Okusu's Section

This course is designed to teach students important writing and analytical skills required to succeed in their future professional degrees and careers. Students will learn how to 1) search and organize scientific articles in RefWorks, 2) design, propose and conduct an experiment, 3) present ideas in a poster and a powerpoint presentation, and 4) engage in group discussions and peer reviews. Students will be given multiple opportunities to hone their writing skills on several short writing assignments before their final assignment. The theme of this section will be evolution.

Walton's Section

In this section, we will practice writing with clarity and concision as well as reading with attention. A series of short writing assignments will include a personal statement, an abstract, figures and tables, a letter to the editor, a popular science article, a press release, a small grant proposal with a persuasive presentation, and a group research project for publication, culminating in a poster. There will be peer review and discussion of each others' work. I will use examples human physiology and evolutionary and environmental biology, but students with all interests are welcome.

Zehnder's Section

My goal for this course is that you practice writing clearly and concisely for different audiences with a focus on communicating science to non-scientists. Additionally, you will demonstrate critical thinking skills by writing a paper that utilizes scientific evidence and argumentation. I also hope that you develop an appreciation for revising drafts based on feedback from your peers and me.

For other instructors, contact the instructor directly for a course description.

Fulfills biology core requirement area(s):


Fulfills plant requirement for biology majors?


Fulfills lab requirement for biology majors?


Fulfills general education requirement for non-biology majors?