Effective Writing in the Biological Sciences

How can you write about your research clearly without sacrificing precision? Funding agencies and journal editors will judge your research on its scientific merit, but your writing should reveal that merit, not obscure it. In this mini-course, we’ll review how published articles and funded grant proposals tackle common writing challenges. We’ll analyze why each sample article or proposal succeeds (or fails), and we’ll use the successful samples as models for writing techniques you can apply in your own work.

Course structure.  For this mini-course, you’ll attend three interactive plenary sessions, each addressing different challenges in published articles and grant proposals.  In the week after each plenary, you’ll apply what you’ve learned by participating in three seminar sessions.  Each seminar will be led by an experienced Writing Program instructor.  *Your attendance is required at all plenary and seminar sessions.

No new written work will be required for the seminars. The course will focus on helping you with what you are doing right now.   To that end,  you will exchange with the people in your seminar short (1-4 page) samples of papers or proposals in progress — or even papers or proposals you’ve written in the past.   During the seminars, you’ll learn concrete techniques to revise not just your samples, but the work you do in the future.

Course Capacity: 18*
Course Fee: $20


Spring Quarter 2018

Spring Quarter 2018: April 10 (plenary), April 17 (seminar), April 24 (plenary), May 1 (seminar), May 15 (plenary), May 22 (seminar).  Please note:  there will be no class on May 8.
All sessions will run from 5 – 7 PM. 

Session Descriptions

Plenary 1 (April 10): Clarity in scientific writing, part one

How much detail can you include in your writing while still being clear? If you include all the details, your writing may seem unfocused and cumbersome. But if you omit details, the keys to your argument disappear. In this workshop we’ll learn how to focus arguments without sacrificing complexity. The true origin of the problem lies not in the complexity of your data, but in the structure of your sentences. We’ll learn how to build sentences and paragraphs that can adequately house your ideas and your data, without leaving your readers behind.

Seminar 1 (April 17):  Clarity in scientific writing

Students will exchange writing samples and help revise each other’s work.

Plenary 2 (April 24): Clarity in scientific writing, part two

Scientists are often advised to reduce the “jargon” in their writing. But in writing meant for your mentors and colleagues, this advice can backfire. Readers who are experts in your field often expect you to use the terms of art that are most familiar to them. When these experts complain — and they often do — that scientific writing is unclear, something besides “jargon” must be the culprit. What does clarity mean for these readers? We’ll learn techniques to make your writing clear, while retaining the terms of art you need to communicate effectively with mentors and colleagues.

Seminar 2 (May 1):  Clarity in scientific writing, part two

Students will exchange writing samples and help revise each other’s work.

Plenary 3 (May 15): Communicating the value of your work in grant proposals and introductions

During the course of your career you will write many documents that boil down to some version of this sentence: “Give me money because.” This session will focus on what comes after the “because.” How can you make sure readers understand how your work contributes to knowledge in your field? How can you do this without claiming too much about your work — or too little? We will practice writing techniques that help you to focus an article or proposal on the most important aspects of your research.

Seminar 3 (May 22):  Communicating the Value of Your Work

Students will exchange writing samples and help revise each other’s work.


Tracy Weiner, Senior Associate Director, University of Chicago Writing Program. 

Tracy is a lecturer in the Writing Program’s “Little Red Schoolhouse” (aka, Academic and Professional Writing), a quarter-long intensive course that helps advanced writers meet the demands of writing as an expert in a profession or academic discipline.  She has led writing seminars and mini-courses for University of Chicago graduate students, postdocs, physicians, and faculty in the social sciences, humanities, physical sciences, and biological sciences.

*3/22/2018: Registration for this course has reached full capacity.  Further applicants will be waitlisted.