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: an Observation Project leads to a Methods Project that 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.

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.

Goodenough's section:

This section of the course develops skills for the types of writing biologists will need in their careers. We practice four components of a final document: style and clarity, accuracy, format, and voice. These components of a document are developed through homework, classroom activities, small writing assignments, peer review, and a semester-long group project. Smaller writing assignments include an advertisement critique, a cover letter, an abstract, and a popular article on a scientific topic. The group project research on a local biological issue. Each student investigates a different aspect of the problem. The group produces a formal report that makes recommendations for solving the problem to a “governmental agency.” That report is then modified to be a PowerPoint presentation directed to the local community--other students in the class.

Suni's Section

This section will emphasize (1) writing for diverse audiences, and (2) developing greater fluency with the primary literature. Writing assignments will include an OpEd, a popular science article, a personal statement, and a grant proposal. The theme of this section will be pollination biology.

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?