Effective Writing in the Biological Sciences (Virtual)

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.

We’ll ask that you submit a short (1-5 page) writing sample to the instructor by Tuesday, May 3, 2022. You need not write anything new; you may submit a section of a grant proposal or article that you have already written.

Dates: Tuesdays, May 10, May 17 & May 24, 5:30 – 7:30 PM (Sessions Held Over Zoom)
Course Capacity: 18
Course Fee: $10
Location: Zoom 

Session Descriptions

Session One: 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.

Session Two: 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.

Session Three: 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.

About the Instructor

Tracy Weiner is Associate Director of the University of Chicago Writing Program. She’s 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.

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