August 17, 2006

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.

PHSL3062w writing/thinking sample

This assignment will be used as a jumping-off point for showing students how they might generate ideas for their papers and how to go about searching a database commonly-used by biomedical researchers. The faculty will also use these answers to make an initial assessment of each student’s facility with writing and critically thinking about what they have read.

(We will model this assignment at the end of a lecture, and ask students to do the assignment during the following week.)


1. Find a newspaper article that deals with a health- or physiology-related issue.

2. Write a one-paragraph summary of this article.

3. Inspired by this article, write a list of 3-5 questions about physiological mechanisms, whicht you would like answered in depth. If there are any other questions about the reporting or the story that concern you, also list those.

Bring a copy of the article, your summary and list of questions to the next lecture. We will use some of your responses to demonstrate how to use the PubMed database to find sources that address specific scientific questions. (At the end of class, you will be asked to turn in the copy of the article, summary, and list of questions. This assignment will not be graded, but will be used as a means of assessment and taking attendance.)

Critical Reading Summary

Critical reading is an important skill, and reading summaries are designed to facilitate close and critical reading of the assigned essays. Summaries are due approximately every third week of class (see the syllabus for exact due dates), and you may select any of the readings from the prior 3 weeks for your summary. I suggest that you try to pick an essay that you particularly enjoyed, or else one that you really disliked (if you were apathetic about the reading, it will be difficult to write an interesting review!).

Reading summaries are short (300-600 word) highly-focused reviews. The entire assignment must fit on one side of a single piece of paper (good reviews will usually use most of the available page). You may single space and use any reasonable-sized font (> 11 pt., I’m nearsighted!), but if your review is longer than one page, you’ll need to pare it down.

In an initial paragraph, give a full citation for the reading (e.g., title, author, year of publication, and source). Use the internet to find out a little bit more about the author (can you find their home page, bio, or CV?). Give the author's affiliation or credentials: who are they, and how well are they qualified (or not) to write about this particular subject? What about the source? Is it academic or popular? Does the organization publishing the essay seem to have any hidden agenda?

In a second paragraph, summarize the main points of the reading. You don’t have enough space to summarize everything, and you shouldn’t try. Abstracting is the art of identifying and distilling the most important points—to provide a concise, accurate, and readable summary.

In a third paragraph, describe the major strength(s), any weakness(es), and give your own opinion of the reading. It is especially important in this section to try to be critical (if you essentially agree with the author), or to try to empathize (if you strongly disagree). The rare argument is utterly brilliant, and quite a few more are utter rubbish, but more often these conclusions indicate that it is the gentle reader (ahem…you) who is being dogmatic. The vast majority of ethical arguments contain both strengths and weaknesses, and the mark of a good critic is the ability to identify both.

In a final short paragraph, state why you think I assigned this particular reading. How does the essay tie in with what we’ve been discussing in lecture, or with previous readings? What do you think I wanted you to take away from this particular reading?

August 16, 2006

Initial writing assignment Comp 1K

Initial writing sample assignment due at the start of class, Thursday, January 25th

As we start the semester, it is important for me to get an initial sample of your writing. Doing so helps me to assess the specific abilities that exist in each section and to customize the course’s stylistic and mechanical foci so that they meet major needs.

This assignment has two parts. Follow the format outlined on your syllabus (no cover page is necessary). Each of your responses should run 1 to 2 pages in length. (Longer is not better; better is better.)

1.Select a short piece of non-fiction* that meets your personal criteria for effective prose and then write about it. Your purpose is to present the text you’ve selected to an audience (me) who has never read it. You want your reader to understand, and hopefully agree, with your positive sentiments. Do not attach the selected reading to your discussion; instead, make your reader know what is in it and why it meets your standards.

*Your selection may come from anywhere -- books, newspapers, essays, magazines, CD liner notes etc. It can be as short as a paragraph or as long as a short essay or chapter – but no longer. One hint: pick something that pleases you for reasons beyond simply “I’m interested in the subject.?

Criteria for success: ability to summarize the original succinctly and substantially, and to persuade readers of your criteria for success and of the ways in which the piece you choose meets them.

2.Read the attached essay, “Lines in the Mind, Not in the World,? by Donella Meadows. Create a written response in which you engage your reader in Meadows’ ideas about the concept of “boundary? and articulate your own ideas about this concept and its applications. Your audience will be completely unfamiliar with Meadow’s essay.

Criteria for success: ability to summarize the original succinctly, ability to apply Meadow’s concepts credibly to other circumstances.

This assignment will be graded on a check, check plus, check minus basis, and will count toward the “short writing assignments? percentage of your grade.