« Biol 3XXX low-stakes writing assignment | Main | Phar 4XXX/5XXX healthcare controversy class »

Biol 3XXX intake writing assignment

Writing sample – Biol 3XXX (majors only)

In preparation to our field trip to the X Museum, you will do a background research on the species that you are going to study in the museum.

Your assigned species is: _____________________________

Write your own half-page, single-spaced description of basic characteristics of the organism, such as classification (plant, fish, bird, amphibian, mammal, etc.), morphology (appearance), habitat, diet, behavior, current status (endangered, threatened, etc.) and possible interaction with humans (game species, pet, pest, etc.). This should be similar to what you see next to exhibits in zoos and museums.

The purpose of this writing is to inform the museum visitors about the organism. Your audience is the general public aged 10 and up. What would they like to know? Are there any “cool facts? about the organism that would pique their interest?

Only scientifically credible information should be included in the paragraph. Acceptable sources for this assignment include:
• books and journal articles
• publications and databases of zoos, museums, and other educational or research institutions of public domain
• published encyclopedia (i.e. available in print).
Unacceptable sources include (but are not limited to):
• hobbyist web pages
• web-only dictionaries and encyclopedia (includes Wikipedia)
• blog entries

Since this is an informational document for the general public, we decide not to cite authors within the main text as we do in regular scientific writing. Citations take up too much space on signs and brochures and may distract or intimidate some readers.

Because you are not citing authors in the text, you cannot use direct quotes; you must properly paraphrase anything borrowed from external sources and list the sources on the bottom half of the page.

List sources in a scientific format such as:
Dixon, J.B., R.E. Dixon, and J.E. Dixon. 1957. Black-shouldered kite biology in San Diego County. Condor 59:156-65. <- This is an example for a journal article.

Jonsgard, P.A. 1990. Hawks, eagles and falcons of North America. Smithsonian Institution Press. Washington. <- This is an example for a book.

Cite web pages* as follows:
Minnesota Zoo web page on Amur tiger.

* Web pages are usually not cited as literature in formal scientific articles; researchers search the original source of information that has been published on paper and cite it instead. If an academic web page contains information that is not yet published, the researcher will contact the author of the web page directly and cite it as “personal communication?.
Similarly, you may find interesting facts from Wikipedia and other sites, but you need to use the original source of such facts rather than Wiki itself.


Kiyoko, I like this assignment a lot. It is relevent, short, addresses an imaginable audience for a limited purpose, and involves research---all good!

Thinking from a student perspective, my questions would be these: What will you do with the writing students turn in? What will students be doing with them during/after the fieldtrip? Will the writing be graded? What are the criteria for success? And, in relation to the research, what are the rules for appropriate paraphrasing? (Here you might provide links.)

Sorry for my delay in responding to this intake assignment. I would imagine that by now, you've assigned it and have already gotten student responses. I'd be interested in hearing how well it worked toward your goals.