Science:Science Writing Resources/Lessons and Workshops

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Communicating Science

Communicating science effectively requires authors to write with their specific target audience in mind. Because science is becoming more popular in non-specialist publications, such as newspapers and blogs, it is important to recognize how to simplify a complex story for such mediums.

Journalists and producers often use press releases when writing science stories for newspapers and online sources, but research shows that poor quality press releases often lead to even poorer quality news articles1. Because media coverage often fails to provide the information needed for the public to understand the scientific findings2, 3 it is important to teach the skills needed to convey this information appropriately in press releases to help ensure science news is reported more accurately. Science communication also frequently takes place on Youtube, Facebook and via other social media platforms4 nowadays, which means that sometimes there is no intermediary between the original author and his/her audience (e.g. blog posts)5.

As a result, assignments that teach related skills are both important and likely to appeal to students, who should see the real-world applications of press releases and blogs. We have designed a standalone in-class lesson/workshop to help teach these specific science writing skills (‘Communicating Science’). The in-class lesson/workshop encourages an interactive, conversational approach to completing the activities; this should help students to resolve any confusion while giving them the chance to discuss the importance of the writing skills they are learning to master with their peers and instructors.

We provide student worksheets for the in-class activities, as well as TA and Instructor versions of these worksheets, which also include suggested solutions to the activities. We also provide a PowerPoint presentation to accompany the lesson/workshop, and a timing guide with teaching prompts to help instructors encourage students to get the most from these sessions.

Timing Guide

Communicating Science to Different Audiences: In-Class Activities Instructor Guide

This guide complements the final worksheets and PowerPoint slides, including suggestions for when to use the slides.


Activity 1 (work together, 10 min, + 5 min for instructor to show/discuss answers, total time elapsed = 15 min)

You should allow a total of 10 minutes for students to complete Activity 1 before showing sample solutions and discussing any different answers students might have come up with. Note: There are always other potential angles that can be taken when communicating science stories, so there may by unique answers that are still reasonable.


Activity 2 (work together in pairs/threes, 15 min, total time elapsed = 30 min)

You should allow 15 minutes for students to complete Activity 2. You may need to answer student questions during this time to help them move forward. Stress the importance of choosing an article that they are interested in to start adapting into a short news story lead. For the purposes of this exercise, simple research papers are advisable.

Note: For students that have not brought laptops/tablets with them, you will need to provide an article for them to work with. A recent example has been included with a suggested solution in the Instructor copy of the worksheet – please make sure you have printed a few copies of the related article to hand out to students.


Activity 3 (work together in pairs/threes, 10 min, total time elapsed = 40 min)

You should allow 10 minutes for students to complete Activity 3. You may need to answer student questions during this time to help them move forward but encourage them to discuss ideas among themselves.


Activity 4 (work together, 10 min, total time elapsed = 50 min)

You should allow 10 minutes (or however much time you have remaining) for students to complete Activity 4. They should only have written a maximum of two paragraphs for their news story leads, so each group should have a chosen member read their lead in less than a minute. Once all groups have finished, lead a brief discussion, focusing on the four questions in the Instructor copy of the worksheet to help the students reflect on their work and assess where the strengths and weaknesses lay.

Note that if the class size is large, that, due to time limitations, it might be better to split the groups into sub-groups and have student groups present to each other before holding the concluding discussion with the whole class. Sub-groups can contribute to this discussion.


Activity 5 (work alone, homework, ~ 5 min)

You should encourage students to tackle the ‘homework’, which will not take long to complete. It is designed to make them think about the importance of communicating uncertainty accurately and objectively.

In-Class Activities

In-Class Activities: Communicating Science to Different Audiences

Introduction

A variety of individuals and organizations are interested in scientific information, which means you must, as scientific communicators, tailor information to the needs of your audience. For example, researchers, agencies, industries, governments, charities, and the public are all interested in scientific information but engage with – and use it – in very different ways.

Many of the individuals and groups listed above rely on the press to obtain this information. Often, this information gets to the press via press releases written by the scientists behind the research. Getting your information to the public, and ensuring it is relayed correctly, therefore depends on your ability to communicate with and interest journalists, but it is also vital that you are able to convince journalists and editors that your work is relevant to their specific audiences.


Writing Press Releases, News Articles, and/or Giving Presentations

When writing a press release, a news article, or giving a presentation, you must:

  1. Decide who your main target group is. For example, if your research has found evidence that an economically important species is becoming endangered, you would want to target: a) governments (to try to convince them to create new conservation policies) and/or b) charities (to try to convince them to build campaigns). Note that there are many other target groups you may also wish to target.
  2. Decide what information this group needs. For example, if you wanted to affect political change, you would need to provide cold, hard facts, rather than emotive information showing the plight of this endangered species. It would probably also be wise to include some economic assessment that shows how much money might be lost if species numbers continued to drop. Note that this ties in closely with the need to convince your reader why your material is relevant to them.
  3. Use simple language that minimizes jargon. Treat your press release or news article as if it is an elevator pitch, as if you are applying to have the material it contains appear in print, online, or on the radio (the press); similarly, treat your presentation like an interview in which you are trying to convince your audience that your message is important. Keep your language short and simple, and refrain from using any jargon that might cause someone to misunderstand or misinterpret you. Journalists, editors and producers are very busy. If they don’t understand something or see the relevance to their audience straight away, your message – and its importance – will be lost.


Activity 1 (Work Together, 10 minutes)

A) Try to list as many suitable target groups that you can think of for press releases that will focus on the ‘research scenarios’ in Table 1 below.

B) In all cases, think about which group(s) would be most interested in the information. When filling in a row, try to rank the groups in the order in which you would target them.

C) Finally, decide whether you would need to prepare different press releases for each group, or whether the same one could target more than one group. Hint: Think about whether these different groups are interested in different information, or if the same main message applies to them all. Remember the importance of tailoring material to the specific needs and interests of target groups.


Table 1: Try to decide which target groups would be interested in each research scenario, and whether you would need to provide different information to different groups for each scenario.

Research Scenario Target Groups
1) Friendly dolphin, ‘Slipper’, who was native to the coast of California where he swam with snorkelers in the wild, died of old age last weekend.
2) You have found evidence of life forms that are currently existing and multiplying on Mars.
3) You have found a way to share cloud computing server space that will reduce carbon emissions by up to 25% for companies based in Europe.
4) You have developed a new method of producing 3-D molecular maps of biological compounds that is faster than previous methods.


Identifying the Characteristics of ‘Newsworthiness’: the Five W’s

Once you have decided on your target audience(s), it comes to writing the press release, journalistic article or presentation. However, there are major differences between the structure and composition of a scientific journal paper (which is where many of these news stories originate) and a journalistic news article. These are summarized for you in Table 2.


Table 2: Polar opposites: how the material in journal articles and journalistic news articles typically differs in the way it is presented to a reader.

Scientific Journal Article Journalistic News Article
There is jargon everywhere you look (e.g. “endophytic hyphae”) Jargon is very rare, and defined when present (e.g. “Known by scientists as pelagic feeders, which means they find their prey in the upper regions of the water, these dolphins…”)
Facts-based, and very formal, typically following the IMRAD format (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion) Writing is conversational, like a story (e.g. “If you go down to the beach today, you are unlikely to be in for a big surprise, seeing as dolphins are becoming an increasingly rare sight…”)
Generally impersonal and objective Emotive, and often subjective (e.g. “It’s terrible that dolphins are being caught in these fishing nets – we should all be ashamed and incredibly upset.”)
The main results come towards the end (IMRAD) The main result(s) usually appear right at the start to hook readers in (e.g. “Over 50 dolphins have been found dead in abandoned fishing nets on the Californian coast this month.”)
The methods are often described in a lot of detail The methods are often completely ignored
Generally written from a one-sided, objective perspective Usually more than one perspective appears (e.g. Dolphin conservationist, Dr Lily Reilly, said: “We need to act now…” Meanwhile, fisherman, Rick Cox, said: “We are all being vilified here – I have never even seen a dolphin come within 200 m of my nets.”
Includes complex data Focuses on simple data, often with an emotive hook (e.g. “50 dolphins, dying in nets”)

To help you tell a clear story, keep this tip in mind when writing an article: the five W’s (the Who, What, Where, When, and Why) are what we really care about when reading a news story, so if you can fit all of these into the first one or two paragraphs, and in as few words as possible, you are sure to capture everyone’s attention.

For example, the following two paragraphs tell your readers exactly what they are going to find out about as they continue reading your article. Importantly, you have hooked them in less than 50 words by including the five W’s (A =What, B =Why, C =Where, D =When, E =Who):

Over 50 dolphinsA have been found dead in abandoned fishing netsB on the Californian coastC this monthD, according to a recently published report put together by dolphin conservationist, Dr Lily ReillyE.

To develop this story further, you should add depth (more specific details) and decrease breadth (focusing on one or two things) in subsequent paragraphs to further develop the tale you are telling.


Activity 2 (work together, in pairs/threes, 15 minutes)

Watch the Grammar Squirrel video resource about ‘Journalistic Science Writing’ to start thinking about the important issues a bit more.

If you (or your partner(s)) have a laptop with you, take it out and go to the PLOS Biology homepage (http://www.plosbiology.org). Next, spend a couple of minutes looking through some of the recent articles and choose one that interests you.

If you (or your partner(s)) do not have a laptop with you, your instructor will provide a recent journal article for you to work with.

Spend 10 minutes or so reading through your article. Then:

  1. Try to list what the five W’s are for this article
  2. Decide which group(s) would be interested to read the information if it was presented in a journalistic news article


Activity 3 (work together, in pairs/threes, 10 minutes)

  1. Choose one group to target and write one or two paragraphs that incorporate the five W’s (try to write these paragraphs as simply and succinctly as possible)
  2. Think about how you would go on to develop your story in more detail in the next few paragraphs

Some useful hints to help you complete this activity include:

The following tips are designed to help you communicate science news to non-specialist audiences, whether you are writing press releases, news articles, or giving presentations.

  1. Use simple, succinct language.
  2. Use everyday analogies to explain complex concepts.
  3. Tell a story: don’t just duplicate a formal, journal article.
  4. Use images and illustrations.
  5. Cut out all unimportant details (a good story has one narrative, not many).


Activity 4 (work together, in pairs/threes, 10 minutes)

Take turns, in your pairs/threes, to stand up in front of the class. Read the title of the journal article that you wrote a couple of paragraphs about, and then read your paragraphs to the class. When everyone has done this, your instructor will lead a brief discussion about how effective some of the paragraphs were. Note that your instructor might split the class into smaller sub-groups depending on size for this activity.

Some questions to think about:

  1. Do you think you would have wanted to read a news article about the information presented by your peers?
  2. How could the information your peers presented have been improved for the target groups it was intended to interest?
  3. Do you think the science was misrepresented in any way?
  4. Which section of the published journal articles you adapted did the majority of the interesting material come from?


Communicating Uncertainty

Uncertainty can’t be ignored when communicating science, but it’s important to report it in a way that will help your audience to understand.

Science is uncertain because it is a creative discipline (there are many different ways of conducting research and analysing and interpreting results), knowledge is always expanding (so new interpretations appear all the time as technology and research improves) and it is based on probability (scientists test hypotheses to find support for certain explanations but rarely prove them to be correct).

There are five tips that you can put into practice when communicating uncertainty to boost the chances of your reader(s) understanding things. You can:

  1. Make any numbers (and statistical analyses) easy to interpret
  2. Contextualize these with an everyday comparison
  3. Choose descriptive language very carefully
  4. Use figures and images as well as words and numbers
  5. Communicate timelines (when might new data be available?)

For more help, and useful advice, we recommend you watch the ‘Communicating Uncertainty’ Grammar Squirrel video resource.


Activity 5 (work alone, homework)

To make you think critically about four of these tips, and to underline their importance, read the following paragraph of information from a fictional study before trying to answer questions that relate to it:

According to our analysis, which used linear regression models to compare the effect of temperature on the growth of invasive beetles, approximately 52% of the variation in their growth was explained by variations in temperature. The general trend was for higher temperatures to result in faster growth. Environmental officers in British Columbia believe there is only a 17% chance that the beetles will expand their range to BC, however, so farmers in the province might not need to worry yet. That prediction was based on older data, but more has been collected and is currently being analyzed; we should have a more accurate assessment in the next 10 days.

For the four questions below, choose the most suitable option for communicating the related uncertainty, and explain why the other two options are unsuitable:

1)Make any numbers (and statistical analyses) easy to interpret

i) Approximately 52% of the variation in beetle growth is explained by temperature
ii) Approximately 50% of the variation in beetle growth is explained by temperature
iii) Temperature is the major factor affecting beetle growth


2) Contextualize these with an everyday comparison

Environmental officers in British Columbia believe there is only a 17% chance that the beetles will expand their range to BC. That’s about as likely as:

i) Rolling a six with one roll of a six-sided die
ii) A friend’s birthday falling on a Saturday this year
iii) Selecting either a Two or a Three from a 52-card deck when playing poker


3) Choose descriptive language very carefully

Environmental officers in British Columbia believe there is only a 17% chance that the beetles will expand their range to BC. ____________________.

i) That means that it is extremely unlikely that the farmers need to worry
ii) That means that it should at least be on the farmers’ minds
iii) That means that it is possible, but it is very unlikely to happen


4) Communicate timelines (when might new data be available?)

i) We should wait until we have new data before making a statement, however
ii) That is what we currently know, but we will have new information in 10 days
iii) We will update that information in the near future

Grammar Squirrel: Communicating Uncertainty

Grammar Squirrel: Succinct Writing

Guidelines for Effective Writing

Lesson Plan

Learning Objectives

Activities

Timing Guides

Grammar

Lesson and Workshops Introduction:

We have designed pre- and post-class activities (essentially ‘homework’ exercises for students) to complement the in-class lesson/workshop for this specific science writing-skill component (‘Grammar’).

At our institution, we ask students to complete the pre-class activities online as preparation for the in-class lesson/workshop, so as to give them some exposure to the concepts that will be explored in more detail in class.

The in-class activities are designed to improve students’ writing skills and to give them experience in working with partners/small groups on related activities. The in-class lesson/workshop has been designed to encourage an interactive, conversational approach to completing the activities; this should help students to resolve any confusion from the pre-class activities and discuss the importance of the writing skills they are learning to master with their peers and instructors. We provide student worksheets for the in-class activities, as well as TA and Instructor versions of these worksheets, which also include suggested solutions to the activities. We also provide a PowerPoint presentation to accompany the lesson/workshop, and a timing guide with teaching prompts to help instructors encourage students to get the most from these sessions.

Lastly, students are asked to complete the post-class activities online, as a final learning tool and wrap-up to help them solidify the concepts they have learned and gain some more practice in applying these to real writing situations.


A Note on Asking Students to Complete the Pre- and Post-Class Activities Online

We recommend asking students to complete the activities online so as to reduce the likelihood that worksheets of these activities are printed and enter the student domain; over time, these questions will reduce in value if copies are posted online (via blogs etc. by students who have previously completed them).

We have designed these activities to take students approximately 30-60 minutes to complete; they form a small part of the graded continuous assessment for students enrolled in a science communication course at our institution, but could also be deployed as not-for-credit activities.

Timing Guide

Grammar: In-Class Activities, Instructor Timing Guide

This guide complements the final worksheets (and PowerPoint), but please have a look at these so you know when you should display certain slides.

Activity 1 (work together, 10 min + 5 min for instructor to show/discuss answers, total time elapsed = 15 min)

You should allow 10 minutes for students to complete Activity 1 before discussing the solutions with them for ~ 5 minutes.

Activity 2 (work together, 10 min + 5 min for instructor to discuss progress, total time elapsed = 30 min)

You should allow 10 minutes for students to complete Activity 2. You might want to walk around the classroom and talk to students, answering any questions they have. You could also encourage students to share any useful tips they discover for narrowing or broadening literature searches with their peers before moving on to the final activity.

Activity 3 (work alone and then together, 20 min, total time elapsed = 50 min)

You should allow 20 minutes (or however much time you have remaining) for students to complete Activity 3 before leading a brief wrap-up discussion. Note: You should move around the classroom and chat to students about some of the improvements they are making, as well as answering questions as they arise.

Pre-Class Activities

Grammar: Pre-Class Activities

Introduction

Grammar can be loosely described as the set of structural rules that govern the composition of writing. Although it evolves over time, a core set of rules needs to be followed if you are to write clearly and correctly. This guide is not meant to provide a comprehensive list of these rules, but instead focuses on some of the more important ones to learn as well as those that students often find difficult.

Verb Tenses and Consistency

Verb tenses help tell people when something happened (or will happen). For example: “I study biology,” refers to the present (I am currently studying biology), whereas: “I studied biology,” refers to the past (as it implies that I no longer study biology).

There are six basic tenses that we use on a frequent basis, and these are highlighted below, with examples. Note: Consider how the implication of the sentences written for the Present Perfect and Simple Past differ based on the addition of one word (have).

  1. Simple Present: I study biology
  2. Present Perfect: I have studied biology for 12 years
  3. Simple Past: I studied biology for 12 years
  4. Past Perfect: I had studied biology
  5. Simple Future: I will study biology
  6. Future Perfect: I will have studied biology

Although it would be good for you to know the differences between these six basic tenses, and to be able to write simple sentences in each one, the most important thing is to be able to recognise when the tense shifts in your writing; this is not always a bad thing, but it can lead to confusion for your reader(s) and roll in to additional grammar issues. For that reason, you are advised to use the same tense within each sentence (and often within a complete paragraph).

For example, writing: “I have studied biology for 12 years, and I also study chemistry,” is confusing because a reader doesn’t know how long you have studied chemistry for (or whether this is important in the context of what you are writing). In that example, you would have mixed the present perfect tense with the simple present tense. Had you written everything in the present perfect tense (I have studied biology for 12 years, and I have also studied chemistry for seven) this potential confusion would have disappeared.

Question 1 (5 marks)

The five sentences below all feature potentially confusing shifts in tense. Try to rewrite them so as to make sure the tense does not shift. Hint: There is more than one way to do this for each sentence, but try to keep the text as similar as possible.

A: I was delighted with my grade on the grammar quiz because I study very hard.
B: I ask for further guidance about difficult rules as soon as the instructor finished her class.
C: Lots of people will make mistakes by the time they have mastered the concepts.
D: As educators, everyone hopes our writing skills quizzes would help students.
E: If we invested less time in creating them, we will have to lower our expectations of student writing progress.

Distinguishing the Primary Tense

It is usually helpful to distinguish which tense is the primary (main/chosen) one in a given piece of writing, and then only change this tense if and when you need to indicate a change in time frame.

When deciding, think how it would be most logical to convey the information you are going to write. For example, if you were writing the Methods section of a lab report or journal article, you should write everything in the simple past tense because it has already happened.

However, when you are telling a story, such as in a journalistic article, it might make sense to choose the simple present as the primary tense, but there will be points in the writing when you need to shift to the simple past tense to refer to something that has already happened, as in the example sentence below:

Zoologists stress that plastic litter, rather than sharks, is the real killer in the marine environment. Plastic waste entangles and poisons hundreds of dolphins and porpoises every year whereas sharks kill far fewer individuals. These shocking figures emerged from a recent study that involved specialists from four universities.

Question 2 (5 marks)

Read the paragraph below and decide which tense is the primary one for this piece of writing (1 mark). Then highlight the sentences in which the verbs and tenses do not agree (2 marks), before revising them to make sure they agree and follow the primary tense you initially selected (2 marks).

The screen flickered as pixels began to etch out a 3-D shape at the same time as data fed in from my experiment. Alongside the crystallography equipment, my lab mates peered excitedly at the monitor. I could not hide my delirium as I picture the future awards and publicity. I waited a few more seconds, rising from my seat, as even grander thoughts passed in and out of my mind. We worked for six months before the method even showed signs of success. Yet this proved once and for all that we were always on the right track.

Subject/Verb Agreement

There are many rules that govern how you should write the verb in a sentence, based on the subject of that sentence. The four below are the most common rules that you are likely to need to apply in your writing, and these are the rules that can be especially tough to master.

Tip: Remember that in general the subject comes at the start of a sentence, and it is this – and its relationship with the main verb, that is important, as in:

“Richard and I are excited to stop learning about grammar and go for lunch.”

1. Do not be distracted by anything that comes in between the subject and the main verb, as in:

  • My lab partner, with his many friends, takes up [NOT ‘take up’] a whole workbench.”
  • The many students, with my lab partner, take up [NOT ‘takes up’] a whole workbench.”

2. Collective nouns that imply more than one person/thing are still treated as singular subjects, as in:

  • The group discusses science topics [NOT ‘discuss’] during meetings.”
  • The Zoology Zebras Soccer Club practices [NOT ‘practice’] on Tuesdays and Saturdays.”

3. When your writing includes a compound subject joined by ‘or’ or ‘nor’, the verb should agree with the part of that subject that is closest to the verb, as in:

  • Neither Suzy nor her friends, Claire and Ash, want [NOT ‘wants’] to take the new class.”
  • Maeve or Gavin is [NOT ‘are’] going to write up the lab report.”

4. Words such as each, either, everyone, anybody, and somebody are all singular and therefore require a singular verb, as in:

  • Each of the eighteen solutions we made is [NOT ‘are’] suitable for this method.”
  • Everybody thinks [NOT ‘think’] they are on top of their revision until the hour before an exam.”

Question 3 (5 marks)

Read the paragraph below before re-writing the elements that include five subject/verb agreement errors.

Plants absorb nicotine from second-hand smoke, according to research conducted by a team of scientists in Germany. The team, which typically investigate the circumstances around chemicals appearing in food unexpectedly, were asked to find out why nicotine was found at high levels in several loose tea products. The team’s colleague, with his counterparts and their new software programs, want to explore how accurately nicotine take-up can be predicted. Mitchell thinks it will prove difficult to predict with any accuracy, but neither he nor his partners, Mei-Mei and Frank, wants to be proved right. Mei-Mei thinks nicotine take-up will differ greatly between plant species, but Frank thinks it will barely differ, seeing as gaseous exchange is basically the same in different plants. Either of these hypotheses are plausible. The scientists have so far only looked at peppermint plants, but have just taken in a shipment of other species for testing. The plants, with their unique preferred growing conditions, will require a lot of care before the cigarettes get anywhere near them!

Parallel Structure

Much like consistency in verb tense, consistency in the form of linked parts in a piece of writing is important for clarity and readability. By this, we mean that the verb endings and related phrases and clauses within a sentence should all follow the same pattern.

For example: “Scientific understanding is improved by researchers exploring new possibilities and communicating their findings,” is written in parallel form and sounds smooth when you hear it.

On the other hand: “Scientific understanding is improved by researchers exploring new possibilities and when their findings are communicated,” is not written in parallel form, and is consequently harder to interpret. This should be corrected by changing the red portion to “…communicating their findings.”

The rule of using the same parallel structure in your writing should be applied whether you are writing complete sentences, or listing things.

For example, in this guide we are hoping to help you: use the definite and indefinite articles appropriately, write your tenses consistently, check that your subjects and verbs align correctly, and ensure that the parallel structure of your writing reads smoothly.

Question 4 (5 marks)

Read the paragraph below and make five changes where they are required to make sure the sentences are all written in parallel form. Hint: Try to keep the stem of each sentence the same, and only change as little text as you need to. In some cases you will just need to delete words or re-arrange the text.

I have always enjoyed science classes, whether the science being discussed is biological, chemical, physics or astrological. I have always found the best instructors to be enthusiastic, attentive and they use new technology when lecturing. In the future, I hope to be creeping through the jungle, swimming in azure seas, and publish my ecosystem-saving research in the best journals. Hard work, determination and spending lots of time in the lab will be required if I am to reach my goal, though. The last experiment I performed didn’t find a solution but instead new questions were raised and whet my appetite for further research.

IMPORTANT: Before the In-Class Activities

Look at an old assignment or essay and bring this with you to the in-class activities. You will use your old piece of work to look for grammar issues.

In-Class Activities

Grammar: In-Class Activities

In these in-class activities you will gain more practice applying some of the most important grammar-based concepts to improve pieces of writing, before turning your attention to an important new concept: the correct use of the definite and indefinite articles. To conclude the activities you will look at an old piece of your own work with the aim of improving it by using the grammatical rules you have been learning.

Activity 1: Consistency in Verb Tenses, Subject/Verb Agreement and Parallel Structure (10 minutes, work together)

In the pre-class activities you read about the importance of maintaining the same tense in your writing to avoid confusing your readers. You also considered why it is important to make sure the subject and main verb of each sentence agree, and then learned about the need to write in parallel structure.

This first activity should act as a recap. Try to find as many grammar-based errors in the paragraph of writing below and then come up with correct/suitable alternatives.

Scientists in the US believe they have found only the third example of a cancer spread by cell-cell contact. They found that clams suffer from a type of leukaemia, which will generally kill infected individuals after a certain time. The research group initially predicted that the cancer was being spread virally, but genetic fingerprinting techniques instead point firmly at a cell-cell mode of action. The group believe that infected cells are transferred if clams will come into contact with one another, or when they are transported by chance by ocean currents. A strong current, with its many intricacies, are able to transport cells thousands of kilometres up the eastern seaboard. The scientists said that the hypotheses they are working on open up a whole host of new questions about how diseases may be spread across vast distances in the ocean, and the answers to these questions undoubtedly have implications for human health. Neither these scientists nor health professionals believes that the cancerous clams are a risk to humans, though. The affected species are often used in dishes popular with fans of seafood, Cajun cuisine, and in French restaurants. Before the scientific community accept the news that a third species of animal can catch cancer via cell-cell contact, a controlled lab-based experiment will need to show the disease transfer in such a way. Everybody in the team want to pursue such experiments as quickly as possible. The other two known examples of cell-cell cancer transmission occurs in Tasmanian devils and some species of dog. Tasmanian devils are wide-ranging, elusive and are icons in their native Australia.

Note that your instructor will spend a few minutes going over the solutions to this activity before you move on to the next activity.

Using the Definite and Indefinite Articles – The and A/An

You should use the definite article the to refer to something when you are referring to something specific (or definite). In contrast, you should use the indefinite articles a or an to refer to something non-specific (or indefinite).

The important thing to bear in mind is that a word on its own cannot be categorized as requiring the definite or indefinite article; instead, it is the way that you refer to that word that determines which article you should use.

One quick tip to see whether you require an article in your writing at all is to read the sentence without it and see if it means the same thing; if it does, then you can safely remove the article. For example: “Anteaters like the sunshine,” means the same thing when written as: “Anteaters like sunshine,” so you need not use the definite article in this case.

The Definite Article – The

Remember that you should use the when referring to something specific. For example, you can write: “I saw the solution in the lab,” if you are referring to a specific solution (perhaps there is only one in there, or you have just been talking about a specific solution). However, if you saw one of many that were in the lab, you should write: “I saw a solution in the lab.”

The Indefinite Articles - ‘A’ and ‘An’

Recall that you should use the indefinite articles, a or an, to refer to something non-specific. You should speak a word rather than read it to help you decide whether to use a or an: although there are some exceptions, you should generally use a when referring to a word that makes a consonant sound, and use an when referring to a word that makes a vowel sound.

For example, you should write: “A Bunsen burner…” or: “A thermometer…” because these words begin with consonants (and make consonant sounds when spoken).

However, you should write: “An oscillator…” or: “An amp-meter…” because these words begin with vowels and make vowel sounds when spoken).

The reason that it is helpful to speak words aloud when deciding whether to use a or an is because silent letters could otherwise confuse you when simply seeing them written.

For example, you should write: “Professor Hamilton scored a hat-trick,” (because the h in this word makes a consonant sound), but you should write: “The same player acted in an honourable way when passing up another goal due to an opposition player being injured,” (because the h in this word is silent, which means the o is the first letter you hear, and this o makes a vowel sound).

This same general rule applies when using acronyms in your writing, which is why you should write: “A NASA spacecraft is currently taking pictures of Mars,” but: “An EPA directive ensures that businesses attempt to reduce their carbon emissions.”

Activity 2 (10 minutes, work together)

First, work together to decide whether the definite or indefinite articles – or neither – should be used to fill in the blanks below:

___ peck-the-bug computer game designed for birds has helped to suggest why bugs may have evolved _____ amazing, colourful iridescence. ____ game, called DOTPECK, required ____ birds to track the movement of ____ bugs across a computer screen and peck at them in the belief that they were real items of prey. Each bird spent a quarter of ____ hour at the game, and performed significantly better when pecking at dull, non-shimmering bugs, as opposed to ____ iridescent, shimmering ones. The research was led by ____ UL-funded team in England, which is now keen to see whether birds perform similarly with live prey. The team acknowledged ____ heuristic quality of ____ DOTPECK game. Despite this, ____ exciting element of many to emerge from the results is that ____ bugs might have evolved iridescence because it helps them avoid predation.

Now spend some time correcting the errors in the following sentences. Note that there may be more than one error in each sentence.

  1. Please could you pass me a lab manual that is in my bag?
  2. I was reading it last night, before I heard a ominous sound in the hallway.
  3. I have a horrible feeling my apartment is haunted by the ghost from a previous age.
  4. I know that sounds crazy but I’m a honest believer in the supernatural.
  5. Never mind, let’s get on with a quiz we have to complete before the class ends.
  6. At least red lipstick on my mirror doesn’t spell out ‘RedRum’, but ‘Remember, Chemistry 201 Exam, May 20!’

Note that your instructor will spend a few minutes going over the solutions to this activity before you move on to the final activity.

Activity 3 (20 minutes, work alone and then together)

You should take out the old essay or piece of writing that you were asked to bring to class (this was mentioned in the pre-class activities).

Read over this piece of work and look for any of the four main grammar-based errors that are particularly common, and which you have learned about so far (inconsistent and confusing shifts in verb tense, subject/verb non-agreement, non-parallel form of elements in sentences, and unsuitable use or non-use of the definite and indefinite articles).

Try to make edits to your work to improve it. If you finish early, work with a partner to look over each other’s work and see whether you can spot any errors they may have missed. This will give you practice of the peer review process as well as applying grammar-based rules to improve your own work.

Post-Class Activities

Grammar: Post-Class Activities

In these post-class activities you will gain further practice applying some of the most important grammar-based concepts to improve pieces of writing, before demonstrating your ability in these concepts by writing two/three paragraphs to showcase your skills.

Controlling Shifts in Tense

You should remember the importance of establishing a primary tense in any piece of writing and then trying to make sure you do not shift to other tenses more frequently than you need to. However, there are occasions when you need to shift to other tenses when there is a change in time frame from one element of a sentence to another. In most cases you should revert to writing in the same tense that you are using as the primary one in your piece of writing as soon as you have dealt with the necessary change in time frame.

Question 1 (8 marks)

Read the five sentences below and first decide whether the shift in tense in each is necessary or not (1 mark each). In all cases, assume the primary tense has already been established, and that it is indicated by the first verb, which appears in blue.

Then, for the sentences that feature unnecessary shifts in tense, provide a re-written version that reverts to the primary tense indicated by the blue verb (1 mark each).

A: Our instructors indicated the solutions before the students question their graded homework.
B: Before they absorbed the information, many had decided they were treated unfairly.
C: The Physics Society (PS) is voting in a new chairperson because the former representative proved to be unreliable.
D: The last incumbent wanted to establish a new working group but the majority of members feel differently.
E: Someone from the PS needs to liaise with the affected students and instructors soon as both groups will want to conclude the matter as soon as possible, with an upcoming investigation on the cards.

The Definite and Indefinite Articles

Remember from the in-class activities that you should use the definite article the to refer to something when you are referring to something specific (or definite). In contrast, you should use the indefinite articles a or an to refer to something non-specific (or indefinite). Also recall that you should not use an article at all if its omission from a sentence makes no difference to the meaning.

Also remember the handy hint that you should speak a word before deciding whether to use a or an when an indefinite article is required. It is the sound – not the letter – that is important, with consonant sounds requiring a and vowel sounds requiring an. This is why you should refer to “a hippo” in your writing, but if this hippo was particularly honourable, you should refer to him as “an honourable hippo.”

Question 2 (4 marks)

Read the four sentences below, in which the definite/indefinite articles are highlighted in red. For each sentence, you must state whether the use is appropriate, and briefly justify why/why not (1 mark each).

A: My friend worked for the NASA for just over four years.
B: He wanted to board the space shuttle while it was on the ground and inactive.
C: He now works as an astrophysicist at a university in Ireland.
D: He has, however, applied to fly to Mars as part of an historic mission that aims to take people there by 2025.

Putting It All Together

Question 3 (8 marks)

To conclude this set of post-class activities, you will need to demonstrate your skills applying the basic rules of grammar you have learned to a short piece of your own writing. You will need to pay attention to: (1) the tense you use, shifting it only when necessary; (2) making sure your subjects and verbs agree; (3) writing in parallel form, and (4) using the definite and indefinite articles appropriately.

To do this, you must write a short piece on any topic of science that you are interested in. This does not need to be long (200 words is fine) as long as you do the following:

  1. Choose a primary tense and state this before you begin your writing
  2. Include at least one sentence that incorporates a necessary shift in tense
  3. Include at least one list of examples to indicate your skills in writing in parallel form

Grammar Squirrel: Hyphenation

Grammar Squirrel: Numbers and Units

Writing Process

Lesson Plan

Learning Objectives

Activities

Timing Guides

Identifying and Citing Sources

Lesson and Workshops Introduction:

We have designed pre- and post-class activities (essentially ‘homework’ exercises for students) to complement the in-class lesson/workshop for this specific science writing-skill component (‘Integrating and Citing Sources’).

At our institution, we ask students to complete the pre-class activities online as preparation for the in-class lesson/workshop, so as to give them some exposure to the concepts that will be explored in more detail in class.

The in-class activities are designed to improve students’ writing skills and to give them experience in working with partners/small groups on related activities. The in-class lesson/workshop has been designed to encourage an interactive, conversational approach to completing the activities; this should help students to resolve any confusion from the pre-class activities and discuss the importance of the writing skills they are learning to master with their peers and instructors. We provide student worksheets for the in-class activities, as well as TA and Instructor versions of these worksheets, which also include suggested solutions to the activities. We also provide a PowerPoint presentation to accompany the lesson/workshop, and a timing guide with teaching prompts to help instructors encourage students to get the most from these sessions.

Lastly, students are asked to complete the post-class activities online, as a final learning tool and wrap-up to help them solidify the concepts they have learned and gain some more practice in applying these to real writing situations.

A Note on Asking Students to Complete the Pre- and Post-Class Activities Online

We recommend asking students to complete the activities online so as to reduce the likelihood that worksheets of these activities are printed and enter the student domain; over time, these questions will reduce in value if copies are posted online (via blogs etc. by students who have previously completed them).

We have designed these activities to take students approximately 30-60 minutes to complete; they form a small part of the graded continuous assessment for students enrolled in a science communication course at our institution, but could also be deployed as not-for-credit activities.

A Note on the Different Versions

All different versions have been used and refined following student and instructor feedback, and all of them focus on the same important concepts. We cycle different versions across different terms to minimize the potential that students enrolled in our course in concurrent terms will share answers (e.g. we do not use the same version in concurrent terms).

Please note that while the initial choice of which version to use is somewhat arbitrary, it is important to use the same version for the pre-, in- and post-class activities as a whole unit; this is because some of the questions appearing in the in-class lesson/workshop and/or post-class activities build on work completed in the pre-class activities (e.g. do not use pre-class version 1, and post-class version 2 together).

Timing Guide

Identifying and Citing Sources: In-Class Activities, Instructor Guide

This guide complements the final worksheets (and PowerPoint), but please have a look at these so you know when you should display certain slides.

Activity 1 (work together, 5 min + 5 min for instructor to show/discuss answers, total time elapsed = 10 min)

You should allow five minutes for students to complete Activity 1 before discussing the solutions with them for ~ 5 minutes.

Activity 2 (work together, 20 min + 5 min for instructor to discuss progress, total time elapsed = 35 min)

You should allow 20 minutes for students to complete Activity 2. You might want to walk around the classroom and talk to students, answering any questions they have. You could also encourage students to share any useful tips they discover for narrowing or broadening literature searches with their peers before moving on to the final activity.

Activity 3 (work alone and then together, 10 min + 5 min for instructor to show/discuss answers, total time elapsed = 50 min)

You should allow 10 minutes (or however much time you have remaining) for students to complete Activity 3 before leading a brief wrap-up discussion. Note: There are useful example citations (in the correct format) on the final slide of the PowerPoint presentation that may be useful to display to help students as they work through this activity.

Pre-Class Activities

Identifying and Citing Sources: Pre-Class Activities

Introduction

Choosing suitable sources for any piece of scientific writing – especially a scholarly one, such as a lab report or essay – is extremely important. This is because these sources will help add relevant detail to your writing, provide more information for interested readers, and allow you to justify any arguments you make by providing evidence. The credibility of your writing will directly relate to the quality of the sources you cite, which is why it is so important that you are able to identify the different types before you cite them (primary, secondary and tertiary).

Primary Sources

Primary sources are primary because the information in them comes directly from the person/people responsible for it (i.e. it is ‘primary’ because nobody else has adapted the message intended by the original author(s)). For this reason, you don’t need to worry that the message has been misinterpreted by anyone else. This is one main reason why integrating primary sources in your writing is generally encouraged over other types.

Typically, in science, primary sources are journal articles that detail the results and interpretations of original scientific research. Because an article must be peer-reviewed before appearing in these journals, you have a fair sense that it is a high-quality contribution to scientific thinking in the topic it addresses; after all, if the information did not move theory forward in some way, or was poorly put together, it would be unlikely to make it past the eyes of reviewers and be accepted for publication in a journal. This is another main reason why using primary sources is generally advised.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are compiled solely from primary sources but the key difference is that the author(s) do not need to have conducted the research reported in these primary sources. For example, you could perform a literature search of all primary journal articles published in the past two years on the topic of tropical fish evolution, and then summarize the latest knowledge on this topic into one article. You would not have performed any of this research, but because it came from primary sources, your summary would be a secondary one.

These are known as review articles. Such articles are common in science journals, and are often a great way of reading the latest developments in a specific topic. However, you must remember that the author(s) of these secondary sources have summarized the primary material (and therefore interpreted it), which means you will be taking the accuracy of these summaries on trust if citing them.

Because it is a requirement that all the primary sources are cited and provided in the reference list of the secondary source, you can refer back to the original articles to ensure they have been accurately summarized. Using secondary sources in your writing is acceptable – so long as you take this important step.

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary sources are compiled from the primary and secondary literature, and are often written in slightly less scientific terms to appeal to a non-specialist audience. For example, most textbooks use information from primary and secondary sources but don’t generally provide references to these sources, so it is not possible to check for the accuracy (or to consult these to add more specific detail to the points they make).

For this reason, it is generally unwise to use tertiary sources for scholarly writing, but they are often useful to help you gather basic information about certain topics. In addition, they are often useful for providing the level of information needed for written work targeted at non-specialist audiences (e.g. information sheets, blog posts, newspaper articles).

Grammar Squirrel Video Resource

For a quick recap, and for more tips on how to differentiate between the different types of sources, watch the Grammar Squirrel video here.

Questions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 (1 mark each, 5 marks total)

For each of the following questions, decide whether the type of source listed is a primary, secondary or tertiary source.

Q1: A journalistic article in the local newspaper about the threat of earthquakes that cites original research and includes summaries and case studies from a variety of other sources.
Q2: A M.Sc. thesis written by a student that details how he developed and tested a new, sensitive early-warning system for measuring earthquakes.
Q3: A chapter in a history textbook, which lists details of all the major earthquakes that have occurred over the past 500 years.
Q4: A conference review document written by an organizer that details key messages delivered by 15 different speakers about their own, earthquake-related research, and which includes a reference list.
Q5: A technical, detailed blog post written by one of the speakers, about his recently conducted experiments and results, which includes a reference list.

Question 6 (5 marks)

To help you think a bit more about why it matters whether you use primary, secondary, or tertiary sources, try to fill in the following gaps by choosing the most suitable word from the options available:

When communicating science, it is never/occasionally/usually/always acceptable to use tertiary sources to provide evidence to support what you are saying. Primary sources are always/typically/sometimes the best option for finding the most accurate/relevant/interesting information about original research; however, secondary sources – particularly review articles that summarize many primary research articles in a certain topic – are good places to find relevant/technical/old references to primary papers. These secondary sources are often accurate, but you should scan the references list and read the original articles that have been cited to be sure; after all, it is very important not to misquote/misrepresent someone else’s work.

Question 7 (2 marks)

Think about and name one scientific topic that interests you. This could be something broad, such as ‘sexual selection’ or something very specific, such as ‘sexual selection in the Black Grouse (a species of bird)’.

The ideal topics are those that are neither too broad nor too narrow; if they are too broad, it can be hard to find relevant information in primary sources, but if they are too specific, there are not so many primary sources out there for you to find. To gain both marks for this question, you must choose a topic that fits somewhere in between.

Question 8 (2 marks)

You must now find at least two primary sources that could help you add content to a piece of writing about this topic. You should bring these (and any others you find) to the in-class lesson/workshop, where you will begin writing a short piece about your chosen topic that correctly cites information from these sources.

Use Google Scholar to find two primary sources that contain information that would be useful for you to include in a piece of writing about your chosen topic.

List these two sources by including the name of the article, the journal it appears in, the name(s) of the author(s), and the year that it was published. If you can, also include the hyperlinks to these two articles.

Note: You will learn a lot more about how to search for relevant sources, about other search tools that are useful, and about how to cite these sources appropriately, in the in-class lesson/workshop.

Avoiding Plagiarism by Crediting Sources in Written Work

There are three main types of plagiarism, and it is very important that you are aware of these and avoid them. All three types (unintentional, blatant and self) relate closely to how you credit the sources you have used to add content to your work.

Whereas you might unintentionally plagiarize someone else’s work by failing to cite such work correctly, you can blatantly plagiarize the same work by passing it off as your own; be mindful that it is just as serious to copy your friend’s homework as it is to copy someone else’s published ideas without crediting them as the source of that information. Finally, you can plagiarize yourself by copying work completed for one assignment and handing it in to form part or all of another; you should always check with an instructor, but make sure if you duplicate written work that you credit the fact it has appeared/been handed in at a previous time.

These three types of plagiarism can be committed as a student or as a research scientist. For example, a scientist who has published work in the scientific literature would be committing self-plagiarism by submitting a journal article that copies text from a formerly published article, just as a student would commit the same type of plagiarism by duplicating text from a former assignment.

One of the toughest things to understand is exactly when and what you need to cite in your writing. After all, when you read journal articles, you will realize that not every single sentence includes a citation with a reference to a specific source. Table 1 below provides a quick checklist to help you decide which information requires a citation.

Table 1: How to decide what you must cite in your science writing

What you NEED to cite What you DO NOT NEED to cite
  • Ideas, concepts, opinions, etc. of others
    • Direct quotes, summaries, paraphrases
  • Common knowledge
    • General (Shakespeare wrote Hamlet)
    • Field-specific (a double bond is stronger than a single bond)
  • Facts used as evidence
    • Findings, conclusions, theories
  • Facts that are easily verifiable, and for which no controversy exists (Penicillin was discovered in 1928)
  • Distinctive or authoritative ideas

Question 9 (6 marks)

List three different pieces of information from your primary sources (at least one from each) that might be useful to include in your piece of writing about the topic (3 marks). Then, justify whether or not you would need to credit the source that these came from to avoid plagiarism (3 marks). Make sure you include at least one piece of information that you would not need to be cited, to show that you are able to discern the difference between these types of information.

In-Class Activities – Reminder

Remember to bring:

a) The two (or more) primary sources that you found about your chosen topic
b) A laptop or tablet to work with, as you will be doing more literature searches in the in-class activities.

In-Class Activities

Identifying and Citing Sources: In-Class Activities

Activity 1 (work together, 5 minutes)

To refresh your memory about some of the concepts that were covered in the pre-class activities, find a partner (or work in a group of three to ensure nobody is alone) and discuss with them:

  1. What it is that makes a source primary, secondary, or tertiary? That is, how do you differentiate between them?
  2. Why does it matter whether you use each type of source to provide evidence/support?
  3. What sort of information within these sources needs to be cited to avoid plagiarism?

Note that your instructor will briefly discuss these points with you before you all move on as a class to the next section.


Finding Appropriate Sources in the Scientific Literature

In the pre-class activities, you used Google Scholar to find at least two primary sources that were relevant to the science topic you are going to write a short piece about in these in-class activities (and in the post-class activities to come).

Google Scholar is not the only useful search engine that can be used to find useful references, however. Today, we will use Web of Science to develop your searching skills further.

There are two general categories of tips for making your literature search more effective; these will either narrow your search or they will broaden it. Whether you wish to employ either strategy will depend on what you are searching for.


Broadening Your Search

  1. Use the Boolean operator ‘OR’ to include words with similar meaning in your search (e.g. Canine OR Dog OR Husky OR Malamute)
  2. Use truncated words and an asterisk (*) to discover material with variations around the same basic word (e.g. ‘Alask*’ finds literature focusing on ‘Alaska’, and ‘Alaskan’)
  3. Search for the scientific species name as well as the common name (e.g. Gray Whale OR Eschrichtius robustus).


Narrowing Your Search

  1. Use the Boolean operator ‘AND’ to only return results containing both search terms (e.g. Earthquake AND Volcano AND Lava)
  2. Use the Boolean operator ‘NOT’ to remove certain results you are not interested in (e.g. Earthquake NOT Tremor)
  3. Use phrased search terms “” to only include results that have these terms next to one another (e.g. “Global Climate Change”)
  4. Use a filter to focus on the dates of publication you are interested in (e.g. Tick ‘Since 2012’ or enter a custom range such as ‘2012 – 2013’)


Narrowing and Broadening Your Search: One Last Tip

  • Snowball a paper that contained useful references by reading those cited within it (and listed in its references section at the end); many of these will also be very useful for you too!


Activity 2 (20 minutes, work together)

Make sure you are working so that at least one of your pair/group has a laptop/tablet with which you can both access the Internet and Web of Science.

Spend 10 minutes each searching for more primary sources that will provide relevant information on the science topic you chose to write about. Try to experiment with the tips above to narrow and/or broaden your searches, but make sure you find (and save, if possible) at least two more useful primary sources each.

Note that your instructor will lead a very brief discussion before you move on to see whether you learned any other strategies, just by experimenting.


Integrating Sources via Citations

Proper referencing includes two parts: in-text citations and a complete reference list of sources from which these arose (this should come at the end of your piece of writing).

In-text citations show your reader(s) that certain pieces of the specific information you have used to strengthen your paper came from the work of others. The list of references

at the end of your paper then gives the exact references you used, which allows your reader(s) to easily find and refer back to them.


Citation Formatting

In science writing, expanded referencing is the most universally used style for citing references. It includes:

  1. The author/authors’ last name/names and the year of publication in the body of the writing
  2. An alphabetical list of all these references at the end of the article, which contains more complete information (the title of the paper, the journal it was published in, the issue number of this journal, and the specific page numbers)


General Rules for In-Text Citations

Some journals use subtly different formats for their in-text citations, so you should always check to make sure you are using the correct format required (whether you are writing an article for a specific journal, or completing an essay at university). However, we will focus on the most commonly used format, which follows the two key rules below.

  1. If there are one or two authors, cite both surnames (and the date of publication)
  2. If there are more than two authors, only write the first name followed by et al.


Examples

  • Blue, left-handed widgets are actually wodgets (Smith, 1993).
  • Bloggs et al. (1995) noted that…
  • Smith and Jones (1997) wrote that…


General Rules for Reference Lists

As with the format of in-text citations, subtle differences will exist from journal to journal, and from university to university. We will focus again on the most commonly used format, which follows the basic rules below.

  1. Place at the end of your piece of writing
  2. Compile in alphabetical order
  3. There are numerous different styles, but the most common one uses the format: All Surnames and Initials, (Publication Year). Title. Journal, Issue: Pages.

e.g. Smith, T, Shineton, JL, (1993). Widgets and wodgets. Journal of Computing, 37: 6–15.


Activity 3 (work alone and then together, 10 minutes)

Begin thinking about how you might use some of the sources you have found about the science topic you are going to write about. To gain practice in citing them correctly, try to write one sentence for each source so that you attribute a piece of information to each one (use the examples above to help you).

Remember that it is very unusual to quote one of your sources directly in a piece of science writing. Instead, try to paraphrase the original information provided and simply include the citation to confirm which author this idea belongs to.

Note that your instructor will be on hand to help you here, and to answer any questions you have about paraphrasing and citing your sources.

Post-Class Activities

Identifying and Citing Sources: Post-Class Activities

These post-class activities are designed to complement the pre-class and in-class activities and further develop the skills you learned when completing them; your main task, which encompasses the majority of the activities in this post-class set, is to compose a short piece of properly cited writing that focuses on the science topic you initially chose.

Before you put that together, read the information about choosing appropriate words to introduce sources that you cite. You should then complete Question 1, which will give you some practice in applying these concepts.

Choosing Descriptive Words to Introduce Citations

Because you must interpret a source when you paraphrase it, you must be very careful not to misrepresent the author in any way, which can be easier to do than you might think.

For example, writing that Reilly (2010) ‘found’ that more than one cup of morning coffee slows response rates in people, is not the same thing as writing that Reilly (2010) ‘argued’ that more than one cup of morning coffee slows response rates in people. Finding something after conducting an experiment suggests the result was objective, whereas arguing something suggests the opposite.

Although it is sometimes important to use strong descriptors such as argue, challenge, confess, attack etc. when they appropriately describe the stance being taken, it is generally a good idea to use neutral descriptors whenever possible, as these cannot be misinterpreted as easily.

For example, writing that Reilly (2010) ‘wrote’ that more than one cup of morning coffee slows response rates in people cannot be misinterpreted, and therefore removes any concern that you might have about paraphrasing his/her work.

Question 1 (4 marks)

Read the following excerpt from a primary source (written by Jonathan Nolan, and published in 2009) and then rank the descriptive words used by people that paraphrased and cited this material; rank these words from best to worst.

In our controlled experiments, we saw that 92% of newborn rats showed a preference for bedding that smelled of their mother rather than of another unrelated female rat when offered the choice.

Nolan (2009)…

A: found that newborn rats choose bedding that smells like their mother.
B: intimated that newborn rats choose bedding that smells like their mother.
C: proved that newborn rats choose bedding that smells like their mother.
D: showed that newborn rats choose bedding that smells like their mother.

Citation Formatting

This information is also found in the in-class materials, but is included here in case you missed that lesson/workshop. You will need to follow these hints to answer Question 6.

In science writing, there are two general styles for citing references in text: expanded referencing or abbreviated referencing. The first of these is the most universally used, and we are going to focus solely on that one, which includes:

  1. The author’s last name and the year of publication in the body of the writing
  2. An alphabetical list of all these references at the end of the article, which contains more complete information (the title of the paper, the journal it was published in, the issue of this journal, and the page numbers)

Rules for In-Text Citations

  • If there are one or two authors, cite both surnames (and the date of publication)
  • If there are more than two authors, only write the first name followed by et al.

Examples

  • Blue, left-handed widgets are actually wodgets (Smith, 1993).
  • Bloggs et al. (1995) found that …
  • Smith and Jones (1997) wrote that…

Rules for Reference Lists

  • Place at the end
  • List sources in alphabetical order
  • There are numerous different styles, but the most common one uses the format: All Surnames, Initials, (Publication Year). Title. Journal, Issue: Pages.

e.g. Smith, T (1993). Widgets and wodgets. Journal of Computing, 37: 6-15.

Question 2 (12 marks total)

Compose a short piece of writing about the science topic you initially chose in the pre-class activities, and about which you found additional primary sources in the in-class lesson/workshop. This piece of writing does not need to be long (200 words is fine) but it should be written as though you are providing information about the topic to an audience that would not know much about it.

To attain high marks, try to make sure you:

  1. Include information from at least four primary sources, and cite these properly by using in-text citations (4 marks)
  2. Use appropriate descriptive words when referring to these sources (4 marks)
  3. Produce a correctly formatted reference list that provides full information about these sources at the end of your piece of writing (4 marks)

Question 3 (4 marks)

Recall from the pre-class activities that you do not need to cite certain types of information to avoid plagiarism. Provide two examples of information in your writing for which you have not provided an in-text citation, and then justify why you have not provided a citation for this paraphrased information.

Active vs. Passive Voice

Lesson and Workshops Introduction:

We have designed pre- and post-class activities (essentially ‘homework’ exercises for students) to complement the in-class lesson/workshop for this specific science writing-skill component (‘Active vs. Passive Voice’).

At our institution, we ask students to complete the pre-class activities online as preparation for the in-class lesson/workshop, so as to give them some exposure to the concepts that will be explored in more detail in class.

The in-class activities are designed to improve students’ writing skills and to give them experience in working with partners/small groups on related activities. The in-class lesson/workshop has been designed to encourage an interactive, conversational approach to completing the activities; this should help students to resolve any confusion from the pre-class activities and discuss the importance of the writing skills they are learning to master with their peers and instructors. We provide student worksheets for the in-class activities, as well as TA and Instructor versions of these worksheets, which also include suggested solutions to the activities. We also provide a PowerPoint presentation to accompany the lesson/workshop, and a timing guide with teaching prompts to help instructors encourage students to get the most from these sessions.

Lastly, students are asked to complete the post-class activities online, as a final learning tool and wrap-up to help them solidify the concepts they have learned and gain some more practice in applying these to real writing situations.


A Note on Asking Students to Complete the Pre- and Post-Class Activities Online

We recommend asking students to complete the activities online so as to reduce the likelihood that worksheets of these activities are printed and enter the student domain; over time, these questions will reduce in value if copies are posted online (via blogs etc. by students who have previously completed them).

We have designed these activities to take students approximately 30-60 minutes to complete; they form a small part of the graded continuous assessment for students enrolled in a science communication course at our institution, but could also be deployed as not-for-credit activities.


A Note on the Different Versions

All different versions/banks have been used and refined following student and instructor feedback, and all of them focus on the same important concepts. We cycle different versions across different terms to minimize the potential that students enrolled in our course in concurrent terms will share answers (e.g. we do not use the same version in concurrent terms).

Please note that while the initial choice of which version to use is somewhat arbitrary, it is important to use the same version for the pre-, in- and post-class activities as a whole unit; this is because some of the questions appearing in the in-class lesson/workshop and/or post-class activities build on work completed in the pre-class activities (e.g. do not use pre-class version 1, and post-class version 2 together).

Timing Guide

Active vs. Passive Voice: In-Class Activities, Instructor Timing Guide

Please note this guide is to help you keep track of time as students work through the activities. It complements the final worksheets (and PowerPoint) but please have a look at this guide so you know when you should display certain slides. Before beginning Activity 1, you should have students read the preamble (on worksheets) to remind them of the differences involved in using the active and passive voice.


Activity 1 (work alone or together, 10 min)

You should allow a total of 10 minutes for students to complete Activity 1.


Activity 2 (work alone, 15 min + 5 min for instructor to show/discuss answers, total time elapsed =30 min)

You should allow 15 minutes for students to complete Activity 2, before spending a further five minutes discussing the solutions to Activities 1 & 2 (PowerPoint slides #4, 5, 6 and 7) so that they can all see what the correct answers were (and some examples of re-written sentences). You could ask students for examples that used even fewer words than the solutions.


  1. You should stress that there are multiple right answers for Activity 2, but the key is in making the original versions more concise by using the active voice.
  2. You should stress it is important to stick to time. If students do not finish all the sentences in Activity 2, they can always complete this part at home.


Activity 3 (work alone, 5 min, total time elapsed = 35 min)

You should allow five minutes for students to complete Activity 3 (they only have to write five or six sentences about the best science lecture they ever attended.


Activity 4 (work together, 5 min, total time elapsed = 40 min)

You should allow 5 minutes for students to work together to complete Activity 4.


Activity 5 (work alone, 10 min, total time elapsed = 50 min)

You should allow 10 minutes for students to complete Activity 5 (they might need less time as they are just altering their own sentences to the opposite style of voice they originally wrote them in).


Activity 6 (optional/take home)

This Activity simply asks students to critique each sentence they have written. For each topic, they will have one active voice sentence and one passive voice sentence. The idea here is to get them to appreciate that different styles are more or less appropriate depending on the content (it is not always a bad idea to use the passive voice). Also draw attention to the suggested link on their handouts for more information on this topic.


* Please note that when piloted in Term 1, 2013, some classes completed everything in the allotted time and some failed to get past Activity 4 *'

* If students are taking time to complete these activities, feel free to let them. As long as they complete Activities 1 – 4, they can take Activities 5 and 6 home to reflect on the messages of this hands-on unit, and gain more practice in swapping between styles of voice. *

* This is one of the harder hands-on units, so it is important not to rush. Working through activities 1 – 4 should give everyone more confidence working with the active and passive voice. *

In-Class Activities

Active and Passive Voice: Student In Class Activity

Before you can purposefully structure your writing in the active (or passive) voice, you must be able to understand which elements of each sentence comprise the subject and object. Once you are able to do this, you will be able to re-order your sentences to write in the style that is most appropriate for the situation.

Recall from the pre-class activity that in the active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action on the object, whereas in the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is acted upon (it effectively does nothing itself).


A handy hint: let the verb point the way

To know what the action in the sentence is, just focus on how the verb (the doing word) explains the content in the sentence. For example, consider the following sentence.

“Pests destroy crops.”

  1. Look for the verb first
  2. Find the subject and object by considering whether the action in the verb is being actively or passively performed.

Pests destroy crops.”


In the above example, the action of the verb (from ‘to destroy’) is being actively performed (these pests are doing the destroying in this sentence). This is therefore an active voice sentence.

For it to be passive, the action of the verb would have to be performed on the subject (the pests would not directly be doing the destroying). For example: “My crops were destroyed by pests.”


Activity 1 (work alone or together, 10 minutes)

For each of the five sentences below, identify the verb before also identifying the subject and object. Then use this information to decide whether the sentence is written in the active or passive voice. You can work alone or with a partner in this activity.

  1. Over 60 million years ago, a very large meteorite crashed into Earth.
  2. The exact location of the impact is still debated by some scientists.
  3. However, most experts think the crash site is in Mexico.
  4. The extinction of the dinosaurs is attributed by many palaeontologists to the impact.
  5. Dinosaurs would have been affected by sudden changes in temperature, and meteorologists recently showed that the earth’s climate changed considerably at this time.


Activity 2 (work alone or together, 15 minutes)

Below are five more sentences, but this time they are all written in the passive voice. Re-write them in the active voice and try to reduce the length of the sentences by at least a few words in each case (one benefit of using the active voice).

  1. The mice were kept in controlled conditions by the experimenters before they were removed from their cages and placed on an exercise wheel.
  2. Each mouse was weighed by the same experimenters before and after it was placed on the exercise wheel.
  3. After 12 weeks had passed, each mouse was randomly placed in one of two treatment groups; in all cases, a die was rolled by an experimenter for each mouse and if it landed on an even number the mouse was placed in the group that received a pill.
  4. If the die landed on an odd number, the mouse was placed in the treatment group that received a placebo, which was designed by the research team to look like the pill.
  5. Following another 12 weeks in their different treatment groups, each mouse was weighed again by the experimenters and average weight gain (g) was calculated by using a calculator.

* Note: There will be a brief class regroup at this stage to discuss the answers to Activities 1 and 2 *


Activity 3 (work alone, 5 minutes)

Sentences written in the active voice generally grab attention more effectively than those written in the passive voice. When people first write essays, however, they typically produce a rough draft that features all their ideas in some form of ordered chaos, rather than worrying too much about their grammar. They then edit their work to make sure the sentences, paragraphs and transitions (remember Unit 1) fit together to make a coherent argument.

Now it is time to begin thinking about editing from the perspective of writing in the style of voice that best suits the situation. To highlight the importance of this, try to write 5-6 sentences about the best science lecture you ever attended. You only have a few minutes to do this, so just write down your sentences without thinking too much about the grammar.


Activity 4 (work together, 5 minutes)

Choose a partner (or work in groups of 3 to make sure nobody is on their own) and swap your worksheets. Now work through each sentence and highlight whether it is written in the active or passive voice. When you are finished, hand it back to the author and discuss with him/her whether you both agree on the decisions you have made.


Activity 5 (work alone, 10 minutes)

Once you have agreed which style of voice you have written each sentence in, try to re-write them in the opposite style. So, for example, if you have written your first sentence in the passive voice, re-write it in the active voice to practice using both styles (Note: This is just to make you more comfortable in using both).


Activity 6 (optional, work alone)

By now, you should have one active and one passive version of each sentence. Spend some time looking at each pair and decide which style is most appropriate. This little exercise should hopefully show you the importance of re-reading and editing your sentences from this perspective to make sure they each have maximum impact.


For more help with the active and passive voice

If you are still confused about the differences between the active and passive voice, you are encouraged to view the helpful guide on this subject published by the Purdue Online Writing Lab.

Pre-Class Activities

Version 1

Active and Passive Voice: Student Pre-Class Activities

Many people are confused by whether they are using the active or passive voice when writing, and in which scenario each is preferred. Thankfully, there is a simple way of identifying the two styles; the key to understanding the difference between them is to spot the subject and the object in each sentence, and then selectively order the way you introduce them.

In an active sentence, the subject is the element that is doing the action, whereas the object is the element that is receiving the action. In contrast, in a passive sentence, the element targeted by the action is promoted to the subject position. This can sound confusing, but a good way to learn this concept is to realize that a passive sentence will result in the subject effectively doing nothing, because whatever is happening is being done to it.


Some examples

1A:Consider the following active voice sentence:

I weighed the fish on weighing scales every week.

‘I’ is the subject here, because ‘I’ did the action (weighing) reported in this sentence, whereas the fish is the object because it is receiving the action (being weighed). It cannot be a passive sentence because the subject is doing something to the object (weighing it).


1P: Now, consider the passive voice version of the previous sentence:

The fish was weighed by me on weighing scales every week.

The fish is the subject here because it is the focus of the sentence, but you know this cannot possibly be an active sentence because the subject is effectively doing nothing; the ‘me’ is the part of the sentence doing the action (weighing).


2A: Consider the following active voice sentence:

More than 50,000 students applied to Oxford University last year.

‘More than 50,000 students’ is the sentence subject here, because these students were the ones doing the action (applying), whereas ‘Oxford University’ is the object because it is receiving the action (the applications). It cannot be a passive sentence because the subjects are doing something (applying) to the object.


2P: Now, consider the passive voice version of the previous sentence:

Oxford University was applied to by more than 50,000 students last year.

‘Oxford University’ is the subject of the sentence here, but you know the sentence must be passive because the subject is effectively doing nothing; the ‘more than 50,000 students’ are the ones doing the action (applying).


Why does this matter?

In the examples listed above, the passive versions are not especially long-winded, yet if you re-examine them you will notice that they feature more words than their respective active versions. This is of great relevance to you as science writers because it is very important that you always try to communicate things as concisely as possible. When you start to write more complex sentences, the difference in word count can be significant when you compare the active and passive versions, and this is important in a setting in which waffly, vague statements are always your enemy.

Along with a lack of conciseness, ambiguity (being vague) is the other unwanted attribute that comes with the use of passive voice sentences. For example, consider the following active and passive versions of a sentence that might appear in the Methods section of your lab report:


3A: Professor Roberts kept the mice in their cages for three weeks. He then released them into the wild and recaptured them three weeks later.


3P: The mice used in this experiment were kept in their cages for three weeks before they were released and then recaptured after they had spent three weeks in the wild.


Note firstly that the active version features 24 words in comparison to the 30 in the passive one, yet, importantly, the active version explains exactly what happened and who did what, whereas the passive one leaves these specific details out.


Question 1 (6 marks)

Are the following sentences written in the active or passive voice? Copy and paste the whole set of six sentences and then answer either 'active' or 'passive' for each one.


Sentence 1: Difficulty differentiating between active and passive voice is frequently experienced by students at UBC.
Sentence 2: The importance of learning these differences is known by writers and presenters.
Sentence 3: In general, communicators prefer to use the active voice.
Sentence 4: Thoughts are usually expressed more concisely by speakers and writers in this way.
Sentence 5: However, in certain situations, it is more advantageous for the passive voice to be used by the author.
Sentence 6: Instructors (and these guides) will highlight some of these examples later in the course.


Questions 2, 3, 4, 5 (2 marks each, 8 marks total)

For questions 2 - 5, you need to read each sentence and decide (1 mark) whether it is:

(a)Written in the active voice, or
(b)Written in the passive voice


Once you have decided this, you need to re-write the sentence so it is in the other style of voice (1 mark). For example, if the original sentence is written in the passive voice, re-write the sentence in the active voice. Hint: The goal of this activity is to demonstrate that you are able to distinguish between the active and passive voices when writing. In some cases, you would not want the sentence to be in the other style of voice; however, being able to re-write a sentence from active to passive, or vice versa, is a useful skill to practice.


Question 2 (2 marks)

A new tree frog species was discovered by scientists on a three-week expedition in a South American rainforest.


Question 3 (2 marks)

Due to the frog’s chocolate-coloured skin, researchers named it the cocoa frog.


Question 4 (2 marks)

In order to climb trees, this frog uses round discs located on its fingers and toes.


Question 5 (2 marks)

A total of 60 new species, including 11 fish, one snake, and five other frogs were discovered by the scientists while on their expedition.


Questions 6 and 7 (3 marks each, 6 marks total)

For questions 6 and 7 you need to read each sentence and decide (1 mark) whether it is:

(a)Written in the active voice
(b)Written in the passive voice
(c)Written in the active, then passive voice
(d)Written in the passive, then active voice


Once you have decided this, re-write the sentence so it is in the other voice (2 marks).

For example, if the original sentence is written in the passive voice, re-write the sentence in the active voice. Hint: If you answer either (c) or (d), your re-written sentence will require two changes.


Question 6 (3 marks)

The researchers also tested water quality in the area, while plant and animal species were surveyed by specialists on the team.


Question 7 (3 marks)

Worryingly high concentrations of mercury were found in the river system by the researchers, who thought it might have come from illegal mining work in the rainforest.


Question 8 (2 or 4 marks each, 10 marks total)

Depending on whether your sentence is written in the active or passive voice, the form of the verb will often be different. Active voice sentences are typically associated with ‘strong verbs’ that explain what the subject is doing to the object in the sentence. The exercise below is designed to make you aware of this other subtle difference between the active and passive voices.


Fill in the blanks in the following sentences with the correct form of the verb attached to each topic:

A: Topic = evolution, verb = to favour (2 marks)

Active: Natural selection [?????] organisms best adapted to their current environment.
Passive: Organisms best adapted to their current environment are [?????] by natural selection.


B: Topic = recycling, verb = to reduce (2 marks)

Active: We can [?????]landfill waste by recycling cardboard and plastic containers.
Passive: Landfill waste can be [?????]by the recycling of cardboard and plastic containers.


C: Topic = vaccinations, verb = to protect (2 marks)

Active: The bestvaccine is one that [?????] individuals against a disease by stimulating the immune system without causing too much of a reaction.
Passive: Individuals can be [?????] against certain diseases by vaccines that stimulate the immune system without causing disease.


D. Topic = flamingos building nests, verb = to begin; to lay (4 marks)

Active: Up to six weeks before the female flamingo [?????] her eggs, male and female flamingos will [?????] to build nests.
Passive: The process of nest building is [?????] by flamingos gathering mud, stones, and small sticks, up to six weeks prior to eggs being [?????].

Version 2

Active and Passive Voice: Student Pre-Class Activities

Many people are confused by whether they are using the active or passive voice when writing, and in which scenario each is preferred. Thankfully, there is a simple way of identifying the two styles; the key to understanding the difference between them is to spot the subject and the object in each sentence, and then selectively order the way you introduce them.

In an active sentence, the subject is the focus of the sentence (the element that is doing the action), whereas the object is the element that is receiving the action. In contrast, in a passive sentence, the element targeted by the action is promoted to the subject position and becomes the focus of the sentence. This can sound confusing, but a good way to learn this concept is to realize that a passive sentence will result in the subject effectively doing nothing, because whatever is happening is being done to it.

Many people confuse ‘voice’ with ‘tense’ and it is important that you learn they are two very different things; both active and passive voice sentences can be written in any tense (present, past, future etc.).


Some examples

1A: Consider the following active voice sentence:

Phil weighed the mice on weighing scales every week.

‘Phil’ is the subject here, because ‘Phil’ is the person doing the action (weighing) reported in this sentence, whereas the mice are the objects, because they are receiving the action (being weighed). It cannot be a passive sentence because the subject is doing something to the object (weighing it).


1P: Now, consider the passive voice version of the previous sentence:

The mice were weighed by Phil on weighing scales every week.

The mice have become the subject here because they have been promoted to the focus of the sentence. This cannot possibly be an active sentence because the subject is effectively doing nothing, whereas in the active version (1A). the subject actually did something (the weighing).


2A: Consider the following active voice sentence:

More than 50,000 students applied to <snap style="color:blue">Oxford University last year.

‘More than 50,000 students’ is the sentence subject here, because these students are the focus of the sentence (and doing the applying), whereas ‘Oxford University’ is the object because it is receiving the action (the applications). It cannot be a passive sentence because the subjects are doing something (applying) to the object.


2P: Now, consider the passive voice version of the previous sentence:

Oxford University was applied to by more than 50,000 students last year.

‘Oxford University’ is the subject of the sentence here, but you know the sentence must be passive because the subject is effectively doing nothing; the ‘more than 50,000 students’ are the ones doing the action (applying).


Note: Another trick that can often highlight sentences written in the passive voice is to look for the verb ‘to be’. For example: “The exam was administered by the teacher,” and “The matches were played by the teams” are both passive voice sentences, whereas “The teacher administered the exam,” and “The teams played the matches” are the active versions.

However, there are pitfalls to this, which is why it is better to learn this concept as set out initially. For example: “Professor Canuck wants to be recognized as the leading researcher in his field,” is an active sentence but still includes ‘to be’. It is active because the subject is performing the action (the wanting) on the object.


Why does this matter?

In the examples listed above, the passive versions are not especially long-winded, yet if you re-examine them you will notice that they feature more words than their respective active versions. This is of great relevance to you as a science writer because it is very important that you always try to communicate things as concisely as possible. When you start to write more complex sentences, the difference in word count can be large when you compare the active and passive versions, and this is important in a setting in which waffly, vague statements are always your enemy.

Along with a lack of conciseness, ambiguity (being vague) is the other unwanted attribute that comes with the use of passive voice sentences. For example, consider the following active and passive versions of a sentence that might appear in the Methods section of your lab report:


3A: Professor Roberts kept the mice in their cages for three weeks. He then released them into the wild and recaptured them three weeks later.


3P: The mice used in this experiment were kept in their cages for three weeks before they were released and then recaptured after they had spent three weeks in the wild.


Note firstly that the active version features 24 words in comparison to the 30 in the passive one, yet, importantly, the active version explains exactly what happened and who did what, whereas the passive one leaves these specific details out.


Questions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 (1 mark each, 5 marks total)

For questions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 you should read each sentence and decide whether it is written in the active voice (or not).


Question 1 (1 mark)

The scientists were embarrassed by a mistake that appeared in their journal article.


Question 2 (1 mark)

The scientists realized that they needed to state their argument more clearly when they saw it in the journal.


Question 3 (1 mark)

According to one reviewer, an ethics protocol had also been violated by them.


Question 4 (1 mark)

On a more positive note, the researchers improved their writing skills considerably when they first prepared the article.


Question 5 (1 mark)

It had been thought by some of them that science was just about working in a laboratory until time was spent watching monkeys in the jungle.


Questions 6, 7, 8 (1 mark each, 3 marks total), 9 and 10 (2 marks each, 4 marks total)

For questions 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, you need to read the passive voice versions of different sentences and then re-write them in the active voice. Questions worth two marks require two changes (from passive to active).


Question 6 (1 mark)

Passive Version: Very little is known by us about the eating habits of the snow leopard.


Question 7 (1 mark)

Passive Version: Over the last 20 years, there has been an enhanced effort made by conservationists to educate the public about the importance of preserving leopard habitat.


Question 8 (1 mark)

Passive Version: But have we been persuaded by researchers that habitat loss is to blame for snow leopards becoming rarer?


Question 9 (2 marks)

Passive Version: The exam booklets were carefully collected by the teaching assistants, before they were ordered alphabetically by a sorting machine.


Question 10 (2 marks)

Passive Version:Many of my classmates found the exam too difficult to complete, but it was still considered by them to be a fair one. I found it quite easy overall, but some questions had obviously been designed to be very difficult by the instructors.


Question 11 (8 marks)

Are the following sentences written in the active or passive voice? Copy and paste the whole set of eight sentences and then answer either 'active' or 'passive' for each one.


Sentence 1: Students often find it difficult to differentiate between the active and passive voices.
Sentence 2: Writers and presenters know how important it is to learn these differences, however.
Sentence 3: In most cases, the active voice is preferred by communicators.
Sentence 4: People generally express their thoughts more concisely when they use the active voice.
Sentence 5: For this reason, it is believed by us (as instructors) that long-winded, passive sentences are harder to follow.
Sentence 6: Yet there are times when you should preferentially use the passive voice.
Sentence 7: Some of these examples will be highlighted by instructors (and in these guides) over the course of your studies.
Sentence 8: But when you are in doubt, we encourage you to use the active voice.


Verbs and the active and passive voice

By now you should feel more comfortable changing the style of a sentence from active to passive, and vice versa. As a quick recap, recall that you use the active voice when the subject performs the action on the object. For example, you might write: “Professional footballers will kick footballs harder than amateurs.” Now recall that to make the above sentence passive you would ensure that the subject has the action performed on it (so that it is effectively doing nothing). For example, you would write: “Footballs will be kicked harder by professional footballers than amateurs.”

Look closely at the two sentences and see that the verb (the action/doing word) changes form between the active and passive voice. In the above example, the verb - ‘to kick’ – changes from ‘kick’ in the active voice to ‘kicked’ in the passive voice.

Depending on the verb, and the structure of the sentence, it might not always be different. However, it is very important that you learn to use the correct form of a verb when using one style of voice, and particularly if you write sentences that switch simultaneously between the two.


Question 12 (10 marks)

Fill in the blanks in the following sentences with the correct form of the verb attached to each topic:


A: Topic = evolution, verb = to specialize

Active: Over time, different bird species will [?????] in eating one type of seed.
Passive: Different bird species may be [?????] in eating one type of seed.


B: Topic = competition, verb = to eat

Active: In our study, we noticed that stronger individuals [?????] the best food because they out-competed the weaker ones.
Passive: Weaker individuals may have been forced to [?????] poorer quality food than stronger ones because they were out-competed.


C: Topic = designing an experiment, verb = to begin

Active: The researcher [?????] reading literature a long time ago to get ideas about what sort of experiment to design.
Passive: The process of designing an experiment was [?????] by the researcher reading literature to get ideas about the general topic.


D: Topic = global warming, verb = to prevent

Active: Many climatologists believe it is now impossible to [?????] global warming.
Passive: [?????] global warming is now believed to be impossible by many climatologists.


E: Topic = laboratory experiments, verb = to replicate

Active: My professor thinks that [?????] the experiment will improve the strength of the conclusions.
Passive: I was asked to [?????] the experiment by my professor as it is thought that this will improve the strength of the conclusions.

Posy-Class Activities

Version 1

Active and Passive Voice: Student Post-Class Activities

These post-class activities have been designed to give you further practice in spotting sentences written in the active and passive voices, writing in the different styles of voice, and choosing the style appropriately depending on the content of your writing.


Questions 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 (1 mark each, 5 marks total)

For these questions, read each sentence below and decide whether it is:


A. Written in the active voice first and the passive voice second
B. Written in the passive voice first and the active voice second
C. Written in the active voice only
D. Written in the passive voice only.


Question 1 (1 mark)

Lucy convinced her brother to take the survey she developed for statistics, but she was later informed by her professor that such a move is a type of bias.


Question 2 (1 mark)

Mother lions carry their cubs from place to place before they walk and run everywhere on their own.


Question 3 (1 mark)

Frogs are considered to be indicator species by scientists, as their relative presence or absence indicates the health of the particular ecosystem.


Question 4 (1 mark)

Sediments are formed by the weathering of rocks, precipitation reactions, or other biological processes.


Question 5 (1 mark)

Meteorites that hit the Earth cause impact craters that are approximately ten times larger than the diameter of the meteorite.


Questions 6 and 7 (2 marks each, 4 marks total)

Study the sentences below, which are written in either the passive or active voice. Your task for these questions is to decide which voice is more effective for the given topic. Copy your answer (1 mark) and justify (in a few words) why you chose this sentence (1 mark). Hint: Choose one of the two sentences for each question and state whether it is active or passive, before saying why you think it is more suitable than the other version.


Question 6 (2 marks)

A. The Human Genome project was completed in 2003, two years ahead of schedule.
B. Many international organizations worked together to complete the Human Genome Project in 2003, two years ahead of schedule.


Question 7 (2 marks)

A. An unknown group of individuals dumped hundreds of pollutants in the river over the weekend, which is a concern for wildlife biologists.
B. Hundreds of pollutants were dumped into the river over the weekend, which is a concern for wildlife biologists.


Questions 8, 9, and 10 (2 marks each, 6 marks total)

Read the three active voice sentences below. Now re-write each one in the passive voice (1 mark) but try hard to use fewer words than in the original sentences without losing important/necessary detail (1 mark). This will give you practice in writing concisely even when you have to use the passive voice. For each answer, simply include your re-written statement and the word count. Hint: In reality, you may not want to write these sentences in the passive voice, as they may be more appropriate in the active voice. However, as in the pre-class activities, this question will give you practice in re-writing sentences in the opposite style of voice, which is an important skill to master.


Question 8 (2 marks)

Animals sometimes alter their natural behaviour when researchers tag them with monitoring equipment because the equipment often increases drag. Hint: Try to use fewer than 19 words.


Question 9 (2 marks)

Tagged research equipment causes even more drag for juvenile animals, as compared to adults. Hint: Try to use fewer than 14 words.


Question 10 (2 marks)

Research equipment will collect more realistic data when researchers select tags that have the least impact on the target organism. Hint: Try to use fewer than 20 words.


Question 11, 12, and 13 (2 marks each, 6 marks total)

These questions have been designed to give you practice in:


  1. Reducing the length of passive voice sentences to make them more concise
  2. Changing them to active voice sentences to further reduce the word count.


To begin, read the passive voice sentences below and try to remove any unnecessary words from them while keeping them in the passive voice (1 mark each). Hint: Simply remove words at this stage, rather than re-writing sentences. Then try to re-write these sentences in the active voice (1 mark each).


Question 11 (2 marks)

A waterproof, photo-luminescent material, which was designed by researchers as a glow-in-the-dark coating for roads, has been created by a UK-based company.


Question 12 (2 marks)

During the day, light is absorbed by the material resulting in a glow to be emitted from the material at night.


Question 13 (2 marks)

In addition to making roads safer at night, it is thought by the company, as well as current consumers, that the coating could provide enough light so that street lamps could be removed to save money and energy.


Question 14 (4 marks)

Choose a topic in science that you are very interested in and write a paragraph about it, incorporating three or four sentences. Note that you do not need to write a long answer (less than 150 words will be fine), but make sure you write at least one sentence in the active voice and at least one in the passive voice. Try to make sure you choose the style of voice to be appropriate for each sentence though!

This activity is designed to give you practice in moving interchangeably between the active and passive voice in sentences in the same paragraph, and to make you think more about the circumstances in which it is appropriate to use each style.

Version 2

Active vs. Passive Voice: Student Post-Class Activities

These post-class activities have been designed to give you further practice in spotting sentences written in the active and passive voices, writing in the different styles of voice, and choosing the style appropriately depending on the content of your writing.


Questions 1, 2, 3 and 4 (1 mark each, 4 marks total)

Answer the following questions that focus on the differences between the active and passive voices, and on the philosophy of using each style.


Question 1 (1 mark)

Which of the scenarios below is a more suitable candidate to be written in the passive voice?


Scenario A: You are writing about the art of Leonardo Da Vinci after visiting a gallery showcasing his work.
Scenario B: You are writing about some graffiti you discovered on your locker but do not know who drew it.


Question 2 (1 mark)

Justify (in a few words) why you choose either Scenario A or Scenario B as the more suitable candidate in Question 1 (above).


Question 3 (1 mark)

Complete the following sentence:


Generally speaking, using the active voice in scientific writing will result in:

A: More concise sentences with less specific detail in them
B: More concise sentences with at least as much specific detail in them
C: Less concise sentences with at least as much specific detail in them
D: Less concise sentences with less specific detail in them


Question 4 (1 mark)

Study the following sentence:


“Ben was encouraged by his friends to run for science president, but he decided not to make an official application.”


This sentence features:

A: The active voice only
B: The passive voice only
C: The active voice first and the passive voice second
D: The passive voice first and the active voice second


Question 5 (4 marks)

Read the four sentences written in the active voice below. For each blank space, match the appropriate reason that explains why it would be wise to write the same/similar information in the passive voice. The reasons are below the sentences on this page.


Michael made the critical mistake of forgetting to add warm water to the tank after 30 minutes had passed. This sentence would be better if written in the passive voice, because it [?????].

The overall trend in the data clearly shows that activity rate increases when temperature also increases. This sentence would be better if written in the passive voice, because it [?????].

Some specialist group, individual, or university team should clean the laboratory. This sentence would be better if written in the passive voice, because it [?????].

Somebody with access to the laboratory stole my cell cultures yesterday evening. This sentence would be better if written in the passive voice, because it [?????].


Match the following reasons to the sentences by copying and pasting them into the correct blank space in the answer box:

Reason 1: includes unnecessary detail to confuse the main purpose of the sentence.
Reason 2: needlessly highlights an unknown ‘doer’ of the action.
Reason 3: makes a subjective statement sound objective.
Reason 4: makes the statement unnecessarily personal.


The above question was designed to highlight that there are occasions when using the passive voice is not only acceptable but actually preferable to the active voice. Whenever you communicate anything in science (and in any format), your number one goal should be to make sure it is easy to understand. For this reason, writing concise sentences is a very important skill to master. Having said this, you can very occasionally integrate active and passive voice sentences into the same paragraphs (and even sentences) in the right circumstances.


Questions 6, 7, 8 and 9 (2 marks each, 8 marks total)

Re-read the four active voice sentences in Question 5. Now re-write each one in the passive voice but try hard to use fewer or the same number of words as in the original sentences without losing important/necessary detail. This will give you practice in writing concisely even when you have to use the passive voice.

For each answer, simply include your re-written statement and the word count.


Question 6 (2 marks)

Sentence 1: “Michael made the critical mistake of forgetting to add warm water to the tank after 30 minutes had passed.”


Question 7 (2 marks)

Sentence 2: “The overall trend clearly shows that activity rate increases when temperature also increases.”


Question 8 (2 marks)

Sentence 3: “Some specialist group, individual, or university team should clean the laboratory.”


Question 9 (2 marks)

Sentence 4: “Somebody with access to the laboratory stole my cell cultures yesterday evening.”


Questions 10, 11, 12 and 13 (1 mark each, 4 marks total)

Read the short paragraph below about the effect of randomness in dictating how many individuals of each species are found in a given environment at any time. For questions 10, 11, 12 and 13, you need to consider each sentence separately and say whether the active and/or passive voices are used (and in which order).

For example, for each question you must say whether the sentence features:

Option A: The passive voice only
Option B: The active voice only
Option C: The passive voice first and the active voice second
Option D: The active voice first and the passive voice second


“In any given environment, the number of individuals present that belong to different species will be dictated by a combination of abiotic and biotic factors. For example, predators reduce the numbers of herbivores, whereas favourable environmental conditions cause populations to grow. However, scientists fail to predict exact numbers; this is because random events that cannot be predicted by anyone also impact populations. Any random event can cause the numbers of one species to increase, while another species can be negatively impacted by the same unpredictable event.”


Question 10 (1 mark)

Sentence 1: In any given environment, the number of individuals present that belong to different species will be dictated by a combination of abiotic and biotic factors.


Question 11 (1 mark)

Sentence 2: For example, predators reduce the numbers of herbivores, whereas favourable environmental conditions cause populations to grow.


Question 12 (1 mark)

Sentence 3: However, scientists fail to predict exact numbers; this is because random events that cannot be predicted by anyone also impact populations.


Question 13 (1 mark)

Sentence 4: Any random event can cause the numbers of one species to increase, while another species can be negatively impacted by the same unpredictable event.”


Question 14 (5 marks)

Choose a topic in science that you are very interested in and write a paragraph abut it, incorporating five or six sentences. Note that you do not need to write a long answer (100-150 words will be fine). Make sure you write sentences in both the active and passive voice, but make sure you choose the style of voice to be appropriate for each sentence.

This activity is designed to give you practice in moving interchangeably between the active and passive voice in sentences in the same paragraph, and to make you think more about the circumstances in which it is appropriate to use each style.

Numbers, Units, Mechanics

Lesson and Workshops Introduction:

We have designed pre- and post-class activities (essentially ‘homework’ exercises for students) to complement the in-class lesson/workshop for this specific science writing-skill component (‘Numbers, Units and Mechanics’).

At our institution, we ask students to complete the pre-class activities online as preparation for the in-class lesson/workshop, so as to give them some exposure to the concepts that will be explored in more detail in class.

The in-class activities are designed to improve students’ writing skills and to give them experience in working with partners/small groups on related activities. The in-class lesson/workshop has been designed to encourage an interactive, conversational approach to completing the activities; this should help students to resolve any confusion from the pre-class activities and discuss the importance of the writing skills they are learning to master with their peers and instructors. We provide student worksheets for the in-class activities, as well as TA and Instructor versions of these worksheets, which also include suggested solutions to the activities. We also provide a PowerPoint presentation to accompany the lesson/workshop, and a timing guide with teaching prompts to help instructors encourage students to get the most from these sessions.

Lastly, students are asked to complete the post-class activities online, as a final learning tool and wrap-up to help them solidify the concepts they have learned and gain some more practice in applying these to real writing situations.


A Note on Asking Students to Complete the Pre- and Post-Class Activities Online

We recommend asking students to complete the activities online so as to reduce the likelihood that worksheets of these activities are printed and enter the student domain; over time, these questions will reduce in value if copies are posted online (via blogs etc. by students who have previously completed them).

We have designed these activities to take students approximately 30-60 minutes to complete; they form a small part of the graded continuous assessment for students enrolled in a science communication course at our institution, but could also be deployed as not-for-credit activities.


A Note on the Different Versions

All different versions/banks have been used and refined following student and instructor feedback, and all of them focus on the same important concepts. We cycle different versions across different terms to minimize the potential that students enrolled in our course in concurrent terms will share answers (e.g. we do not use the same version in concurrent terms).

Please note that while the initial choice of which version to use is somewhat arbitrary, it is important to use the same version for the pre-, in- and post-class activities as a whole unit; this is because some of the questions appearing in the in-class lesson/workshop and/or post-class activities build on work completed in the pre-class activities (e.g. do not use pre-class version 1, and post-class version 2 together).

Timing Guide

Numbers, Units, Mechanics: In-Class Activities, Instructor Timing Guide

This guide complements the final worksheets (and PowerPoint version), but please have a look at these so you know when you should display certain slides.


Activity 1 (work alone or together, 10 min)

You should allow a total of 10 minutes for students to complete Activity 1.


Activity 2 (work alone or together, 10 min + 5-10 min for instructor to show/discuss answers, total time elapsed = 25 - 30 min)

You should allow 10 minutes for students to complete Activity 2, before spending a further 5 to 10 minutes flashing the solutions up to Activities 1 and 2 (PowerPoint) so that they can all see what the correct answers were (and some examples of re-written sentences). If you are running short on time, parts of Activity 2 can be skipped; there are four multiple-choice questions, so you could simply ask students to consider the first two if you are in a hurry. They can always complete the others outside of class if they are interested in doing so.


Activity 3 (work together, 10 min, total time elapsed = 35 - 40 min)

You should allow 10 minutes (or however much time you have remaining) for students to complete Activity 3. They must write a short story (100-150 words) comprising all the mechanics in Table 2 on their worksheets. There is a similar activity on the post-class assignment, so it is a good idea for them to have a go at this. As above, if you are running short on time, you can ask students to complete this activity outside of class. However, try to leave enough time so that their partners can critique the parts of their work that they have completed (even if this is just a few sentences of their short story). This will allow them to tackle Activity 4 (a very short assignment to complete outside of class).


Final Slide (~30 sec)

Before students leave, you should show the final slide in the PowerPoint, which shows an example of a short story comprising just two sentences that incorporates all the mechanics required of ‘Partner B’ in Table 2 (Activity 3). Stress that this is just an example, but it might give some inspiration to anyone struggling a little bit, and who wants to complete the activities outside of class.


Activity 4 (take home, ~ 5 min)

You should encourage students to tackle the ‘homework’, which will not take long to complete. It is designed to make them think about editing their work based on peer feedback (from both a mechanics and content-based angle). They are asked to improve the quality of the short story they wrote and received feedback on in Activity 3.

In-Class Activities

Numbers, Units, Mechanics: Student In-Class Activities

In the pre-class activities, you worked through questions to improve your stylistic use of numbers (and abbreviations/acronyms) when writing. In this in-class activity, you will broaden those skills by working on mechanics-based problems, before teaming up with a partner to tackle larger bodies of writing. You can think of writing mechanics as being an extension of the transitional techniques you learned earlier in the term; mechanics are the small parts of your writing that stick everything together to ensure that everything makes sense and that emphasis is placed where you want it to be.

For example, basic punctuation such as the use of a period (.), a comma (,), a semicolon (;), a colon (:), or the capitalization of certain words can give your sentences the meaning they should have when used properly. However, when used incorrectly, they can transform the meaning of the most basic sentence and leave your readers completely baffled as to what you are trying to tell them.

Consider the two versions of a short sentence that is interpreted completely differently due to the presence of a single comma.

1: I am very hungry so we should cook Mom.

2: I am very hungry so we should cook, Mom.


The table below (Table 1) contains some basic mechanics rules that you should apply when writing. This is not extensive, but will help you answer some of the upcoming questions in the in-class activities.


Table 1: Basic mechanics rules to improve your writing, with do (good) and do not (bad) examples.

Mechanics-based component Do Do Not
Comma (,)
  • Use to split up sentences
  • Use where there is a pause
  • Overuse (can make your writing more confusing)
Colon (:)
  • Use before listing items
  • Confuse colons and semicolons
Semicolon (;)
  • Use to join sentences with directly related information
Capitals
  • Proper nouns (Rogers Arena)
  • Names and titles (Dr. Jones)
  • Abbreviations (NASA)
  • Seasons (winter)
  • Compass points unless part of a name (the north of England, but Northwest Territory)
Plurals
  • Use when talking about more than one (rabbits)
  • Unit symbols (kg not kgs)
Apostrophe (')
  • Use when something belongs (Mike's test tube)
  • Confuse with plurals (test tubes, not test tube's)
Hyphen (-)
  • Use to link compound words (25-mile race)


Activity 1 (work alone or together, 10 minutes)

Try to highlight the 12 mechanics-related mistakes in the paragraph of text that appears below, before providing appropriate alternatives.

Writing effective, interesting science, stories is very important if we are to increase the basic scientific knowledge of the General public; doctor Richards believes that the overuse of jargon in science articles is one of the greatest crimes he sees from instructor’s at the university of British Columbia (ubc). He also believes that non-science students are put off by the following things. Wordy sentences, experiments that use techniques they do not understand, data analyses that are hard-to-relate to, and boringly unimaginative titles. These students, when polled by ubc Researchers also said they were unlikely to talk to science minded students for fear of not understanding the topics they would talk about.


Activity 2 (work alone or together, 10 minutes)

In this activity, there are four multiple-choice questions relating to the mechanics of writing. Select the sentence written in the correct style for each question and justify your answer by explaining why the other options are stylistically incorrect. [Hint: There are numbers and units-based errors as well as mechanics-based issues].

1: You are talking about a study you would like to implement to assess student attitudes to science communication.
A: I will first survey 300 science enrolled students about their attitudes.
B: I will first survey three hundred science enrolled students about their attitudes.
C: I will first survey three-hundred science enrolled students about their attitudes.
D: I will first survey 300 science-enrolled students about their attitudes.


2: You are elaborating on your survey methods.
A: I will survey a mixture of 18 and 19-year-old’s.
B: I will survey a mixture of 18 and 19-year-olds.
C: I will survey a mixture of eighteen and nineteen year-old’s.
D: I will survey a mixture of eighteen-nineteen year-olds.


3: You are now explaining how the students will be selected for the survey.
A: I will randomly choose from all 4000 science-registered students at ubc.
B: I will randomly choose from all 4,000 science-registered students at UBC.
C: I will randomly choose from all 4,000 science registered students at UBC.
D: I will randomly choose from all four thousand science-registered students at UBC.


4: You are writing lists of the materials you will need.
A: I will need the following: 300 UBC-approved copies of the survey
B: I will need the following: 300 ubc-approved copies of the survey
C: I will need the following; 300 UBC approved copies of the survey
D: I will need the following – 300 ubc approved copies of the survey

* Please note there will be a brief class discussion about your answers and the reasons behind them for Activities 1 and 2. *


Activity 3: Writing a story (work together, 10 minutes)

Working with a partner, or in a team of three to ensure nobody is alone, take a few minutes to write a short creative story (no more than 100 – 150 words) that comprises the elements that appear in Table 2 below. Do not worry too much about making the story realistic or interesting, but make sure it is accurate in terms of style. You are going to need to incorporate rules that apply to using numbers and abbreviations, as well as general mechanics rules, to write a technically correct piece.

Try to write your story as quickly as possible (less than 10 minutes). Once you have done this, exchange it with your partner and have them read through what you have done and provide any comments regarding the style (and any errors they have spotted).


Table 2: Use this table as a guide for all the components that you must include in your short story. Designate yourself as either Partner ‘A’ or ‘B’ and read the variations for each component to make sure you write a piece that incorporates the elements specific to you. If you are in a group of three, have two Partner As or Bs.

Component Partner 'A' Partner 'B'
Hyphen (-) Use at least once to formulate a compound word
Abbreviation/acronym Correctly use 'National Aeronautics and Space Administration' (NASA) throughout your work Correctly use 'British Columbia Conservation Foundation' (BCCF) throughout your work
Numbers Use at least three numbers in numeric or written form
Units Use metres and kilograms Use mililitres and feet
Capitals Try to capitalize at least two different words
Apostrophe Use at least once
Semicolon Use at least once to join related sentences together


Activity 4 (work alone, optional take home)

Take a few moments to go over the comments you received from your partner and see whether you made any technical mistakes. Once you have reviewed them, take a further few minutes to try to improve the quality of your story. This will get you in the habit of editing a first draft of your work to improve the quality of your writing.

This final exercise is not designed to take too long. Its purpose is simply to point out how important it is to refine both the content and style/mechanics of your writing. You produced a piece of writing in Activity 3 by focusing on the technical aspects and mechanics, rather than on actual content or fluid transitions. However, you will usually find it more effective to focus on drafting your content, spending less time worrying about style and the technical aspects of your writing. But this must be cleaned up later, and the more you write, the more you will avoid making stylistic or mechanics-based errors in your first draft.

Pre-Class Activities

Pre-Class Activities

Numbers, Units and Mechanics: Student Pre-Class Activities

Working with Numbers, Units and Mechanics

As science communicators, you will often have to include highly specific information in your written materials. For example, you might be writing a lab report in which you provide numerical details about the method you used in your experiment, or you might wish to simplify complex sentences with abbreviations to make your text less clunky. There are some rules to follow if you want to do this effectively and achieve your basic goal of enhancing the readability of your work.

In a few cases, you might have to make a judgment call as to which rule should be followed; when working with numbers especially, there are sometimes occasions when rules from different style guides clash. Having said this, if you plan your work with clarity in mind, most sentences can be simplified to follow the important, universally accepted rules. When this is not possible, you should follow the one golden rule: Always be consistent in your style.


Some Basic Rules

  1. Do not start a sentence with a numeral (e.g. write ‘Seventy’, not ‘70’)
  2. Use numerals when writing about counted items, percentages, decimals, magnifications, and official scales (e.g. write: ‘We caught 27 mice, which we estimated to make up 40% of the local population. These data suggest there are 520 mice per km2. We viewed mouse hairs under a microscope at 40x magnification. These hairs measured 3.4 on the Rodent Hair Thickness scale.’)
  3. Spell small numbers (e.g. write: ‘One, two, three’, all the way to nine)
  4. Use numerals for larger numbers (e.g. use ‘10, 11, 12’ etc.)
  5. Make much larger numbers easier to read with commas and periods; if a number has four or more digits, separate them with a comma and do this for every three numbers in the sequence (e.g. 2,546,457). If the number has six or more digits and it is appropriate to be slightly less accurate, simplify it further by using a period and the following format: ‘Approximately 2.5 million.’
  6. Avoid having two distinct numbers next to one another, sometimes by using a mixture of writing and numbers (e.g. write: ‘We tested 15 different 19-year-olds’ or: ‘We tested fifteen 19-year-olds’, not ‘we tested 15 19-year-olds’)
  7. Spell official names and true nouns (e.g. write about the ‘First’ Law of Thermodynamics, not the ‘1st’ Law)


Always remember the golden rule of being consistent in your style. If two rules clash in one sentence, you will have to favour one over the other. Make sure you continue to favour that one over the other throughout your text.


Question 1 (5 marks)

Read the sentences below and pay attention to the numerical-based errors, which have been bolded for you. Copy and paste the sentences and then edit the bolded sections to remove the errors (1 mark each). Hint: Use the basic rules above to help you.


In 2003, Hurricane Juan, one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, made landfall on September 29th with winds of up to one hundred and seventy kilometres per hour. In Halifax harbour, storm surges of one point five to 2 metres were reported. Throughout Nova Scotia, 100,000,000 trees were damaged during the storm, resulting in blocked streets and downed power lines. Overall, Juan caused $200 million in damage and left 300000 Canadians without power for up to 2 weeks.


Question 2 (5 marks)

There are five numerical-based errors in total in the paragraph below, but these have not been highlighted for you this time; try to find and edit them appropriately (1 mark each). Bold the changes you make so it is easy to see what you changed. Hint: Use the basic rules above to help you. Do not make more than five changes or you will be penalized!


The 1929 Grand Banks earthquake is the 6th largest earthquake to have occurred in Canada or in surrounding Canadian waters. The epicentre of the earthquake was located on the edge of the Grand Banks, a group of underwater plateaus, 265 kilometres south of Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula. The 7.2 magnitude earthquake caused an underwater landslide, resulting in the formation of a tsunami. 3 successive waves hit within 30 minutes of each other, traveling at approximately 40 kilometres per hour, 71.4% slower than the tsunami’s initial speed. The tsunami increased sea level approximately three to 7 metres above normal in most areas, with 1 area reaching 27 metres above normal. Communities along the Burin Peninsula were among the most affected by the tsunami as twenty-eight individuals were killed and hundreds more were left homeless.


Questions 3, 4, and 5 (2 marks each, 6 marks total)

Each of the following three questions feature sentences that are written awkwardly or in which there are competing style rules in play. For each sentence, you are told which rule you should follow to improve the clarity and will need to make two changes.

As you did in the earlier questions, copy and paste the sentences and edit the erroneous parts based on the rule you have been told to follow (2 marks for each question). Make sure you bold your changes.


To answer Q3, follow the rule that states you should not write two distinct numbers next to each other. (Hint: In this case, it is acceptable to rearrange the sentence to address this issue.)

Q3: Recently, a total of 151 individuals participated in two separate studies that assessed behaviours displayed while driving a car during a crash or near-crash incident. The participants in the novice-driver study consisted of 42 16-year-olds while participants in the experienced-driver study consisted of 109 18 – 72-year-olds.


To answer Q4, follow the rule of consistency to use numbers for counts of one thing (crashes and near-crashes) and words for counts of another (months).

Q4: In the experienced-driver study, 42 crashes and 476 near-crashes were recorded over nine months, whereas participants in the novice-driver study had 31 crashes and one hundred and thirty six near-crashes over 18 months.


To answer Q5, follow the rule of consistency to use numbers for counts of one thing (months) and words for comparisons of another (probability).

Q5: Data analysis showed that the experienced drivers with an average of 18 months of driving experience were more than two times as likely to crash if they were dialling a cell phone. Novice drivers who started the study with less than nine months of experience were 8 times more likely to be in a crash or near-crash while dialling a cell phone.


Using Abbreviations (and Acronyms)

Just as with numbers, there are multiple rules to learn about using abbreviations correctly. The good news is that these rules tend to be a little less ambiguous in terms of their application. There will still be occasions when you need to make a judgment call, but, as before, remember that the goals of consistency and clarity should guide you.

Acronyms work similarly to abbreviations (in a sense, they are a type of abbreviation). Acronyms are formed by using the first letters of each word in a phrase or compound word, whereas we usually think of abbreviations as shortened versions of a word or phrase. So, CIA is an acronym (for ‘Central Intelligence Agency), whereas ‘abbrev’ would be an abbreviation of ‘abbreviation’.


Some Basic Rules

With clarity in mind, a general rule of thumb is that you should abbreviate (make shorter) a particularly wordy phrase or compound word that will be used more than once in a body of text. For example, if you plan to mention the University of British Columbia more than once, it would be easier to digest as a reader if you use the acronym ‘UBC’. For abbreviations or acronyms that might not be widely known by members of the target audience, use them only after you have written the full form first. For example: ‘The University of Washington (UW) is one of the best universities in Washington State. Over 40,000 students attend the Seattle campus of UW.’


A few more general rules include:

  1. Use a period, and shorten official titles before and after a person’s name (e.g. ‘Dr. Jones, Ph.D.’). Only use periods when a title has been shortened though.
  2. Abbreviate common units of measurement (e.g. ‘g’ for grams, ‘kg’ for kilograms, ‘lb’ for pounds, ‘ml’ for millilitres, ‘ft’ for feet, ‘g’ for micrograms etc.)
  3. Abbreviate common latin terms (e.g. write ‘e.g.’ and ‘etc.’, not ‘exempli gratia’ and ‘et cetera’) but in scientific writing you should write the full name for a species the first time you write it before subsequently abbreviating the genus part of the name (e.g. ‘E. coli’ is only acceptable after you have told your audience that the ‘E’ stands for ‘Escherichia’).
  4. Abbreviate very common words or phrases. Deciding whether something is sufficiently common can result in a judgment call, but a good rule of thumb is to ask whether someone would know what you mean if they have no specialist knowledge of your subject (e.g. it would be fine to say ‘TV’ rather than ‘television’, but it would not be fine to say ‘PCR’ instead of ‘polymerase chain reaction’ unless you were communicating with biochemists).
  5. Abbreviate very famous organizations or institutions, as well as compound-worded countries (e.g. ‘BBC’, ‘CNN’, ‘CIA’, ‘NATO’, ‘USA’, ‘UK’). Whether or not the acronym uses a period to separate letters is usually up to you, but be consistent in your style.
  6. Do not abbreviate words at the beginning of a sentence unless they are common acronyms or abbreviations.
  7. Do not abbreviate days or months in formal writing (e.g. use ‘Tuesday’ instead of ‘Tues’, and ‘February’ instead of ‘Feb’.
  8. Do not abbreviate words as you might in text messaging style (e.g. do not write ‘lol’, ‘nite’, ‘omg’ etc.)


Questions 6, 7, and 8 (1 mark each, 3 marks total)

The following multiple-choice questions each feature four sentences (answers), of which only one is written in the correct style for acronyms and abbreviations. Try to select the correct one.


Question 6: You are discussing new potential targets for drug development.

A: A compound that blocks Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) synthesis could be the new target for potential drug development.
B: A compound that could be the new target for potential drug development blocks Human Immunodeficiency Virus deoxyribonucleic acid synthesis.
C: A compound that blocks the DNA synthesis of HIV could be the new target for potential drug development against the virus.
D: HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus) DNA synthesis is blocked by a compound that could be the new target for potential drug development.


Question 7: You are writing about the volunteer program you participated in.

A: The SMaRT (Scientific Methods and Research Training) outreach program allows undergrad volunteers to lead elementary school students through interactive science experiments that supplement the grade’s curriculum.
B: The Scientific Methods and Research Training (SMaRT) outreach program allows undergrad volunteers to lead elementary school students through interactive science experiments that supplement the grade’s curriculum.
C: The Scientific Methods and Research Training outreach program allows undergrad volunteers to lead elementary school students through interactive science experiments that supplement the grade’s curriculum.
D: The SMaRT outreach program allows undergrad volunteers to lead elementary school students through interactive science experiments that supplement the grade’s curriculum.


Question 8: You are now talking about a well-known model organism.

A: Caenorhabdhitis elegans has been used extensively as a model organism because it is one of the simplest organisms with a nervous system. The C. elegans genome was the first multicellular organism to be completely sequenced.
B: Caenorhabdhitis elegans has been used extensively as a model organism because it is one of the simplest organisms with a nervous system. C. elegans was the first multicellular organism genome to be completely sequenced.
C: The nematode Caenorhabdhitis elegans has been used extensively as a model organism because it is one of the simplest organisms with a nervous system. C. elegans was the first multicellular organism genome to be completely sequenced.
D: The nematode Caenorhabdhitis elegans has been used extensively as a model organism because it is one of the simplest organisms with a nervous system. The C. elegans genome was the first multicellular organism to be completely sequenced.


Questions 9, 10, and 11 (2 marks each, 6 marks total)

Consider the three sentences below (one for each question). Each one features one abbreviation or acronym-based error.

Copy and paste each sentence and then bold the error in each one (1 mark). Then copy and paste the sentence again but re-write it appropriately to remove the error (1 mark). Make sure you bold your changes. Hint: Use the basic rules above to help you.


Q9: Basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) are the world’s second largest living fish and can be found in all the world’s temperate oceans. These fish are fully protected in many countries, including the U.K., Malta, New Zealand, and USA, as populations have been rapidly declining.


Q10: On average, basking sharks grow to be 6 to 8 mts (20 – 26 ft) in length.


Q11: These fish are rarely spotted on the west coast; however, in August 2013, a shark was photographed off the west coast of Vancouver Island by researcher Wendy Szaniszlo. Ms. Szaniszlo did not know what species of shark she had photographed until shark expert Dr. Jackie King, PhD., identified it as a basking shark.


Numbers, Units and Mechanics: Student Pre-Class Activities

Working with Numbers

As science communicators, you will often have to include highly specific information in your written materials. For example, you might be writing a lab report in which you will provide numerical details about the method you used in your experiment, or you might wish to simplify complex sentences with abbreviations to make your text less clunky. There are some rules to follow if you want to do this effectively and achieve your basic goal of enhancing the readability of your work.

In a few cases, you might have to make a judgment call as to which rule should be followed; when working with numbers especially, there are sometimes occasions when rules from different style guides clash. Having said this, if you plan your work with clarity in mind, most sentences can be simplified to follow the important, universally accepted rules. When this is not possible, you should follow the one golden rule: Always be consistent in your style.


Some Basic Rules

  1. Do not start a sentence with a numeral (e.g. write ‘Seventy’, not ‘70’)
  2. Use numerals when writing about counted items, percentages, decimals, magnifications, and official scales (e.g. write: ‘We caught 27 mice, which we estimated to make up 40% of the local population. These data suggest there are 520 mice per km2. We viewed mouse hairs under a microscope at 40x magnification. These hairs measured 3.4 on the Rodent Hair Thickness scale.’)
  3. Spell small numbers (e.g. write: ‘One, two, three’, all the way to nine)
  4. Use numerals for larger numbers (e.g. use ‘10, 11, 12’ etc.)
  5. Make much larger numbers easier to read with commas and periods; if a number has four or more digits, separate them with a comma and do this for every three numbers in the sequence (e.g. 2,546,457). If the number has six or more digits and it is appropriate to be slightly less accurate, simplify it further by using a period and the following format: ‘Approximately 2.5 million.’
  6. Avoid having two distinct numbers next to one another, sometimes by using a mixture of writing and numbers (e.g. write: ‘We tested 15 different 19-year-olds’ or: ‘We tested fifteen 19-year-olds’, not ‘we tested 15 19-year-olds’)
  7. Spell official names and true nouns (e.g. write about the ‘First’ Law of Thermodynamics, not the ‘1st’ Law)


Always remember the golden rule of being consistent in your style. If two rules clash in one sentence, you will have to favour one over the other. Make sure you continue to favour that one over the other throughout your text.


Question 1 (5 marks)

Read the sentences below and pay attention to the five numerical-based errors, which have been bolded for you. Copy and paste the sentences and then edit the bolded sections to remove the errors (1 mark each). Hint: Use the basic rules above to help you.


In the year 526 AD, the 3rd most deadly earthquake of all time struck Antioch and killed approximately 250000 people. 20,000 fewer people were killed in 2004 by a tsunami caused by a quake in the Indian Ocean. Scientists believe an earthquake in the 1960s was the worst ever in terms of its magnitude; it measured nine point five on the Richter scale. After a quake occurs, the plates of the earth’s crust that are involved can continue to ‘fault’ for hours afterwards. Time lag between faults can range from 30 seconds to ten minutes, with major faulting able to cause the planet to vibrate by as much as 1 cm.


Question 2 (5 marks)

There are five numerical-based errors in total in the paragraphs below, but they have not been highlighted for you this time; try to find and edit them appropriately (1 mark each). Bold the changes you make so it is easy to see what you changed. Hint: Use the basic rules above to help you. Do not make more than five changes or you will be penalized!


An independent scientific review panel recently concluded that the death of over one hundred whales, which became stranded on a beach, was caused by sonar testing in the ocean. Many beach strandings in the past 30 years have been blamed on sonar tests but a lack of complete evidence meant the link was indefinite. Scientists have used data from beached whales to estimate population sizes of certain species around the world. Although this has been 1 small benefit to come from a distressing spectacle, it was very sad that spade-toothed beaked whales had to die for scientists to get their first ever close-up look at them. Three partial skeletons in over one hundred and forty years had been all there was to go on, before two individuals beached in New Zealand in 2010. Measuring approximately five metres in length, these whales were initially mistaken for a different, more common species. 13 species only live off the coast of New Zealand, but it took DNA analysis to tell them apart from Gray’s beaked whales. Together, these two species make up fourteen % of the Mesoplodont whales, which are the most poorly known group of mammals alive.


Questions 3, 4 and 5 (2 marks each, 6 marks total)

Each of the following three questions feature sentences that are written awkwardly or in which there are competing style rules in play. For each sentence, you are told which rule you should follow to improve the clarity and will need to make two changes.

As you did in the earlier questions, copy and paste the sentences and edit the erroneous parts based on the rule you have been told to follow (2 marks for each question). Make sure you bold your changes.


Question 3: There were 1,156 tornadoes in the United States in 2009. Of these, there were 20 3-star magnitude twisters and 82 2-star magnitude twisters.

To answer Question 3, follow the rule that states you should not write two distinct numbers next to each other (but leave the numbers attached to the star magnitude scale, as this is an official scale).


Question 4: In the first month, six out of 10 reported tornadoes were confirmed whereas in the 12th month 48 out of 52 reported tornadoes were confirmed.

To answer Question 4, follow the rule of consistency to use numbers for counts of one thing (tornadoes) and words for counts of another (months).


Question 5: There was an approximate seven-fold increase in the number of tornadoes reported between the ninth and 10th months of 2009, but a 16-fold decrease between the 10th and 11th months.

To answer Question 5, follow the rule of consistency to use numbers for counts of one thing (months) and words for comparisons of another (magnitudes).


Using abbreviations (and acronyms)

Just as with numbers, there are multiple rules to learn about using abbreviations correctly. The good news is that these rules tend to be a little less ambiguous in terms of their application. There will still be occasions when you need to make a judgment call, but, as before, remember that the goals of consistency and clarity should guide you.

Acronyms work similarly to abbreviations (in a sense, they are a type of abbreviation). Acronyms are formed by using the first letters of each word in a phrase or compound word, whereas we usually think of abbreviations as shortened versions of a word or phrase. So, CIA is an acronym (for ‘Central Intelligence Agency), whereas ‘abbrev’ would be an abbreviation of ‘abbreviation’.


Some Basic Rules

With clarity in mind, a general rule of thumb is that you should abbreviate (make shorter) a particularly wordy phrase or compound word that will be used more than once in a body of text. For example, if you plan to mention the University of British Columbia more than once, it would be easier to digest as a reader if you use the acronym ‘UBC’. For abbreviations or acronyms that might not be widely known by members of the target audience, use them only after you have written the full form first. For example: The University of Washington (UW) is one of the best universities in Washington State. Over 40,000 students attend the Seattle campus of UW.


A few more general rules include:

  1. Use a period, and shorten official titles before and after a person’s name (e.g. ‘Dr. Jones, Ph.D.’). Only use periods when a title has been shortened though.
  2. Abbreviate common units of measurement (e.g. ‘g’ for grams, ‘kg’ for kilograms, ‘lb’ for pounds, ‘ml’ for millilitres, ‘ft’ for feet, ‘g’ for micrograms etc.)
  3. Abbreviate common latin terms (e.g. write ‘e.g.’ and ‘etc.’, not ‘exempli gratia’ and ‘et cetera’) but in scientific writing you should write the full name for a species the first time you write it before subsequently abbreviating the genus part of the name (e.g. ‘E. coli’ is only acceptable after you have told your audience that the ‘E’ stands for ‘Escherichia’).
  4. Abbreviate very common words or phrases. Deciding whether something is sufficiently common can result in a judgment call, but a good rule of thumb is to ask whether someone would know what you mean if they have no specialist knowledge of your subject (e.g. it would be fine to say ‘TV’ rather than ‘television’, but it would not be fine to say ‘PCR’ instead of ‘polymerase chain reaction’ unless you were communicating with biochemists only).
  5. Abbreviate very famous organizations or institutions, as well as compound-worded countries (e.g. ‘BBC’, ‘CNN’, ‘CIA’, ‘NATO’, ‘USA’, ‘UK’). Whether or not the acronym uses a period to separate letters is usually up to you, but be consistent in your style.
  6. Do not abbreviate words at the beginning of a sentence unless they are common acronyms or abbreviations.
  7. Do not abbreviate days or months in formal writing (e.g. use ‘Tuesday’ instead of ‘Tues’, and ‘February’ instead of ‘Feb’.
  8. Do not abbreviate words as you might in text messaging style (e.g. do not write ‘lol’, ‘nite’, ‘omg’ etc.)


Questions 6, 7, and 8 (1 mark each, 3 marks total)

The following multiple-choice questions each feature four sentences (answers), of which only one is written in the correct style for acronyms and abbreviations. Try to select the correct one.


Question 6: You are writing the opening lines of an essay about your favourite charity.

A: Supporters of the National Center for Science Education campaign to have evolution and climate change taught extensively in schools.
B: Supporters of NCSE campaign to have evolution and climate change taught extensively in schools.
C: Supporters of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) campaign to have evolution and climate change taught extensively in schools.
D: Supporters of NCSE (National Center for Science Education) campaign to have evolution and climate change taught extensively in schools.


Question 7: You are now talking about a bird that was part of a famous evolutionary case study.

A: The vegetarian finch (Platyspiza crassirostris) was one of the birds initially studied by Charles Darwin on the Galapagos Islands. P. crassirostris individuals primarily eat plants but do occasionally eat caterpillars.
B: The vegetarian finch (Platyspiza crassirostris) was one of the birds initially studied by Charles Darwin on the Galapagos Islands. Platyspiza crassirostris individuals primarily eat plants but do occasionally eat caterpillars.
C: Platyspiza crassirostris was one of the birds initially studied by Charles Darwin on the Galapagos Islands. Vegetarian finch (Platyspiza crassirostris) individuals primarily eat plants but do occasionally eat caterpillars.
D: Platyspiza crassirostris was one of the birds initially studied by Charles Darwin on the Galapagos Islands. Vegetarian finch (P. crassirostris) individuals primarily eat plants but do occasionally eat caterpillars.


Question 8: Now you are discussing how technology has aided evolutionary studies.

A: DNA studies have recently shown that ‘Darwin’s finches’ are actually all tanagers.
B: DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) studies have recently shown that ‘Darwin’s finches’ are actually all tanagers.
C: Deoxyribo Nucleic Acid (DNA) studies have recently shown that ‘Darwin’s finches’ are actually all tanagers.
D: Deoxyribonucleic acid studies have recently shown that ‘Darwin’s finches’ are actually all tanagers.


Questions 9, 10, and 11 (2 marks each, 6 marks total)

Consider the three sentences below (one for each question). Each one features one abbreviation or acronym-based error.

Copy and paste each sentence and then bold the error in each one (1 mark). Then copy and paste the sentence again but re-write it appropriately (1 mark). Make sure you bold your changes. Hint: Use the basic rules above to help you.


Question 9: Professor Reilly studies ‘ring species’ such as herring gulls (Larus spp.). Her conservation-conscious colleague, Thomas Deane, MSc, finds it fascinating how only gulls from the more closely linked populations around the globe can interbreed.


Question 10: Herring gulls that comprise the populations making up this ring can be seen along the coasts of UK, USA and CAN throughout the year.


Question 11: These gulls can measure up to 26 inches (66 cm) long and typically weigh between 1.5 and 3.5 lb.


Numbers, Unit and Mechanics: Student Pre-Class Activities

Working with Numbers

As science communicators, you will often have to include highly specific information in your written materials. For example, you might be writing a lab report in which you will provide numerical details about the method you used in your experiment, or you might wish to simplify complex sentences with abbreviations to make your text less clunky. There are some rules to follow if you want to do this effectively and achieve your basic goal of enhancing the readability of your work.

In a few cases, you might have to make a judgment call as to which rule should be followed; when working with numbers especially, there are sometimes occasions when rules from different style guides clash. Having said this, if you plan your work with clarity in mind, most sentences can be simplified to follow the important, universally accepted rules. When this is not possible, you should follow the one golden rule: Always be consistent in your style.


Some Basic Rules

  1. Do not start a sentence with a numeral (e.g. write ‘Seventy’, not ‘70’)
  2. Use numerals when writing about counted items, percentages, decimals, magnifications, and official scales (e.g. write: ‘We caught 27 mice, which we estimated to make up 40% of the local population. These data suggest there are 1.5 mice per km2. We viewed mouse hairs under a microscope at 40x magnification. These hairs measured 3.4 on the Rodent Hair Thickness scale.’)
  3. Spell small numbers (e.g. write: ‘One, two, three’, all the way to nine)
  4. Use numerals for larger numbers (e.g. use ‘10, 11, 12’ etc.)
  5. Make much larger numbers easier to read with commas and periods; if a number has four or more digits, separate them with a comma and do this for every three numbers in the sequence (e.g. 2,546,457). If the number has six or more digits and it is appropriate to be slightly less accurate, simplify it further by using a period and the following format: ‘Approximately 2.5 million.’
  6. Avoid having two distinct numbers next to one another, sometimes by using a mixture of writing and numbers (e.g. write: ‘We tested 15 different 19-year-olds’ or: ‘We tested fifteen 19-year-olds’, not ‘we tested 15 19-year-olds’)
  7. Spell official names and true nouns (e.g. write about the ‘First’ Law of Thermodynamics, not the ‘1st’ Law)


Always remember the golden rule of being consistent in your style. If two rules clash in one sentence, you will have to favour one over the other. Make sure you continue to favour that one over the other throughout your text.


Questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 (2 marks each, 14 marks total)

Listed below are seven (not 7) sentences (one for each question). Each sentence contains one numerical-based error.

Copy and paste each sentence and then bold the error in each one (1 mark). Then copy and paste the sentence again but re-write it appropriately (1 mark). Hint: Use the basic rules above to help you. Bold the edits in your re-written sentences.


Question 1: In 1831 Charles Darwin set out on a voyage of discovery with another 72 crewmembers aboard the HMS Beagle; the trip would last 1737 days and would ultimately revolutionize the way we think about the adaptation and evolution of species.


Question 2: While in the city of Valdivia, Chile, a major earthquake struck. It was estimated to measure a devastating eight point five on the Richter scale, yet experts believe there have been at least 14 deadlier quakes in human history.


Question 3: In the year 526, the 3rd most deadly quake of all time struck Antioch and killed approximately 250,000 people.


Question 4: 230,000 people were killed in 2004 by the tsunami that resulted from a quake in the Indian Ocean. Thirty-metre waves crushed everything in their path.


Question 5: The quake had the longest time lag between faulting (this was between 8.3 and ten minutes). This caused the planet to vibrate by as much as 1 cm.


Question 6: However, in terms of magnitude, the Great Chilean Earthquake that occurred in Valdivia in the nineteen sixties was the worst ever. It measured 9.5 on the Richter scale, which is set to a logarithmic scale.


Question 7: 44% of 394 experts polled in a recent study believe it is impossible for a quake to measure more than 9.7 on the Richter scale.


Questions 8, 9 and 10 (4 marks each, 12 marks total)

Each of the following three questions feature sentences that are written awkwardly or in which there are competing style rules in play. For each sentence, you are told which rule you should follow to improve the clarity and will need to make two changes.

As you did in the earlier questions, copy and paste the sentences and bold the parts that must be changed (2 marks for each question). Then copy and paste the sentences again before re-writing them (and bolding the edits) based on the rule you have been told to follow (2 marks for each question).


Question 8: There were 1,156 tornadoes in the United States in 2009. Of these, there were 20 3-star magnitude twisters and 82 2-star magnitude twisters.

Follow the rule that states you should not write two distinct numbers next to each other, but leave the numbers attached to the star magnitude scale, as this is an official scale.


Question 9: In the first month, six out of 10 reported tornadoes were confirmed whereas in the 12th month 48 out of 52 reported tornadoes were confirmed.

Follow the rule of consistency to use numbers for counts of one thing (tornadoes) and words for counts of another (months).


Question 10: There was an approximate seven-fold increase in the number of tornadoes reported between the ninth and 10th months of 2009, but a 16-fold decrease between the 10th and 11th month.

Follow the rule of consistency to use numbers for counts of one thing (months) and words for comparisons of magnitudes.


Using Abbreviations (and Acronyms)

Just as with numbers, there are multiple rules to learn about using abbreviations correctly. The good news is that these rules tend to be a little less ambiguous in terms of their application. There will still be occasions when you need to make a judgment call, but, as before, remember that the goals of consistency and clarity should guide you.

Acronyms work similarly to abbreviations (in a sense, they are a type of abbreviation). Acronyms are formed by using the first letters of each word in a phrase or compound word, whereas we usually think of abbreviations as shortened versions of a word or phrase. So, CIA is an acronym (for ‘Central Intelligence Agency), whereas ‘abbrev’ would be an abbreviation of ‘abbreviation’.


Some Basic Rules

With clarity in mind, a general rule of thumb is that you should abbreviate (make shorter) a particularly wordy phrase or compound word that will be used more than once in a body of text. For example, if you plan to mention the University of British Columbia more than once, it would be easier to digest as a reader if you use the acronym ‘UBC’. For abbreviations or acronyms that might not be widely known by members of the target audience, use them only after you have written the full form first. For example: The University of Washington (UW) is one of the best universities in Washington State. Over 40,000 students attend the Seattle campus of UW.


A few more general rules include:

  1. Use a period, and shorten official titles before and after a person’s name (e.g. ‘Dr. Jones, Ph.D.’). Only use periods when a title has been shortened though.
  2. Abbreviate common units of measurement (e.g. ‘g’ for grams, ‘kg’ for kilograms, ‘lb’ for pounds, ‘ml’ for millilitres, ‘ft’ for feet, ‘g’ for micrograms etc.)
  3. Abbreviate common latin terms (e.g. write ‘e.g.’ and ‘etc.’, not ‘exempli gratia’ and ‘et cetera’) but in scientific writing you should write the full name for a species the first time you write it before subsequently abbreviating the genus part of the name (e.g. ‘E. coli’ is only acceptable after you have told your audience that the ‘E’ stands for ‘Escherichia’).
  4. Abbreviate very common words or phrases. Deciding whether something is sufficiently common can result in a judgment call, but a good rule of thumb is to ask whether someone would know what you mean if they have no specialist knowledge of your subject (e.g. it would be fine to say ‘TV’ rather than ‘television’, but it would not be fine to say ‘PCR’ instead of ‘polymerase chain reaction’ unless you were communicating with biochemists only).
  5. Abbreviate very famous organizations or institutions, as well as compound-worded countries (e.g. ‘BBC’, ‘CNN’, ‘CIA’, ‘NATO’, ‘USA’, ‘UK’). Whether or not the acronym uses a period to separate letters is usually up to you, but be consistent in your style.
  6. Do not abbreviate words at the beginning of a sentence unless they are common acronyms or abbreviations.
  7. Do not abbreviate days or months in formal writing (e.g. use ‘Tuesday’ instead of ‘Tues’, and ‘February’ instead of ‘Feb’.
  8. Do not abbreviate words as you might in text messaging style (e.g. do not write ‘lol’, ‘nite’, ‘omg’ etc.)


Questions 11, 12, 13 and 14 (1 mark each, 4 marks total)

The following multiple-choice questions each feature four sentences (answers), of which only one is written in the correct style for acronyms and abbreviations. Try to select the correct one.


Question 11: You are writing the opening lines of an essay about your favourite charity.

A: Supporters of the Marine Life Sanctuaries Society of BC continue to discourage fishermen from taking rockfish from conservation areas
B: Supporters of MLSS continue to discourage fishermen from taking rockfish from conservation areas
C: Marine Life Sanctuaries Society of BC (MLSS) supporters continue to discourage fishermen from taking rockfish from conservation areas
D: Supporters of MLSS (Marine Life Sanctuaries Society of BC) continue to discourage fishermen from taking rockfish from conservation areas


Question 12: You are now providing information about a very rare species.

A: Black rockfish (Sebastes melanops) eat small fish. S. melanops individuals shoal together and are very aggressive feeders. B: Black rockfish (Sebastes melanops) eat small fish. Sebastes melanops individuals shoal together and are very aggressive feeders. C: Black rockfish (S. melanops) eat small fish. S. melanops individuals shoal together and are very aggressive feeders. D: Sebastes melanops eat small fish, shoal together, and are very aggressive feeders.


Question 13: You are beginning to talk about the status of this species.

A: According to Dr Siegel, black rockfish were very common in Puget Sound 50 years ago but divers rarely report seeing them now.
B: According to Dr. Siegel, black rockfish were very common in Puget Sound 50 years ago but divers rarely report seeing them now.
C: According to Doctor Siegel, black rockfish were very common in Puget Sound 50 years ago but divers rarely report seeing them now.
D: According to Doctor. Siegel, black rockfish were very common in Puget Sound 50 years ago but divers rarely report seeing them now.


Question 14: You are discussing the breeding structure of black rockfish populations.

A: SCUBA divers attached tracking devices to individuals and these showed that fish disperse wide distances to mate.
B: SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) divers attached tracking devices to individuals and these showed that fish disperse wide distances to mate.
C: Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) divers attached tracking devices to individuals and these showed that fish disperse wide distances to mate.
D: Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus divers attached tracking devices to individuals and these showed that fish disperse wide distances to mate.


Questions 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 (2 marks each, 10 marks total)

Consider the five sentences below (one for each question). Each one features one abbreviation or acronym-based error.

Copy and paste each sentence and then bold the error in each one (1 mark). Then copy and paste the sentence again but re-write it appropriately (bolding your edits, 1 mark). Hint: Use the basic rules above to help you.


Question 15: Mr. Thompson says killer whales (Orcinus orca) are his favourite animals, but his conservation-conscious daughter, Miss. Thompson, prefers gray whales (Eschrictius robustus).


Question 16: According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), one distinct population of gray whales is critically endangered. E. robustus individuals in this population only number around 100 at present.


Question 17: Eschrictius robustus individuals are most likely to be seen along the west coast of USA and CAN as they migrate south between October and December.


Question 18: Although many taxonomists believe that these whales are the only surviving members of their evolutionary family, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) studies suggest humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are more closely related to them than they are to minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), which are currently classified in the same family.


Question 19: The International Whaling Commission (the IWC) recently estimated there to be 1 million minke whales in different populations around the world; however, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) believe some populations are at risk.

Post-Class Activities

Post-Class Activities

Number, Units, and Mechanics: Student Post-Class Activities

Following the pre and in-class activities that focused on the correct use of numbers, units, abbreviations and mechanics in writing, you should be feeling more confident about getting your style right with regard to these important components.

As ever, your primary goal when communicating science to any audience should be to tell an interesting story in a way that is easily understandable. These post-class activities have been designed to give you specific practice in capitalizing words correctly, working more with units, and using commas and hyphens appropriately.


Capitalization

It can be especially hard to learn when you should (and should not) capitalize certain words in your writing. The following list includes a few of the most important, common rules that you should always try to apply:


1: Capitalize the first word of a new sentence, or quote, but not if it follows a semicolon or colon. Do not capitalize the first word in the second part of an open/divided quote (e.g. Learning cellular processes is difficult; there are so many names and theories involved).
2: Capitalize people’s names, but titles only when they come before those names (e.g. Professor Michelle Richards or Michelle Richards is a professor).
3: Capitalize points of the compass only when referring to specific geographic places (e.g. Northwest Territory, and northern Canada).
4: Capitalize proper nouns and place names, but not seasons (e.g. Vancouver General Hospital is situated just off Broadway in Vancouver).
5: Capitalize the titles of publications, in print, online, and in video (e.g. New Scientist).
6: Capitalize the names of specific academic courses but do not capitalize non-specific topics or subjects (I really enjoy history).


Question 1 (5 marks)

There is one capitalization-based error in each of the five sentences below. Try to find the error in each sentence before re-writing it correctly. Copy and paste the sentences and bold the five changes you have made (1 mark for each correct change).

A) Conducting phone surveys during the Summer months, such as July and August, is not ideal as many Canadians go on vacations during this time.
B) Occasionally, solar flares occur that are large enough for the northern lights, or aurora borealis, to be seen further South than usual in locations such as Vancouver and Toronto.
C) A recent paper in nature describes how researchers modified a standard technique in order to capture better images of protein structures.
D) Most UBC science students must take 100-level biology courses, such as biology 112 and 121.
E) A current UBC Professor is a member of the Canadian Olympic Committee and will oversee Canadian athletes in Sochi as the Chief Medical Officer.


Using Plurals and Punctuation

Another difficult combination of mechanics rules to learn incorporates the mixing of rules dictating capitalization, pluralization, and the basic punctuation around numbers and units that you commonly use in scientific communication. For example:


1: You should include a space between a number and unit (20 m), but not if the unit is a degree (180°) or a percentage (55%).
2: You should not pluralize units (20 kg, not 20 kgs) unless you also write out the number (eight kilograms).
3: You should not capitalize unit names (centimetres, not Centimetres) unless you are talking about Celsius or Fahrenheit (because these two are named after scientists).


As ever, remember that consistency is everything; this is why it is acceptable to use numbers when using units, but why you should instead write them when writing out the units in full (5 m or five metres).


Question 2 (5 marks)

There are five numbers and/or mechanics-related errors in the following paragraph. Try to find the errors and re-write them correctly. Do this by copying and pasting the paragraph before bolding the changes that you have made (1 mark for each correct change).

Last summer, I took measurements of two lime trees. One was treated with fertilizer and one was not. At the end of the summer, the fertilized lime tree was 13.6 % taller than the unfertilized tree at three ft tall. Limes from the fertilized tree weighed 45 g, on average, which is almost twice as much as the unfertilized limes. Once picked, the fruit was stored at room temperature, about 21.3 ˚ Celsius. Fertilized limes held about 37 mls of juice while unfertilized limes contained only 20 milliliters.


Using Commas

Commas are used to split up sentences and make a reader pause when you want them to. As such, they put emphasis on your writing where you want it to be. If you don’t use commas often enough, this emphasis will be lost and your writing will be less easy to interpret. However, overusing commas has the same result. In all cases, read your sentences thoroughly and ask yourself whether you want your reader to pause where the commas are. If not, you might not need them.


Question 3 (5 marks)

Read the paragraph below, which comprises five sentences. Your task is to decide whether each of these sentences requires a comma or not. Copy and paste the paragraph and add in commas where you think they belong (1 mark for each sentence). Hint: Not all sentences require a comma, and no sentences require more than one. You will gain 1 mark for each sentence in which you place a comma correctly, and 1 mark for omitting a comma from a sentence that does not require one.

Some people may think that synthetic pesticides are the main pesticides found in food. Naturally occurring pesticides are also present in the foods we eat however. For example a wide variety of common fruits and vegetables produce natural pesticides to protect themselves against different fungi and insects. Natural pesticide concentrations may increase when plants are stressed or in danger. Concentrations of natural pesticides occurring in fruits and vegetables are generally low enough to be safe for human consumption yet these concentrations can be up to 10,000 times higher than those of their synthetic counterparts.


Using Hyphens

Hyphens are used to make compound words, and can be harder to master than commas. The simple rule you should follow, when deciding whether or not to hyphenate one or more words, is to read the whole sentence in which these words are present and ask yourself whether the message is the same with or without the hyphens. If it is, then you don’t need them.

For example, ‘I was deeply concerned about my lack of revision ahead of the midterm,’ would be interpreted the same as ‘I was deeply-concerned about my lack of revision ahead of the midterm,’ which means the first version is correct (you should not use a hyphen here). However, ‘I volunteered with four year olds,’ or ‘I volunteered with four year-olds,’ is not the same as ‘I volunteered with four-year-olds.’ Depending on how old the children were, you should either use the second or third versions here (the first one is always wrong, because the children are either one or four years old).

For more help with hyphenation, please view the following short Grammar Squirrel video [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K__1C4Hq3aU here]


Question 4 (5 marks)

Read the paragraph below. Your task is to place five hyphens throughout the paragraph where they are needed (1 mark for each correctly placed hyphen). Hint: There are five hyphens (in total) that should be added; you might need to link two or more words together with the hyphens. If you place more than five hyphens, you will be penalized!

Recently, 10 year old Nathan Gray of Nova Scotia discovered a supernova (a massive explosion that occurs during the final evolution of a star) in the very distant galaxy called PGC 61330. Likely the youngest person to discover a supernova, Gray was examining photos taken by Halifax based astronomer David Lane, of St. Mary’s University, when he made the discovery. His discovery comes at the end of a six month long endeavour to try to beat his sister’s record as she also discovered a supernova when she was 10. Luckily for Gray, his adventurous attitude and determination allowed him to beat his sister, but only by a mere 33 days.


Question 5 (5 marks): Putting it all together

To answer the following question (scenario), write just one sentence that incorporates all the information included in Table 1 (below). Remember to follow all style-based rules and try to write the sentences in an engaging, simple way.

Table 1: Write one sentence that incorporates all the elements in the Q5 scenario. Hint: every element has been written in words in the table, but you might need to change the styles appropriately in your sentences/stories. Don’t worry too much about the content of your sentence; you can make it up as long as your sentence reads well and shows your command of Unit 3 skills.

Question (Scenario) Organization Focus of sentence Measurement (size and units) Mechanics to include
Q5 British Antarctic Survey (1 mark) Hint: this is a research centre A reported concern that the rapid thinning of Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica is irreversible (1 mark) Sea level could rise by up to ten millimetres over the next twenty years (1 mark) At least one hyphen and one comma (1 mark each, 2 marks total)


Numbers, Units and Mechanics: Student Post-Class Activities

Following the pre and in-class activities that focused on the correct use of numbers, units, abbreviations and mechanics in writing, you should be feeling more confident about getting your style right with regard to these important components.

As ever, your primary goal when communicating science to any audience should be to tell an interesting story in a way that is easily understandable. These post-class activities have been designed to give you specific practice in capitalizing words correctly, and in working more with units and grammatical mechanics.


Using Capitals Effectively

It can be hard to learn when you should (and should not) capitalize certain words in your writing. The following list includes a few of the most important, common rules that you should always try to apply:


1: Capitalize the first word of a new sentence, or quote, but not if it follows a semicolon or colon. Do not capitalize the first word in the second part of an open/divided quote (e.g. Learning cellular processes is difficult; there are so many names and theories involved).
2: Capitalize people’s names, but titles only when they come before those names (e.g. Michelle Richards is a professor).
3: Capitalize points of the compass only when referring to specific geographic places (e.g. Northwest Territory, and northern Canada).
4: Capitalize proper nouns and place names, but not seasons (e.g. Vancouver General Hospital is situated just off Broadway in Vancouver).
5: Capitalize the titles of publications, in print, online, and in video (e.g. New Scientist).
6: Capitalize the names of specific academic courses but do not capitalize non-specific topics or subjects (e.g. I really enjoy history).


Question 1 (5 marks)

There is one capitalization-based error in each of the five sentences below. Try to find the error in each sentence before re-writing it correctly. Copy and paste the sentences and bold the five changes you have made (1 mark for each correct change).

A. The Street next to Rogers Arena is called Abbott Street.
B. The current President of UBC’s Undergraduate Chemistry Society is President Michael Acceptor.
C. Another UBC society had a movie night last November but did not show March of the Penguins, which shows how the penguins’ march to sea gets easier by march each spring.
D. Chemistry and Biology would be useful subjects to know in some detail if you were a palaeontologist looking for fossils in Africa.
E. In the famous movie, Jurassic Park, Dr. Ian Malcolm hilariously pointed out the difference between this theme park and others. “If the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down,” he said, “The pirates don’t eat the tourists.”


Using Plurals with Capitals and Units

Another difficult combination of mechanics rules to learn incorporates the mixing of rules dictating capitalization, pluralization, and the basic punctuation around numbers and units that you commonly use in scientific communication. For example:


1: You should include a space between a number and unit (20 m), but not if the unit is a degree (180) or a percentage (55%).
2: You should not pluralize units (20 kg, not 20 kgs) unless you also write out the number (eight kilograms).
3: You should not capitalize unit names (centimetres, not Centimetres) unless you are talking about Celsius or Fahrenheit (because these two are named after scientists).


As ever, remember that consistency is everything; this is why it is acceptable to use numbers when using units, but why you should instead write them when writing out the units in full (5 m or five metres).


Question 2 (5 marks)

There are five numbers and/or mechanics-related errors in the following paragraph. Try to find the errors and re-write them correctly. Do this by copying and pasting the paragraph before bolding the changes that you have made (1 mark for each correct change).

When completing our lab safety induction, my partner and I had to make various measurements of our equipment. Our lab bench stands at a height of 94cm, and it is approximately six m long. Our lamp weighs just over 3 kgs, and is so strong that the heat from it increased room temperature by 2.1 %, to 16.8˚ celsius, after just 30 min.


Using Commas Effectively

As you improve as a science communicator, you are certain to develop greater skills in using grammatical mechanics correctly in your writing. You probably already use commas very frequently, but it can still be hard to always use them appropriately. If you fail to use a comma when there should be a natural pause in a sentence, like here, your readers will be confused; however, if you overuse commas, your readers will be equally baffled as to what you are trying to tell them.


Question 3 (5 marks)

Read the paragraph below, which comprises five sentences. Your task is to decide whether each of these sentences requires a comma or not. Copy and paste the paragraph and add in commas where you think they belong (1 mark for each sentence). Hint: Not all sentences require a comma, and no sentences require more than one. You will gain 1 mark for each sentence in which you place a comma correctly, and 1 mark for omitting a comma from a sentence that does not require one.

Ideally doctors should speak slowly and calmly to patients when they first wake up following surgery. At least until good news can be delivered that is. In these instances it would be acceptable to use some humour. Connecting to patients in a personal way is a very important goal for any doctor. Despite this maintaining a professional stance is always crucial.


Using Hyphens Correctly

Remember the video that you watched about hyphenation on the ‘UBC Science Writing’ YouTube channel (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRV8Y13xSgI). As the video showed, you should only use hyphens between the words that are meant to act as single adjectives in a sentence, which is why it matters whether you write “I saw a man-eating rabbit” or “I saw a man eating rabbit.”


Question 4 (5 marks)

Read the paragraph below. Your task is to place five hyphens throughout the paragraph where they are needed (1 mark for each correctly placed hyphen). Hint: There are five hyphens (in total) that should be added; you could need to link two or more words together with each one.

A six week summer chemistry program designed to teach high performing youngsters to think more critically about science has been successful in developing their attitudes. Using a recently developed questionnaire, students were classified on a scale ranging from naïve to expert based on the way they answered different prompts. Before the program began, the majority of these students, who were all eight year olds, provided naïve answers; however, after completing the program, they provided expert like answers much more frequently.


Question 5 (5 marks): Putting It All Together

To answer the following question (scenario), write just one sentence that incorporates all the information included in Table 1 (below). Remember to follow all style-based rules and try to write the sentences in an engaging, simple way.

Table 1: You must write one sentence that incorporates all the elements in the Q5 scenario. Hint: every element has been written in words in the table, but you might need to change the styles appropriately in your sentences/stories. Don’t worry too much about the content of your sentence; you can make it up as long as your sentence reads well and shows your command of mechanics skills.

Question(Scenario) Organization or company Focus of sentence Measurement (size and units) Mechanics to include
Q5 The American Chemical Society

(1 mark)

There is a concern that there will be a lack of helium soon in the US (1 mark) US supplies could be reduced by fifty per cent by 2014 (1 mark) Hyphen,

comma (1 mark each, 2 marks total)


Numbers, Units and Mechanics: Student Post-Class Activities

Following the pre and in-class activities that focused on the correct use of numbers, units, abbreviations and mechanics in writing, you should be feeling more confident about getting your style right with regard to these important components.

As ever, your primary goal when communicating science to any audience should be to tell an interesting story in a way that is easily understandable. These post-class activities have been designed to give you specific practice in capitalizing words correctly, and in working more with units. Other activities deal with editing text to make it more engaging while following the rules you have learned already.


Using Capitalization Appropriately

It can be especially hard to learn when you should (and should not) capitalize certain words in your writing. The following list includes a few of the most important, common rules that you should always try to apply:


1: Capitalize the first word of a new sentence, or quote, but not if it follows a semicolon or colon. Do not capitalize the first word in the second part of an open/divided quote (e.g. Learning cellular processes is difficult; there are so many names and theories involved).
2: Capitalize people’s names, but titles only when they come before those names.
3: Capitalize points of the compass only when referring to specific geographic places (e.g. Northwest Territory, and northern Canada).
4: Capitalize proper nouns and place names, but not seasons (e.g. Vancouver General Hospital is situated just off Broadway in Vancouver).
5: Capitalize the titles of publications, in print, online, and in video (e.g. New Scientist).
6: Capitalize the names of specific academic courses but do not capitalize non-specific topics or subjects.


Questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 (1 mark each, 8 marks total)

There is one capitalization-based error in each of the following questions. Try to find the error and re-write the sentence correctly. Copy and paste the sentence and bold the change you have made (1 mark for each question).


Q1: The Street next to the Nitobe Memorial Garden is called Lower Mall.
Q2: The current President of UBC’s Biological Society is President Ivy Wang.
Q3: Richard and Lily are members, along with Sophie, Lily’s Sister.
Q4: The society had a movie night in November but did not show March of the Penguins, which shows how the penguins’ march to sea gets easier by march each spring.
Q5: Despite being bordered by the icy Southern Ocean, rivers do exist in Antarctica. The most northerly is called the Rezovski creek.
Q6: Science and Geography would be useful subjects to know in some detail if you were a research scientist working in the intense cold of Antarctica.
Q7: Some believe evolution can be used as an argument against the existence of God. Atheists do not believe in God, but polytheists believe in more than one God.
Q8: Agnostics believe that it is impossible to know whether God exists, but this does not make them atheists. “The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble to us,” said Mr. Charles Darwin, “And I for one must be content to remain an agnostic.”


Using Plurals and Punctuation

Another difficult combination of mechanics rules to learn incorporates the mixing of rules dictating capitalization, pluralization, and the basic punctuation around numbers and units that you commonly use in scientific communication. For example:


1: You should include a space between a number and unit (20 m), but not if the unit is a degree (180°) or a percentage (55%). 2: You should not pluralize units (20 kg, not 20 kgs) unless you also write out the number (eight kilograms). 3: You should not capitalize unit names (centimetres, not Centimetres) unless you are talking about Celsius or Fahrenheit (because these two are named after scientists).


As ever, remember that consistency is everything; this is why it is acceptable to use numbers when using units, but why you should instead write them when writing out the units in full (5 m or five metres).


Questions 9, 10, 11 and 12 (3 marks each, 12 marks total)

There are three numbers and/or mechanics-related errors in the following four sentences (questions). Try to find the three errors and re-write the sentences correctly. Do this by copying and pasting the sentences before bolding the changes that you have made (3 marks for each question).


Q9: My girlfriend is 174cm tall but I am taller by nine cm at 183cm.
Q10: When we first bought our dog, he weighed six kilograms and was approximately three ft long. Now he weighs 25 kgs, and is approximately four ft long.
Q11: 88percent of people polled in a recent survey admitted that they did not know what a temperature of 80° F would approximate to on the celsius scale.
Q12: My goldfish is 112 mms long, which makes him 27 mms (or 19.4 %) shorter than my friend’s goldfish.


Question 13 (10 marks)

In the paragraph below there are 10 major stylistic errors. These include mistakes relating to the use of numbers, abbreviations, units, and basic punctuation and writing mechanics. Copy and paste the text and bold your re-written versions of the errors that were originally present (1 mark for each correctly re-written part).

“The Pearson published Biological Science continues to be a very popular textbook at many Universities in North America (USA and CAN). When first printed in the late 00’s, the diagram focused book did not feature as many research issues as relevant to Canadian Students as the current edition, published in 2011. Although it is not cheap to buy at approximately 160 dollars, there are over 1500 pages full of useful information. Different courses require different textbooks, but much of the material in one book will also be present in another; for example, if you were to take introductory biology: Biology 100 at UW (the University of Washington), this book would probably be fine.”


Questions 14 and 15 (5 marks each, 10 marks total)

To answer the following two questions (scenarios), try to write just one sentence that incorporates all the information included in each scenario of Table 1 (below). Remember to follow all style-based rules and try to write the sentences in an engaging, simple way.

Table 1: You must write two sentences (one for each scenario/question) to tell a story incorporating all the elements in each specific scenario. Hint: every element has been written in words in the table, but you might need to change the styles appropriately in your sentences/stories.

Question Organization or company Focus of sentence Measurement (size and units) Mechanics to include
Q14 National Aeronautics and Space Administration

(1 mark)

‘Project Constellation’ was originally designed to send humans to the Moon (1 mark) The Altair landing unit was thirty two feet tall (1 mark) Apostrophe, semicolon (1 mark each, 2 marks total)
Q15 University of British Columbia(1 mark) The ‘Start An Evolution’ campaign re-unites alumni with university programs (1 mark) One and a half billion dollars must be raised by alumni (1 mark) Plural, semicolon (1 mark each, 2 marks total)

Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences, Transitions

Lesson and Workshops Introduction:

We have designed pre- and post-class activities (essentially ‘homework’ exercises for students) to complement the in-class lesson/workshop for this specific science writing-skill component (‘Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences and Transitions’).

At our institution, we ask students to complete the pre-class activities online as preparation for the in-class lesson/workshop, so as to give them some exposure to the concepts that will be explored in more detail in class.

The in-class activities are designed to improve students’ writing skills and to give them experience in working with partners/small groups on related activities. The in-class lesson/workshop has been designed to encourage an interactive, conversational approach to completing the activities; this should help students to resolve any confusion from the pre-class activities and discuss the importance of the writing skills they are learning to master with their peers and instructors. We provide student worksheets for the in-class activities, as well as TA and Instructor versions of these worksheets, which also include suggested solutions to the activities. We also provide a PowerPoint presentation to accompany the lesson/workshop, and a timing guide with teaching prompts to help instructors encourage students to get the most from these sessions.

Lastly, students are asked to complete the post-class activities online, as a final learning tool and wrap-up to help them solidify the concepts they have learned and gain some more practice in applying these to real writing situations.


A Note on Asking Students to Complete the Pre- and Post-Class Activities Online

We recommend asking students to complete the activities online so as to reduce the likelihood that worksheets of these activities are printed and enter the student domain; over time, these questions will reduce in value if copies are posted online (via blogs etc. by students who have previously completed them).

We have designed these activities to take students approximately 30-60 minutes to complete; they form a small part of the graded continuous assessment for students enrolled in a science communication course at our institution, but could also be deployed as not-for-credit activities.


A Note on the Different Versions

All different versions/banks have been used and refined following student and instructor feedback, and all of them focus on the same important concepts. We cycle different versions across different terms to minimize the potential that students enrolled in our course in concurrent terms will share answers (e.g. we do not use the same version in concurrent terms).

Please note that while the initial choice of which version to use is somewhat arbitrary, it is important to use the same version for the pre-, in- and post-class activities as a whole unit; this is because some of the questions appearing in the in-class lesson/workshop and/or post-class activities build on work completed in the pre-class activities (e.g. do not use pre-class version 1, and post-class version 2 together).

Timing Guide

Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences Transitions: In-Class Activities, Instructor Timing Guide

Please note this guide is to help you keep track of time as students work through the activities. It complements the final worksheets (and PowerPoint) but please have a look at this guide so you know when you should display certain slides.

** Please note that this is one of the busier in-class writing skills activities and it is important that students complete activities 1 – 3 for the learning goals to be met. Therefore, you are encouraged to stick closely to time. **


Activity 1, (15 min)

You should allow a total of 15 minutes for students to complete Activity 1.


Activity 2 (15 min + 5 min for instructor to show/discuss answers, total time elapsed =35 min)

* Students might need guidance as to what format their outline should be in: suggest to them that it should look like a contents page in a book, with sub-headings. *

You should allow 15 minutes for students to complete Activity 2, before spending a further five minutes discussing a suggested solution (PowerPoint slide #3).


Activity 3 (15 min, total time elapsed = 50 min)

You should allow 15 minutes for students to complete Activity 3.


Activity 4 (remaining time/take-home)

You should spend any remaining time on this activity. It is likely that students will not have enough time to tackle this, but they can do so at home (it will only take them five minutes or so, and you should encourage them to do so to see the value of creating and using an outline to improve the quality of their written work).


As students leave

** Please give them a copy of Page 3 of the document: ‘Unit 1 In-Class Instructor Final with Solutions’. **

Page 3 shows a suggested solution for the outline they should have produced, and then shows an example of a written response to the prompt they have been answering. Importantly, this also highlights effective topic sentences and transitions, which are included in the writing skills specifically addressed in this unit.

In-Class Activities

Paragraph structure, topic sentences and transitions: Student In-Class Activities

Creating and using an outline to guide your writing

It can be a little daunting when you first start to put your ideas down on paper, whether you are writing a lab report, an essay, or even a blog post about some aspect of science. For this reason, it is a good idea to create and use an outline to help you produce a logical, organized piece of written work. In these in-class activities, you will work with a partner/partners to learn how to do this. You will hopefully see the value in doing so because you should be able to see how your own piece of writing improves by the end of the class, based on the use of this outline.


Activity 1: (work together, then alone, 15 minutes)

Imagine you have been asked to write a short answer (approximately 200 - 300 words) to the prompt: What is a simple science experiment and which skills are needed to work effectively with other people when performing one?

Spend a couple of minutes talking to a partner (or to two people if you are working in a group of three) about the things you would want to include in your answer. Then, try to write an answer to the prompt on your own (each person must write their own answer).


Activity 2: (work together, 15 minutes)

Now you are going to create an outline to help guide your response to the same prompt. There are a number of steps that you should follow when producing your outline:

  1. Determine the purpose of your written answer, and who your audience is.
  2. Brainstorm all of the ideas you want to include in your written answer.
  3. Group related ideas together (these will form separate paragraphs).
  4. Order the information that will go into each paragraph from general to specific.
  5. Devise sub-headings that can be applied to the information that will form each paragraph (this will help you write effective topic sentences later).


In reality, you will have longer to do this when preparing to write something, but the principle holds for any piece of writing (such as this short answer). Try to produce a numbered outline that looks something like contents page in a book by the time you have worked through points 1 – 5 above. This will be your outline.

** Each pair/group is likely to have a slightly different outline, depending on the content they decide to include in their answer to the original prompt. However, to make sure you are all on the right general path, your instructor will show an example of an outline for this prompt before you move on to Activity 3. **


Activity 3: (work alone, and then together, 15 minutes)

Now you are going to use the outline you just created to re-write a short answer (approximately 200 – 300 words) to the prompt: What is a simple science experiment and which skills are needed to work effectively with other people when performing one?


Hints

  • Focus on the organization of ideas into the different paragraphs
  • Order the information in each paragraph from general to specific
  • Once you have your first draft, replace the sub-headings for each paragraph with a topic sentence to begin each paragraph (this should explain the point of the paragraph to your readers)
  • Once you have done this, add in transition words and phrases to link each sentence with the next one.
Topic Sentences Transition Words and Phrases
Good ones should: Feature Good Examples
Signal the main point of the paragraph a reader is about to read Signal the point at which a new direction is being taken in the writing
  • Secondly,
  • In contrast,
  • However,
Be general enough to allow the other sentences to develop the point it makes, but not so broad that the other sentences cannot justify the statement it makes Link sentences smoothly together to provide a logical flow os ideas "...confirmed this. Nevertheless, some people refused to believe this result..."


Activity 4: (work together, remaining time)

Read the short answer you have just written, and then re-read your initial answer (the one you wrote in Activity 1, before you had produced a quick outline to help guide the logical development of your written answer). Discuss the difference in quality with your partner/partners. If you have time, exchange written answers and comment on the progression you have all made.


Further resources and help on writing effective, more comprehensive outlines

Hopefully, these in-class activities will have shown you the benefit of creating and using an outline to guide your writing. When you write longer pieces of work, the benefits will be more visible. For further resources, please see Purdue’s Online Writing Lab.

Pre-Class Activities

Pre-Class Activities

Version 1

Paragraph structure, topic sentences and transitions: Student Pre-Class Activities

Paragraphs

Paragraphs are extremely important components of an effectively structured piece of writing because they organize material in a way that makes it easier to follow for your readers. Without them, even the most fascinating piece of work will fail to attract the attention it deserves. Structuring your writing into clear, effective paragraphs that address individual ideas will help you organize your work, which in turn gives your readers the best possible chance of understanding the points you are trying to make.

Scientists and researchers often find themselves communicating the results of important studies in an attempt to convince others that they have discovered a new piece of knowledge that will have implications for future research and/or immediate real-world applications. As such, it is even more crucial that they are able to tell a story effectively because they have to convince their audience that their arguments are valid.

The three golden rules below will help you to write clear paragraphs, although you should note that these are just the main ones that you will need to focus on; there are plenty of others that will improve your writing as well. To begin with, try to make sure that you:   


  1. Make one main point per paragraph. It is good practice to tell your reader in one clear, concise sentence (called a topic sentence) at the beginning of each paragraph what you will be expanding upon in that particular paragraph. 
  2. Funnel information from general to specific. Treat each paragraph as a mini-essay, each with its own topic sentence. It is a good idea to start by providing general information before making the information that follows more specific.
  3. Provide evidence to fully support each paragraph. Although it is a good idea to make most paragraphs roughly similar in terms of word count, it is more important to make each paragraph similar in terms of content completeness. You must provide evidence to back up the general statement(s) made early in each paragraph. 


Question 1 (1 mark)

Imagine that you have been working on a chemistry project and have drafted a short report to detail what you have learned. Read this draft below. Which of the five sentences contains information that does not relate very closely to the rest of the text?

(1) Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and tetrabromobisphenyl A (TBBPA) are flame-retardant chemicals that are added to materials in order to reduce their flammability. (2) Certain flame retardants have been banned from use in consumer products because numerous studies found them to be toxic. (3) However, many consumer products such as televisions, curtains, and furniture foam may contain other flame-retardant chemicals with unknown health effects. (4) Many homeowners would like to purchase goods without flame retardants because they don’t think fires are likely to start; however, these goods are very difficult to find. (5) The two main mechanisms for incorporating flame retardants into materials such as plastics and polyurethane foam are by either mixing them with the base material or chemically binding them to it.


Question 2 (4 marks)

Re-read the draft of writing about flame-retardants (above, question 1) and use the three golden rules described on the first page to restructure the writing into effective paragraphs. Hint: You should split the text into three different paragraphs and will need to reorder the sentences. You can copy and paste the text as you do this to save time.


Topic Sentences

Remember from the previous section that an effective topic sentence must inform your reader what the paragraph is about, and it should also link the flow of your argument from the previous paragraph to the current one. It is usually a good idea to make the first sentence of your paragraph the topic sentence.

As a rough indicator of whether you have written clear topic sentences, a reader in a real hurry should be able to read these, and these only (i.e. avoid the detailed information in all the paragraphs), and still be able to understand the backbone of the argument you are making.   


Some example errors and improvements

A1 (topic sentence missing):  
“When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Fish caught in a trawler net will swim round and round, looking for a way out. Even primitive micro-organisms will move as far away as possible from a negative stimulus, somehow conditioned to flee from impending death.”  


B1 (with effective topic sentence):  
“There is a huge diversity of life on earth, but all organisms display a common desire to survive. When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Fish caught in a trawler net will swim round and round, looking for a way out. Even primitive micro-organisms will move as far away as possible from a negative stimulus, somehow conditioned to flee from impending death.”    


A2 (topic sentence does not relate closely enough to paragraph): 
“There is a huge diversity of life on earth, but all organisms display a common desire to survive. When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Wolves co-ordinate their hunting efforts so as to increase their chances of catching prey, but those with higher social ranks earn the right to eat before their inferiors. Hares, on the other hand, typically forage for food on their own. Although they do not benefit from the increased awareness of where food might be, which would come from searching with others, they never have to share their food when they find it.”    


B2 (topic sentence relates directly to paragraph):  
“Wolves and hares use different foraging strategies, and there are positives and negatives associated with each. Wolves co-ordinate their hunting efforts so as to increase their chances of catching prey, but food must be shared and wolves with higher social ranks earn the right to eat before their inferiors. Hares, on the other hand, typically forage for food on their own. Although they do not benefit from the increased awareness of where food might be, which would come from searching with others, they never have to share their food when they find it.” 


Questions 3, 4, 5 and 6 (1 mark each, 4 marks total)

Study the following paragraphs and the three different options for a topic sentence. Choose the most suitable one for each. 


Question 3 (1 mark): Most New World monkeys have prehensile tails that are able to grasp objects, while Old World monkeys either have no visible tail or a non-prehensile tail.

  1. Old World monkeys have more useful tails than New World monkeys.
  2. The type of tail a monkey has typically depends on the group it belongs to.
  3. New World monkeys are more intelligent than Old World Monkeys.


Question 4 (1 mark): Asteroids are composed mainly of rock and metals. They can be found in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter. Comets are mainly ice and reside in the Kuiper Belt past the orbit of Neptune as well as in the Oort cloud in the outer solar system.

  1. Asteroids and comets are planetary bodies in our solar system.
  2. Asteroids and comets both orbit the Sun, but in different locations.
  3. Asteroids and comets differ in their composition and location in space.


Question 5 (1 mark): One such series is that of uranium-238, which eventually forms the stable lead isotope lead-206. As uranium-238 decays, radioactive daughter elements are formed which then further decay by either alpha or beta decay until lead-206 is formed.

  1. Naturally occurring radioactive elements undergo radioactive decay to form a stable daughter product through a series of decay steps.
  2. The uranium-238 decay series is a naturally occurring process that ultimately forms a stable daughter product.
  3. A stable uranium isotope is the final element in a series of decay steps that radioactive elements undergo.


Question 6 (1 mark): For example, many parents have refused to give their children the triple vaccine of measles, mumps and rubella because of the suggestion that it increases the risk of developing autism. This is despite independent research finding no evidence to support a link between the two. Further independent research shows that there has been an alarming increase in the number of measles cases in children that did not receive the vaccine in recent years. Despite this fact, a high proportion of parents are still reluctant to administer the triple vaccine to their kids.

  1. Children that have not been vaccinated against measles have a higher chance of contracting the virus.
  2. Although studies have confirmed many vaccinations are safe to use, some vaccines are still doubted.
  3. Some parents have relied on speculation in order to make choices regarding their child’s health.


Questions 7, 8, and 9 (1 mark each for identifying the problem, 1 mark for the re-written topic sentence; 6 marks total)

For the following three questions, read the bolded topic sentence (and paragraph that follows it) before deciding which one of the following problems makes each one a poor topic sentence:

A) It is too broad, and it is therefore hard to cover in sufficient detail in one paragraph
B) It is too narrow, and there is therefore too little to expand on in the paragraph
C) It lacks focus, and is therefore hard to link it to the support of one idea
D) The language is too specialist, and therefore might not make sense to everyone

Once you have decided this, re-write the topic sentence so it is more effective.


Question 7 (2 marks)

Many fruits are of the seedless variety. For example, the majority of bananas that are commercially available are seedless Cavendish bananas. In addition to being seedless, these bananas are also all genetically identical. This means that they lack genetic diversity and a single disease could potentially wipe out banana crops.


Question 8 (2 marks)

Coagulation via filter alum addition during drinking water treatment is a crucial step for removing colloids. These fine particles are not removed during previous steps, as they are too small. The addition of the filtering aid, filter alum, causes a precipitation reaction and allows the fine particles to settle out with the precipitate.


Question 9 (2 marks)

Microorganisms in Lake Hillier, Australia, produce pigments that range in colour and are responsible for making the water appear pink. These pigments, called carotenoids, range in colour from yellow to red and give the lake its unique colour. The microorganisms store the pigments throughout their cell membrane, making the lake water appear pink.


Making Smooth Transitions

We have already seen that a piece of writing containing interesting, important information will fail to get the message across if it is not structured into clear paragraphs. In the same way, such information will not make an impact on a reader if the flow of ideas does not transition seamlessly from sentence to sentence, or from paragraph to paragraph.

When reading over your work, ask yourself whether the flow of information is smooth. Although it is often difficult to remember everything that you have just read, it is a bad sign if you find yourself having to jump backwards again and again to fully understand something.

Before you get used to making smooth transitions, it is a good idea to ask a friend or classmate to read your work and tell you whether they followed your thought process from the first sentence to the last. If they found it difficult, you probably need to work on your transitions. An effective transition should do at least two of the following three things. It should:  

  1. Signal the point at which you are shifting to another idea
  2. Act as a preparatory signpost for what is coming up next
  3. Explain to the reader how each idea is connected


Two examples

A1 (Poor transitions): “Global warming will have negative consequences for polar bears. As temperatures rise they will have a smaller habitat in which to live. Also, there will be less food available for them because there will be smaller populations of krill. Polar bear populations are thus affected by the amount of ice available.” 

B1 (Good transitions): “Global warming will have negative consequences for polar bears for two main reasons. Firstly, because increased temperatures cause increased melting of ice on which the bears live, there will be a reduced area in which they can live. Secondly, many species that polar bears rely on for food will be less numerous than in the past because their main food source, krill, can only breed successfully underneath ice. Therefore, the reduction of ice is the key factor in limiting polar bear populations.” 

B1 is better than A1 because:

  1. Each transition informs the reader that a new idea is about to be elaborated on
  2. Each sentence begins with a ‘signpost’ that links it to the next one
  3. Each transition connects the points made in the whole text with one another


Question 10 (5 marks)

Imagine that you are writing a summary of an experiment conducted by UBC researchers to see whether climate change affects the flight season of Canadian butterfly species. In less than 250 words you had to describe (1) why the research was important, (2) what the main results were, and (3) why they might have important implications.   Read the ‘original’ draft below and use the three transition pointers above to fill in the gaps suitably. Hint: It is perfectly acceptable to use more than one word for transitions in your own writing, but for this question, use only one-word examples to fill in the gaps.

Scientists from the University of British Columbia, Université de Sherbrooke, and University of Ottawa reviewed hundreds of museum and weather records to determine if climate change has affected the flight season timing of Canadian butterflies. [?????], researchers analyzed museum collections of 200 butterfly species and estimated flight season timing from specimen collection dates. [?????] they collected museum data, researchers matched the flight season timing to weather station data from the past 130 years. They concluded that temperature sensitivity was common among the species they analyzed, [?????] flight seasons began approximately 2.4 days earlier for every one degree Celsius increase in temperature.
Earlier flight seasons may have major implications for butterflies, especially when the flight season begins early enough that butterflies encounter sudden frosts. [?????], in these circumstances, they can die while migrating. In addition, declines in populations can also act as an early warning sign as to how other animals might respond to global climate change. [?????], butterfly flight season timing studies are very valuable from a conservation perspective because butterflies are indicator species for other wildlife.


Question 11 (5 marks)

There are eight transition words or phrases in the body of text below (these have been bolded for you). Five of these are poor transitions. Underline the five poorly chosen transitions. Hint: If you underline more than five, you will have marks taken away!

It is a common misconception that scientists do not use creativity in their research because it might interfere with their objectivity. Obviously, some people think that following the scientific method of designing a hypothesis, then an experiment, analyzing the results, and then writing them up means there is no room for being an individual. However, if scientists did not use imagination and creativity many breakthroughs would not have been made. Eventually, in 1878, A.A Michelson calculated the speed of light by designing an ingenious experiment. First, he placed mirrors a long way apart. Concurrently, he made sure that one was spinning and then focused light on the other, which reflected back onto the spinning one. Nevertheless, the spinning meant the returning beam was deflected. Lastly, he measured the deflection before calculating the speed with a formula. Therefore, technology has improved since then but the accepted speed of light is very similar to the value he originally calculated.

Version 2

Paragraph structure, topic sentences and transitions: Student Pre-Class Activities

Paragraphs

Paragraphs are extremely important components of an effectively structured piece of writing because they organize material in a way that makes it easier to follow for your readers. Without them, even the most fascinating piece of work will fail to attract the attention it deserves. Structuring your writing into clear, effective paragraphs that address individual ideas will help you organize your work, which in turn gives your readers the best possible chance of understanding the points you are trying to make.

Scientists and researchers often find themselves communicating the results of important studies in an attempt to convince others that they have discovered a new piece of knowledge that will have implications for future research and/or immediate real-world applications. As such, it is even more crucial that they are able to tell a story effectively because they have to convince their audience that their arguments are valid.

The three golden rules below will help you to write clear paragraphs, although you should note that these are just the main ones that you will need to focus on; there are plenty of others that will improve your writing as well. To begin with, try to make sure that you: 


  1. Make one main point per paragraph. It is good practice to tell your reader in one clear, concise sentence (called a topic sentence) at the beginning of each paragraph what you will be expanding upon in that particular paragraph. 
  2. Funnel information from general to specific. Treat each paragraph as a mini-essay, each with its own topic sentence. It is a good idea to start by providing general information before making the information that follows more specific.
  3. Provide evidence to fully support each paragraph. Although it is a good idea to make most paragraphs roughly similar in terms of word count, it is more important to make each paragraph similar in terms of content completeness. You must provide evidence to back up the general statement(s) made early in each paragraph. 


Question 1 (1 mark)

Imagine that you have been working on a chemistry project and have drafted a short report to detail what you have learned. Read this draft below. Which of the five sentences contains information that does not relate very closely to the rest of the text?

(1) Helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon and radon are the six noble gases that together make up a group of elements with very similar properties. (2) Some people still hold an old misconception that noble gases will not react with other elements because they do not have "spare" electrons in their outer shells that are free to interact with electrons of other elements. (3) An example of an industrial use involving a noble gas is that of manned blimps, which used to use hydrogen before it was considered too dangerous due to the chance of explosion; these now use helium instead. (4) Noble gases are alike in the sense that none of them have any colour, smell, or taste, and, in normal circumstances, they are not flammable. (5) Although noble gases do not interact easily with other elements, the heavier ones are less stable and do sometimes react to form compounds.


Question 2 (4 marks)

Re-read the draft of writing about noble gases (above, question 1) and use the three golden rules described on the first page to restructure the writing into effective paragraphs. Hint: You should split the text into three different paragraphs and will need to reorder the sentences. You can copy and paste the text as you do this to save time.


Question 3 (3 marks)

To give you some more practice in following the three golden rules of paragraph formation, read the following information drafted by a colleague ahead of a conference about noble gases, and condense it into fewer paragraphs. This exercise should help show you that it is just as possible to split information into too many paragraphs as it is to use too few, but that by following the three golden rules, you should be able to improve any piece of writing.

Read the draft below and use the three golden rules to restructure the writing into effective paragraphs. Hint: You should condense the text into three different paragraphs. You can copy and paste the text to save time.

  1. Scientists believe that helium is the second-most common element in the universe.
  2. They think it accounts for almost one-quarter of all the elements by fraction of weight.
  3. Research has suggested most of it originally came from the Big Bang.
  4. However, the relative proportion is still increasing because other elements are decaying.
  5. Things are very different on Earth.
  6. The gravitational field is too weak to prevent helium from escaping our atmosphere.
  7. As a result, it is not even the most common noble gas on our planet, which is argon.
  8. All noble gases are used in laboratory experiments.
  9. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the more common they are in our atmosphere, the cheaper they are to buy.
  10. Xenon, which is very rare, can cost around 100 times as much as helium!


Topic Sentences

Remember from the previous section that an effective topic sentence must inform your reader what the paragraph is about, and it should also link the flow of your argument from the previous paragraph to the current one. It is usually a good idea to make the first sentence of your paragraph the topic sentence.   As a rough indicator of whether you have written clear topic sentences, a reader in a real hurry should be able to read these, and these only (i.e. avoid the detailed information in all the paragraphs), and still be able to understand the backbone of the argument you are making.


Some example errors and improvements 

A1 (topic sentence missing):
  “When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Fish caught in a trawler net will swim round and round, looking for a way out. Even primitive micro-organisms will move as far away as possible from a negative stimulus, somehow conditioned to flee from impending death.”


B1 (with effective topic sentence):  
“There is a huge diversity of life on earth, but all organisms display a common desire to survive. When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Fish caught in a trawler net will swim round and round, looking for a way out. Even primitive micro-organisms will move as far away as possible from a negative stimulus, somehow conditioned to flee from impending death.”


A2 (topic sentence does not relate closely enough to paragraph): 
“There is a huge diversity of life on earth, but all organisms display a common desire to survive. When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Wolves co-ordinate their hunting efforts so as to increase their chances of catching prey, but those with higher social ranks earn the right to eat before their inferiors. Hares, on the other hand, typically forage for food on their own. Although they do not benefit from the increased awareness of where food might be, which would come from searching with others, they never have to share their food when they find it.”


B2 (topic sentence relates directly to paragraph):  
“Wolves and hares use different foraging strategies, and there are positives and negatives associated with each. Wolves co-ordinate their hunting efforts so as to increase their chances of catching prey, but food must be shared and wolves with higher social ranks earn the right to eat before their inferiors. Hares, on the other hand, typically forage for food on their own. Although they do not benefit from the increased awareness of where food might be, which would come from searching with others, they never have to share their food when they find it.” 


Questions 4, 5 and 6 (1 mark each, 3 marks total)

Study the following paragraphs and the three different options for a topic sentence. Choose the most suitable one for each.


Question 4 (1 mark): The blue whale can grow to lengths of 100ft and weigh as much as 180 tons, whereas the dwarf sperm whale does not grow to be longer than 9ft and weighs as little as 250kg.  

  1. There is huge variation in the size of different whale species.
  2. The blue whale is much more powerful than the dwarf sperm whale.
  3. Despite living in the sea, whales are mammals and are unable to breathe underwater.


Question 5 (1 mark): Viruses are made up of genetic material surrounded by a coat of protein. They must ‘hi-jack’ a host cell and use its physiological machinery to reproduce. Conversely, bacteria are much larger than viruses and are capable of independent reproduction. 

  1. Viruses and bacteria differ in their method of reproduction.
  2. Viruses and bacteria both cause serious illness in people but reproduce differently.
  3. Viruses and bacteria are very different organisms.


Question 6 (1 mark): For example, many parents have refused to give their children the triple vaccine of measles, mumps and rubella because of the suggestion that it increases the risk of developing autism. This is despite independent research finding no evidence to support a link between the two. Further independent research shows that there has been an alarming increase in the number of measles cases in children that did not receive the vaccine in recent years. Despite this fact, a high proportion of parents are still reluctant to administer the triple vaccine to their kids.

  1. Some inoculations are still poorly trusted despite tests confirming their safety.
  2. Measles has affected a high proportion of children that have not been vaccinated against it.
  3. Parents often rely on rumours to make poor health decisions on behalf of their kids.


Questions 7 and 8 (1 mark each, 2 marks total)

Now try to apply the rules of structuring your writing with effective topic sentences from the other perspective; try to select the most appropriate sentences to follow the topic sentences below.


Question 7 (1 mark)

In the natural world, sexual attraction is often based on male individuals displaying colourful features. 

  1. For example, male peacocks, male perch, male grouse, and some male spiders all follow this pattern. In these same examples, the females in each species are typically less colorful.   
  2. For example, male peacocks with the biggest and brightest tails tend to attract more females than those with duller appendages. Similarly, male perch with the brightest orange bellies and striking dorsal fins win more mates than their less colorful peers.
  3. For example, specific genes in male peacocks and male perch code for certain proteins that, when expressed at high levels, cause the animals to develop extreme colors and win mates. This phenomenon is true for some bird and fish species.


Question 8 (1 mark)

Drugs and medicines can save lives, but also destroy them.

  1. The word ‘drug’ has a negative association for many people but ‘medicine’ has a much more positive one. For example, Penicillin is lauded as one of the greatest discoveries in human history as its use saved millions of people from diseases like diphtheria and scarlet fever. On the other hand, recreational drugs do not save people from such diseases.
  2. Because medicines can be so important in saving lives, the pharmaceutical industry is worth trillions of dollars. Non-medicinal drugs, sold illegally, are also extremely valuable. Medicines have traditionally saved millions of people from diseases such as syphilis, diphtheria, typhoid and malaria but drugs often have negative associations because people know how damaging they can be to people that become addicted. 
  3.  Many life-threatening diseases, such as diphtheria and malaria, can be successfully treated with the correct antibiotics and antiviral drugs. For people afflicted by these diseases, drugs are wonderful commodities. However, people that take recreational drugs can often develop serious addictions to them; because these drugs are often extremely damaging to the body, addicts are in serious danger of developing major health issues that can ultimately lead to death. 


Questions 9 and 10 (1 mark each, 2 marks total)

For the following two questions, read the bolded topic sentence (and paragraph that follows it) before deciding which one of the following problems makes each one a poor topic sentence:

A) It is too broad, and it is therefore hard to cover in sufficient detail in one paragraph
B) It is too narrow, and there is therefore too little to expand on in the paragraph
C) It lacks focus, and is therefore hard to link it to the support of one idea
D) The language is too specialist, and therefore might not make sense to everyone


Question 9 (1 mark)

Many students prefer one distinct scientific discipline to others. Although many people categorize students as 'science students' from an early stage of their academic careers, there are many biologists that do not involve themselves in learning chemistry or physics, and vice versa.


Question 10 (1 mark)

Parametric statistical methods are preferable to their non-parametric equivalents because they increase power in hypothesis-testing analyses. This is important because statistical analysis of data essentially provides support for the existence (or non-existence) of a significant effect. As such, a parametric method might highlight an important pattern that could be missed by a non-parametric test, which has great relevance in the field of research.


Making Smooth Transitions

We have already seen that a piece of writing containing interesting, important information will fail to get the message across if it is not structured into clear paragraphs. In the same way, such information will not make an impact on a reader if the flow of ideas does not transition seamlessly from sentence to sentence, or from paragraph to paragraph.

When reading over your work, ask yourself whether the flow of information is smooth. Although it is often difficult to remember everything that you have just read, it is a bad sign if you find yourself having to jump backwards again and again to fully understand something.

Before you get used to making smooth transitions, it is a good idea to ask a friend or classmate to read your work and tell you whether they followed your thought process from the first sentence to the last. If they found it difficult, you probably need to work on your transitions.    An effective transition should do at least two of three things. It should:  

  1.  Act as a preparatory signpost for what is coming up next
  2.  Explain to the reader how each idea is connected
  3.  Signal the point at which you are shifting to another idea


Two examples 

A1 (Poor transitions): “Global warming will have negative consequences for polar bears. As temperatures rise they will have a smaller habitat in which to live. Also, there will be less food available for them because there will be smaller populations of krill. Polar bear populations are thus affected by the amount of ice available.” 

B1 (Good transitions): “Global warming will have negative consequences for polar bears for two main reasons. Firstly, because increased temperatures cause increased melting of ice on which the bears live, there will be a reduced area in which they can live. Secondly, many species that polar bears rely on for food will be less numerous than in the past because their main food source, krill, can only breed successfully underneath ice. Therefore, the reduction of ice is the key factor in limiting polar bear populations.” 

B1 is better than A1 because:  

  1. Each sentence begins with a ‘signpost’ that links it to the next one
  2.  Each transition connects the points made in the whole text with one another
  3.  Each transition informs the reader that a new idea is about to be elaborated on


Question 11 (5 marks)

Imagine that you conducted a detailed experiment to see whether certain plant species were more effective than others at suppressing the spread of an invasive plant species that has negative consequences for British Columbia grasslands. In less than 250 words you had to describe (1) why your research was important, (2) what your main results were, and (3) why they might have important implications.   Read the ‘original’ draft below and use the three transition pointers above to fill in the gaps suitably.

The spread of Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass) throughout grasslands in British Columbia (BC) has many negative effects on these habitats. For [?????], cheatgrass reduces biodiversity, leads to more frequent wildfires, and causes health problems for cattle that eat it. [?????], negative effects on ecosystems are also financially costly; it costs a lot of money to restore a habitat after fire and it is expensive to buy food for lots of cattle.    I grew cheatgrass plants in different treatment groups each featuring one other plant species that was common in BC grasslands, [??????] I wanted to see which species had the greatest negative effect on cheatgrass growth rate. [?????] this method, I tested three other species and found that crested wheatgrass significantly reduced the growth rate of cheatgrass; it reduced growth rate by approximately 65%. Bluebunch wheatgrass did not significantly affect cheatgrass growth rate, whereas Idaho fescue significantly increased the growth rate of cheatgrass by approximately 39%. As a [?????], I recommend grassland managers promote the growth of crested wheatgrass and discourage the growth of Idaho fescue.


Choosing Effective Transition Words and Phrases

Good transitions link ideas from sentence to sentence to build a compelling argument, and for this reason it is vital that an effective transition word or phrase is used in each scenario to achieve this. For example, the transition ‘for example’ will only work when you have just made a statement and are about to back it up with some specific evidence.

The following list is by no means extensive, but it provides some excellent transition words and phrases that will help you link sentences and develop, logical, flowing arguments:  

  • But/however
  • Nevertheless
  • For example
  • Firstly/secondly/finally etc.
  • Therefore/thus
  • As a result
  • In contrast
  • And/also
  • Furthermore/moreover


Some examples

  • Rabbits regulate their own body temperature. In contrast, snakes rely on the external environment to warm them.
  • The vast majority of fertilized eggs released by salmon are eaten by other animals or drift away to unsuitable habitats. However, a small number hatch into young fish each year and these fish eventually go on to produce eggs of their own.
  • Prey species are at their most vulnerable when they are temporarily distracted when drinking. As a result, predators have learned to lurk around water sources and wait for their prey to come to them.

The following list includes some words that you should pay extra attention to when using as transitions. These words can be very effective when used correctly, but they can also confuse readers in certain situations:  

  • Since
  • It
  • For
  • They
  • Naturally
  • Clearly/obviously  


Some examples

  • A major medical breakthrough was made approximately 80 years ago when Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin. Since it has helped to greatly reduce the number of people dying from diseases such as syphilis and diphtheria.

  In the above example, it is not clear whether the writer is suggesting that fewer people have died from these diseases in the years that have passed since the breakthrough was made, or whether he/she is using ‘since’ to mean that it was a major breakthrough ‘because’ fewer people died from the diseases after its discovery.


  • As rabbit populations grow to something approaching carrying capacity, the chance that any one individual will die increases. They are more at risk from the effects of competition and disease in these circumstances.

  In the above example, it is not clear whether the individuals are more at risk, or if the rabbit population as a whole is more at risk.


  • Clearly, the results show that as temperature increases, mouse heart rate does likewise.

  In the above example, the writer assumes his/her reader will come to the same conclusion. Not everyone interprets things the same way and it can come across as rude to suggest a pattern or conclusion is obvious.


Question 12 (5 marks)

There are eight transition words or phrases in the body of text below (these have been bolded for you). Five of these are poor transitions. Underline the five poorly chosen transitions. Hint: If you underline more than five, you will have marks taken away!

It is a common misconception that scientists do not use creativity in their research because it might interfere with their objectivity. Nevertheless, some people think that following the scientific method of designing a hypothesis, then an experiment, analyzing the results, and then writing them up means there is no room for being an individual. As a result, if scientists did not use imagination and creativity many breakthroughs would not have been made. To highlight this point, in 1878, A.A Michelson calculated the speed of light by designing an ingenious experiment. To begin, he placed mirrors a long way apart. Ultimately, he made sure that one was spinning and then focused light on the other, which reflected back onto the spinning one. Thankfully, the spinning meant the returning beam was deflected. Finally, he measured the deflection before calculating the speed with a formula. Furthermore, technology has improved since then but the accepted speed of light is very similar to the value he originally calculated.


Questions 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 (1 mark each, 5 marks total)

Read the following paragraph. There are blanks where effective transitions need to be added. Each blank represents one question, for which you must choose the best transition from a set list of options.

When designing an experiment, there are a lot of things you need to think about. [Q13], it is important that you consider how to control variables other than the ones you are interested in. [Q14], there is no point asking whether temperature impacts swimming speed in fish if other things such as water depth, current, and light intensity are not held constant, because it is not possible to know which of these factors influenced the results. [Q15], it is important to design an experiment that can be easily repeated. [Q16] you need to make sure results did not occur by chance, you should aim to repeat the same experiment at least a few times so as to see whether an effect is consistent. Failing to control other variables or to plan for experimental repeats are two of the biggest mistakes that inexperienced researchers make. [Q17], the most common error of all involves taking more than one measurement from the same organism, test tube, or chemical mixture and failing to see that this can provide a biased estimate of your sample population.

Choose one transition word/phrase for each question from:

Q13: Firstly, Obviously, Naturally
Q14: For example, As a result, Secondly
Q15: In addition, Nevertheless, Consequently
Q16: Because, Since, Likewise
Q17: However, In summary, Meanwhile


Question 18: Bringing it all together (10 marks)

Choose a complicated subject or topic that you are very interested in (it can be anything, but try to choose something that most people will know little about). In 150-200 words, write a total of five sentences that are split into two paragraphs. Try to explain two separate aspects of this subject and ensure that:

  1. Each topic sentence is clear and suitable
  2. Your paragraphs are organized appropriately and information flows logically from sentence to sentence
  3. Each sentence transitions smoothly to the next

Once you have written your sentences/paragraphs, try to ask a friend with no background knowledge about the subject whether they have understood how each element (sentence) relates to the next one, and to the argument as a whole. Their input will likely help you write a strong, cohesive piece of writing.

*** Make sure you make a copy of your answer (copy and paste into a file on your computer). You will return to this piece of writing in the post-class activities. ***

Version 3

Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences and Transitions: Student Pre-Class Activities

Paragraphs

Paragraphs are extremely important components of an effectively structured piece of writing because they organize material in a way that makes it easier to follow for your readers. Without them, even the most fascinating piece of work will fail to attract the attention it deserves. Structuring your writing into clear, effective paragraphs that address individual ideas will help you organize your work, which in turn gives your readers the best possible chance of understanding the points you are trying to make.

Scientists and researchers often find themselves communicating the results of important studies in an attempt to convince others that they have discovered a new piece of knowledge that will have implications for future research and/or immediate real-world applications. As such, it is even more crucial that they are able to tell a story effectively because they have to convince their audience that their arguments are valid.

The three golden rules below will help you to write clear paragraphs, although you should note that these are just the main ones that you will need to focus on; there are plenty of others that will improve your writing as well. To begin with, try to make sure that you:


  1. Make one main point per paragraph. It is good practice to tell your reader in one clear, concise sentence (called a topic sentence) at the beginning of each paragraph what you will be expanding upon in that particular paragraph.
  2. Funnel information from general to specific. Treat each paragraph as a mini-essay, each with its own topic sentence. It is a good idea to start by providing general information before making the information that follows more specific.
  3. Provide evidence to fully support each paragraph. Although it is a good idea to make most paragraphs roughly similar in terms of word count, it is more important to make each paragraph similar in terms of content completeness. You must provide evidence to back up the general statement(s) made early in each paragraph.


Question 1 (5 marks)

Imagine that you have been working on a research project that was designed to investigate why the North American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) is proving to be such an invasive species. After working with numerous conservation charities and having looked at lots of sets of data, your colleague has drafted a short piece of writing to advertise your work ahead of an upcoming conference.

Read this draft below and use the three golden rules to restructure the writing into effective paragraphs. Hint: You should split the text into three different paragraphs and will need to move two sentences into one of these. You can copy and paste the text to save time.

The North American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) is one of the most invasive species on the planet, and is famous for eating just about anything it can fit inside its mouth. Although being non-fussy eaters is part of the reason that bullfrogs are so successful at invading other habitats, the first major advantage they have over other frogs is that they produce relatively high numbers of offspring. While the females of many native frog species produce 2-3,000 eggs at a time, bullfrogs can produce ten times as many, which gives the resultant young a much greater chance of surviving into adulthood. The second major advantage bullfrogs have over other species of frog is that they are more mobile and more willing to travel relatively long distances between ponds; native frogs tend to stay very near to the pond in which they are born, whereas bullfrogs can travel over two kilometers between habitats as they search for more favorable environments. Studies looking at the contents of bullfrog intestines have confirmed that they eat birds, snakes, rats, turtles, fish, and each other. Due to their willingness to eat a variety of prey species, local wildlife populations can be severely affected when they become common.


Question 2 (3 marks)

To give you some more practice in following the three golden rules of paragraph formation, read the following information drafted by your colleague ahead of the invasive species conference and condense it into fewer paragraphs. This exercise should help show you that it is just as possible to split information into too many paragraphs as it is to use too few, but that by following the golden rules, you should be able to improve any piece of writing.

Read the draft below and use the three golden rules to restructure the writing into effective paragraphs. Hint: You should condense the text into three different paragraphs. You can copy and paste the text to save time.

Controlling the spread of bullfrogs is of such importance that scientists are considering implementing a biological control program.
Such programs involve the deliberate release of predatory species into an environment in the hope that they will ultimately control the numbers of the unwanted species.
In this best-case scenario, the other species in the food web will recover and neither the introduced predator nor the unwanted species will exert a large effect on community processes.
Many scientists are wary of implementing biological control methods, however, as there are large risks associated; the major ones include the expense involved and the limited likelihood of success, as well as the released predator being too effective and simply replacing the unwanted species as a dominant one that negatively affects all other species in the environment.
When this last-case scenario becomes a reality, scientists are then faced with the problem of reducing numbers of the new dominant species.
In the case of the bullfrogs, the likeliest choice of a predatory control species would be the large-mouthed bass.
This fish is popular among fishermen and would seem a good choice to keep bullfrog numbers in check because it has a big appetite and is known to eat tadpoles and small frogs.


Topic Sentences

Remember from the previous section that an effective topic sentence must inform your reader what the paragraph is about, and it should also link the flow of your argument from the previous paragraph to the current one. It is usually a good idea to make the first sentence of your paragraph the topic sentence.

As a rough indicator of whether you have written clear topic sentences, a reader in a real hurry should be able to read these, and these only (i.e. avoid the detailed information in all the paragraphs), and still be able to understand the backbone of the argument you are making.


Some example errors and improvements

A1 (topic sentence missing):
“When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Fish caught in a trawler net will swim round and round, looking for a way out. Even primitive micro-organisms will move as far away as possible from a negative stimulus, somehow conditioned to flee from impending death.”


B1 (with effective topic sentence):
“There is a huge diversity of life on earth, but all organisms display a common desire to survive. When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Fish caught in a trawler net will swim round and round, looking for a way out. Even primitive micro-organisms will move as far away as possible from a negative stimulus, somehow conditioned to flee from impending death.”


A2 (topic sentence does not relate closely enough to paragraph):
“There is a huge diversity of life on earth, but all organisms display a common desire to survive. When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Wolves co-ordinate their hunting efforts so as to increase their chances of catching prey, but those with higher social ranks earn the right to eat before their inferiors. Hares, on the other hand, typically forage for food on their own. Although they do not benefit from the increased awareness of where food might be, which would come from searching with others, they never have to share their food when they find it.”


B2 (topic sentence relates directly to paragraph):
“Wolves and hares use different foraging strategies, and there are positives and negatives associated with each. Wolves co-ordinate their hunting efforts so as to increase their chances of catching prey, but food must be shared and wolves with higher social ranks earn the right to eat before their inferiors. Hares, on the other hand, typically forage for food on their own. Although they do not benefit from the increased awareness of where food might be, which would come from searching with others, they never have to share their food when they find it.”


Questions 3, 4 and 5 (1 mark each, 3 marks total)

Study the following paragraphs and the three different options for a topic sentence. Choose the most suitable one for each.


Question 3 (1 mark):

The blue whale can grow to lengths of 100ft and weigh as much as 180 tons, whereas the dwarf sperm whale does not grow to be longer than 9ft and weighs as little as 250kg.

  1. There is huge variation in the size of different whale species.
  2. The blue whale is much more powerful than the dwarf sperm whale.
  3. Despite living in the sea, whales are mammals and are unable to breathe underwater.


Question 4 (1 mark):

Viruses are made up of genetic material surrounded by a coat of protein. They must ‘hi-jack’ a host cell and use its physiological machinery to reproduce. Conversely, bacteria are much larger than viruses and are capable of independent reproduction.

  1. Viruses and bacteria differ in their method of reproduction.
  2. Viruses and bacteria both cause serious illness in people but reproduce differently.
  3. Viruses and bacteria are very different organisms.


Question 5 (1 mark):

For example, many parents have refused to give their children the triple vaccine of measles, mumps and rubella because of the suggestion that it increases the risk of developing autism. This is despite independent research finding no evidence to support a link between the two. Further independent research shows that there has been an alarming increase in the number of measles cases in children that did not receive the vaccine in recent years. Despite this fact, a high proportion of parents are still reluctant to administer the triple vaccine to their kids.

  1. Some inoculations are still poorly trusted despite tests confirming their safety.
  2. Measles has affected a high proportion of children that have not been vaccinated against it.
  3. Parents often rely on rumours to make poor health decisions on behalf of their kids.


Questions 6 and 7 (1 mark each, 2 marks total)

Now try to apply the rules of structuring your writing with effective topic sentences from the other perspective; try to select the most appropriate sentences to follow the topic sentences below.


Question 6 (1 mark)

In the natural world, sexual attraction is often based on male individuals displaying colourful features.

  1. For example, male peacocks, male perch, male grouse, and some male spiders all follow this pattern. In these same examples, the females in each species are typically less colorful.
  2. For example, male peacocks with the biggest and brightest tails tend to attract more females than those with duller appendages. Similarly, male perch with the brightest orange bellies and striking dorsal fins win more mates than their less colorful peers.
  3. For example, specific genes in male peacocks and male perch code for certain proteins that, when expressed at high levels, cause the animals to develop extreme colors and win mates. This phenomenon is true for some bird and fish species.


Question 7 (1 mark)

Drugs and medicines can save lives, but also destroy them.

  1. The word ‘drug’ has a negative association for many people but ‘medicine’ has a much more positive one. For example, Penicillin is lauded as one of the greatest discoveries in human history as its use saved millions of people from diseases like diphtheria and scarlet fever. On the other hand, recreational drugs do not save people from such diseases.
  2. Because medicines can be so important in saving lives, the pharmaceutical industry is worth trillions of dollars. Non-medicinal drugs, sold illegally, are also extremely valuable. Medicines have traditionally saved millions of people from diseases such as syphilis, diphtheria, typhoid and malaria but drugs often have negative associations because people know how damaging they can be to people that become addicted.
  3. Many life-threatening diseases, such as diphtheria and malaria, can be successfully treated with the correct antibiotics and antiviral drugs. For people afflicted by these diseases, drugs are wonderful commodities. However, people that take recreational drugs can often develop serious addictions to them; because these drugs are often extremely damaging to the body, addicts are in serious danger of developing major health issues that can ultimately lead to death.


Questions 8 and 9 (1 mark each, 2 marks total)

For the following two questions, read the bolded topic sentence (and paragraph that follows it) before deciding which one of the following problems makes each one a poor topic sentence:

A) It is too broad, and it is therefore hard to cover in sufficient detail in one paragraph
B) It is too narrow, and there is therefore too little to expand on in the paragraph
C) It lacks focus, and is therefore hard to link it to the support of one idea
D) The language is too specialist, and therefore might not make sense to everyone


Question 8 (1 mark)

Many students prefer one distinct scientific discipline to others. Although many people categorize students as 'science students' from an early stage of their academic careers, there are many biologists that do not involve themselves in learning chemistry or physics, and vice versa.


Question 9 (1 mark)

Parametric statistical methods are preferable to their non-parametric equivalents because they increase power in hypothesis-testing analyses. This is important because statistical analysis of data essentially provides support for the existence (or non-existence) of a significant effect. As such, a parametric method might highlight an important pattern that could be missed by a non-parametric test, which has great relevance in the field of research.


Making Smooth Transitions

We have already seen that a piece of writing containing interesting, important information will fail to get the message across if it is not structured into clear paragraphs. In the same way, such information will not make an impact on a reader if the flow of ideas does not transition seamlessly from sentence to sentence, or from paragraph to paragraph.

When reading over your work, ask yourself whether the flow of information is smooth. Although it is often difficult to remember everything that you have just read, it is a bad sign if you find yourself having to jump backwards again and again to fully understand something.

Before you get used to making smooth transitions, it is a good idea to ask a friend or classmate to read your work and tell you whether they followed your thought process from the first sentence to the last. If they found it difficult, you probably need to work on your transitions.

An effective transition should do at least two of three things. It should:

  1. Act as a preparatory signpost for what is coming up next
  2. Explain to the reader how each idea is connected
  3. Signal the point at which you are shifting to another idea


Two examples

A1 (Poor transitions): “Global warming will have negative consequences for polar bears. As temperatures rise they will have a smaller habitat in which to live. Also, there will be less food available for them because there will be smaller populations of krill. Polar bear populations are thus affected by the amount of ice available.”

B1 (Good transitions): “Global warming will have negative consequences for polar bears for two main reasons. Firstly, because increased temperatures cause increased melting of ice on which the bears live, there will be a reduced area in which they can live. Secondly, many species that polar bears rely on for food will be less numerous than in the past because their main food source, krill, can only breed successfully underneath ice. Therefore, the reduction of ice is the key factor in limiting polar bear populations.”

B1 is better than A1 because:

  1. Each sentence begins with a ‘signpost’ that links it to the next one
  2. Each transition connects the points made in the whole text with one another
  3. Each transition informs the reader that a new idea is about to be elaborated on


Question 10 (5 marks)

Imagine that you conducted a detailed experiment to see whether certain plant species were more effective than others at suppressing the spread of an invasive plant species that has negative consequences for British Columbia grasslands. In less than 250 words you had to describe (1) why your research was important, (2) what your main results were, and (3) why they might have important implications.

Read the ‘original’ draft below. Now, use the three transition pointers above to improve the transitions by filling in the gaps in the same body of text.

The spread of Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass) throughout grasslands in British Columbia (BC) has many negative effects on these habitats. For [?????], cheatgrass reduces biodiversity, leads to more frequent wildfires, and causes health problems for cattle that eat it. [?????], negative effects on ecosystems are also financially costly; it costs a lot of money to restore a habitat after fire and it is expensive to buy food for lots of cattle.

I grew cheatgrass plants in different treatment groups each featuring one other plant species that was common in BC grasslands, [??????] I wanted to see which species had the greatest negative effect on cheatgrass growth rate. [?????] this method, I tested three other species and found that crested wheatgrass significantly reduced the growth rate of cheatgrass; it reduced growth rate by approximately 65%. Bluebunch wheatgrass did not significantly affect cheatgrass growth rate, whereas Idaho fescue significantly increased the growth rate of cheatgrass by approximately 39%. As a [?????], I recommend grassland managers promote the growth of crested wheatgrass and discourage the growth of Idaho fescue.


Choosing Effective Transition Words and Phrases

Good transitions link ideas from sentence to sentence to build a compelling argument, and for this reason it is vital that an effective transition word or phrase is used in each scenario to achieve this. For example, the transition ‘for example’ will only work when you have just made a statement and are about to back it up with some specific evidence.

The following list is by no means extensive, but it provides some excellent transition words and phrases that will help you link sentences and develop, logical, flowing arguments:

  • But/however
  • Nevertheless
  • For example
  • Firstly/secondly/finally etc.
  • Therefore/thus
  • As a result
  • In contrast
  • And/also
  • Furthermore/moreover


Some examples

  • Rabbits regulate their own body temperature. In contrast, snakes rely on the external environment to warm them.
  • The vast majority of fertilized eggs released by salmon are eaten by other animals or drift away to unsuitable habitats. However, a small number hatch into young fish each year and these fish eventually go on to produce eggs of their own.
  • Prey species are at their most vulnerable when they are temporarily distracted when drinking. As a result, predators have learned to lurk around water sources and wait for their prey to come to them.


The following list includes some words that you should pay extra attention to when using as transitions. These words can be very effective when used correctly, but they can also confuse readers in certain situations:

  • Since
  • It
  • For
  • They
  • Naturally
  • Clearly/obviously


Some examples

  • A major medical breakthrough was made approximately 80 years ago when Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin. Since it has helped to greatly reduce the number of people dying from diseases such as syphilis and diphtheria.

In the above example, it is not clear whether the writer is suggesting that fewer people have died from these diseases in the years that have passed since the breakthrough was made, or whether he/she is using ‘since’ to mean that it was a major breakthrough ‘because’ fewer people died from the diseases after its discovery.


  • As rabbit populations grow to something approaching carrying capacity, the chance that any one individual will die increases. They are more at risk from the effects of competition and disease in these circumstances.

In the above example, it is not clear whether the individuals are more at risk, or if the rabbit population as a whole is more at risk.


  • Clearly, the results show that as temperature increases, mouse heart rate does likewise.

In the above example, the writer assumes his/her reader will come to the same conclusion. Not everyone interprets things the same way and it can come across as rude to suggest a pattern or conclusion is obvious.


Question 11 (5 marks)

There are five major mistakes in terms of the use of transition words and/or phrases in the paragraph below. First of all, try to highlight all five. Do this by bolding the five words/phrases that are problematic.

There are many different factors involved in regulating the size of a population of animals. Clearly, density independent factors, such as natural disasters and changeable weather patterns, work in tandem with density dependent factors, such as competition and predation, to ultimately determine how many individuals will exist from one point in time to another. A natural disaster, such as a flash flood, can wipe out a population regardless of its size; it will kill field mice whether they exist as a solitary breeding pair or are part of a 1000-strong local population. In contrast, density dependent factors will have less of an effect when the population is small. Therefore, the availability of resources, such as food and nesting sites, also dictate how many individuals can survive in a given environment. In contrast, when there is lots of food available, a population will grow because there are sufficient resources to support more individuals than currently exist. Thus, as time progresses, it is probable that food will no longer be as plentiful and fewer individuals will be supported. Finally, predation is likely to be more common when populations grow because there are more individuals available for predators to eat. Also, diseases are likely to have more effect when a population is large because there are more individuals in close contact and this makes it easier for the disease to spread between hosts.


Question 12 (5 marks)

Now study the paragraph again (the one above, from question 11) and replace the poor transitions you bolded with a suitable transition word or phrase.


Question 13: Bringing it all together (10 marks)

Choose a complicated subject or topic that you are very interested in (it can be anything, but try to choose something that most people will know little about). In 150-200 words, write a total of five sentences that are split into two paragraphs. Try to explain two separate aspects of this subject and ensure that:

  1. Each topic sentence is clear and suitable
  2. Your paragraphs are organized appropriately and information flows logically from sentence to sentence
  3. Each sentence transitions smoothly to the next

Once you have written your sentences/paragraphs, try to ask a friend with no background knowledge about the subject whether they have understood how each element (sentence) relates to the next one, and to the argument as a whole. Their input will likely help you write a strong, cohesive piece of writing.


*** Make sure you make a copy of your answer (copy and paste into a file on your computer). You will return to this piece of writing in the post-class activities. ***

Version 4

Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences and Transitions: Student Pre-Class Activities

Paragraphs

Paragraphs are extremely important components of an effectively structured piece of writing because they organize material in a way that makes it easier to follow as a reader. Without them, even the most fascinating piece of work will fail to attract the attention it deserves. Structuring your writing into clear, effective paragraphs that address individual ideas will help you organize your work, which in turn gives your readers the best possible chance of understanding the points you are trying to make.

Scientists and researchers often find themselves communicating the results of important studies in an attempt to convince others that they have discovered a new piece of knowledge that will have implications for future research and/or immediate real-world applications. As such, it is even more crucial that they are able to tell a story effectively because they have to convince their audience that their arguments are valid.

The three golden rules below will help you to write clear paragraphs, although you should note that these are just the main ones that you will need to focus on; there are plenty of others that will improve your writing as well. To begin with, try to make sure that you:


  1. Make one main point per paragraph. It is good practice to tell your reader in one clear, concise sentence (called a topic sentence) at the beginning of each paragraph what you will be expanding upon in that particular paragraph.
  2. Funnel information from general to specific. Treat each paragraph as a mini-essay, each with its own topic sentence. It is a good idea to start by providing general information about your topic before making the information that follows more specific.
  3. Provide evidence to fully support each paragraph. Although it is a good idea to make most paragraphs roughly similar in terms of word count, it is more important to make each paragraph similar in terms of content completeness. You must provide evidence to back up the general statement(s) made early in each paragraph.


Question 1 (5 marks)

Imagine that you have been working on a research project that was designed to investigate why numbers of the African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) have declined by approximately 90% in the last 100 years. After working with numerous different conservation charities and having looked at lots of sets of data, your colleague has drafted a short piece of writing to advertise your work ahead of an upcoming conference.

Read the draft below and use the three golden rules to restructure the writing into effective paragraphs. Hint: You should split the text into three different paragraphs and will need to move two sentences into one of these. You can copy and paste the text to save time.

Spheniscus demersus (African Penguin) has become an endangered species. The first main reason for the decline, highlighted by sea surface temperature measurements, is that global climate change has warmed waters in which it feeds and this has affected many of the fish species it relies on for food. As temperatures have risen, many of these prey species, such as pilchards and anchovies, have migrated southwards in search of cooler waters and are no longer reliable sources of food for the penguins. The second main reason is related to the first one; the growing human population has put more pressure on fish stocks, which have been greatly reduced as fishing efforts have continued to increase to meet demand. For example, in Namibia, 1.5million tons of surface-feeding fish were caught in 1962, but the quota was imposed at 0 tons in 2002 because stocks were so low. As a result of this impact, there are now fewer fish in the ocean than previously, which means a lower number of penguins can be supported by the food web than was previously the case. In 1910 it was estimated that approximately 1.5 million of these penguins existed but the current estimates place this figure at 100,000 – 125,000. This drastic decline means it is important that we investigate some of the reasons why the species has become endangered so that we can better understand how to design a conservation plan to prevent extinction.


Topic Sentences

Remember from the previous section that an effective topic sentence must inform your reader what the paragraph is about, and it should also link the flow of your argument from the previous paragraph to the current one. It is usually a good idea to make the first sentence of your paragraph the topic sentence.

As a rough indicator of whether you have written clear topic sentences, a reader in a real hurry should be able to read these, and these only (i.e. avoid the detailed information in all the paragraphs), and still be able to understand the backbone of the argument you are making.


Some example errors and improvements

A1 (topic sentence missing):
“When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Fish caught in a trawler net will swim round and round, looking for a way out. Even primitive micro-organisms will move as far away as possible from a negative stimulus, somehow conditioned to flee from impending death.”


B1 (with effective topic sentence):
“There is a huge diversity of life on earth, but all organisms display a common desire to survive. When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Fish caught in a trawler net will swim round and round, looking for a way out. Even primitive micro-organisms will move as far away as possible from a negative stimulus, somehow conditioned to flee from impending death.”


A2 (topic sentence does not relate closely enough to paragraph):
“There is a huge diversity of life on earth, but all organisms display a common desire to survive. When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Wolves co-ordinate their hunting efforts so as to increase their chances of catching prey, but those with higher social ranks earn the right to eat before their inferiors. Hares, on the other hand, typically forage for food on their own. Although they do not benefit from the increased awareness of where food might be, which would come from searching with others, they never have to share their food when they find it.”


B2 (topic sentence relates directly to paragraph):
“Wolves and hares use different foraging strategies, and there are positives and negatives associated with each. Wolves co-ordinate their hunting efforts so as to increase their chances of catching prey, but food must be shared and wolves with higher social ranks earn the right to eat before their inferiors. Hares, on the other hand, typically forage for food on their own. Although they do not benefit from the increased awareness of where food might be, which would come from searching with others, they never have to share their food when they find it.”


Questions 2, 3 and 4

Study the following paragraphs and the three different options for a topic sentence. Choose the most suitable one for each.


Question 2 (1 mark):
The blue whale can grow to lengths of 100ft and weigh as much as 180 tons, whereas the dwarf sperm whale does not grow to be longer than 9ft and weighs as little as 250kg.

  1. There is huge variation in the size of different whale species.
  2. The blue whale is much more powerful than the dwarf sperm whale.
  3. Despite living in the sea, whales are mammals and are unable to breathe underwater.


Question 3 (1 mark):
Viruses are made up of genetic material surrounded by a coat of protein. They must ‘hi-jack’ a host cell and use its physiological machinery to reproduce. Conversely, bacteria are much larger than viruses and are capable of independent reproduction.

  1. Viruses and bacteria differ in their method of reproduction.
  2. Viruses and bacteria both cause serious illness in people but reproduce differently.
  3. Viruses and bacteria are very different organisms.


Question 4 (1 mark):
For example, many parents have refused to give their children the triple vaccine of measles, mumps and rubella because of the suggestion that it increases the risk of developing autism. This is despite independent research finding no evidence to support a link between the two. Further independent research shows that there has been an alarming increase in the number of measles cases in children that did not receive the vaccine in recent years. Despite this fact, a high proportion of parents are still reluctant to administer the triple vaccine to their kids.

  1. Some inoculations are still poorly trusted despite tests confirming their safety.
  2. Measles has affected a high proportion of children that have not been vaccinated against it.
  3. Parents often rely on rumours to make poor health decisions on behalf of their kids.


Questions 5 and 6

Now try to apply the rules of structuring your writing with effective topic sentences from the other perspective; try to select the most appropriate sentences to follow the topic sentences below.


Question 5 (1 mark)

In the natural world, sexual attraction is often based on male individuals displaying colourful features.

  1. For example, male peacocks, male perch, male grouse, and some male spiders all follow this pattern. In these same examples, the females in each species are typically less colorful.
  2. For example, male peacocks with the biggest and brightest tails tend to attract more females than those with duller appendages. Similarly, male perch with the brightest orange bellies and striking dorsal fins win more mates than their less colorful peers.
  3. For example, specific genes in male peacocks and male perch code for certain proteins that, when expressed at high levels, cause the animals to develop extreme colors and win mates. This phenomenon is true for some bird and fish species.


Question 6 (1 mark)

Drugs and medicines can save lives, but also destroy them.

  1. The word ‘drug’ has a negative association for many people but ‘medicine’ has a much more positive one. For example, Penicillin is lauded as one of the greatest discoveries in human history as its use saved millions of people from diseases like diphtheria and scarlet fever. On the other hand, recreational drugs do not save people from such diseases.
  2. Because medicines can be so important in saving lives, the pharmaceutical industry is worth trillions of dollars. Non-medicinal drugs, sold illegally, are also extremely valuable. Medicines have traditionally saved millions of people from diseases such as syphilis, diphtheria, typhoid and malaria but drugs often have negative associations because people know how damaging they can be to people that become addicted.
  3. Many life-threatening diseases, such as diphtheria and malaria, can be successfully treated with the correct antibiotics and antiviral drugs. For people afflicted by these diseases, drugs are wonderful commodities. However, people that take recreational drugs can often develop serious addictions to them; because these drugs are often extremely damaging to the body, addicts are in serious danger of developing major health issues that can ultimately lead to death.


Making Smooth Transitions

We have already seen that a piece of writing containing interesting, important information will fail to get the message across if it is not structured into clear paragraphs. In the same way, such information will not make an impact on a reader if the flow of ideas does not transition seamlessly from sentence to sentence, or from paragraph to paragraph.

When reading over your work, ask yourself whether the flow of information is smooth. Although it is often difficult to remember everything that you have just read, it is a bad sign if you find yourself having to jump backwards again and again to fully understand something.

Before you get used to making smooth transitions, it is a good idea to ask a friend or classmate to read your work and tell you whether they followed your thought process from the first sentence to the last. If they found it difficult, you probably need to work on your transitions.

An effective transition should do at least two of three things. It should:

  1. Act as a preparatory signpost for what is coming up next
  2. Explain to the reader how each idea is connected
  3. Signal the point at which you are shifting to another idea


Two examples

A1 (Poor transitions): “Global warming will have negative consequences for polar bears. As temperatures rise they will have a smaller habitat in which to live. Also, there will be less food available for them because there will be smaller populations of krill. Polar bear populations are thus affected by the amount of ice available.”

B1 (Good transitions): “Global warming will have negative consequences for polar bears for two main reasons. Firstly, because increased temperatures cause increased melting of ice on which the bears live, there will be a reduced area in which they can live. Secondly, many species that polar bears rely on for food will be less numerous than in the past because their main food source, krill, can only breed successfully underneath ice. Therefore, the reduction of ice is the key factor in limiting polar bear populations.”

B1 is better than A1 because:

  1. Each sentence begins with a ‘signpost’ that links it to the next one
  2. Each transition connects the points made in the whole text with one another
  3. Each transition informs the reader that a new idea is about to be elaborated on


Question 7 (8 marks)

Imagine that you conducted a detailed experiment to see whether certain plant species were more effective than others at suppressing the spread of an invasive plant species that has negative consequences for British Columbia grasslands. In less than 250 words you had to describe (1) why your research was important, (2) what your main results were, and (3) why they might have important implications.

Read the ‘original’ draft below. Now, use the three transition pointers above to improve the transitions by filling in the gaps in the same body of text.

The spread of Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass) throughout grasslands in British Columbia (BC) has many negative effects on these habitats. For [?????], cheatgrass reduces biodiversity, leads to more frequent wildfires, and causes health problems for cattle that eat it. [?????], negative effects on ecosystems are also financially costly; it costs a lot of money to restore a habitat after fire and it is expensive to buy food for lots of cattle.
I grew cheatgrass plants in different treatment groups each featuring one other plant species that was common in BC grasslands, [??????] I wanted to see which species had the greatest negative effect on cheatgrass growth rate. [?????] this method, I tested three other species and found that crested wheatgrass significantly reduced the growth rate of cheatgrass; it reduced growth rate by approximately 65%. Bluebunch wheatgrass did not significantly affect cheatgrass growth rate, whereas Idaho fescue significantly increased the growth rate of cheatgrass by approximately 39%. As a [?????], I recommend grassland managers promote the growth of crested wheatgrass and discourage the growth of Idaho fescue.
It is hoped that this research will help prevent further spread of cheatgrass in BC grasslands, [?????] should allow these habitats to again flourish with a high natural biodiversity. [?????] cheatgrass could one day be eliminated from these grasslands, [?????] would be lots of positive ecological and financial effects.


Question 8 (10 marks)

Choose a complicated subject or topic that you are very interested in (it can be anything, but try to choose something that most people will know little about). In 100-150 words, write six sentences explaining one aspect of this subject and make sure each sentence transitions smoothly to the next so that your reader will be able to follow your explanation. Once you have written it, try to ask a friend with no background knowledge about the subject whether they have understood how each element (sentence) relates to the next one, and to the argument as a whole as their input will likely help you write a strong, cohesive piece of writing.

It is vital that you choose effective transition words and phrases to link your sentences together, but it is also important to focus on the ordering of your sentences so that your work is logical in the way that it presents information.

Before you submit your answer, make sure you make a copy (copy and paste into a file on your computer). You will return to this piece of writing in the post-class activities.


Choosing Effective Transition Words and Phrases

Good transitions link ideas from sentence to sentence to build a compelling argument, and for this reason it is vital that an effective transition word or phrase is used in each scenario to achieve this. For example, the transition ‘for example’ will only work when you have just made a statement and are about to back it up with some specific evidence.

The following list is by no means extensive, but it provides some excellent transition words and phrases that will help you link sentences and develop, logical, flowing arguments:

  • But/however
  • Nevertheless
  • For example
  • Firstly/secondly/finally etc.
  • Therefore/thus
  • As a result
  • In contrast
  • And/also
  • Furthermore/moreover


Some examples

  • Rabbits regulate their own body temperature. In contrast, snakes rely on the external environment to warm them.
  • The vast majority of fertilized eggs released by salmon are eaten by other animals or drift away to unsuitable habitats. However, a small number hatch into young fish each year and these fish eventually go on to produce eggs of their own.
  • Prey species are at their most vulnerable when they are temporarily distracted when drinking. As a result, predators have learned to lurk around water sources and wait for their prey to come to them.


The following list includes some words that you should pay extra attention to when using as transitions. These words can be very effective when used correctly, but they can also confuse readers in certain situations:

  • Since
  • It
  • For
  • They
  • Naturally
  • Clearly/obviously


Some examples

  • A major medical breakthrough was made approximately 80 years ago when Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin. Since it has helped to greatly reduce the number of people dying from diseases such as syphilis and diphtheria.

In the above example, it is not clear whether the writer is suggesting that fewer people have died from these diseases in the years that have passed since the breakthrough was made, or whether he/she is using ‘since’ to mean that it was a major breakthrough ‘because’ fewer people died from the diseases after its discovery.


  • As rabbit populations grow to something approaching carrying capacity, the chance that any one individual will die increases. They are more at risk from the effects of competition and disease in these circumstances.

In the above example, it is not clear whether the individuals are more at risk, or if the rabbit population as a whole is more at risk.


  • Clearly, the results show that as temperature increases, mouse heart rate does likewise.

In the above example, the writer assumes his/her reader will come to the same conclusion. Not everyone interprets things the same way and it can come across as rude to suggest a pattern or conclusion is obvious.


Question 9 (6 marks)

There are six major mistakes in terms of the use of transition words and/or phrases in the paragraph below. First of all, try to highlight all six. Do this by copying and pasting the body of text into your answer and bolding the six words/phrases that are problematic.

There are many different factors involved in regulating the size of a population of animals. Clearly, density independent factors, such as natural disasters and changeable weather patterns, work in tandem with density dependent factors, such as competition and predation, to ultimately determine how many individuals will exist from one point in time to another. A natural disaster, such as a flash flood, can wipe out a population regardless of its size; it will kill field mice whether they exist as a solitary breeding pair or are part of a 1000-strong local population. For example, density dependent factors will have less of an effect when the population is small. Therefore, the availability of resources, such as food and nesting sites, also dictate how many individuals can survive in a given environment. In contrast, when there is lots of food available, a population will grow because there are sufficient resources to support more individuals than currently exist. Thus, as time progresses, it is probable that food will no longer be as plentiful and fewer individuals will be supported. Finally, predation is likely to be more common when populations grow because there are more individuals available for predators to eat. Also, diseases are likely to have more effect when a population is large because there are more individuals in close contact and this makes it easier for the disease to spread between hosts.


Question 10 (6 marks)

Now study the paragraph again (the one above, from question 9) and replace the poor transitions you bolded with a suitable transition word or phrase.

Post-Class Activities

Post-Class Activities

Version 1

Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences and Transitions: Student Post-Class Activities

These post-class activities have been designed to give you further practice in spotting paragraphs with a good structure, that feature appropriate topic sentences, and which are bound together by effective transition words and phrases.


Question 1 (5 marks)

Imagine that you conducted a detailed experiment to see whether certain plant species were more effective than others at suppressing the spread of an invasive plant species that has negative consequences for British Columbia grasslands. Read the ‘original’ draft below. You have been provided with three ideas for stylistic ‘alterations’ that you could make to improve this paragraph. Your task is to rank these in order from the one that would make the biggest improvement to the smallest (3 marks).

Once you have done this, cut and paste the original paragraph and put your first choice alteration into practice by editing the paragraph in this way (2 marks).


The spread of Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass) throughout grasslands in British Columbia (BC) has many negative effects on these habitats. For example, cheatgrass reduces biodiversity, leads to more frequent wildfires, and causes health problems for cattle that eat it. Also, negative effects on ecosystems are financially costly; it costs a lot of money to restore a habitat after fire and it is expensive to buy food for lots of cattle. One way to reduce the environmental and financial effects of cheatgrass growth is to introduce another plant species that will reduce the growth rate of cheatgrass. In order to know which plant species has the greatest negative effect on cheatgrass growth rate, I grew cheatgrass plants in different treatment groups each featuring one other plant species that was common in BC grasslands. Following this method, I tested three other species and found that crested wheatgrass significantly reduced the growth rate of cheatgrass; it reduced growth rate by approximately 65%. Bluebunch wheatgrass did not significantly affect cheatgrass growth rate, whereas Idaho fescue significantly increased the growth rate of cheatgrass by approximately 39%. Naturally, I recommend grassland managers promote the growth of crested wheatgrass and discourage the growth of Idaho fescue.


Alteration A: Improve transition words/phrases.
Alteration B: Split information into more than one paragraph.
Alteration C: Improve the topic sentence.


Questions 2, 3 and 4 (3 marks each, 9 marks total)

For each of the following topics, choose the suitable topic sentence and match the reasons that make the others unsuitable to the unsuitable topic sentences. In all cases, when choosing your suitable topic sentence, imagine that you are just beginning to write an essay on the topic.


Question 2 (3 marks)

Topic 1: Antiviral resistance in viruses.


Topic Sentence 1: Of the 1,344 influenza viruses tested during the 2012-2013 flu season, 99.9% were resistant to the antiviral drug amantadine.
Topic Sentence 2: Antiviral resistance presents many different problems for patients, healthcare professionals, and drug developers.
Topic Sentence 3: Antiviral resistance may develop in viruses spontaneously or while in the presence of an antiviral.


Option A: Information is too specific for a topic sentence.
Option B: The focus is too broad for the information that could follow in one paragraph about this topic.
Option C: Suitable topic sentence.


Question 3 (3 marks)

Topic 2: Correlation doesn’t imply causation


Topic Sentence 1: People often wrongly imply that a correlation between two variables means there is a cause and effect relationship between them.
Topic Sentence 2: Although many people wrongly infer that a conclusion is definitive if it is based on statistical data from extraneous variables, many more assume that an association between two variables can never indicate a causal relationship.
Topic Sentence 3: In certain cities, many people assume that colder temperatures result in more traffic accidents, suggesting that correlation implies causation.


Option A: Too difficult to interpret.
Option B: Suitable topic sentence.
Option C: Too narrow in focus for the information that should follow about this topic.


Question 4 (3 marks)

Topic 3: Using giant solar powered “sails” to power spacecrafts.


Topic Sentence 1: Solar energy might one day power spacecraft and astronauts into deep space.
Topic Sentence 2: Scientists believe that building giant "sails" in space could help astronauts explore the deeper parts of the universe.
Topic Sentence 3: "Sails" that catch solar energy and transfer photons with incredible kinetic potential into forward thrust might one day allow astronauts to explore the depths of the universe.


Option A: Suitable topic sentence.
Option B: Information is too specific for a topic sentence.
Option C: Information is too broad for a topic sentence.


Question 5 (5 marks)

Read the paragraph about cleaning up oil spills below, and try to fill in the blanks by choosing the most suitable transitional word/phrase for each question.


Researchers have developed a new way to clean up difficult oil spills using a method based on the function of cactus needles. [A], synthetic and copper spikes were designed as smaller versions of cactus needles, which draw moisture out of the air. Cactus needles cause water droplets to aggregate before they are carried to the base of the needle via surface tension. [B], tests confirmed that the synthetic and copper spikes were able to mimic this phenomenon as micrometer-sized oil droplets collected on the needle surfaces and were drawn along the length of the spike. [C], clean-up methods focus only on removing oil from the surface. [D], researchers are excited by the new possibility because the spikes could be used for cleaning up denser droplets that sink below the surface and are difficult to remove. [E] this method is said to be a cheaper alternative to traditional methods, other experts warn that the technology may not be practical in real situations. For example, the amount of needles that would be required to clean a large oil spill is huge.


Fill in the blanks by choosing from:

A: Apparently, Initially, Obviously, Naturally
B: Subsequently, Nonetheless, Secondly, Conversely
C: These days, Nevertheless, Previously, Presently
D: In addition, Despite this, Consequently, However
E: Because, Since, Although, Despite the fact that


Question 6 (6 marks)

Read the paragraph about wolves in Yellowstone National Park below, and pay special attention to the CAPITALIZED transition words/phrases linking the different sentences together. Copy and paste this paragraph and then bold the three transitions that are particularly poor (3 marks). Then, below this, copy and paste the same paragraph and change those three transitions so as to make them more suitable (3 marks). Again, bold these in the paragraph to make it easier to see what you have changed.


The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park has had a surprisingly positive effect on grizzly bear populations. [OBVIOUSLY] many scientists were worried that fewer bears would be supported by the ecosystem [BECAUSE] the wolves were expected to enhance competition for food and living resources, but the opposite effect has been documented. Research has shown that the wolves are driving down excessively large populations of grazing mammals, such as elk and deer. [IN ADDITION], many shrub species that provide berries as a food resource for bears have become much more common, and the bears are supplementing their diets accordingly. [HOWEVER], scientists have warned that this could be a short-term effect; they cannot yet be sure that the presence of the wolves is responsible for increasing bear numbers, [OR] can they be certain that bear populations will remain this high in years to come. [NEVERTHELESS], the early signs are very positive that bringing wolves back to Yellowstone has helped to stabilize a delicate, complex food web.

Version 2

Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences and Transitions: Student Post-Class Activities

These post-class activities have been designed to give you further practice in spotting paragraphs with a good structure, that feature appropriate topic sentences, and which are bound together by effective transition words and phrases.


Question 1 (4 marks)

Below are four paragraphs containing similar content, but each one features one different basic error. These errors relate to paragraph structure and/or the logical development of ideas in the piece of writing. Try to match the main problem to the paragraph in which it is present.


Paragraph 1: Exploring space is challenging because the universe is cold, unpredictable, and huge. Scientists have recently suggested that to explore the deeper parts of the galaxy they will need to find alternative ways of powering spacecraft. This is because it is not possible to equip a craft with sufficient fuel to travel long distances in space. However, there is hope that innovation and improving technology will allow us to explore deeper and deeper. For example, some believe it will be possible to construct very big "sails" to catch solar energy, which will in turn push the craft forwards at increasing speeds.


Paragraph 2: Scientists believe that building giant "sails" in space could help astronauts explore the deeper parts of the universe. These sails would be used to catch solar energy, which possesses momentum that could be used to drive a spacecraft forwards to wherever its pilots wished to go. Despite this hope, it might be hundreds of years before the technology exists to build these sails. Although NASA and other space agencies have made tremendous progress in recent decades, designers are still frequently dismayed by their inability to make computer systems reliable in anti-gravity situations. For example, basic programs that perform calculations can inexplicably malfunction once operating outside our atmosphere.


Paragraph 3: "Sails" that catch solar energy and transfer photons with incredible kinetic potential into forward thrust might one day allow astronauts to explore the depths of the universe. Because photons behave like other atomic particles, in that they are reflected off mirror-like surfaces when colliding, they can transfer momentum to an object. Critically, it is this momentum that could be used to drive a spacecraft forwards toward its destination. Exploring deep space remains one of mankind's greatest challenges because navigating long distances requires a lot of fuel and/or other ways of powering flight.


Paragraph 4: Solar energy might one day power spacecraft and astronauts into deep space. Scientists believe that constructing huge "sails" would catch solar rays. Solar particles can transfer momentum to objects when they collide, which would theoretically be enough to power a craft into deep space. This would be a major factor in allowing astronauts to go further than ever before because modern explorations are limited by fuel reserves. Most space explorations use the majority of their fuel loads just in getting out of Earth's atmosphere.


Problem A: The order of information is poorly developed (in terms of specificity).
Problem B: The topic sentence is poorly chosen.
Problem C: The transitions are poor.
Problem D: The information should be split into more than one paragraph.


Question 2 (5 marks)

Read the paragraph about temperatures and traffic accidents below. You have been provided with three ideas for stylistic ‘alterations’ that you could make to improve this paragraph. Your task is to rank these in order from the one that would make the biggest improvement to the smallest (3 marks).

Once you have done this, cut and paste the original paragraph and put your first choice alteration into practice by editing the paragraph in this way (2 marks).


People often wrongly imply that a correlation between two variables means there is a cause and effect relationship between them. For example, last summer, when temperatures were hotter, a higher number of traffic accidents occurred in certain cities around the world. Soon after, reports appeared that said the extra heat must have been causing motorists to be more impatient and make poor decisions when they were behind the wheel. Although many people made the common mistake of jumping to that conclusion based on data from unrelated variables, even more hold the misconception that a correlation can never imply a cause and effect relationship. When all other variables are held constant in an experiment, it is possible to suggest one factor is directly responsible for causing a change in the other one, if the results back this up. For example, if 100 fish are kept in identical conditions but their weight gain is measured in different temperatures, a correlation between the two factors would suggest that temperature is directly responsible for influencing weight gain.


Alteration A: Improve transition words/phrases.
Alteration B: Split information into more than one paragraph.
Alteration C: Improve the topic sentence.


Questions 3, 4 and 5 (3 marks each, 9 marks total)

For each of the following topics, choose the suitable topic sentence and match the reasons that make the others unsuitable to the unsuitable topic sentences. In all cases, when choosing your suitable topic sentence, imagine that you are just beginning to write an essay on the topic.


Question 3 (3 marks)

Topic 1: Antibiotic resistance in bacteria.


Topic Sentence 1: One of the main causes of bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics is the over-prescription of drugs.
Topic Sentence 2: Bacteria can develop resistance to specific antibiotics for a variety of reasons.
Topic Sentence 3: In less than 20 years the percentage of S. pneumoniae strains that developed resistance to Penicillin-based drugs rose from 4% to 33%.


Option A: Information is too specific for a topic sentence.
Option B: The focus is too narrow for the information that will follow about this topic.
Option C: Suitable topic sentence.


Question 4 (3 marks)

Topic 2: Plagiarism in science


Topic Sentence 1: Many people believe that plagiarism in science is a simple case of quoting someone else’s published work and passing it off as their own.
Topic Sentence 2: What does – and does not – constitute plagiarism in science is a multi-faceted issue that many scholars will debate and debate and still disagree about.
Topic Sentence 3: Plagiarism in science is a complex topic and includes many different types of academic fraud.


Option A: Too difficult to interpret.
Option B: Suitable topic sentence.
Option C: Too narrow in focus for the information that should follow about this topic.


Question 5 (3 marks)

Topic 3: Catchy headlines in science articles.


Topic Sentence 1: A recent study suggested members of the general public would be 36% more likely to read a science article if the headline was catchy and non-specific.
Topic Sentence 2: Do you think that scientists should write in a more engaging style if it would result in more people reading their articles?
Topic Sentence 3: When polling a total of 1135 New York citizens, it was discovered that these people would be 36% more likely to read a science article if the headline was written in a more catchy, accessible style than is typical for such articles.


Option A: Suitable topic sentence.
Option B: Information is too specific for a topic sentence.
Option C: Suitable topic sentence, but there is a catchier, more attention-grabbing option.


Questions 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 (1 mark each, 5 marks total)

Read the paragraph about wolves in Yellowstone National Park below, and try to fill in the blanks by choosing the most suitable transitional word/phrase for each question.


The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park has had a surprisingly positive effect on grizzly bear populations. [Q6] many scientists were worried that fewer bears would be supported by the ecosystem, [Q7] the wolves were expected to enhance competition for food and living resources, the opposite effect has been documented. Research has shown that the wolves are driving down excessively large populations of grazing mammals, such as elk and deer. [Q8], many shrub species that provide berries as a food resource for bears have become much more common, and the bears are supplementing their diets accordingly. However, scientists have warned that this could be a short-term effect; they cannot yet be sure that the presence of the wolves is responsible for increasing bear numbers, [Q9] can they be certain that bear populations will remain this high in years to come. [Q10], the early signs are very positive that bringing wolves back to Yellowstone has helped to stabilize a delicate, complex food web.


Fill in the blanks by choosing from:

Q6: Unsurprisingly, Although, Though, Contrastingly, Hitherto
Q7: because, despite, since, while, nonetheless
Q8: In addition, Thus, Of Course, As a result, Naturally
Q9: neither, nor, not either, or, instead
Q10: Finally, Nevertheless, In contrast, Yet, Thus


Question 11 (4 marks)

Read the paragraph about species names below, and pay special attention to the CAPITALIZED transition words/phrases linking the different sentences together. Copy and paste this paragraph and then bold the two transitions that are particularly poor (2 marks). Then, below this, copy and paste the same paragraph and change those two transitions so as to make them more suitable (2 marks). Again, bold these in the paragraph to make it easier to see what you have changed.

When new species are first discovered, the person responsible for initially documenting them in scientific literature is allowed to come up with an official name, and this can be more or less what they want it to be. It does not have to be made up of words that appear in a specific language, and it does not have to be science-related. OBVIOUSLY, a species name must be non-confusing and easy to pronounce, though. CONSEQUENTLY, many plants, animals, fungi, bacteria and viruses have names that can be read aloud without the reader necessarily knowing what they refer to. FREQUENTLY, these names closely link to the interests of their discoverers. FOR EXAMPLE, an ant was named after Indiana Jones actor, Harrison Ford, a marine fossil discovered by a Johnny Depp fan was named in honor of his famous character, “Edward Scissorhands”, BUT a lemur found in Madagascar was named after John Cleese, who had been working to conserve similar animals. IN ADDITION to the rule permitting a discoverer to name a new species, it is also acceptable for conservation charities to refrain from naming organisms and instead reserve this honor for individuals that donate significant money to the cause they represent.


Question 12 (6 marks)

Combine all the skills you have learned to write a very well structured paragraph. To get you in the habit of editing your work to improve it, revisit the paragraph you wrote for the pre-class activities (Question 13) to complete this task. You should have made a copy of this paragraph when you completed the pre-class activities.

You can add more detail and should change some of the wording to improve your paragraph, but you must ensure the final piece still has five different sentences that are separated into two paragraphs.

Your aim is to improve your work by (1) writing more effective topic sentences, (2) using more effective transitions to make it flow more smoothly from sentence to sentence, and (3) improving the cohesion/ordering of information. To show improvement, you will need to copy and paste your original paragraph (make sure you note which one this is) before writing a new, improved version.

Note: If you did not make a copy of your original paragraph, you should write a new one (about a science subject that interests you) to attempt this question. It should be 100-200 words in length and feature five sentences separated into two paragraphs. Please note, however, that to obtain maximum possible credit, you must copy and paste your original paragraph before editing it so that you can show how your skills have improved.

Version 3

Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences and Transitions: Student Post-Class Activities

These post-class activities have been designed to give you further practice in spotting paragraphs with a good structure, that feature appropriate topic sentences, and which are bound together by effective transition words and phrases.


Question 1 (4 marks)

Below are four paragraphs that all feature one different basic error. These errors relate to paragraph structure and/or the logical development of ideas in the piece of writing. Try to match the main problem to the paragraph in which it is present.


Paragraph 1: An adult red squirrel weighs approximately 300 g, whereas the much heavier eastern grey squirrel weighs nearer 600 g when mature. Red squirrels are also much smaller in terms of length, measuring approximately 20 cm as opposed to the 30 cm that is typical of a grey squirrel. Grey squirrels tend to be more competitive and bully red squirrels away from suitable habitats when the two species co-exist because of their greater size.


Paragraph 2: Competition tends to be more intense between individuals of the same species than between members of different species. The main reason for this is that members of the same species have more similar resource requirements, whereas different species typically evolve to exploit slightly different resources. For example, finches on the Galapagos Islands have evolved different beak sizes so as to make use of a variety of different seed sizes as food resources. Although different bird species will eat more than one type of seed, and thus compete with each other, each one has evolved to specialize in eating one seed type. Thus, when that particular size of seed is very scarce, competition will be higher between members of the same species. Evolution of beak sizes takes a considerable amount of time and occurs constantly over thousands of generations. Natural variation in the beak sizes of individuals leads to certain birds being more competitive than others. Over time, these birds are more likely to pass on their genes to the next generation, which in turn means it is more likely that birds with similar beak sizes will populate each species.


Paragraph 3: Children born from the same parents can have very different physical characteristics, such as eye and hair colour, height, and muscle definition. Similarly, fish that hatch from eggs produced and fertilized by the same breeding pair will differ in the shape of their fins and the patterns on their scales. Dogs, too, despite being part of the same litter, will have different body shapes and sizes.


Paragraph 4: Complex statistical tests of data are being used increasingly frequently even though people who design the experiments they evaluate rarely understand them. Tests that compare differences in averages seen in different treatment groups are straightforward enough but others, such as Principal Components Analyses, are very complex. Many published journal articles rely on very complicated statistical tests to garner support for the conclusions drawn by the author(s).


Problem A: This paragraph is lacking a topic sentence (and transition).
Problem B: This paragraph begins with overly specific information before becoming more general.
Problem C: This paragraph addresses more than one main point (and has two topic sentences), so the information in it should be split into separate paragraphs.
Problem D: No evidence is given to support the claim made in the topic sentence.


Question 2 (4 marks)

Read the paragraph about the price of halibut below. You have been provided with three ideas for stylistic ‘alterations’ that you could make to improve the paragraph. Your task is to rank these in order from the one that would make the biggest improvement to the smallest (3 marks).

Once you have done this, cut and paste the original paragraph and put your first choice alteration into practice by editing the paragraph in this way (1 mark). Bold any changes you make so that these can easily be seen in your altered version.


Reporters have been known to make some major errors when writing science articles. For example, a journalist once reported that it was becoming more expensive to eat halibut because toothpaste was also going up in price in North America. He came to this conclusion after noticing a correlation between these two variables. What he had not taken into account was that halibut was becoming more expensive due to sudden shortages that always occurred at that time of year, and that toothpaste just happened to be in temporary short supply due to import delays from China. Unsurprisingly, a few weeks later he realized his error after paying top price for a halibut steak within moments of buying two tubes of toothpaste for next to nothing; supermarkets were selling it cheaply again due to a sudden influx of the product from abroad.


Alteration A: Divide the text into separate paragraphs.
Alteration B: Improve the choice of transitional words/phrases.
Alteration C: Write a more effective topic sentence.


Questions 3, 4 and 5 (3 marks each, 9 marks total)

For each of the following topics, choose the suitable topic sentence and match the reasons that make the others unsuitable to the unsuitable topic sentences. In all cases, when choosing your suitable topic sentence, imagine that you are just beginning to write an essay on the topic.


Question 3 (3 marks)

Topic 1: Antibiotic resistance in bacteria.


Topic Sentence 1: One of the main causes of bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics is the over-prescription of drugs.
Topic Sentence 2: Bacteria can develop resistance to specific antibiotics for a variety of reasons.
Topic Sentence 3: In less than 20 years the percentage of S. pneumoniae strains that developed resistance to Penicillin-based drugs rose from 4% to 33%.


Option A: Information is too specific for a topic sentence.
Option B: The focus is too narrow for the information that will follow about this topic.
Option C: Suitable topic sentence.


Question 4 (3 marks)

Topic 2: Plagiarism in science


Topic Sentence 1: Many people believe that plagiarism in science is a simple case of quoting someone else’s published work and passing it off as their own.
Topic Sentence 2: What does – and does not – constitute plagiarism in science is a multi-faceted issue that many scholars will debate and debate and still disagree about.
Topic Sentence 3: Plagiarism in science is a complex topic and includes many different types of academic fraud.


Option A: Too difficult to interpret.
Option B: Suitable topic sentence.
Option C: Too narrow in focus for the information that should follow about this topic.


Question 5 (3 marks)

Topic 3: Catchy headlines in science articles.


Topic Sentence 1: A recent study suggested members of the general public would be 36% more likely to read a science article if the headline was catchy and non-specific.
Topic Sentence 2: Do you think that scientists should write in a more engaging style if it would result in more people reading their articles?
Topic Sentence 3: When polling a total of 1135 New York citizens, it was discovered that these people would be 36% more likely to read a science article if the headline was written in a more catchy, accessible style than is typical for such articles.


Option A: Suitable topic sentence.
Option B: Information is too specific for a topic sentence.
Option C: Suitable topic sentence, but there is a catchier, more attention-grabbing option.


Question 6 (5 marks)

Read the paragraph below and try to fill in the blanks by using the transitional words/phrases that appear at the end (each transition can only be used once). Cut and paste the paragraph and replace the numbers with your choice of transitional word/phrase.

The global population is estimated to have doubled in the last 50 years, which has placed an extra strain on the planet’s natural resources and led to governments adopting greener policies and investing in innovative energy technologies. 1 , renewable energy sources, such as solar and tidal power have been used to power appliances and homes in parts of Europe. 2 , schools in these regions have developed workshops to educate their pupils about the importance of saving energy from an early age. 3, it is hoped kids will learn not to leave lights on when they are not using them, 4 instead they will instinctively know to switch them off. 5 , educational efforts can only go so far in the fight to conserve energy, especially if technological advances are not made to boost output.


Fill in the blanks by choosing from:

Option A: In addition/also
Option B: And
Option C: However
Option D: As a result
Option E: For example


Question 7 (5 marks)

Copy and paste the paragraph below and replace the numbered gaps with suitable transitional words/phrases that make each sentence flow into the next one and aid smooth development of the writing.

Popular since the 1970s, mood rings are made up of liquid crystals in a glass shell. [1] the mood of the person wearing the ring changes, the colour of the ring will also change (or at least that is what consumers are told). [2], the explanation for the change in colour is a deceptively simple one: [3] temperature changes, the molecular structure of the crystals also changes due to the movement of particles in them. [4] different wavelengths of light are absorbed and reflected, which in turn means we see a change in colour. [5] colour changes regularly in mood rings, there is no evidence to suggest it is closely related to a person's mood.


Question 8 (6 marks)

Combine all the skills you have learned to write a very well structured paragraph. To get you in the habit of editing your work to improve it, revisit the paragraph you wrote for the pre-class activities to complete this task. You should have made a copy of this paragraph when you completed the pre-class activities.

You can add more detail and should change some of the wording to improve your paragraph, but you must ensure the final piece still has five different sentences that are separated into two paragraphs.

Your aim is to improve your work by (1) writing more effective topic sentences, (2) using more effective transitions to make it flow more smoothly from sentence to sentence, and (3) improving the cohesion/ordering of information. To show improvement, you will need to copy and paste your original paragraph (make sure you note which one this is) before writing a new, improved version.

Note: If you did not make a copy of your original paragraph, you should write a new one (about a science subject that interests you) to attempt this question. It should be 100-200 words in length and feature five sentences separated into two paragraphs. Please note, however, that to obtain maximum possible credit, you must copy and paste your original paragraph before editing it so that you can show how your skills have improved.

Version 4

Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences and Transitions: Student Post-Class Activities

These post-class activities have been designed to give you further practice in spotting paragraphs with a good structure, that feature appropriate topic sentences, and which are bound together by effective transition words and phrases.


Question 1 (5 marks)

Below are five paragraphs that all feature one different basic error. These errors relate to paragraph structure and/or the logical development of ideas in a piece of writing. You must match the main problem to the paragraph in which it is present.


Paragraph 1: An adult red squirrel weighs approximately 300 g, whereas the much heavier eastern grey squirrel weighs nearer 600 g when mature. Red squirrels are also much smaller in terms of length, measuring approximately 20 cm as opposed to the 30 cm that is typical of a grey squirrel. Grey squirrels tend to be more competitive and bully red squirrels away from suitable habitats when the two species co-exist because of their greater size.


Paragraph 2: Competition tends to be more intense between individuals of the same species than between members of different species. The main reason for this is that members of the same species have more similar resource requirements, whereas different species typically evolve to exploit slightly different resources. For example, finches on the Galapagos Islands have evolved different beak sizes so as to make use of a variety of different seed sizes as food resources. Although different bird species will eat more than one type of seed, and thus compete with each other, each one has evolved to specialize in eating one seed type. Thus, when that particular size of seed is very scarce, competition will be higher between members of the same species. Evolution of beak sizes takes a considerable amount of time and occurs constantly over thousands of generations. Natural variation in the beak sizes of individuals leads to certain birds being more competitive than others. Over time, these birds are more likely to pass on their genes to the next generation, which in turn means it is more likely that birds with similar beak sizes will populate each species.


Paragraph 3: Children born from the same parents can have very different physical characteristics, such as eye and hair colour, height, and muscle definition. Similarly, fish that hatch from eggs produced and fertilized by the same breeding pair will differ in the shape of their fins and the patterns on their scales. Dogs, too, despite being part of the same litter, will have different body shapes and sizes.


Paragraph 4: It can be argued that statistical tests of data should only be used to provide support for certain hypotheses if they are simple enough to be understood by the person that designed the initial experiment. Tests that compare differences in averages seen in different treatment groups are straightforward enough but others, such as Principal Components Analyses, are very complex. Many published journal articles rely on very complicated statistical tests to garner support for the conclusions drawn by the author(s).


Paragraph 5: If you ask someone which animals they like least, this person will probably provide a list of non-pet species that they come into contact with on a regular basis. For example, rats are one of the most disliked animals on the planet, but I argue this is just because they are successful and so numerous that their habits bring them into material conflict with people, and not because there is anything inherently dislikeable about them. For example, rats have conquered a wide range of habitats and regularly damage buildings where people live as they make their own homes in limited space. They can also carry agents of disease that affect people, and they have an unwarranted reputation for being dirty animals as a result. Yet they are actually very clean, intelligent and friendly; these attributes are usually present in other animals that people describe as being among their favourites (such as monkeys). Also, cats are very popular animals but they are typically known as pets. In comparison to rats, monkeys are considerably more dangerous to be around, also carry agents of disease, and can be destructive due to their size. However, because they do not co-exist with people in many societies, these potential conflicts are overlooked when people assess how well liked they are.


Problem A: This paragraph is lacking a topic sentence (and transition).
Problem B: This paragraph includes information that is unrelated to the topic.
Problem C: Paragraph begins with very specific information before turning more general.
Problem D: This paragraph addresses more than one main point (and has two topic sentences).
Problem E: No evidence is given to support the claim made in the topic sentence.


Question 2 (5 marks)

Study the five paragraphs from Question 1 again. You have just matched the problems with the paragraphs. Now you must alter the paragraphs to remove the different problem affecting each one. To save time, simply cut and paste the original paragraphs into your answer before making the alterations to each one.

As a hint, you will need to make one of the following five 'Alterations' to each paragraph (and make sure you say which of these you have done to each paragraph, e.g. Paragraph 1 = Alteration B):


Alteration A: Divide the text into separate paragraphs.
Alteration B: Add some evidence (you can make it up for this activity, rather than having to research the topic).
Alteration C: Swap the order of the sentences around.
Alteration D: Add a topic sentence and a transition word/phrase.
Alteration E: Remove unnecessary and unrelated information.


Questions 3, 4 and 5 (3 marks each, 9 marks total)

For each of the following topics, choose the suitable topic sentence and match the reasons that make the others unsuitable to the unsuitable topic sentences. In all cases, when choosing your suitable topic sentence, imagine that you are just beginning to write an essay on the topic.


Question 3 (3 marks)

Topic 1: Antibiotic resistance in bacteria.


Topic Sentence 1: One of the main causes of bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics is the over-prescription of drugs.
Topic Sentence 2: Bacteria can develop resistance to specific antibiotics for a variety of reasons.
Topic Sentence 3: In less than 20 years the percentage of S. pneumoniae strains that developed resistance to Penicillin-based drugs rose from 4% to 33%.


Option A: Information is too specific for a topic sentence.
Option B: The focus is too narrow for the information that will follow about this topic.
Option C: Suitable topic sentence.


Question 4 (3 marks)

Topic 2: Plagiarism in science


Topic Sentence 1: Many people believe that plagiarism in science is a simple case of quoting someone else’s published work and passing it off as their own.
Topic Sentence 2: What does – and does not – constitute plagiarism in science is a multi-faceted issue that many scholars will debate and debate and still disagree about.
Topic Sentence 3: Plagiarism in science is a complex topic and includes many different types of academic fraud.


Option A: Too difficult to interpret.
Option B: Suitable topic sentence.
Option C: Too narrow in focus for the information that should follow about this topic.


Question 5 (3 marks)

Topic 3: Catchy headlines in science articles.


Topic Sentence 1: A recent study suggested members of the general public would be 36% more likely to read a science article if the headline was catchy and non-specific.
Topic Sentence 2: Do you think that scientists should write in a more engaging style if it would result in more people reading their articles?
Topic Sentence 3: When polling a total of 1135 New York citizens, it was discovered that these people would be 36% more likely to read a science article if the headline was written in a more catchy, accessible style than is typical for such articles.


Option A: Suitable topic sentence.
Option B: Information is too specific for a topic sentence.
Option C: Suitable topic sentence, but there is a catchier, more attention-grabbing option.


Questions 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 (1 mark each, 5 marks total)

In this complete set of questions (questions 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10), you must consider the transition words/phrases in the paragraph below (the transition word to focus on for each question is underlined and bolded). For each transition, you must agree (or disagree) as to whether it is effective.


Question 6 (1 mark)

The global population is estimated to have doubled in the last 50 years, which has placed an extra strain on the planet’s natural resources and led to governments adopting greener policies and investing in innovative energy technologies. Moreover, renewable energy sources, such as solar and tidal power have been used to power appliances and homes in parts of Europe. As a result, schools in these regions have developed workshops to educate their pupils about the importance of saving energy from an early age. Thus, it is hoped kids will learn not to leave lights on when they are not using them, but instead they will know to instinctively switch them off. Nevertheless, purchasing energy saving light bulbs can help reduce losses even more.


Question 7 (1 mark)

The global population is estimated to have doubled in the last 50 years, which has placed an extra strain on the planet’s natural resources and led to governments adopting greener policies and investing in innovative energy technologies. Moreover, renewable energy sources, such as solar and tidal power have been used to power appliances and homes in parts of Europe. As a result, schools in these regions have developed workshops to educate their pupils about the importance of saving energy from an early age. Thus, it is hoped kids will learn not to leave lights on when they are not using them, but instead they will know to instinctively switch them off. Nevertheless, purchasing energy saving light bulbs can help reduce losses even more.


Question 8 (1 mark)

The global population is estimated to have doubled in the last 50 years, which has placed an extra strain on the planet’s natural resources and led to governments adopting greener policies and investing in innovative energy technologies. Moreover, renewable energy sources, such as solar and tidal power have been used to power appliances and homes in parts of Europe. As a result, schools in these regions have developed workshops to educate their pupils about the importance of saving energy from an early age. Thus, it is hoped kids will learn not to leave lights on when they are not using them, but instead they will know to instinctively switch them off. Nevertheless, purchasing energy saving light bulbs can help reduce losses even more.


Question 9 (1 mark)

The global population is estimated to have doubled in the last 50 years, which has placed an extra strain on the planet’s natural resources and led to governments adopting greener policies and investing in innovative energy technologies. Moreover, renewable energy sources, such as solar and tidal power have been used to power appliances and homes in parts of Europe. As a result, schools in these regions have developed workshops to educate their pupils about the importance of saving energy from an early age. Thus, it is hoped kids will learn not to leave lights on when they are not using them, but instead they will know to instinctively switch them off. Nevertheless, purchasing energy saving light bulbs can help reduce losses even more.


Question 10 (1 mark)

The global population is estimated to have doubled in the last 50 years, which has placed an extra strain on the planet’s natural resources and led to governments adopting greener policies and investing in innovative energy technologies. Moreover, renewable energy sources, such as solar and tidal power have been used to power appliances and homes in parts of Europe. As a result, schools in these regions have developed workshops to educate their pupils about the importance of saving energy from an early age. Thus, it is hoped kids will learn not to leave lights on when they are not using them, but instead they will know to instinctively switch them off. Nevertheless, purchasing energy saving light bulbs can help reduce losses even more.


Question 11 (5 marks)

In this question you must correctly match the suitable transition words/phrases to the blank spaces in the paragraph below (each transition must be matched to the specific number, in bold, that corresponds to a specific blank in the text).


The global population is estimated to have doubled in the last 50 years, which has placed an extra strain on the planet’s natural resources and led to governments adopting greener policies and investing in innovative energy technologies. 1 , renewable energy sources, such as solar and tidal power have been used to power appliances and homes in parts of Europe. 2 , schools in these regions have developed workshops to educate their pupils about the importance of saving energy from an early age. 3 , it is hoped kids will learn not to leave lights on when they are not using them, 4 instead they will know to instinctively switch them off. 5 , purchasing energy saving light bulbs can help reduce losses even more.


Match to:

Option A: In addition/also
Option B: Yet
Option C: In addition/also
Option D: As a result
Option E: For example


Question 12 (5 marks)

Fill in the gaps [numbered] in the paragraph below with transition words/phrases that make each sentence flow into the next one and aid a smooth development of the argument.

Because phobias are illogical it is hard to reason with people that are scared of spiders, heights, or needles. [1] it can help to discuss things in great detail with counsellors or hypnotherapists as this can enable patients to better understand how or why the fear first originated, while giving them the opportunity to develop a long-term plan to beat it. [2], facing the respective fear head-on has often proved to be the most efficient way of permanently curing it; [3] conquering something on your own is extremely empowering, this is often the prescribed advice of friends and family members who have beaten their own phobias in the past. Forcing someone to do something they do not want to do is often the worst option, [4] such a tactic can be successful in certain circumstances, [5] if the patient with the phobia has a real desire to conquer it with the head-on approach.


Question 13 (6 marks)

Combine all the skills you have learned to write a very well structured paragraph. To get you in the habit of editing your work to improve it, revisit the paragraph you wrote for the pre-class activities (Question 8/Activity 5) to complete this task.

You should have made a copy of this paragraph when you completed the pre-class activities, so simply copy and paste it here. Your task in this exercise is to improve this piece of writing by editing it. You should add more detail and/or change some of the wording of what you have already written to improve it, but you must ensure the final piece still has six different sentences.

Your aim is to improve your work by (1) editing the content of the writing, (2) using more effective transitions to make it flow more smoothly from sentence to sentence, and (3) improving the order in which you present pieces of information.

Note: If you did not make a copy of your original paragraph, you should write a new one (about a science subject that interests you) to attempt this question. It should be 100-150 words in length and feature 6 sentences. Please note, however, that to obtain maximum possible credit, you must copy and paste your original paragraph before editing it so that you can show how your skills have improved.

Succinct Writing, Dealing with Jargon

Lesson and Workshops Introduction:

We have designed pre- and post-class activities (essentially ‘homework’ exercises for students) to complement the in-class lesson/workshop for this specific science writing-skill component (‘Succinct Writing and Dealing with Jargon’).

At our institution, we ask students to complete the pre-class activities online as preparation for the in-class lesson/workshop, so as to give them some exposure to the concepts that will be explored in more detail in class.

The in-class activities are designed to improve students’ writing skills and to give them experience in working with partners/small groups on related activities. The in-class lesson/workshop has been designed to encourage an interactive, conversational approach to completing the activities; this should help students to resolve any confusion from the pre-class activities and discuss the importance of the writing skills they are learning to master with their peers and instructors. We provide student worksheets for the in-class activities, as well as TA and Instructor versions of these worksheets, which also include suggested solutions to the activities. We also provide a PowerPoint presentation to accompany the lesson/workshop, and a timing guide with teaching prompts to help instructors encourage students to get the most from these sessions.

Lastly, students are asked to complete the post-class activities online, as a final learning tool and wrap-up to help them solidify the concepts they have learned and gain some more practice in applying these to real writing situations.


A Note on Asking Students to Complete the Pre- and Post-Class Activities Online

We recommend asking students to complete the activities online so as to reduce the likelihood that worksheets of these activities are printed and enter the student domain; over time, these questions will reduce in value if copies are posted online (via blogs etc. by students who have previously completed them).

We have designed these activities to take students approximately 30-60 minutes to complete; they form a small part of the graded continuous assessment for students enrolled in a science communication course at our institution, but could also be deployed as not-for-credit activities.


A Note on the Different Versions

All different versions/banks have been used and refined following student and instructor feedback, and all of them focus on the same important concepts. We cycle different versions across different terms to minimize the potential that students enrolled in our course in concurrent terms will share answers (e.g. we do not use the same version in concurrent terms).

Please note that while the initial choice of which version to use is somewhat arbitrary, it is important to use the same version for the pre-, in- and post-class activities as a whole unit; this is because some of the questions appearing in the in-class lesson/workshop and/or post-class activities build on work completed in the pre-class activities (e.g. do not use pre-class version 1, and post-class version 2 together).

Timing Guide

Succinct Writing, Dealing with Jargon: In-Class Activities, Instructor Timing Guide

This guide complements the final worksheets (and the PowerPoint file), but please have a look at these so you know when you should display certain slides.

* Please note that this is one of the busier in-class activity sets, so you should try hard to keep to time. It is most important that students complete the first three Activities in their entirety in class; they can take Activity 4 away with them. *

* Please also note that there are three pages in the ‘Student’ copy/handout of these activities, but there is also a separate handout (Activity 4 Solutions – For Students) that should be withheld until you move on to Activity 4 (or given to students to take away if you have not got that far by the end of the class. *


Activity 1 (work alone, 10 min + 5 min for instructor to show solutions, total time elapsed = 15 min)

You should allow 10 minutes for students to complete Activity 1 and then spend a further five minutes showing suggested solutions on the PowerPoint, as well as discussing these with the class.


Activity 2 (work together, 10 min, total time elapsed = 25 min)

You should allow 10 minutes for students to complete Activity 2.

* Please note that this activity requires students to give feedback on material they should have brought with them from the pre-class activity set (Question 10). If students have not completed the pre-class activities, they will not have a re-written paragraph to share with a partner. In this instance, ask these students to join other groups and give feedback on the paragraphs written by other people. This will still allow them to be part of the activity (they just won’t receive any feedback on a paragraph they have written). *


Activity 3 (work alone and then together, 15 min, total time elapsed = 40 min)

You should allow 15 minutes (or however much time you have remaining) for students to complete Activity 3.

* Students that did not bring a paragraph can return to working in the groups of people that did. Again, they will not receive feedback on their written work, but will still be part of the activity and will hear how useful their feedback was in helping others improve their work. *


Activity 4 (as a class, 5 min, total time elapsed = 45 min)

Before students leave, you should distribute the two pages of the other student handouts that show the suggested improvements that could have been made to the abstracts they have been working on. If you have time, you might wish to discuss the suggested solution(s), but as long as students have these handouts they can take them away and see where the improvements should have been made in their own time.

In-Class Activities

Succinct Writing, Dealing with Jargon, Peer Review : Student In-Class Activities

Peer Review

Peer review is one of the most important steps in the scientific process. After scientists complete an experiment, they write up a description of it and attempt to get this published in a journal, or in a book, in the hope that it will be read by other scientists and make some impact in its own field. It is hard to be completely objective about your own scientific work, which is why journal or book editors send manuscripts to other experts, to be reviewed anonymously. These 'external reviewers' provide feedback to the editor and author(s), and in some cases their reviews prevent publication of the article if they judge it to be unimportant, misinterpreted, or poorly written (even if the science is amazing!).

Following review, you (the author) will be given an opportunity to revise your work, to make it acceptable for publication. The review process prevents poorly constructed arguments or badly written manuscripts from getting into the scientific literature. Just as importantly, it provides authors with a fair opportunity to improve the article by correcting poor experiments or analyses, and by improving the writing.

It is very important to recognize that peer review in science is grounded in: (1) the criticism of the strength of the argument made by an author (based on the experimental design, the manner of observation or comparison, and the interpretation of results), and (2) the strength and clarity of the scientific writing/editing.

In these in-class activities, we will focus on the second of those components, because editing fits more closely with the theme of improving your writing skills to become more effective science communicators.


Activity 1 (work alone, 10 minutes)

One of the most common misconceptions about peer review or providing feedback is that being critical is unkind. It is true that there is a fine line between being mean and being constructive. However, if you only provide positive feedback, this does not give a person the chance to improve their work (or learn new skills).

All of the sentences in the short paragraph below could be improved, and some of them have multiple problems! Imagine that you are reviewing your friend’s work here. These problems (which include the use of jargon, ambiguous words, non-concise sentences, redundant words/phrases, and so on) have already been highlighted and explained for you (see red parts of paragraph and explanations below); if you have time, think about how you would improve them, but, more importantly, write down what you would say to your friend to help him/her improve the paragraph. Hint: You can write down specific things you would say, as well as general tips for improvement.

Competition for food resources that are completely1 imperative for the survival of any individual of a species ensures that there are powerful selective forces>2 exerted3 on these individuals. Because competition should typically (in more cases than not4) be significantly5 higher between conspecifics6 than between members of different species, those that are impressive7 foragers8 typically pass their genes on to future generations in time to come9. That individuals develop multi-faceted predator-induced context-dependent behavioural strategies10 in the short-term is also interesting. It shows that the burning11 desire to survive can cause individuals to develop completely12 unique strategies based on the environments in which they find themselves to be living in13.


Specific problems:

1: Redundant word. 2: Jargon (should be explained in lay language). 3: Unnecessarily complex word (‘put’ is better than ‘exerted’). 4: Redundant phrase. 5: Jargon. 6: Jargon. 7: Ambiguous meaning (‘successful’ is better than ‘impressive’). 8: Jargon. 9: Redundant phrase. 10: Hard to read, non-concise sentence with lots of adjectives, redundancy and jargon (‘complex strategies due to the presence of predators’ is better than ‘multi-faceted predator-induced context dependent behavioural strategies’). 11: Ambiguous meaning (‘strong’ is better than ‘burning’). 12: Redundant word. 13: Non-concise phrase (‘live’ would be better than ‘find themselves to be living in’).

* Please note there will be a brief class discussion about Activity 1; you can talk about the kind of feedback you provided (and what you should have said). *


Activity 2 (work together, 10 minutes)

Take out the abstract that you re-wrote for one of the two journal articles posted on Connect (Question 10 of the pre-class assignment). Pass it to a partner, and have him/her provide some general feedback while you do the same for his/her abstract. When reading your partner’s work before giving feedback, focus on the following three things:

  1. Are there any sentences that could be more concise?
  2. Are there any unnecessarily complicated words or redundant qualifiers?
  3. Are there any ambiguous words in the sentences?
  4. Is there any jargon that should be dealt with?


Activity 3 (work alone, and then together, 15 minutes)

Now, spend a few minutes to re-write your version of the abstract to improve it based on the feedback provided by your partner. Once you have completed your re-write, pass it to the partner you worked with before, and (1) have him/her assess whether it has been improved, and (2) tell him/her whether you found his/her feedback useful.

The purpose of this exercise is two-fold. Firstly, it should show you the importance of editing your work to improve it based on what your peers advise you, and secondly, it should indicate how useful your feedback is; if someone has edited their work based on what you suggested they should do, and it still doesn't read smoothly, then perhaps you were not constructive enough in what you said.


Activity 4 (as a class, 5 minutes)

Spend some time looking at the sample versions of the re-written abstracts to make sure you were on the right track in terms of highlighting issues with the writing, and phrasing your review in a constructive way.

Pre-Class Activities

Version 1

Succinct Writing and Dealing with Jargon: Student Pre-Class Activities

As scientists you will likely have to communicate at least some technical information to non-specific audiences, so knowing how to do this effectively is another important skill to master. In these activities, you will focus on improving the succinctness of your writing. In addition to looking at techniques and tips that will help you write clear, simple sentences, you will gain specific practice with the use of scientific jargon.

One golden tip that you should try to put into practice when editing your work is this: Read your sentences individually and ask yourself whether every single word is necessary. Often, when thinking like this, you will be able to reduce the length of your sentences and replace certain words to make things flow more smoothly.


Questions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 (1 mark each, 5 marks total)

The goal here is to make you think about every single word in your sentences, so that you write things as concisely as possible. Pay particular attention to ensuring that each sentence does not contain unnecessary words or phrases. You can often make things more concise by writing in the active voice; this will help you keep your sentences clear and concise (for more information on this, see the student resource on UBC’s website here).

Each of the following five questions comprise a sentence (or sentences) that should be written more concisely; some could be re-written in the active voice, while others contain unnecessary words that could be removed.

Follow the question-specific hint to help you re-write these sentences (1 mark for each question). In all cases, you should use fewer words than in the original versions.


Q1 (re-write in the active voice): A new computer program has been developed by scientists that will allow companies to reduce costs and carbon emissions when they use cloud-computing facilities.
Q2 (remove six words): The upshot of this is that the breakthrough could cut costs in half and reduce carbon emissions by a quarter.
Q3 (re-write in the active voice): Previously, companies were unable to split the load between different cloud-computing servers, which was seen by computer scientists as being inefficient.
Q4 (remove two words): Now, by using the program ‘Stratus’, companies can split the load between servers located all around the world, which will ultimately result in more efficient use.
Q5 (re-write the first sentence in the active voice, and remove one word from the second sentence): It was thought by the developers that ‘Stratus’ would save considerable money. However, they were completely shocked when testing showed it could save the average company 60%.


The Importance of Using Simple Words and Eliminating Redundant Qualifiers

One of the greatest misconceptions in writing is the idea that you need to use intellectual-sounding words to give your work a sense of power. Your only goal should be to write something that is easily understood by whoever reads it. The best way of achieving this is to write short sentences containing words used frequently by everybody.

So, instead of ‘'elucidating a concept to change the views of your myopic readers’, you should just ‘explain a concept to change the views of your short-sighted readers.’ Similarly, don’t tell your audience that your invention will have ‘universal applications across the globe’ when they already know that ‘universal’ means that something applies to every situation. Redundant qualifiers such as this should always be avoided, so, you should simply have written: ‘universal applications.’


Question 6 (5 marks)

Try to spot the five overly fancy words and/or redundant qualifiers in the paragraph below. Copy and paste the paragraph and bold these five words (1 mark for each correctly bolded word).

It is critically vital that researchers do not know which group of subjects receives the drug in medical trials. This is because such knowledge can cause researchers to assimilate and analyze data in a subjective way. If researchers were aware, others could then question the final results of such experiments. People would sometimes be reticent to trust the ultimate conclusions made by the researchers in these circumstances.


Eliminating Ambiguous Words

The goal of this activity is to highlight how important it is to eliminate ambiguous (unclear) words from your writing. A word (or phrase) is ambiguous if it could potentially mean different things to different people.

For example, the statement that ‘Male salmon grew frighteningly quickly’ could mean they grew much more quickly than expected, or that you were actually scared by their speed of growth. Similarly, the statement that ‘these males grew significantly faster than females’ is also potentially problematic because ‘significance’ means something different when it refers to a statistical comparison than when it is used to convey something noticeable; so, a scientific audience and a non-scientific audience might interpret the meaning very differently.


Question 7 (6 marks)

In the following short paragraph, there are three potentially ambiguous words. Copy and paste the paragraph and bold the three ambiguous words (3 marks). Then, copy and paste it again with edited versions of these three words. Make sure you bold your edits, and that they remove the ambiguity in the original paragraph (3 marks).

Many researchers working in specific science disciplines, such as genetics, have made amazing discoveries that have more useful applications in other disciplines, such as food science. For example, a recent genetic breakthrough should make it easier to see whether chocolate is as pure as the manufacturers claim. Previously, specialists estimated that up to 20% of the chocolates you see on the shelf were made using different varieties of cacao beans than was claimed. The importance of this finding is not easy to digest because it is not clear whether customers care, as long as their treats taste good. However, the new fingerprinting technique will illuminate the true origins of chocolates because scientists will be able to match protein samples to the DNA of specific cacao bean populations, and this could mean many manufacturers will face legal trouble.


Dealing with Technical Jargon

When we talk about ‘technical jargon’ we mean words, phrases, abbreviations/acronyms and/or concepts that are only likely to make sense to someone with specialist knowledge in that field of expertise. For example, the statement that ‘Group A beetles proved to be monophagous’ would make perfect sense to ecologists or crop farmers, who know that “monophagous” means the beetles only eat one species of plant, but without specialist knowledge, you would be very confused.

There are two main ways to deal with technical jargon; you can either explain things by (1) using non-technical language instead, or you can (2) use parentheses, or commas, to explain what the jargon means. The choice between these two often comes down to circumstance.

For example, if you only need to refer to something once, you can easily use non-technical language to explain what you are trying to say. However, if you will need to refer to it again and again, it is usually smart to use parentheses or commas to explain what the problematic term means. If you do this, you can then use the originally problematic term throughout your writing in the knowledge that it will no longer be perceived as jargon to your readers.

So, if we use the ‘monophagous beetles’ as an example again, you could either write: “Group A beetles proved to only eat one plant species, so farmers can continue to grow wheat, barley…”, or, you could write: “Group A beetles proved to be monophagous (they only ate one species of plant), so farmers can continue to grow wheat, barley…”


Questions 8 and 9 (2 marks each, 4 marks total)

Read the statements that make up the following two questions; in each case, there is one piece of technical jargon that could stop non-specialist audiences from understanding what the author is trying to say (this has been bolded for you). For each question, your task is to re-write the sentence so as to remove the jargon. Try to write two versions of each sentence by using each of the two techniques described above (1 mark for each appropriate re-write, one using commas or parentheses, one using non-technical language). Hint: You might need to use a search engine to understand what the jargon means yourself, before you re-write the sentences.


Q8: One of the biggest environmental concerns associated with afforested areas is the sudden release of high concentrations of nutrients into an ecosystem following timber collection.
Q9: This is especially true when endangered species live in nearby oligotrophic rivers.


Question 10 (5 marks)

Choose one of the two journal articles below (the links to these can be accessed by clicking on each article title below, but you can also find them yourself by using a specialist search engine, such as Google scholar).

1) Avoidance of feeding opportunities by the whelk Buccinanops globulosum in the presence of damaged conspecifics. (2012)

2) Social learning of predators by tadpoles: does food restriction alter the efficacy of tutors as information sources? (2014)


Read the abstract carefully and try to put the contents into your own words in a way that makes the sentences more concise (2 marks), less ambiguous (1 mark), and less jargon-heavy (1 mark). Write all this in 75 – 150 words (1 mark).

*** Bring your summary to class for the in-class activity session because you will use it to work with a partner in a peer-review exercise. ***

Version 2

Succinct Writing and Dealing with Jargon: Student Pre-Class Activities

As scientists you will likely have to communicate at least some technical information to non-specific audiences, so knowing how to do this effectively is another important skill to master. In this unit, you will focus on improving the succinctness of your writing. In addition to looking at techniques and tips that will help you write clear, simple sentences, you will gain specific practice with the use of scientific jargon.

One golden tip that you should try to put into practice when editing your work is this: Read your sentences individually and ask yourself whether every single word is necessary. Ask whether a friend with no science background could read your work without being confused. Often, when thinking like this, you will be able to reduce the length of your sentences and replace certain words to make things flow more smoothly.


Questions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 (1 mark each, 5 marks total)

The goal here is to make you think about every single word in your sentences, so that you write things as concisely as possible. Pay particular attention to ensuring that each sentence does not contain unnecessary words or phrases. You can often make things more concise by writing in the active voice; this will help you keep your sentences clear and concise (for more information on this, see the student resource on UBC’s website here).

Each of the following five sentences are less concise than they could be; some could be re-written in the active voice, while others contain unnecessary words and/or phrases that could be removed. Try to re-write each sentence by using at least two fewer words, and without losing/changing the sentence meaning (1 mark). Target word counts are provided for each sentence. Hint: There are multiple potentially correct ways of re-writing these sentences more concisely.


Q1: A new metabolic pathway has been created by chemical engineering researchers that is likely to have implications for the biofuel industries. Target: ≤ 19 words.
Q2: In essence, the breakthrough could cause a 50% increase in biofuel production. Target: ≤ 10 words.
Q3: Previously, two out of every six carbon atoms that entered the pathway were lost, which was seen by researchers as inefficient. Target: ≤ 19 words.
Q4: The new synthetic pathway ensures that all six carbon atoms that enter the pathway are converted into the product that is a pre-cursor to many biofuels. Target: ≤ 24 words.
Q5: The researchers responsible for making the discovery of this new pathway believe it can be used to successfully convert many different types of sugars. Target: ≤ 22 words.


The Importance of Using Simple Words

One of the greatest misconceptions in writing is the idea that you need to use intellectual-sounding words to give your work a sense of power. Your only goal should be to write something that is easily understood by whoever reads it. The best way of achieving this is to write short sentences containing words used frequently by everybody.

So, instead of ‘elucidating a concept to change the views of your myopic readers’, why not just ‘explain a concept to change the views of you short-sighted readers?’ Similarly, why tell your audience that your invention will have ‘universal applications across the globe’ when they already know that ‘universal’ means that something will apply to every situation? Redundant qualifiers such as this should always be avoided, so, in the previous example, the author should simply have written: ‘universal applications.’


Question 6 (5 marks)

Try to spot the five errors in the paragraph below. These errors include overly fancy words and redundant qualifiers. Copy and paste the paragraph and bold the five errors (1 mark for each correctly bolded error).

It is absolutely vital that researchers do not know which group of subjects receives the drug in medical trials. This is because such knowledge can implore researchers, often subconsciously, to record and analyze data in a subjective way. Also, if researchers were aware, others could then question the final outcome of such experiments. People would likely be reticent to trust the ultimate conclusions made by the researchers in these circumstances.


Eliminating Ambiguous Words

The goal of this activity is to highlight how important it is to eliminate ambiguous (unclear) words from your writing. A word (or phrase) is ambiguous if it could potentially mean different things to different people.

For example, the statement that ‘Male salmon grew frighteningly quickly’ could mean they grew much more quickly than expected, or that you were actually scared by their speed of growth. Similarly, the statement that ‘these males grew significantly faster than females’ is also potentially problematic because ‘significance’ means something different when it refers to a statistical comparison than when it is used to convey something noticeable; so, a scientific audience and a non-scientific audience might interpret the meaning very differently.


Question 7 (6 marks)

In the following short paragraph, there are three potentially ambiguous words. Copy and paste the paragraph and bold the three ambiguous words (3 marks). Then, copy and paste it again with edited versions of these three words. Make sure you bold your edits, and that they remove the ambiguity in the original paragraph (3 marks).

There are multiple examples of incredibly important scientific breakthroughs that took decades to be acknowledged by society. Very often, this was because those responsible for the discoveries did not attempt to illuminate non-specialist audiences about the main parts of their work. Devastating discoveries, such as many disease-fighting drugs, could have gone unreported if the gravity of their potential impact was not clearly explained by the talented researchers who made the breakthroughs.


Dealing with Technical Jargon

When we talk about ‘technical jargon’ we mean words, phrases, abbreviations/acronyms and/or concepts that are only likely to make sense to someone with specialist knowledge in that field of expertise. For example, the statement that ‘Group A beetles proved to be monophagous’ would make perfect sense to ecologists or crop farmers, who know that “monophagous” means the beetles only eat one species of plant, but without specialist knowledge, you would be very confused.

There are two main ways to deal with technical jargon; you can either explain things by (1) using non-technical language instead, or you can (2) use parentheses, or commas, to explain what the jargon means. The choice between these two often comes down to circumstance.

For example, if you only need to refer to something once, you can easily use non-technical language to explain what you are trying to say. However, if you will need to refer to it again and again, it is usually smart to use parentheses or commas to explain what the problematic term means. If you do this, you can then use the term throughout your writing in the knowledge that it will no longer be perceived as jargon to your readers.

So, if we use our ‘monophagous beetles’ as an example again, you could either write: “Group A beetles proved to only eat one plant species, so farmers can continue to grow wheat, barley…”, or, you could write: “Group A beetles proved to be monophagous (they only ate one species of plant), so farmers can continue to grow wheat, barley…”


Questions 8 and 9 (2 marks each, 4 marks total)

Read the statements that make up the following two questions; in each case, there is one piece of technical jargon that could stop non-specialist audiences from understanding what the author is trying to say (this has been bolded for you). For each question, your task is to re-write the sentence so as to remove the jargon. Try to write two versions of each sentence by using each of the two techniques described above (1 mark for each appropriate re-write, one using commas or parentheses, one using non-technical language).


Q8: Although it might seem hard to believe, idiopathic mutations are often responsible for helping individuals adapt better to their environments.
Q9: For example, many different butterflies have evolved as Batesian mimics this way.


Question 10 (5 marks)

Choose one of the two journal articles below (the links to these can be accessed by clicking on each article title below, but you can also find them yourself by using a specialist search engine, such as Google scholar).

1) Avoidance of feeding opportunities by the whelk Buccinanops globulosum in the presence of damaged conspecifics. (2012)

2) Speaking across levels – generating and addressing levels confusion in discourse. (2013).


Read the abstract carefully and try to put the contents into your own words in a way that makes the sentences more concise (2 marks), less ambiguous (1 mark), and less jargon-heavy (1 mark). Write all this in 75 – 150 words (1 mark).

*** Bring your summary to class for the in-class activity session because you will use it to work with a partner in a peer-review exercise. ***

Version 3

Succinct Writing and Dealing with Jargon: Student Pre-Class Activities

As scientists you will likely have to communicate at least some technical information to non-specific audiences, so knowing how to do this effectively is another important skill to master. In this unit, you will focus on improving the succinctness of your writing. In addition to looking at techniques and tips that will help you write clear, simple sentences, you will gain specific practice with the use of scientific jargon.

One golden tip that you should try to put into practice when editing your work is this: Read your sentences individually and ask yourself whether every single word is necessary. Ask whether a friend with no science background could read your work without being confused. Often, when thinking like this, you will be able to reduce the length of your sentences and replace certain words to make things flow more smoothly.


Questions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 (2 marks each, 10 marks total)

The goal of this activity is to make you think about making every single word in your sentences count, so that you write things as concisely as possible. You should pay particular attention to ensuring that each sentence does not contain unnecessary words or phrases. You can often use lively verbs to write in the active voice and keep your sentences succinct and easy to understand (for more information on this, see the student resource on UBC’s website here.

Each of the following five sentences has a single unnecessary and/or confusing block of words/phrase that makes it less concise than it could be. Copy and paste the sentence and bold the unnecessary/confusing word(s) (1 mark). To make you think about writing as concisely as possible, you should then re-write the sentence using at least two fewer words, but without losing the meaning (1 mark). Target word counts are provided for each sentence. Hint: There are multiple potentially correct ways of re-writing these sentences more concisely.


Q1: The Nobel Prizes, awarded each year to people making outstanding research contributions, remain controversial because not everyone believes them to be awarded completely fairly. Target word count = ≤ 22
Q2: There are many views on this matter, but the most common is that researchers who make major contributions are often not credited. Target word count = ≤ 20
Q3: For example, many are of the belief that Andrew Benson and James Bassham should have been credited for their work on carbon assimilation in plants, along with Melvin Calvin, who was the sole recipient in 1961. Target word count = ≤ 34
Q4: The 'Calvin cycle' helped us shed light on the cellular processes of plants. Target word count = ≤ 11
Q5: In essence, Benson and Bassham's work was also very important in helping us understand these processes. Target word count = ≤ 14


The Importance of Using Simple Words

One of the greatest misconceptions in writing is the idea that you need to use intellectual-sounding words to give your work a sense of power. Your only goal should be to write something that is easily understood by whoever reads it. The best way of achieving this is to write short sentences containing words used frequently by everybody.

So, instead of ‘elucidating a concept to change the views of your myopic readers’, why not just ‘explain the concept to change the views of the short-sighted readers?’ Similarly, why tell your audience that your invention will have ‘universal applications across the globe’ when they already know that ‘universal’ means that something will apply to every situation?

The goal of the questions in this section is to make sure you do not over-complicate your writing with needlessly fancy words, and give you some practice in spotting redundant qualifiers in your writing (e.g. 'totally unique').


Questions 6 and 7 (1 mark each, 2 marks total)

Try to spot the unnecessary words/redundant qualifiers in the following two sentences (questions). Copy and paste the sentences and bold the one unnecessary word/redundant qualifier in each case (1 mark).


Q6: It is absolutely vital that researchers do not know which group of subjects receives the drug in medical trials.
Q7: If they did know, sceptics could then question the final outcome of such experiments.


Questions 8 and 9 (4 marks each, 8 marks total)

In each of the following two questions there are two errors. These might be overly fancy words and/or unnecessary words/redundant qualifiers. Copy and paste the sentences and bold the two errors (2 marks). Then re-write the sentences appropriately; this will involve omitting unnecessary words/redundant qualifiers and providing an alternative, simpler version for overly fancy words (2 marks).


Q8: Studies have shown that people are reticent to trust many drug trials for other, additional reasons.
Q9: Another is that people are oftentimes unconvinced by trials that utilize small sample sizes of people.


Eliminating Ambiguous Words

The goal of this activity is to highlight how important it is to eliminate ambiguous (unclear) words from your writing. A word (or phrase) might be ambiguous for one of three main reasons:


1: It might be jargon used in an inappropriate setting. For example, it might only make sense to someone with specialist knowledge in that field of expertise (e.g. ‘Group A salmon grew significantly more than Group B salmon’ would mean different things to scientists and non-specialist audiences with no knowledge of statistics).

2: It might use an adjective that could cause different readers to interpret the meaning of your sentence differently (e.g. ‘Group A salmon grew frighteningly quickly’ could mean they grew much more quickly than expected, or that you were scared by their speed of growth).

3: It might contain overly long strings of adjectives and nouns (e.g. It is hard to read: ‘Group A salmon featured aggressive dominant voracious-feeding Type II males’).


Questions 10 and 11 (2 marks each, 4 marks total)

In each of the following two questions, there are two ambiguity-related errors that can be improved. Copy and paste the sentences and bold the two ambiguous words (2 marks).


Q10: Such a devastating discovery could go unreported in the press if the gravity of its application is not clearly explained.
Q11: Despite this, the trend for energy conversion is impressively different between the mice fed different diets in this experiment.


Questions 12 and 13 (2 marks each, 4 marks total)

In each of the following two questions, there are two ambiguity-related errors that can be improved. In these questions, these errors are already bolded for you. Copy and paste the sentences and re-write them to remove the ambiguity (2 marks). Hint: There are multiple potentially correct ways of re-writing these sentences to remove ambiguity.


Q12: When writing about science and/or research, even seasoned professionals sometimes use language that is too pedestrian to engage their audience.
Q13: However, it can also be ridiculously tempting to exaggerate when trying to illuminate the best parts of your work.


Question 14 (5 marks)

Choose one of the two journal articles below (the links to these can be accessed by clicking on each article title below, but you can also find them yourself by using a specialist search engine, such as Google scholar).

1: Avoidance of feeding opportunities by the whelk Buccinanops globulosum in the presence of damaged conspecifics. (2012)

2: “The Words of Things Entangle and Confuse”: The Ambiguous Political Concept). (1982)


Read the abstract carefully and try to put the contents into your own words in a way that makes the sentences more concise (2 marks), easier to read (1 mark), and less jargon-heavy (1 mark) in 75-150 words (1 mark).

*** Bring your summary to class for the in-class activity session because you will use it to work with a partner in a peer-review exercise. ***

Post-Class Activities

Version 1

Succinct Writing and Dealing with Jargon: Student Post-Class Activities

The activities included here are designed to give you more hands-on practice in improving your writing by making it more succinct and easy to follow. The activities serve as a follow-up to some of the skills you learned in the pre and in-class activities for this topic, while introducing some new, more specific guidelines.


Question 1 (6 marks)

When you edit your work, it is a good idea to do it on a sentence-by-sentence basis. In terms of succinctness, the best sentences are those that do not contain any more words than are required to get your point across. Consider some commonly used ‘wordy phrases’ in Table 1 below. All of these can be shortened without losing their meaning; it is your task to come up with succinct, one-word alternatives.


Table 1: Try to come up with simpler, shorter alternatives to these wordy phrases. Use just one word as your alternative for the wordy phrases below (A, B, C, D, E and F).

Wordy Phrase Succinct Alternative
A: Until such time as…
B: An appreciable number of…
C: In the event of…
D: To cut a long story short…
E: With the exception of…


Question 2 (7 marks)

Another way of improving your work is to replace overly complex words with simpler ones. Although different language is suitable for different audiences, you should never be afraid to write something as simply and clearly as possible.

In this question, you need to identify and then replace the seven unnecessarily complex/potentially ambiguous words (1 mark for each word that is correctly identified and replaced with a suitable alternative). Copy and paste the paragraph before bolding the unnecessarily complex words. Then, copy and paste again and make your changes to the bolded words. Hint: If you correctly identify an overly complex word but do not come up with a good alternative, you will score a ½ mark for that word.

Having failed to make any demonstrable progress with our DNA techniques literature review, we started Thursday’s class with less zeal than we had the previous one. Although we were initially excited by the chance to read about such important science, we were soon deflated when we realized the profundity of the background material that we would have to dissolve into something more palatable for our classmates. Nobody wanted to choose an easy topic for dissemination at first, but we soon realized why reporting technical science is so challenging.


Question 3 (4 marks)

Read the following sentences and try to spot the four words that are ambiguous in some way (and which should be changed when editing, 1 mark for each word that is correctly identified and replaced with a suitable alternative). Copy and paste the paragraph before bolding the ambiguous words. Then, copy and paste again and make your changes to the bolded words. Hint: If you correctly identify an ambiguous word but do not come up with a good alternative, you will score a ½ mark for that word.

Last week, we were flying. Mike’s discovery with the new compound put us ahead of schedule. However, we still have to solve the problem of the funny smell that arises when we burn the compound. We do not know how to do this and our self-belief is low. Such an unwanted evaporation is a particularly challenging psychological element of the research process.


Question 4 (8 marks)

The final question in this post-class set of exercises is designed to make you think logically about editing your work, and to demonstrate what you have learned in this unit.

When producing a final draft of writing, you should aim to make sure all sentences:

  1. Are written succinctly
  2. Are free from ambiguous words
  3. Are free from overly fancy words and redundant modifiers
  4. Deal with jargon by either removing it entirely or by explaining its meaning (using parentheses, or commas)


The paragraph below fails on all of these levels. It is your task to re-write it so as to address the problems (8 marks). You can change the text considerably but to score highly, you must ensure that your version gets the same message across as the original and uses a similar (or fewer) number of words. Hint: There are 2 marks available for each of the four things you need to address (listed above).

We are often warned by our instructors and peers that we should try to keep up to date with our assignments, but I personally know lots of students who are loath to begin working on these until the last possible moment. Nerves in the hippocampus are thought by researchers to be responsible for stimulating emotions, such as lethargy. This malaise can often manifest itself as a passive serenity in students, which can be very frustrating to instructors. However, to their credit, these same students, who seem to be making pedestrian progress at the early stage of a course, often motor when deadlines begin to mount up. The final outcome, however, is often regret, as these students feel they could have achieved higher grades with a little more preparation, which presents a challenge to pedagogical researchers to design ways of encouraging better time management.

Version 2

Succinct Writing and Dealing with Jargon: Student Post-Class Activities

The activities included here are designed to give you more hands-on practice in improving your writing by making it more succinct and easy to follow. The activities serve as a follow-up to some of the skills you learned in the pre and in-class activities for this unit, while introducing some new, more specific guidelines.


Question 1 (4 marks)

When you edit your work, it is a good idea to do it on a sentence-by-sentence basis. In terms of succinctness, the best sentences are those that do not contain any more words than are required to get your point across. Consider some commonly used ‘wordy phrases’ in Table 1 below. All of these can be shortened without losing their meaning; it is your task to come up with succinct, one-word alternatives.


Table 1: Try to come up with simpler, shorter alternatives to these wordy phrases. Use just one word as your alternative for the wordy phrases below (A, B, C and D).

Wordy Phrase Succinct Alternative
A: In like manner…
B: On account of…
C: At this moment in time…
D: To cut a long story short…


Question 2 (4 marks)

Another way of improving your work is to replace overly complex words with simpler ones. Although different language is suitable for different audiences, you should never be afraid to write something as simply and clearly as possible.

In this question, you need to identify and then replace the four unnecessarily complex words (1 mark for each word that is correctly identified and replaced with a suitable alternative). Copy and paste the sentences before bolding the unnecessarily complex words. Then, copy and paste again and make your changes to the bolded words. Hint: If you correctly identify an overly complex word but do not come up with a good alternative, you will score a ½ mark for that word.

Having failed to make any tangible progress with our DNA analyses, we begun Thursday’s lab with less alacrity than we had the previous one. Although we were initially excited by the chance to work with a real science problem, the perplexing nature of the material soon deflated us. Nobody wanted to do an easy experiment to begin with, but we soon realized why investigating previously unsolved problems is so challenging.


Question 3 (4 marks)

Read the following sentences and try to spot the four words that are ambiguous in some way (and which should be changed when editing, 1 mark for each word that is correctly identified and replaced with a suitable alternative). Copy and paste the sentences before bolding the ambiguous words. Then, copy and paste again and make your changes to the bolded words. Hint: If you correctly identify an ambiguous word but do not come up with a good alternative, you will score a ½ mark for that word.

Last week, we were flying. Mike’s significant discovery with the new compound put us ahead of schedule. Now, we just need some luck with the next stages. One problem we still have to solve, however, is the funny smell that arises when we burn our compound. It can take a while to get to know new lab partners with different personalities, but Mike and I got on famously right from the start.


Question 4 (8 marks)

The final question in this post-class set of exercises is designed to make you think logically about editing your work, and to demonstrate what you have learned in this unit.

When producing a final draft of writing, you should aim to make sure all sentences:

  1. Are written succinctly
  2. Are free from ambiguous words
  3. Are free from overly fancy words and redundant modifiers
  4. Deal with jargon by either removing it entirely or by explaining its meaning (using parentheses, or commas)


The paragraph below fails on all of these levels. It is your task to re-write it so as to address the problems (8 marks). You can change the text considerably but to score highly, you must ensure that your version gets the same message across as the original. Hint: There are 2 marks available for each of the four things you need to address (listed above).

We are often warned by our instructors and peers that we should try to keep up to date with our assignments, but I personally know lots of students who are loath to begin working on these until the last possible moment. Nerves in the hippocampus are thought by researchers to be responsible for stimulating emotions, such as lethargy. This malaise can often manifest itself as a passive serenity in students, which can be very frustrating to instructors. However, to their credit, these same students, who seem to be making pedestrian progress at the early stage of a course, often motor when deadlines begin to mount up. The final outcome, however, is often regret, as these students feel they could have achieved higher grades with a little more preparation, which presents a challenge to pedagogical researchers to design ways of encouraging better time management.

Version 3

Succinct Writing and Dealing with Jargon: Student Post-Class Activities

The activities included here are designed to give you more hands-on practice in improving your writing by making sentences more succinct and easier to follow; they serve as follow-ups to the skills that you learned in the pre- and in-class activities for this unit. They also introduce some more specific guidelines.


Questions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 (1 mark each, 5 marks total)

When you edit your work, it is a good idea to do it on a sentence-by-sentence basis. The most succinct sentences are those that contain no more words than are needed to get the point across. Consider the commonly used ‘wordy phrases’ shown in Table 1 below. They can all be shortened without losing meaning. It is your task to come up with more succinct alternatives. Use just one word as your alternative.


Table 1: Try to come up with one-word alternatives to these wordy phrases.

Wordy Phrase Succinct Alternative
Q1: As a result of…
Q2: At this point in time…
Q3: Despite the fact that…
Q4: In conjunction with…
Q5: Without a shadow of a doubt…


Questions 6, 7 and 8 (2 marks each, 6 marks total)

You can also replace overly complex words with simpler ones. Although different language is suitable for different audiences, you should never be afraid to write something as simply as possible. In the following questions, replace the unnecessarily complex words with suitable alternatives Copy and paste the sentences before making your replacements. Hint: There are two words to replace in each sentence.

Q6: At any university, there are a myriad of social temptations that afflict study plans.
Q7: Allotting enough time to study is pivotal if you are to succeed in your classes.
Q8: But omitting all fun events from your schedule can cause emotional capitulation.


Question 9 (4 marks)

Read the following two sentences and try to spot the four words that are unnecessarily complex. Copy and paste the sentences and bold the four words that should be changed (1 mark for each correct answer).

Q9: We did not know it at the time, but the professor imparted a lesson of great wisdom by allowing us to flounder with our experiments. In doing do, she imbued us with a greater will to succeed and provided us with a laboratory experience that was far more congruent with reality than some other courses do.


Question 10 (2 marks)

Re-write the sentences that appeared in question 9 so that they are more concise (use fewer words) but get the same message across (1 mark), making sure you either remove all four overly complex words or replace them with more suitable alternatives (1 mark). Hint: You can change the way the whole sentences are written as long as you achieve the goals of the question.


Using Strong Verbs

By now you are hopefully more comfortable using the active voice to make sentences more succinct (see the UBC website student guide for guidance). Another reason for preferring the active voice in many situations is that the verbs associated with actions tend to be stronger. For example, rather than saying: “Calibration of the photometer was conducted,” you should say: “Ben calibrated the photometer”. In this example, the sentence is now more succinct and it is easier to understand; we know exactly who did what, and have gained this information in just four words!


Questions 11, 12, 13 and 14 (2 marks each, 8 marks total)

For the following questions, re-write the sentence in the active voice (1 mark) to make use of a stronger form of the main verb in the sentence (1 mark). Hint: The word that you should use as the main verb in your sentence has been bolded for you.

For example, “Satisfaction was apparent by the cheers of colleagues,” would need to be changed to something like: “Colleagues cheered with satisfaction,” to gain both marks for this sentence.

Q11: Categorization of the affected proteins was still achieved by the team.
Q12: The analysis of the data was done by two team members.
Q13: Destruction of the cell buffers was effected by the high temperature.
Q14: Grading of the papers was performed by the TAs.

Summarizing Journal Articles

Lesson and Workshops Introduction:

We have designed pre- and post-class activities (essentially ‘homework’ exercises for students) to complement the in-class lesson/workshop for this specific science writing-skill component (‘Summarizing Journal Articles’).

At our institution, we ask students to complete the pre-class activities online as preparation for the in-class lesson/workshop, so as to give them some exposure to the concepts that will be explored in more detail in class.

The in-class activities are designed to improve students’ writing skills and to give them experience in working with partners/small groups on related activities. The in-class lesson/workshop has been designed to encourage an interactive, conversational approach to completing the activities; this should help students to resolve any confusion from the pre-class activities and discuss the importance of the writing skills they are learning to master with their peers and instructors. We provide student worksheets for the in-class activities, as well as TA and Instructor versions of these worksheets, which also include suggested solutions to the activities. We also provide a PowerPoint presentation to accompany the lesson/workshop, and a timing guide with teaching prompts to help instructors encourage students to get the most from these sessions.

Lastly, students are asked to complete the post-class activities online, as a final learning tool and wrap-up to help them solidify the concepts they have learned and gain some more practice in applying these to real writing situations.


A Note on Asking Students to Complete the Pre- and Post-Class Activities Online

We recommend asking students to complete the activities online so as to reduce the likelihood that worksheets of these activities are printed and enter the student domain; over time, these questions will reduce in value if copies are posted online (via blogs etc. by students who have previously completed them).

We have designed these activities to take students approximately 30-60 minutes to complete; they form a small part of the graded continuous assessment for students enrolled in a science communication course at our institution, but could also be deployed as not-for-credit activities.


A Note on the Different Versions

All different versions/banks have been used and refined following student and instructor feedback, and all of them focus on the same important concepts. We cycle different versions across different terms to minimize the potential that students enrolled in our course in concurrent terms will share answers (e.g. we do not use the same version/bank in concurrent terms).

Please note that while the initial choice of which version to use is somewhat arbitrary, it is important to use the same version for the pre-, in- and post-class activities as a whole unit; this is because some of the questions appearing in the in-class lesson/workshop and/or post-class activities build on work completed in the pre-class activities (e.g. do not use pre-class version 1, and post-class version 2 together).

  • However, please note that there are no version 3 POST-CLASS activities for this unit.
  • For this unit only, instructors can use either version 2 or version 3 PRE-CLASS activities in tandem with the version 2 POST-CLASS activities.

Timing Guide

Summarizing Journal Articles: In-Class Activities, Instructor Timing Guide

This guide complements the final worksheets (and PowerPoint version), but please have a look at these so you know when you should display certain slides.


Activity 1 (work together, 10 min + 5 min for instructor to show/discuss answers, total time elapsed = 15 min)

You should allow 10 minutes for students to complete Activity 1. Once the 10-minute time limit has passed, you can show the fourth, fifth and sixth slides of the PowerPoint and discuss the solutions with the students for ~ 5 minutes.


Activity 2 (work together, 5 minutes, total time elapsed = 20 min)

You should allow 5 minutes for students to complete Activity 2.

* Please note that this activity requires students to talk about material they must have brought with them from the pre-class activity set. If students have not completed the pre-class activities, they will not have a summary to talk about with a partner. In this instance, ask these students to join other groups and wait to give feedback on the summaries written by other people in Activity 3. This will still allow them to be part of these activities (they just won’t receive any feedback on a summary they have written).


Activity 3 (work together, 15 min, total time elapsed = 35 min)

You should allow 15 minutes for students to complete Activity 3. * This is the point where students who did not bring a summary can give feedback to people who did. They can still get something from these in-class activities by doing this. *


Activity 4 (work alone, 10 min (or however much time is remaining), total time elapsed = 45 min)

This time can be used for students to begin improving their summaries based on peer feedback. A similar question appears in the post-class activities, so it will allow them to get a start on that one.

* Please note, if you would like students to hand in something at the end of the session, you could either ask them to hand in their answers to Activity 1 (dealing with when to include specifics in article summaries), or you could ask them to hand in the feedback they gave to their partners in Activity 3. If you decide to do the latter, perhaps ask them to make a copy for themselves so that they can take away feedback to help them on the post-class assignment. *

In-Class Activities

Summarizing Journal Articles: Student In-Class Activities

These in-class activities will build on those you completed in the pre-class set; you will gain practice in deciding what makes certain pieces of specific information worthy of inclusion in summaries (or not), before turning your attention to improving (in a more general sense) the summary of a journal article that you wrote in the pre-class activities.


Activity 1 (work together, 10 minutes)

Recall that when you summarize a journal article (or any scientific document), you should only focus on reporting the really important information. However, it can be hard to know when to incorporate specifics into a summary. Although it is easy to rephrase jargon into words that any audience will understand, it can be hard to know when you should include statistics, dates, or measures etc. As a general guide, when deciding whether to include such specific information, ask yourself two questions:

Would leaving this information out…

  1. Lead to a biased interpretation of the original article?
  2. Make it hard for readers to understand what the original article showed?


If you are preparing your summary for a general audience and the answer to these questions is ‘no’, then you should leave out the specific information.

To get some practice in deciding whether to include specifics, read the following three sentences below (all taken from a fictional journal article). The specifics in question are bolded for you. Your task is to decide whether to include them (Yes/No), before re-writing the sentences in your own words to summarize the content succinctly.


Sentence 1: We used Michaelson XF-550 outdoor aviary cages to house the parrots that we used in our voice recognition study.

Sentence 2: We devised three treatment groups to allow us to compare recognition success rate under different circumstances: one included parrots (n=310) exposed to their owners’ voices every day, one included parrots (n=17) exposed to unfamiliar voices every day, and one included parrots (n=308) that were not exposed to any voices.

Sentence 3: We found that parrots exposed to their owners’ voices every day were significantly more successful at recognizing their owners’ in crowded rooms (Tukey’s HSD = 34.71, p = 0.02) than in either of the other groups, which did not differ significantly (Tukey’s HSD = 1.71, p = 0.42).


* Please note there will be a brief class discussion about the sentences above before you move on to Activity 2 *


Activity 2 (work together, 5 minutes)

Find a partner, or work in a group of three so that nobody is left alone, but work with people outside your own project group. Take out the summary of the journal article that you wrote in the pre-class activities, and the article on which it is based. Tell your partner(s) about your article and the important parts in it. You can refer to your summary, but try not to read it yet; just attempt to explain verbally what the research involved, why it was interesting, and what the main findings were. Then mention some of the other information that was relatively interesting but that you did not include, before trying to justify to your partner(s) why it was not worth including in your summary.


Activity 3 (work together, 15 minutes)

Swap your summary with your partner and show them the related article so that they can refer to it if they want when reading through your summary. Your task is to provide constructive feedback on the summary that you are given (they will use this later to improve it). You should comment on the content and the style.

In terms of content, remember to pay attention to the six important questions that apply to summaries and ask whether these have been addressed:

Q1: What problem/question does this research consider?
Q2: Why is this problem/question important/interesting?
Q3: What did the researchers predict?
Q4: What methods were used (in general)?
Q5: What were the main findings?
Q6: What evidence is provided to support the main findings?


In terms of style, try to recall all of the things you have learned in these writing skills classes and look out for any associated errors. Hint: Do the sentences transition smoothly, are units, numbers and abbreviations in the correct form, are the active and passive voices used appropriately, are the mechanics of the grammar applied effectively, is everything written as concisely and interestingly as possible, and are linked elements in parallel form?


Activity 4 (work together 10 minutes)

Use the constructive feedback you receive from your partner(s) to try to improve the quality of your summary. If you run out of time, do not worry; a very similar activity will be included as a graded question in the post-class activities so that you can show how you have improved your summary after receiving feedback from your partner(s).

Pre-Class Activities

Version 1

Summarizing Journal Articles: Student Pre-Class Activities

Summarizing information is one of the most important skills to learn. Turning complex material into a form that makes it more readable for others requires similar skills to paraphrasing and using quotations effectively. However, there are some subtle but very important differences. These pre-class activities have been designed to give you practice in distinguishing these, as well as ensuring you write a summary of a recent peer-reviewed journal article that interests you. You must bring your summary and the journal article to the in-class activities for this writing skills unit.

You may have already learned how to paraphrase material from its source by making it more concise and putting it into your own words. When writing a summary, you should do exactly the same thing, except you should make it considerably shorter than its original form and focus only on the very important information. When you work with scientific journal articles, it can be initially difficult to distinguish which pieces of information are very important from those that are less important, because every article contains so much information. These activities should help you develop strategies for making this distinction.


The Key Elements

Every journal article is different, but as a general guide, you should read each one and make notes with the following questions in mind:

  1. What problem/question does this research consider?
  2. Why is this problem/question important/interesting?
  3. What methods were used (in general)?
  4. What were the main findings?
  5. What evidence is provided to support the main findings?


Questions 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 (2 marks each, 10 marks total)

For each of the following five questions, you will need to refer to the fictional abstract that appears below (it is deliberately not concise and features complex words and jargon that would be typical of a journal abstract). When you summarize an article, it is important that you read the whole article (and not just the abstract), but for this exercise, a smaller body of text will be sufficient. As you read it, try to think about what the really important information is.


We conducted a 261-day research project to assess whether there was a link between exam performance in science courses and the happiness of students in these courses. We used the responses of 1,046 undergraduate students, who volunteered and were from different economic and social backgrounds, to answer this research question. Students were asked to answer a 15-question survey that had been previously validated by other researchers, and was therefore reliable, immediately after sitting their final exam in a science communication course. Survey questions were comprised of statements about happiness and wellbeing, such as: “I wake up feeling positive every morning,” and “I laugh at least 10 times a day,”. Students then had the option of answering these questions on a five-point Likert scale (with 1 representing ‘strongly disagree’ and 5 representing ‘strongly agree’). We split students into three groups based on their exam scores; one group contained students that scored As, one contained students that scored Bs and Cs, and one contained students that scored Ds or lower. We then took averages of questionnaire responses from these students and ran Bonferroni-corrected T-tests to ascertain whether there were significant differences between groups. We found that there was no difference in happiness between students that scored As and those that scored Bs and Cs (T=1.17, p=0.39), but students that scored Ds or lower were less happy than students in the other two groups (T=3.91, p=0.003, and T=4.71, p=0.0007). Social science researchers had long wondered whether students’ perceived happiness is affected by their exam performance but no studies had previously sought to address this conundrum experimentally. We propose that happiness is directly affected by exam performance in undergraduate science students, but that this is only true when students achieve grades of D or less. Students that achieve Cs or above, traditionally seen as passing grades, do not appear to be affected by the extent to which they differ from their peers, so long as they also achieve Cs or above. As a next step, we would like to devise experiments to tease apart the cause and effect relationship here; we still do not know whether students perform less well on exams because they are unhappy in other areas of their lives, or if students are unhappy because they perform less well than they hope on these exams.


Now, for the following five questions, copy and paste the complete sentence in the abstract that contains the answer (1 mark). Then, try to summarize this information for each question by writing it in your own words. Write it more concisely and use less specific detail (1 mark). Hint: Think hard about whether you need specific information to provide an accurate summary answer to each question and do not include it if it is unnecessary. We have not worked with interpreting statistics before, but in most circumstances (such as this one) you can assume it is safe not to include specific numbers, but you should say whether or not the statistics provided evidence for any conclusions made by the authors.

* As you work through questions 1 - 5, keep a copy of your answers in another file. You will need to paste the combined answers into Connect for Question 6. *


Q1: What problem/question does this research consider?
Q2: Why is this problem/question important/interesting?
Q3: What methods were used (in general)?
Q4: What were the main findings?
Q5: What evidence is provided to support the main findings?


Question 6 (5 marks)

Imagine that you have summarized 10 papers in the same way as you have just done for the fictional abstract above, and that you now want to summarize everything into one piece of writing (perhaps you were writing a review of all the studies that relate to happiness and academic performance, for example). This will mean summarizing everything again, which means removing any information from each one that is not vital or very interesting.

Copy and paste all your summarized answers to questions 1 – 5 together to form one summary paragraph. When you read it, this might seem as though you have paraphrased rather than summarized the material. To rectify this, re-write your summary more succinctly (1 mark). Try to remove any redundant or uninteresting information (2 marks), and make sure it all transitions smoothly from sentence to sentence (2 marks). Hint: You might wish to re-order the sentences to make the summary more interesting and/or succinct. We have not worked with interpreting statistics before, but in most circumstances (such as this one) you can assume it is safe not to include specific numbers, but you should say whether or not the statistics provided evidence for any conclusions made by the authors.


Question 7 (5 marks)

Try to summarize a recent peer-reviewed journal article that interests you (this can be from any scientific discipline). In your summary, try to answer the five questions that appear in the ‘key elements’ section (above). Most importantly, try to write no more than 250 words, but do not worry too much about style just now. Although the content is very important, you will not be graded on this aspect yet.

* When you have completed your summary, copy and paste it and include a word count. Make sure you also save a copy for yourself. You will need to (1) print this, along with (2) a copy of the peer-reviewed journal article you used, and bring them both with you to participate in the in-class activities. In these activities, you will work with a partner to improve your summaries in terms of content and style. *

Version 2

Summarizing Journal Articles: Student Pre-Class Activities

Summarizing information is one of the most important skills to learn. Turning complex material into a form that makes it more readable for others requires similar skills to paraphrasing and using quotations effectively. However, there are some subtle but very important differences. These pre-class activities have been designed to give you practice in distinguishing these, as well as ensuring you write a summary of a recent peer-reviewed journal article that interests you. You must bring your summary and the journal article to the in-class activities for this writing skills unit.

You may have already learned how to paraphrase material from its source by making it more concise and putting it into your own words. When writing a summary, you should do exactly the same thing, except you should make it considerably shorter than its original form and focus only on the very important information. When you work with scientific journal articles, it can be initially difficult to distinguish which pieces of information are very important from those that are less important, because every article contains so much information. These activities should help you develop strategies for making this distinction.


The Key Elements

Every journal article is different, but as a general guide, you should read each one and make notes with the following questions in mind:

  1. What problem/question does this research consider?
  2. Why is this problem/question important/interesting?
  3. What did the researchers predict?
  4. What methods were used (in general)?
  5. What were the main findings?
  6. What evidence is provided to support the main findings?


Questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 (2 marks each, 12 marks total)

For each of the following six questions, you will need to refer to a modified abstract that appears below (it is deliberately not written concisely). When you summarize an article, it is important that you read the whole article (and not just the abstract), but for this exercise, a smaller body of text will be sufficient. As you read it, try to think about what the really important information is.


In the ability and motivation to copy others, social learning has been shown to provide a mechanism for the inheritance of behavioural traditions, yet major questions remain about the circumstances and models that shape such social learning. Here, we tested the hypothesis that young monkeys would learn feeding techniques by watching other monkeys of indiscriminate descent eat these foods. Contrary to expectations, our results demonstrate that behavioural food-processing variants among wild vervet monkey, Chlorocebus aethiops, infants solely followed their mothers’ examples in their embryonic manipulative approaches to a new foraging problem. In our field experiment, grapes covered with sand were provisioned within groups of wild vervet monkeys that included experienced adults and 17 naïve infants. Monkeys dealt with the dirty food in four different ways but all infants first adopted their mother's way of handling the grapes, rather than those of other mothers or other monkeys eating nearby (χ²=18.41, p=<0.001), and mothers who handled grapes in different ways had infants who were more likely to explore different approaches to handle the sandy grapes. Our findings suggest a capacity for detailed copying by infants of their mothers' and matriline members' food-processing techniques when encountering new foods, underlining the significance of familial models in such primate social groups.


Now, for the following six questions, copy and paste the complete sentence in the abstract that contains the answer (1 mark). Then, try to summarize this information for each question by writing it in your own words. Write it more concisely and use less specific detail (1 mark). Hint: Think hard about whether you need specific information to provide an accurate summary answer to each question and do not include it if it is unnecessary.

* As you work through questions 1 - 6, keep a copy of your answers in another file. You will need to paste the combined answers into a summary for Question 7. *


Q1: What problem/question does this research consider?
Q2: Why is this problem/question important/interesting?
Q3: What did the researchers predict?
Q4: What methods were used (in general)?
Q5: What were the main findings?
Q6: What evidence is provided to support the main findings?


Question 7 (4 marks)

Imagine that you have summarized 10 papers in the same way as you have just done for the fictional abstract above, and that you now want to summarize everything into one piece of writing. This will mean summarizing everything again, which means removing any information from each one that is not vital or very interesting.

Copy and paste all of your answers to questions 1 – 6 together to form one summary paragraph. When you read it, this might seem as though you have paraphrased rather than summarized the material. To rectify this, re-write your summary more succinctly to remove any redundant or uninteresting information (2 marks), and to make sure it transitions more smoothly from sentence to sentence (2 marks). Hint: You might wish to re-order the sentences to make the summary more interesting, and/or remove any lingering specifics that are not needed to get the important messages across, as well as adding a sentence at the end to state the wider implications of the study and its findings.


Question 8 (4 marks)

Try to summarize a recent peer-reviewed journal article that interests you (this can be from any scientific discipline). In your summary, try to answer the six questions that appear in the ‘key elements’ section (above). Most importantly, try to write no more than 250 words, but do not worry too much about style just now. Although the content is very important, you will not be graded on this aspect yet.

* When you have completed your summary, copy and paste it and include a word count. Make sure you also save a copy for yourself. You will need to (1) print this, along with (2) a copy of the peer-reviewed journal article you used, and bring them both with you to participate in the in-class activities. In these activities, you will work with a partner to improve your summaries in terms of content and style. *

Version 3

Summarizing Journal Articles: Student Pre-Class Activities

Summarizing information is one of the most important skills to learn. Turning complex material into a form that makes it more readable for others requires similar skills to paraphrasing and using quotations effectively. However, there are some subtle but very important differences. These pre-class activities have been designed to give you practice in distinguishing these, as well as ensuring you write a summary of a recent peer-reviewed journal article that interests you. You must bring your summary and the journal article to the in-class activities for this writing skills unit.

You may have already learned how to paraphrase material from its source by making it more concise and putting it into your own words. When writing a summary, you should do exactly the same thing, except you should make it considerably shorter than its original form and focus only on the very important information. When you work with scientific journal articles, it can be initially difficult to distinguish which pieces of information are very important from those that are less important, because every article contains so much information. These activities should help you develop strategies for making this distinction.


The Key Elements

Every journal article is different, but as a general guide, you should read each one and make notes with the following questions in mind:

  1. What problem/question does this research consider?
  2. Why is this problem/question important/interesting?
  3. What did the researchers predict?
  4. What methods were used (in general)?
  5. What were the main findings?
  6. What evidence is provided to support the main findings?


Questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 (2 marks each, 12 marks total)

For each of the following six questions, you will need to refer to the fictional abstract that appears below (it is deliberately not concise). When you summarize an article, it is important that you read the whole article (and not just the abstract), but for this exercise, a smaller body of text will be sufficient. As you read it, try to think about what the really important information is.


We conducted a 12-week research project to assess whether mice that had been raised in different conditions were affected by noise levels when they were moved to different regions. Mice are excellent model mammal organisms for such research because they are hardy and readily accessible, as opposed to the endangered mammals that such research should benefit in the future. It has been argued that raising threatened mammals (such as the white-footed ferret) in quiet areas in captivity and then releasing them into the wild is a fruitless pursuit if the areas they are given their freedom in are particularly noisy, because the animals typically move to other areas to avoid unfamiliar noise (and often die in that endeavour). We measured mouse heart rate in different noise situations after they had been raised in either quiet (n=451) or noisy environments (n=378). We also captured them 12 weeks after their release and tracked the distance they moved from their initial point of release in each environment (km). To our surprise, we found that there was no difference in heart rate response as a result of the conditions in which mice had been raised (t-test, T= 4.37, p=0.31). Again, surprisingly, there was also no difference in response in terms of distance travelled from the point of release as a result of the conditions in which mice had been raised (t-test, T=3.71, p=0.14). As expected, we did however find a significant difference between the distance travelled from the point of release when all data were grouped (t-test, T=6.71, p=0.02) so that the noise level of the environment in which they were released was compared. Mice moved further from the point of release when they were released in noisy areas compared to quiet ones. There was no correlation between mouse sex or size and distance travelled from the point of release (r=0.15, p =0.43, and r=-.09, p=0.56 respectively). We advise all conservation efforts to be considered on a case-by-case basis, but suggest that noise itself is likely to cause released individuals to move large distances to seek quieter habitats, regardless of the conditions in which they were raised. For this reason, we advise people to only release animals in quiet habitats.


Now, for the following six questions, copy and paste the complete sentence in the abstract that contains the answer (1 mark). Then, try to summarize this information for each question by writing it in your own words. Write it more concisely and use less specific detail (1 mark). Hint: Think hard about whether you need specific information to provide an accurate summary answer to each question and do not include it if it is unnecessary.

* As you work through questions 1 - 6, keep a copy of your answers in another file. You will need to paste the combined answers into Connect for Question 7. *


Q1: What problem/question does this research consider?
Q2: Why is this problem/question important/interesting?
Q3: What did the researchers predict?
Q4: What methods were used (in general)?
Q5: What were the main findings?
Q6: What evidence is provided to support the main findings?


Question 7 (4 marks)

Imagine that you have summarized 10 papers in the same way as you have just done for the fictional abstract above, and that you now want to summarize everything into one piece of writing. This will mean summarizing everything again, which means removing any information from each one that is not vital or very interesting.

Copy and paste all of your answers to questions 1 – 6 together to form one summary paragraph. When you read it, this might seem as though you have paraphrased rather than summarized the material. To rectify this, re-write your summary more succinctly to remove any redundant or uninteresting information (2 marks), and to make sure it transitions more smoothly from sentence to sentence (2 marks). Hint: You might wish to re-order the sentences to make the summary more interesting, and/or remove any lingering specifics that are not needed to get the important messages across, as well as adding a sentence at the end to state the wider implications of the study and its findings.


Question 8 (4 marks)

Try to summarize a recent peer-reviewed journal article that interests you (this can be from any scientific discipline). In your summary, try to answer the six questions that appear in the ‘key elements’ section (above). Most importantly, try to write no more than 250 words, but do not worry too much about style just now. Although the content is very important, you will not be graded on this aspect yet.

* When you have completed your summary, copy and paste it and include a word count. Make sure you also save a copy for yourself. You will need to (1) print this, along with (2) a copy of the peer-reviewed journal article you used, and bring them both with you to participate in the in-class activities. In these activities, you will work with a partner to improve your summaries in terms of content and style. *

Post-Class Activities

Version 1

Summarizing Journal Articles: Post-Class Activities

These post-class activities provide you with some refresher questions that focus on the skills needed to write succinct summaries before giving you more practice in summarizing jargon-heavy journal articles effectively. Lastly, you will be asked to provide a final, improved summary of the journal article that you worked on in the pre-class activities, and which you received feedback on in the in-class activity session.


Questions 1, 2, and 3 (1 mark each, 3 marks total)

For each of the following questions, read the statement related to writing a summary of a research article, and answer either ‘True’ or ‘False’.

Q1: When summarizing a research article, you must always refer to the source.
Q2: When summarizing a research article, you must use quotations from it.
Q3: When summarizing a research article, you should only try to summarize one result (the most important finding).


Question 4 (6 marks)

Read the journal article below. You may need to log in to your institution’s library when prompted. Alternatively, you can access them yourself using the Google Scholar search function; typing in the article title alone (bolded below) will bring up a link.

Canyon wrens alter their songs in response to territorial challenges (Benedict, L, Rose, A, Warning, N. (2012).)


Recall that when you summarize an article, your goal should be to answer the following five questions succinctly, and in your own words:

1: What problem/question does this research consider?
2: Why is this problem/question important/interesting?
3: What methods were used (in general)?
4: What were the main findings?
5: What evidence is provided to support the main findings?


First, try to summarize the article by answering these five questions (1 mark each, 5 marks total). Then, paste all of your answers together into one long summary and edit this to make it more succinct and interesting to read. As a test, try to do this in less than 150 words (1 mark). Hint: When editing your answers to the five questions into one summary, you should be able to incorporate more than two answers into some sentences.


Question 5 (6 marks)

So far, you have spent most of your time focusing on the translation of content from a journal article. Now you will focus a little more on style. Both elements must be handled carefully to ensure that your summary is as good as it can be.

The paragraph of text below is a published summary taken from a research thesis. Although it scores quite highly in terms of content (the reasons for the research, the main findings, and the recommendations are explained in detail), there are a number of areas that could be improved in terms of style (especially for a more general audience). Two of these are in the transitions between sentences, and the jargon used throughout.

Your task is to copy and paste the abstract before re-writing parts of it to improve the transitions (3 marks) and minimize the jargon (3 marks). Try to make at least three changes to components that come under each of these categories. Be sure to bold all changes so they are easy to see.


Introduced plant species exert major influences on the structure and function of ecosystems, and are often implicated in biodiversity declines. The Eurasian annual cheatgrass, Bromus tectorum, has spread extensively in western North America since its introduction over 150 years ago; it extirpates native species, appears to have increased fire cycle periodicities, and provides cattle with inadequate nutrition. Because cheatgrass abundance recently increased in pastures of grassland in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, Canada, assessing environmental and biotic factors that influence its abundance is important from a management perspective. In an observational study at five heterogeneous sites, I isolated a number of highly significant correlations; cheatgrass abundance was positively correlated with proximity to focal ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) trees, but negatively correlated with other plant diversity. Also, soil pH and soil moisture were significantly lower in proximity to trees than at distances further away, suggesting soil chemistry could have affected cheatgrass abundance. Because other analyses indicated that cheatgrass abundance differed in relation to the identity of the other species present, I conducted community-wide and species-specific co-occurrence analyses; I asked whether invaded communities featured different assembly patterns and isolated the species that had the strongest co-occurrence patterns with cheatgrass. I found that communities lacking cheatgrass were more diverse in terms of grass species and appeared to be structured non-randomly. Invaded communities, however, displayed patterns indicative of ‘disassembly’ as co-occurrence relationships did not differ from null predictions. Five grass species grew relatively more frequently if cheatgrass was present; these were bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegnaria spicata), Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis), western needlegrass (Stipa occidentalis), sand dropseed (Sporobolus cryptandrus) and needle-and-thread-grass (Stipa comata). These results suggest that selective herbicide use in proximity to pine trees could be effective in controlling cheatgrass in these grasslands. I recommend manipulative experiments to assess the potential of this technique, as well as seeding experiments designed to characterize the most effective natural competitors against cheatgrass.


Question 6 (5 marks)

Copy and paste the summary of the journal article that you wrote in the pre-class activities (the original version, before you worked on it in the in-class activities). You will need to do this before showing the improved version to give yourself the chance to obtain full marks; without both versions it is impossible to know how you have improved the original summary. Be sure to label each summary so that it is clear which one was your original version.

Then write in the feedback that you received from your partner(s) (1 mark, this can be in bullet point form), and note how you have edited your summary to improve it based on this feedback (1 mark, this can also be in bullet point form). Then write your improved summary with the main changes in bold to make it easy to see how it has improved from your original version (3 marks).

Note: If for some reason you missed the in-class activities, or did not receive feedback from a partner on your original summary, you can still achieve full marks for this question. Instead of writing in the feedback received from your partner(s), write in things that you feel could be improved, before stating how you have edited your summary to reflect these. Make sure you also write your new version of the original summary. If you did not complete the pre-class activities and do not have an original summary to work from, you can still receive 3 marks for a well-written summary of your research article.

Version 2

Summarizing Journal Articles: Post-Class Activities

These post-class activities provide you with some refresher questions that focus on the skills needed to write effective summaries before giving you more practice in summarizing jargon-heavy articles effectively. Lastly, you will be asked to provide a final, improved summary of the journal article that you worked on in the pre-class activities, and which you received feedback on in the in-class activity session.


Questions 1, 2, 3 and 4 (1 mark each, 4 marks total)

For each of the following questions, read the statement related to writing a summary of a journal article, and answer either ‘True’ or ‘False’ (if all or part of it is false).

Q1: When summarizing a research article, you should quote directly from it. Q2: When summarizing a research article, you should never include the specific numerical details of the main results (e.g. the statistical results). Q3: When summarizing a research article, you will probably need to use a lot of jargon. Q4: When summarizing a research article, you should only try to summarize the single most important result.


Question 5 (8 marks)

Read the journal article below. You may need to log in to your institution’s library when prompted. Alternatively, you can access them yourself using the Google Scholar search function; typing in the article title alone (bolded below) will bring up a link.

Canyon wrens alter their songs in response to territorial challenges (Benedict, L, Rose, A, Warning, N. (2012).)


Recall that when you summarize an article, your goal should be to answer the following six questions succinctly, and in your own words:

1: What problem/question does this research consider?
2: Why is this problem/question important/interesting?
3: What did the researchers predict?
4: What methods were used (in general)?
5: What were the main findings?
6: What evidence is provided to support the main findings?


First, try to summarize the article by answering these six questions (1 mark each, 6 marks total). Then, paste all your answers together into one long summary and edit this to make it more succinct and interesting to read. As a test, try to do this in less than 150 words (2 marks). Hint: When editing your answers to the six questions into one summary, you should be able to incorporate more than two answers into some sentences.


Question 6 (6 marks)

So far, you have spent most of your time focusing on the translation of content from a journal article. Now you will focus a little more on style. Both elements must be handled carefully to ensure that your summary is as good as it can be.

The paragraph of text below is a published summary taken from a research thesis. Although it scores quite highly in terms of content (the reasons for the research, the main findings, and the recommendations are explained in detail), there are a number of areas that could be improved in terms of style (especially for a more general audience). Two of these are in the transitions between sentences, and the jargon used throughout.

Your task is to copy and paste the abstract before re-writing parts of it to improve the transitions (3 marks) and minimize the jargon (3 marks). Try to make at least three changes to components that come under each of these categories. Be sure to bold all changes so they are easy to see.


Introduced plant species exert major influences on the structure and function of ecosystems, and are often implicated in biodiversity declines. The Eurasian annual cheatgrass, Bromus tectorum, has spread extensively in western North America since its introduction over 150 years ago; it extirpates native species, appears to have increased fire cycle periodicities, and provides cattle with inadequate nutrition. Because cheatgrass abundance recently increased in pastures of grassland in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, Canada, assessing environmental and biotic factors that influence its abundance is important from a management perspective. In an observational study at five heterogeneous sites, I isolated a number of highly significant correlations; cheatgrass abundance was positively correlated with proximity to focal ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) trees, but negatively correlated with other plant diversity. Also, soil pH and soil moisture were significantly lower in proximity to trees than at distances further away, suggesting soil chemistry could have affected cheatgrass abundance. Because other analyses indicated that cheatgrass abundance differed in relation to the identity of the other species present, I conducted community-wide and species-specific co-occurrence analyses; I asked whether invaded communities featured different assembly patterns and isolated the species that had the strongest co-occurrence patterns with cheatgrass. I found that communities lacking cheatgrass were more diverse in terms of grass species and appeared to be structured non-randomly. Invaded communities, however, displayed patterns indicative of ‘disassembly’ as co-occurrence relationships did not differ from null predictions. Five grass species grew relatively more frequently if cheatgrass was present; these were bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegnaria spicata), Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis), western needlegrass (Stipa occidentalis), sand dropseed (Sporobolus cryptandrus) and needle-and-thread-grass (Stipa comata). These results suggest that selective herbicide use in proximity to pine trees could be effective in controlling cheatgrass in these grasslands. I recommend manipulative experiments to assess the potential of this technique, as well as seeding experiments designed to characterize the most effective natural competitors against cheatgrass.


Question 7 (7 marks)

Copy and paste the summary of the journal article that you wrote in the pre-class activities (the original version, before you worked on it in the in-class activities). You will need to do this before showing an improved version to give yourself the chance to obtain full marks; without both versions it is impossible to know how you have improved the original summary. Be sure to label each summary so that it is clear which one was your original version.

Then write in the feedback that you received from your partner(s) (2 marks, this can be in bullet point form), and note how you have edited your summary to improve it based on this feedback (2 marks, this can also be in bullet point form). Then write your improved summary with the main changes in bold to make it easy to see how it has improved from your original version (3 marks).

Note: If for some reason you missed the in-class activities, or did not receive feedback from a partner on your original summary, you can still achieve full marks for this question. Instead of writing in the feedback received from your partner(s), write in things that you feel could be improved, before stating how you have edited your summary to reflect these. Make sure you also write your new version of the original summary. If you did not complete the pre-class activities and do not have an original summary to work from, you can still receive 3 marks for a well-written summary of your research article.

Using Quotations and Paraphrasing in Journalistic Writing

Lesson and Workshops Introduction:

We have designed pre- and post-class activities (essentially ‘homework’ exercises for students) to complement the in-class lesson/workshop for this specific science writing-skill component (‘Using Quotations and Paraphrasing in Journalistic Writing’).

At our institution, we ask students to complete the pre-class activities online as preparation for the in-class lesson/workshop, so as to give them some exposure to the concepts that will be explored in more detail in class.

The in-class activities are designed to improve students’ writing skills and to give them experience in working with partners/small groups on related activities. The in-class lesson/workshop has been designed to encourage an interactive, conversational approach to completing the activities; this should help students to resolve any confusion from the pre-class activities and discuss the importance of the writing skills they are learning to master with their peers and instructors. We provide student worksheets for the in-class activities, as well as TA and Instructor versions of these worksheets, which also include suggested solutions to the activities. We also provide a PowerPoint presentation to accompany the lesson/workshop, and a timing guide with teaching prompts to help instructors encourage students to get the most from these sessions. For this particular writing skill/component, we also provide an interview transcript (Peatland forestry grassland catchment interview) that instructors will need to print before the in-class session; students will use this transcript to work through the activities.

Lastly, students are asked to complete the post-class activities online, as a final learning tool and wrap-up to help them solidify the concepts they have learned and gain some more practice in applying these to real writing situations. Please note that depending on which bank of questions are used for the post-class activities, instructors must also provide a copy of the relevant interview transcript (either ‘BC Dinosaur Interview’ or ‘Exercise Motivation Interview’) for students to work with (these are both provided in the post-class materials packages).


A Note on Asking Students to Complete the Pre- and Post-Class Activities Online

We recommend asking students to complete the activities online so as to reduce the likelihood that worksheets of these activities are printed and enter the student domain; over time, these questions will reduce in value if copies are posted online (via blogs etc. by students who have previously completed them).

We have designed these activities to take students approximately 30-60 minutes to complete; they form a small part of the graded continuous assessment for students enrolled in a science communication course at our institution, but could also be deployed as not-for-credit activities.


A Note on the Different Versions

All different versions/banks have been used and refined following student and instructor feedback, and all of them focus on the same important concepts. We cycle different versions across different terms to minimize the potential that students enrolled in our course in concurrent terms will share answers (e.g. we do not use the same version in concurrent terms).

Please note that while the initial choice of which version to use is somewhat arbitrary, it is important to use the same version for the pre-, in- and post-class activities as a whole unit; this is because some of the questions appearing in the in-class lesson/workshop and/or post-class activities build on work completed in the pre-class activities (e.g. do not use pre-class version 1, and post-class version 2 together).

Timing Guide

Using Quotations and Paraphrasing in Journalistic Writing: In-Class Activities, Instructor Timing Guide

This guide complements the final worksheets (and PowerPoint version), but please have a look at these so you know when you should display certain slides. Please note that students should receive a student copy of the in-class activities and a copy of the ‘Peatland forestry grass catchment interview.pdf’.


Activity 1 (work alone, 10 min + 5 min for instructor to show/discuss answers, total time elapsed = 15 min)

You should allow 10 minutes for students to complete Activity 1. Once the 10-minute time limit has passed, move on to the second slide and discuss the solutions with the students for ~ 5 minutes.


Activity 2 (work alone, and then together, 15 min + 5 min for instructor to show/discuss answers, 'total time elapsed = 35 min)

You should allow 15 minutes for students to complete Activity 2. Once the 15-minute time limit has passed, move on to the fourth slide and discuss this potential solution with the students for ~ 5 minutes. You might want to ask if anyone has alternative versions and have students read a few out.


Activity 3 (work together, 10 min + 5min for instructor to show/discuss answers, total time elapsed = 50 min),

You should allow 10 minutes (or however much time you have remaining) for students to complete Activity 3. Once the 10-minute time limit has passed, move on to the sixth slide and discuss this potential solution with the students for ~5 minutes. You might want to ask if anyone has alternative versions and have students read a few out.

Note: It’s important to stress that there are many different ways in which you can tell an interesting story from the same transcript, so you wouldn't necessarily expect identical solutions. The importance lies in sticking to the basics (mentioning the 5 Ws in paragraphs one and two, and then paraphrasing material and using interesting, concise quotes that move the story forward afterwards).


Activity 4/Optional Take Home Activity (work alone, or together, 10 min)

Before students leave, you can make them aware that they can complete a short activity in their own time if they want to gain more practice in developing an article by paraphrasing and selecting appropriate quotes from this transcript. It will not take them long to do this. Please note that there will not likely be time to do this in the in-class activities, but it can be attempted if your class moves through the first three quickly.

In-Class Activities

Using Quotations and Paraphrasing in Journalistic Writing: Student In-Class Activities

These in-class activities are designed to complement those you completed in the pre-class set and should give you more practice in writing a good story. The main themes will again focus on the effective use of quotations and on paraphrasing interview material in an interesting and succinct way.

You will be working with an unedited interview transcript produced after a reporter (Thomas Deane) spoke to a researcher (VLiwen Xiao) who was part of a team that made a discovery with implications for protecting aquatic species near forested areas. By the end of this class, you should have:

  1. Written an effective introduction (two to three short paragraphs)
  2. Chosen a number of quotes to boost the interest of your story
  3. Paraphrased other material effectively to further develop the story


The 5 Ws and the Inverted Pyramid of Information

Whenever you write a news story, it is a good rule of thumb to include as much information about the coming article in the first paragraph. Do not worry about depth, but do concern yourself with breadth. Try to incorporate at least a good proportion of the ‘5 Ws’ (who, what, where, when, why) in that first sentence/paragraph. For example, consider this opening to a fictional news story:

Bad moods could be a thing of the past after a research team led by Professor Shevski at the University of Whitby recently discovered a gene that can be ‘switched on’ in all humans to increase the level of mood-lightening endorphins in the blood.

In just 45 words in this example, we have learned exactly what the article is going to develop (who = Professor Shevski, what = a gene of interest, where = the University of Whitby, when = recently, why = interesting because this gene might make us all better tempered individuals).

Once you have told the basics that are going to be developed in the story, it is time to increase the depth that surrounds the most interesting of these. In the above fictional example, it would probably be a smart plan to write a bit more about the gene itself, how it was discovered, and to what extent it could lighten moods when switched on. Only then would it be useful to incorporate some quotes, ideally from Prof. Shevski, one of his/her team members, and/or an expert in the field of genetics (remember the importance of quoting a relevant source). After you have done this, you can include more specific information if it is appropriate, but remember to work down that pyramid of information (from good breadth and narrow depth to narrow breadth and good depth).


Activity 1 (work alone, 10 minutes)

Working alone, read the complete transcript of the interview between Thomas Deane and Liwen Xiao. As you read through the transcript, try to decide what the most newsworthy part(s) of the interview are. This is an important skill to develop, as you will sometimes find that the most interesting element of the story is not what you thought it would be initially.
As you are reading through the transcript, annotate it to indicate parts that contain the important elements that will need to be developed in your article. Remember to look out for the following (of which there might be more than one):

1. Who = 2. What = 3. Where = 4. When = 5. Why =

*** Please note there will be a brief class discussion to share answers before you attempt Activity 2 ***


Activity 2 (work alone, and then together, 15 minutes)

Find a partner or work in a group of three to make sure nobody is left out. Individually, try to write two to three introductory paragraphs to this story. These do not need to be long, but try to incorporate as many of the ‘5 Ws’ in the first one as you can (make sure all are incorporated in the first two paragraphs). Once you have written the opening paragraph, try to write the next one or two to expand on the fact that this discovery might have ecological and economic implications because it could protect salmon and freshwater mussels (explaining why this is interesting/important). Hint: You will need to paraphrase some information from the transcript to do this effectively.

Once you have completed this task, swap your introductory paragraphs with another pair/group of three (so you will hand two/three different versions to another pair/group, and receive two/three back). Read these different versions as a pair/group, and then decide which one you will use for the final activity.

*** Please note there will be a brief class discussion and an example solution will be shown before you attempt Activity 3 ***


Activity 3 (work together, 10 minutes)

Working with the same partner/group members, try to incorporate at least two quotes from Liwen Xiao below the paragraphs written by the other pair/group that you have just chosen to work with.

Remember that you can re-order quotes and incorporate parts of a longer quote with paraphrased material, as long as you do not misrepresent the speaker. Also remember that the quotes you choose should be interesting, concise, and move the story forward. It is just as important to make sure that they do not include boring and/or redundant information.

*** Please note there will be a brief class discussion and an example solution will be shown before you leave ***


Activity 4/Optional Take Home Activity (work alone or together, 10 minutes)

The opening to the story you just composed focused on this story from the perspective that this discovery/research was interesting because it might have ecological and economic implications because it could protect salmon and freshwater mussels. There were other angles that could have been taken in this article, and, depending on the angle, certain quotes might have been more useful than others.

Imagine that in your article, you decided further down to mention that this was (1) the first time anyone had tested the effects of grass catchment areas in taking up nutrients and (2) that the existing plantations will likely be felled even though it is known how risky this action might be for species in nearby rivers. Using the transcript, decide:

A1: Which of these pieces of information should be accompanied with a direct quote
B1: Which of these pieces of information should be paraphrased from quotes

A2: Which quote(s) you would use
B2: How you would paraphrase this information

Interview

Peatland forestry/grassland catchment interview: Reporter Thomas Deane (TD) and Researcher Liwen Xiao (LX)

TD: Tell me a little about your research:

LX: Well, my group is made up of 10 postdocs, PhD and Masters students, and we are interested in the effects that forestry practices have on surrounding ecosystems. We look at a load of different things, including changes in species diversity and abundance in relation to nutrient input, fungal signalling pathways in root systems, and the carbon and nitrogen cycle changes resulting from planting different types of forests. Our main thing recently has been to look at the impacts that happen after a large area of trees has been forested for wood, in terms of the sudden nutrient release into surrounding habitats.

TD: And sudden nutrient release is a bad thing?

LX: It depends very much on the surrounding habitat, and on which types of nutrients are released, and on where these nutrients end up. But in our experience it is usually a bad thing because forested habitats tend to support lots of other species, of animals, plants and fungi. When a huge amount of nutrients are suddenly released, these can lead to algal and fungal outbreaks, which is often too much for the other species in the system to handle. Trees are also very important in terms of the carbon they use and lock up, so when they are felled, a lot of this goes back into the atmosphere.

TD: And I understand you have been working in peatland ecosystems lately. Can you tell me about these, and why you have focused on them?

LX: Yes certainly. Basically, throughout areas of Europe, especially Scandinavia, and some parts of North America, a lot of natural peatland was ‘afforested’ in the last 100 years or so. That just means that trees were planted where they had never been before, by man, for the purpose of harvesting further down the line. Now, and over the past decade or so, a lot of these afforested peatlands had trees that had reached maturity and were ready to be felled for timber. What we noticed is that there were some huge effects in nearby oligotrophic rivers, in terms of the way that aquatic species were affected. So we wanted to know more about this and have been working in sites in County Wicklow, Ireland, to find some answers.

TD: What is an oligotrophic river?

LX: Sorry, I forget sometimes that not everyone is focused on the same research as me! Oligotrophic just means naturally very low in nutrients. Typically these are the rivers and streams at the top of water systems, where the currents are fast and the waters pure and cold.

TD: I see. So what happens when trees are felled around these rivers?

LX: More often than not, a relatively huge amount of nutrients, such as nitrogen, and phosphorus (which can both be toxic in large concentrations) move from the previously planted areas and find their way into the rivers. This has been linked to severe local population crashes in over 80% of the species that are typically found in these rivers, including salmon species and freshwater mussels that are very important economically.

TD: So will this research be used to lobby against felling trees in these peatlands?

LX: I don’t know about that really. It is usually very hard to make a strong enough case with this sort of research when there is money invested in the forestry plantations. In this case, a lot of the afforested areas were planted up by governments all those years ago. I think governments will have been banking on collecting the money invested in this timber so I suspect the trees will be felled as planned in all of these areas.

TD: So what can be done to help out the aquatic species?

LX: Well, this is what we’ve been working on. We just had a really good article published in a leading journal that showcased our work. About six months ago, we found that if you seed the areas immediately surrounding the afforested plantations with grass species, the grasses do a pretty good job of taking up the nutrients that are released when the trees come down. This is the first time anyone has tested this experimentally, which means we might be the first group to have even thought of the idea.

TD: Do you think this is a solution then, or is it just something that will reduce the impact to a manageable level?

LX: It’s not a complete solution because high concentrations of nutrients are still going to appear in the system very suddenly, but our experiments have shown that between 20 and 40% of the nutrients are taken up by the grasses. That might not seem much, but it means the levels entering the water system are below the threshold considered dangerous by the Environmental Protection Agency. All in all, we’re confident that the grasses take up enough nutrients that aquatic species populations will not be adversely affected anymore.

TD: And how long does it take for the grasses to establish once you have seeded them?

LX: That’s the beauty of our idea. The grasses establish and dominate the surrounding areas in less than three years, which means that if we start sowing seeds now, these areas should be safeguarded to an extent before the trees come down. If forestry managers work with us to implement this idea, we believe the salmon and mussels can breathe a big sigh of relief.”

Pre-Class Activities

Version 1

Using Quotations and Paraphrasing: Student Pre-Class Activities

Using Quotations in (Journalistic) Science Writing

Quotations appear in almost every good news story because they add an extra level of interest for the readers. However, as you have learned throughout this course, writing concisely and telling a story as simply as possible is of vital importance. For this reason, a ‘good story’ only ever contains ‘good quotes’; simply filling space with quotes will put your readers off, rather than encouraging them to absorb the tale you are telling.

As ever, when writing you should try to make your story accessible to the audience to which it is targeted. For example, suppose you had spent three years in a genetics lab and discovered how a gene functioned to protect fruit from pests. When it came to communicating your research, you would write two very different articles to a specialist science magazine and a newspaper that would be read by more diverse audiences.

However, in both cases, you would likely add quotations to help make the article more engaging. Although you might include more jargon in the specialist version, there is a fairly standard set of guidelines for choosing quotes that you would be able to apply to both articles.

In general, and in order of importance, the following elements will all be present in a good quote:

  1. It will be attributed to a relevant source with something meaningful to say.
  2. The information contained in it will add to, expand, and/or personalize the story.
  3. It will be easy to understand, even if it contains comparisons/descriptions.
  4. Although not always the case, impact tends to be higher if the word count is small.


In contrast, the following elements tend to be present in a bad quote:

  1. The information contained in it is boring, redundant, repetitive, contains jargon, overly complex words, or is incoherent and hard to follow.
  2. It is taken from a source that was not introduced earlier in the article, or from a non-relevant source with nothing of importance to add to the story.
  3. It is not concise and/or is hard to interpret.


Question 1 (5 marks)

Read the five quotes provided by different sources, all of which apply to the scenario below. Your task is to decide whether each one is worthy of inclusion in a news-based article. Hint: Base your decision on some of the elements listed above that determine whether a quote is good or bad (or somewhere in between). Show your decisions by writing either “Good quote” or “Bad quote” next to each one (1 mark each).

Scenario: You are writing a facts-based article for a popular nature magazine about the recent discovery that fertilizer is responsible for destabilizing grassland communities and negatively impacting ecosystem services all over the world.


A: “This is really worrying news because so many different species rely on grasslands, and of course, they also sequester carbon and nitrogen that is fixed from the atmosphere,” said wildlife enthusiast Jonny Nolan.
B: “Some of these grasslands are just stunningly beautiful,” said tourist, Claire Commins.
C: “Given that the same patterns found in the Tanzanian Serengeti are also seen in the alpine grasslands of the tundra, I think it is safe to suggest that fertilizer really is having a very damaging effect,” said Lily Reilly, an environmental scientist.
D: “Fertilizer is just, well… I mean, they are all just bad, you know… bad news. But then again, farmers know how to farm so people from the towns shouldn’t tell them, you know… I just don’t think they should all get involved,” said local farmer Alex Gist.
E: “My issue with these correlational data is that they are all observational in nature. Studies without bona fide roots in controlled, manipulated experiments have produced a plethora of falsely interpreted results previously,” said statistician Alanna O’Sullivan.


Question 2 (5 marks)

Read the five quotes provided by different sources, all of which apply to the scenario below. Your task is to rank the five quotes in order from best to worst. Hint: Base your decision on some of the elements listed above that determine whether a quote is good or bad (or somewhere in between).

Scenario: You are writing an article for a science journal about the importance of a recent breakthrough that will allow more efficient determination of protein structures.


A: English teacher Sam Mendes said: “I think this could be one of the biggest impacts we see from a science discovery in the last decade or so, purely because it has applications in so many other important industries and research themes, such as medicine, drug development, biochemistry and engineering, and as always, I think it is very important that we give due consideration to the impact a science breakthrough can have on as many people as possible.”
B: Science communication instructor Matthew Willis said: “This is truly ground-breaking stuff. It will mean we generate much faster and more accurate data to help drug development.”
C: Physiotherapist Justin Dylan said: “Let us ponder for a moment how this development will provide immeasurable benefit to a skyrocketing population. Such a grandiose accomplishment is sure to allow more targeted research to be conducted by our brightest and best young medical researchers, whose ability to produce specific medicinal treatments for problematic protein-affected disorders is already second to none.”
D: Undergraduate physics society treasurer Suzy Wang said: “The LCP Injector that the researchers developed will help place the protein crystals where they need to be at exactly the right speeds to allow far more accurate structural data to be generated. It will greatly help related research.”
E: Government science adviser Toby Hamilton said: “The real triumph was creating the LCP injector, which will ultimately help generate structural data that is much more accurate.”


Question 3 (5 marks)

This question is designed to give you further practice in selecting certain quotes for use in your writing. Read the following introduction to a science-based news story, and then consider the five quotes and descriptions that appear in the table below it. Your task is to correctly match each quote with the description of it as if you were considering why it should or should not be included in the news-story introduction below:

Bees are worth billions of dollars to the global economy thanks to the pollination service they provide to farmers growing food crops.
That is according to a new study in which researchers compared crop yield when bees were and were not permitted to access flowers.
Crops such as canola, which are being grown in greater amounts than ever before due to a demand for biofuel, produced almost 40% more yield when pollinated by bees than when they were pollinated by wind.
Professor Stewart, lead researcher on the project, said: “…”


Table 1: Quotes (numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5) that must be matched to descriptions (A, B, C, D and E).

Quote (all taken from the lead researcher, Prof. Stewart) Description of quote
1. “Working with bees is sometimes difficult but important.” A. Good quote.
2. “Bees improved the yield by 39.4%.” B. Redundant quote.
3. “For a long time we looked at different flower types as being important. They are more efficient than wind though.” C. Jargon-heavy quote.
4. “This shows why we should all take care of our bees.” D. Boring quote.
5. “Canola is a good model species for these mixed-effects, randomized-plot experiments because it is so economically important and it can be cultivated easily.” E. Incoherent quote.


The Importance of Paraphrasing

Sometimes you will have access to a quote from a relevant source but there will be a problem with it that prevents you using it word for word. For example, perhaps the quote contains too much jargon for your audience, or maybe it makes a good point but is too long-winded. In either of these instances, it would be a shame not to use the information in the quote if it could improve the quality of your article, but using the quote itself would have the opposite effect. So what do you do?

The answer is that you should paraphrase the information. You can think of this loosely as citing it in the way you would in a lab report. In other words, you are going to attribute it to the source, but only include the information that is relevant to your audience. For example, imagine Prof. Stewart provided the following quote:

“We had the feeling that crops would be considerably less valuable if they were solely wind-pollinated, but it had never been shown experimentally before. Now we know for sure just how valuable these bees are in terms of boosting yield, we hope it will give us the power to convince governments to step up their efforts of conserving them. The bees help us, so we need to repay the favour!”

Rather than using the (whole) quote, which contains admittedly interesting information in a long-winded, rather boring way, you could paraphrase it like this:

Professor Stewart explained that she hopes governments will help conserve bees now it has been shown how valuable their pollination service is.

Because the second part of the original quote is concise and interesting, you could also think about including it after your initial paraphrased sentence, like this:

Professor Stewart explained that she hopes governments will help conserve bees now it has been shown how valuable their pollination service is. She said: “The bees help us, so we need to repay the favour!”


Re-ordering Transcripts (and Quotes)

When you interview somebody as a source for your article, you will probably produce a transcript of information ordered in a way that does not tell the most interesting story possible; in spoken conversations about complicated subjects people rarely explain themselves smoothly or without backtracking.

As a result, you will often have to re-order things when incorporating quotes into your article. This might mean paraphrasing parts of a quote and including other parts of it as a direct quote (as you have gained some experience with), or it might mean swapping the order of quotes so that the story follows a more logical development. Although this is a common, and necessary action, you must be careful not to take quotes out of context when doing this. Make sure that when you read the original transcript and compare it to the re-ordered quotes in your article, you are satisfied that you have not misrepresented your source in any way!


Question 4 (6 marks)

For each of the following six quotes (Q1-Q6), your job is to decide whether:

(A) The quote should be incorporated into an article as a quote (exactly as it appears here), or (B) all of the quoted information should be paraphrased, or (C) part of the quote should be used as a quote (exactly as it appears here), and the rest of the information should be paraphrased (1 mark each). Hint: Show your decisions by stating whether each quote (Q1-Q6) should be treated as an A, B, or C.


Q1: “We worked on average 12 hours per day for six months before we made any sort of breakthrough but we were always hopeful that we were on the right track because we had occasional highlights that made us believe there was mileage in the project even when things were largely unsuccessful,” said Prof. Stewart.
Q2: “This is such a fantastic discovery! We’ve finally shown what so many people thought would be true,” said Prof. Stewart.
Q3: “The netting procedures were tough. We used XF20 specialist netting equipment to make sure that no bees could get to the flowers we were exposing only to the wind, but a few were able to get through, which meant we lost a whole season of the project before we got the right ones,” said Prof. Stewart.
Q4: “What was really great was that we estimated there were a lot more bees than we had expected to see, based on other reports. Lots of research led us to believe that there might only be 5 – 10 colonies in each field but our data makes it look as though there are probably as much as 10 times that number, which is great news,” said Prof Stewart.
Q5: “The real goal now must of course be to lobby governments to make laws that ban the use of neo-nicotinoidal agents,” said Prof. Stewart.
Q6: “Sometimes conservation efforts are hard to find support for, but when there is a financial benefit, things usually move quicker,” said Prof. Stewart.


Question 5 (4 marks)

Read the transcript excerpt below, which contains four sentences spoken by Prof. Stewart when she answered a reporter’s question. Your task is to paraphrase this material effectively. Hint: Try to be concise and accurate (2 marks), and look out for at least one part of the transcript that should be included exactly as it is, as a quote (2 marks).

Reporter: Why should governments be concerned about neo-nicotinoid pesticides?

Prof. Stewart: “Well, there are a number of reasons that we should worry about the use of neo-nicotinoid pesticides, because these horrible pesticides… well, I suppose I shouldn’t say ‘horrible’, these strong pesticides are more potent than their older versions. LD-50 studies initially indicated that they were not toxic to bees, but that unfortunately myopic view led many famers to believe that they were safe because they wouldn’t kill bees when applied to crops that they visited for pollen. But that’s not the whole story, and the bees know it too well. You see, when bees are exposed to large volumes of these pesticides, their nervous systems can become overwhelmed, and although they don’t die, they then start doing weird things that they wouldn’t normally do, like flying off and eating pollen instead of returning it to the hive to support the larvae, which then suffer from a lack of food as a result.”

Version 2

Using Quotations and Paraphrasing: Student Pre-Class Activities

Using Quotations in (Journalistic) Science Writing

Quotations appear in almost every good news story because they add an extra level of interest for the readers. However, as you have learned throughout this course, writing concisely and telling a story as simply as possible is of vital importance. For this reason, a ‘good story’ only ever contains ‘good quotes’; simply filling space with quotes will put your readers off, rather than encouraging them to absorb the tale you are telling.

As ever, when writing you should try to make your story accessible to the audience to which it is targeted. For example, suppose you had spent three years in a genetics lab and discovered how a gene functioned to protect fruit from pests. When it came to communicating your research, you would write two very different articles to a specialist science magazine and a newspaper that would be read by more diverse audiences.

However, in both cases, you would likely add quotations to help make the article more engaging. Although you might include more jargon in the specialist version, there is a fairly standard set of guidelines for choosing quotes that you would be able to apply to both articles.

In general, the following elements will all be present in a good quote:

  1. It will be attributed to a relevant source with something meaningful to say.
  2. The information contained in it will add to, expand, and/or personalize the story.
  3. It will be easy to understand, even if it contains comparisons/descriptions.
  4. Although not always the case, impact tends to be higher if the word count is small.


In contrast, the following elements tend to be present in a bad quote:

  1. The information contained in it is boring, redundant, repetitive, contains jargon, overly complex words, or is incoherent and hard to follow.
  2. It is taken from a source that was not introduced earlier in the article, or from a non-relevant source with nothing of importance to add to the story.
  3. It is not concise and/or is hard to interpret.


Question 1 (5 marks)

Read the five quotes provided by different sources, all of which apply to the scenario below. Your task is to decide whether each one is worthy of inclusion in a news-based article or not. Hint: Base your decision on some of the elements listed above that determine whether a quote is good or bad (or somewhere in between). Show your decisions by writing either “Good quote” or “Bad quote” next to each one (1 mark each).

Scenario: You are writing a facts-based article for a popular nature magazine about the current dilemma in the UK and Ireland as to whether wild badgers should be culled in a bid to prevent the spread of bovine TB in these countries.

A: “I don’t think they should be culling the badgers at all because they are wild animals and deserve to live in the countryside,” said wildlife enthusiast Jonny Nolan.
B: “I always feel happy when I see them,” said tourist, Claire Commins.
C: “The science behind the cull is sketchy at best. There is, instead, plenty of evidence to suggest that regular mixing of cattle is responsible for the increase in TB cases,” said Lily Reilly, an environmental scientist.
D: “Badgers are just, well… I mean, they are just bad, you know… bad news. Farmers know how to farm so people from the towns shouldn’t tell them, you know… I just don’t think they should be involved,” said local farmer Alex Gist.
E: “Episodic outbreaks of TB are commonplace on the periphery of market towns. Contracting the malaise shouldn’t necessarily be terminal for cattle, though, so this seems a bit of a storm in a teacup,” said vet Alanna O’Sullivan.


Question 2 (5 marks)

Read the five quotes provided by different sources, all of which apply to the scenario below. Your task is to rank the five quotes in order from best to worst. Hint: Base your decision on some of the elements listed above that determine whether a quote is good or bad (or somewhere in between).

Scenario: You are writing an article for a science journal about whether funding should be preferentially allocated to applied research (such as work on developing pest-resistant crops), instead of basic, theoretical research.

A: Government science adviser Toby Hamilton said: “It is vital that we continue to fund theoretical research; although it might seem less of an immediate gain, many of the greatest breakthroughs have come from such work.”
B: Science communication instructor Matthew Willis said: “I think we should be focusing just on applied science now. I wouldn’t focus on theoretical science at all. Let’s just fund applied research. I think we should do it to the exclusion of other types.”
C: Undergraduate physics society treasurer Suzy Wang said: “This is a very interesting debate. I believe, based on current need, we should preferentially fund applied research but that doesn’t mean it should be 100%.”
D: Physiotherapist Justin Dylan said: “Let us ponder for a moment how we will provide sustenance and nourishment to a skyrocketing population. The answer can only lie in novel solutions being uncovered by our most brilliant minds. I sometimes wonder where we will be in 50 years time with warmer climates but unspeakably grand technological advances to offset these apparent barriers to human progress.”
E: Farmer Alex Gist said: “I’m not sure how we’ll feed the world in the future. Maybe if we put all of our money into applied research, our scientists will know how to do it.”


Question 3 (5 marks)

This question is designed to give you further practice in selecting certain quotes for use in your writing. Read the following introduction to a science-based news story, and then consider the five quotes and descriptions that appear in the table below it. Your task is to correctly match each quote with the description of it as if you were considering why it should or should not be included in the news-story introduction below:

Bees are worth billions of dollars to the global economy thanks to the pollination service they provide to farmers growing food crops.
That is according to a new study in which researchers compared crop yield when bees were and were not permitted to access flowers.
Crops such as canola, which are being grown in greater amounts than ever before due to a demand for biofuel, produced almost 40% more yield when pollinated by bees than when they were pollinated by wind.
Professor Stewart, lead researcher on the project, said: “…”


Table 1: Quotes (numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5) that must be matched to descriptions (A, B, C, D and E).

Quote (all taken from the lead researcher, Prof. Stewart) Description of quote
1. “We worked with a great team of researchers here.” A. Good quote.
2. “Bees improved the yield by 39.4%.” B. Redundant quote.
3. “For a long time we… It was not clear. But now proof.” C. Jargon-heavy quote.
4. “This shows just how important looking after our bees is.” D. Boring quote.
5. “Fuel from canola is produced via transesterification.” E. Incoherent quote.


The Importance of Paraphrasing

Sometimes you will have access to a quote from a relevant source but there will be a problem with it that prevents you using it word for word. For example, perhaps the quote contains too much jargon for your audience, or maybe it makes a good point but is too long-winded. In either of these instances, it would be a shame not to use the information in the quote if it could improve the quality of your article, but using the quote itself would have the opposite effect. So what do you do?

The answer is that you should paraphrase the information. You can think of this loosely as citing it in the way you would in a lab report. In other words, you are going to attribute it to the source, but only include the information that is relevant to your audience. For example, imagine Prof. Stewart provided the following quote:

“We had the feeling that crops would be considerably less valuable if they were solely wind-pollinated, but it had never been shown experimentally before. Now we know for sure just how valuable these bees are in terms of boosting yield, we hope it will give us the power to convince governments to step up their efforts of conserving them. The bees help us, so we need to repay the favour!”

Rather than using the (whole) quote, which contains admittedly interesting information in a long-winded, rather boring way, you could paraphrase it like this:

Professor Stewart explained that she hopes governments will help conserve bees now it has been shown how valuable their pollination service is.

Because the second part of the original quote is concise and interesting, you could also think about including it after your initial paraphrased sentence, like this:

Professor Stewart explained that she hopes governments will help conserve bees now it has been shown how valuable their pollination service is. She said: “The bees help us, so we need to repay the favour!”


Re-ordering Transcripts (and Quotes)

When you interview somebody as a source for your article, you will probably produce a transcript of information ordered in a way that does not tell the most interesting story possible; in spoken conversations about complicated subjects people rarely explain themselves smoothly or without backtracking.

As a result, you will often have to re-order things when incorporating quotes into your article. This might mean paraphrasing parts of a quote and including other parts of it as a direct quote (as you have gained some experience with), or it might mean swapping the order of quotes so that the story follows a more logical development. Although this is a common, and necessary action, you must be careful not to take quotes out of context when doing this. Make sure that when you read the original transcript and compare it to the re-ordered quotes in your article, you are satisfied that you have not misrepresented your source in any way!


Question 4 (6 marks)

For each of the following six quotes (Q1-Q6), your job is to decide whether:

(A) the quote should be incorporated into an article as a quote (exactly as it appears here), or (B) all of the quoted information should be paraphrased, or (C) part of the quote should be used as a quote (exactly as it appears here), and the rest of the information should be paraphrased (1 mark each). Hint: Show your decisions by stating whether each quote (Q1-Q6) should be treated as an A, B, or C.

Q1: “We worked on average 12 hours per day for six months before we made any sort of breakthrough but we were always hopeful that we were on the right track because we had occasional highlights that made us believe there was mileage in the project even when things were largely unsuccessful,” said Prof. Stewart.
Q2: “This is such a fantastic discovery! We’ve finally shown what so many people thought would be true,” said Prof. Stewart.
Q3: “The netting procedures were tough. We used XF20 specialist netting equipment to make sure that no bees could get to the flowers we were exposing only to the wind, but a few were able to get through, which meant we lost a whole season of the project before we got the right ones,” said Prof. Stewart.
Q4: “What was really great was that we estimated there were a lot more bees than we had expected to see, based on other reports. Lots of research led us to believe that there might only be 5 – 10 colonies in each field but our data makes it look as though there are probably as much as 10 times that number, which is great news,” said Prof Stewart.
Q5: “The real goal now must of course be to lobby governments to make laws that ban the use of neo-nicotinoidal agents,” said Prof. Stewart.
Q6: “Sometimes conservation efforts are hard to find support for, but when there is a financial benefit, things usually move quicker,” said Prof. Stewart.


Question 5 (4 marks)

Read the transcript excerpt below, which contains four sentences that were spoken by Prof. Stewart when she answered a reporter’s question. Your task is to paraphrase this material effectively. Hint: Try to be concise and accurate (2 marks), and look out for at least one part of the transcript that should be included exactly as it is, as a quote (2 marks).

Reporter: Why should governments be concerned about neo-nicotinoid pesticides?

Prof. Stewart: “Well, there are a number of reasons that we should worry about the use of neo-nicotinoid pesticides, and these are even more… you know, they’re more worrying than other pesticides. Studies initially indicated that they were not toxic to bees, and that they were safe because they didn’t kill bees when applied to crops that they visited for pollen. But that’s not the whole story, and the bees know it too well. You see, when bees are exposed to large volumes of these pesticides, their nervous systems can become overwhelmed, and although they don’t die, they then start doing weird things that they wouldn’t normally do, like flying off and eating pollen instead of returning it to the hive to support the larvae.”

Version 3

Using Quotations and Paraphrasing: Student Pre-Class Activities

Using Quotations in (Journalistic) Science Writing

Quotations appear in almost every good news story because they add an extra level of interest for the readers. However, as you have learned throughout this course, writing concisely and telling a story as simply as possible is of vital importance. For this reason, a ‘good story’ only ever contains ‘good quotes’; simply filling space with quotes will put your readers off, rather than encouraging them to absorb the tale you are telling.

As ever, when writing you should try to make your story accessible to the audience to which it is targeted. For example, suppose you had spent three years in a genetics lab and discovered how a gene functioned to protect fruit from pests. When it came to communicating your research, you would write two very different articles to a specialist science magazine and a newspaper that would be read by more diverse audiences.

However, in both cases, you would likely add quotations to help make the article more engaging. Although you might include more jargon in the specialist version, there is a fairly standard set of guidelines for choosing quotes that you would be able to apply to both articles.

In general, the following elements will all be present in a good quote:

  1. The information contained in it will add to, expand, and/or personalize the story.
  2. It will be easy to understand, even if it contains metaphors.
  3. It will be attributed to a relevant source, who has something meaningful to say.
  4. Although not always the case, impact tends to be higher if the word count is small.


In contrast, the following elements tend to be present in a bad quote:

  1. The information contained in it is boring, redundant, repeats information, contains jargon or is incoherent and hard to follow.
  2. It is taken from a source who has not been introduced earlier in the article, or from a source who has nothing of importance to add to the story.
  3. It is not concise and/or hard to interpret.


Questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 (1 mark each, 10 marks total)

For each of the following 10 questions, you are given one quote. Scenario A applies to questions 1–3, Scenario B applies to questions 4–7, and Scenario C applies to questions 8–10. Your task is to decide whether each quote falls into category i, ii, or iii (listed below). Hint: More than one quote might fall into the same category in each scenario.

i: Good quote that would add to the quality of the story.
ii: Quote with relevance, but not suitable for this audience.
iii: Bad quote that would reduce the quality of the story.


Scenario A (questions 1, 2 and 3): You are writing a facts-based article for a popular nature magazine about the endangered Vancouver Island Marmot.

Q1: “The main problem is that these marmots are more selective of their habitat than other marmot species tend to be, and this... I guess what I mean is... well, they’re not like red squirrels, which are getting rarer because the greys are more dominant... it’s just that there aren’t many suitable meadows for them to make their burrows in... but they are just as endangered as the red squirrel for example,” said conservation officer Andy Stephen.
Q2: “They are very photogenic and I always feel happy when I see them,” added Stephen.
Q3: “I remember seeing them fairly regularly only 20 years ago but now a sighting is very rare. The official data backs that up too,” said Stephen.


Scenario B (questions 4, 5, 6 and 7): You are writing an article for a popular science blog (aimed at undergraduate students at UBC) about gene therapy research trials.

Q4: “You can think of it as hand-delivering a good gene to replace a bad gene,” said Lily Chen, a clinical researcher.
Q5: “You can also try a homing endonuclease generated from an appropriate cell effector,” said Florence Murphy, another clinical researcher.
Q6: “We also hope to use modified somatic receptors in germ line therapy,” added Murphy, “but right now there are too many ethical issues with that.”
Q7: “It’s a difficult procedure, but when it works it really changes lives,” said Dr. Phelps, who has spent the last 20 years of his career developing the procedure.


Scenario C (questions 8, 9 and 10): You are writing an article for a daily newspaper about the ‘non-ending’ of the world on December 21, 2012 (note: many people thought the world was going to end on this date based on interpretations of the Mayan calendar).

Q8: “I’ve always been interested in Doomsday predictions and have done loads of research on them over the years; I usually find the strangest ones to be the most intriguing,” said Mitchell Jones, who admitted to worrying that we would not see December 22 last year.
Q9: “Is it any wonder that we struggled to comprehend the nuances of a multi-faceted calendar system that is believed to have been first inscribed by the unknowable spiritual deity Itzamna?” said Prof. Reilly, who has studied Mayan mythology for 40 years.
Q10: “The world might not have ended but the Mayans never actually said it would; that prediction was only based on our interpretation of their calendar,” said Prof. Roberts, a colleague of Prof. Reilly.


Question 11 (5 marks)

This question is designed to give you further practice in selecting certain quotes for use in your writing. Read the following introduction to a science-based news story, and then consider the five quotes and descriptions that appear in the table below it. Your task is to correctly match each quote to the description of it (each description should be used only once).

Medicines could soon become more effective thanks to the development of a new technique that makes drugs more resistant to being broken down inside the body.
Enzymes found in the liver typically break down drugs within a few hours, rendering them useless to treat whatever illness is affecting the patient.
However, researchers at Navan University have found that using a man-made enzyme to replace specific atoms with fluorine ones makes drugs much more stable, and, therefore, the drugs have longer to treat patients once they enter the body.

Professor Stewart, lead researcher on the project, said: “...”


Table 1: Quotes (numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5) that must be matched to descriptions (A, B, C, D and E).

Quote (all taken from the lead researcher, Prof. Stewart) Description of quote
1. “We worked with a very reliable set of equipment.” A. Good quote.
2. “The man-made enzyme is a lot like cytochrome-450.” B. Redundant quote.
3. “For a long time we... It was difficult. But then success.” C. Jargon-heavy quote.
4. “This is exciting because it should have multiple benefits.” D. Boring quote.
5. “Fluorine atoms just make the molecule more resistant.” E. Non-coherent quote.


The Importance of Paraphrasing

Sometimes you will have access to a quote from a relevant source but there will be a problem with it that prevents you using it word for word. For example, perhaps the quote contains too much jargon for your audience, or maybe it makes a good point but is too long-winded. In either of these instances, it would be a shame not to use the information in the quote if it could improve the quality of your article, but using the quote itself would have the opposite effect. So what do you do?

The answer is that you should paraphrase the information. You can think of this loosely as citing it in the way you would in a lab report. In other words, you are going to attribute it to the source, but only include the information that is relevant to your audience. For example, imagine Prof. Stewart provided the following quote:

“We found that with the fluorine atoms added in place of certain hydrogen atoms, the drug molecules remained intact for an average of 11 hours as opposed to six when they were unaltered and kept in the same environments. This is a major difference and could allow the drugs to be much more effective in treating diseases.”

Rather than using the (whole) quote, which contains admittedly interesting information in a long-winded, rather boring way, you could paraphrase it like this:

Professor Stewart explained that swapping the hydrogen atoms for fluoride atoms kept drug molecules intact for almost twice as long.

Because the second part of the original quote is concise and interesting, you could also think about including it after your initial paraphrased sentence, like this:

Professor Stewart explained that swapping the hydrogen atoms for fluoride atoms kept drug molecules intact for almost twice as long. “This is a major difference and could allow the drugs to be much more effective in treating diseases,” she said.


Re-ordering Transcripts (and Quotes)

When you interview somebody as a source for your articles, you will probably produce a transcript of information ordered in a way that does not tell the most interesting story possible; in spoken conversations about complicated subjects people rarely explain themselves smoothly or without backtracking.

As a result, you will often have to re-order things when incorporating quotes into your article. This might mean paraphrasing parts of a quote and including other parts of it as a direct quote, or it might mean swapping the order of quotes so that the story follows more logical sense. Although this is a common, and necessary action, you must be careful not to take quotes out of context when doing this. Make sure that when you read the original transcript and compare it to the re-ordered quotes in your article, you are satisfied that you have not misrepresented your source in any way!


Questions 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 (2 marks each, 10 marks total)

You are given one quote for each of the following five questions. You should copy and paste the whole quote and bold the part/parts that should be paraphrased (1 mark) before re-writing it (if necessary) to include paraphrased information and/or a part of the original quote (1 mark). In some cases you will not need to make any changes; in others you will need to identify the part (or whole quote) that needs paraphrasing by bolding it before re-writing that specific part.

Q12: “We worked on average 12 hours per day for six months before we made any sort of breakthrough but we were always hopeful that we were on the right track because we had occasional highlights that made us believe there was mileage in the project even when things were largely unsuccessful,” said Prof. Stewart.

Q13: “It is important to incorporate the fluoride atoms at specific sites. It depends on where they are placed as to whether or not they are effective at preventing the liver enzymes from breaking the drugs down,” said Prof. Stewart.

Q14: “This could be huge. If this works for all drugs, diseases should be far easier to treat,” said Prof. Stewart.

Q15: “Not only is the potential application of this discovery extremely exciting, but this research is exciting for chemists because nobody had ever managed to successfully transform molecular bonds in the way that we have here and that opens up doors to other possibilities further down the line,” said Prof. Stewart.

Q16: “Using fluorine gas can be very difficult because it is not very predictable or stable and it can even be explosive in the wrong environment when you are working with it. Thankfully, we can use extremely stable fluorine salts as a base, so there will be no explosions in my lab,” said Prof. Stewart.

Post-Class Activities

Version 1

Using Quotations and Paraphrasing: Student Post-Class Activities

These activities will build on the skills you have already learned. You will be working with another interview transcript to gain more practice in selecting quotes and paraphrasing material, but will begin by considering how to re-order quotes from an interview to make the resultant news article more engaging.

Recall that it is acceptable, and often necessary, to re-order quotes to make them slot in better with the story you are telling; it is very rare that you will receive good, coherent quotes in the order you need when interviewing somebody, and/or you might decide to write your story from a different angle based on what your interviewee tells you. The important thing is to make sure that you do not misrepresent your source.


Questions 1 and 2 (4 marks each, 8 marks total)

For each of the following two questions, try to first choose the most effective opening to the story (1 mark) before ordering the three related quotes in the most effective way possible (3 marks) to make your story interesting and engaging. Copy and paste the opening to the story you like best, and then copy and paste the quotes in the order you think they should appear.


Q1: For the opening, choose either A or B:

A: Astronomers used a high-tech new telescope to take a peek at the coldest place in the universe and were surprised when they found it looks like a ghost.
At -458° Fahrenheit, they originally thought it looked like a bow tie before the greater resolution provided by the new telescope showed a ghost-like shape.
B: Astronomers were shocked to find that the coldest place in the universe (the Boomerang Nebula) looks like a ghost when viewed through a high-resolution telescope.
The Boomerang Nebula, which is about 5,000 light years away from Earth and is in its final stages of life as a star, has a temperature of just -458° Fahrenheit.


Now select the order that the following three quotes (all taken from the lead researcher, Duncan Galloway) should appear in the story:

1: “They’re not just cold at this late stage though as they also emit lots of UV radiation, which is what allows us to see them from so far away.”
2: “What remains of a star at this stage of its life cycle is just the very central component of the original star. They aren’t burning now, which is why they are so cold.”
3: “We’ve seen some funny images over the years, but the ghostly spectre of the Boomerang Nebula was a real shock.”


Q2: For the opening, choose either A or B:

A: Students at the University of St. Andrews have designed a new app that helps schedule the time they keep in hand ahead of their assignments.
Project developer Andrew Stephen explained that the idea sprung from an unhappy classmate who complained about having three essays due in the space of four days.
B: Failing to manage time spent on coursework effectively could be a thing of the past after students from the University of St. Andrews developed an app to help time scheduling.
Project developer Andrew Stephen explained that he hopes the invention will prove useful to fellow students all over the world.


Now select the order that the following three quotes (all taken from Andrew Stephen) should appear in the story:

1: “The basic idea is to help students plan ahead more effectively.”
2: “Although we have road-tested the app, it’ll be a few weeks yet before it’s ready.”
3: “Without good planning, deadlines can often creep up on you and you’ll find yourself with too little time to devote to an assignment worth a lot of marks.”


Writing an Interesting, Relevant Article

Read the interview transcript entitled ‘BC Dinosaur Interview’. A pdf copy of this is available for you to download here. As you read it, try to think what makes the research interesting, and how you should write your article about it (after all, there is no point writing a boring article or one with little relevance to the research that was done).

The questions that follow will give you more practice in using interview material to select an effective angle to take with your article, as well as in extracting quotations and paraphrasing material.


Question 3 (5 marks)

Consider the five following angles that could be taken when you write an entire article about this research. Try to rank these from most interesting to least interesting and remember not to misrepresent the interviewee (Victoria Arbour). Hint: Imagine reading an article framed entirely around each one of these revelations. This should help you decide which angles are more newsworthy, novel, and interesting.

A: It took a long time to work out what sort of animal the fossil came from.
B: There was controversy over the finding and the original collector was very angry.
C: This is the first time a pterosaur fossil has been found in BC.
D: This is the first time a dinosaur fossil has been found in Canada.
E: There should be some dinosaur fossils to find in the area nearby.


Question 4 (3 marks)

Imagine that your editor has asked you to produce a very short article explaining (to the general public) how the researchers figured out that the fossil belonged to a pterosaur. Read the fourth response (at the bottom of the first page) given by Victoria Arbour in this transcript when she was asked this question. Try to paraphrase this. Try to remove all jargon and complex, potentially ambiguous words (1 mark). Do not write more than 50 words (1 mark), but make sure you explain the important elements of Victoria’s answer without misrepresenting her original meaning (1 mark). Make sure you include a word count at the end of your answer.


Question 5 (3 marks)

Now read the ninth response (at the bottom of the second page) given by Victoria Arbour in this transcript (when she was asked about what the finding said about the kind of environment, or about what else existed there at the time). Try to paraphrase this. Try to remove all jargon, and complex, potentially ambiguous words (1 mark). Do not write more than 50 words (1 mark), but make sure you explain the important elements of Victoria’s answer without misrepresenting her original meaning (1 mark). Make sure you include a word count at the end of your answer.


Question 6 (1 mark)

Choose one quote to incorporate into the paraphrased information you have just written to answer Question 5 (1 mark). Hint: There is only one quote that is personable and succinct that you could add to make the article more engaging.


Critiquing Other Articles

Now you have had a good amount of practice in writing interesting articles, selecting quotations, and paraphrasing material succinctly, you should be able to critique articles written by other people. The final activities in this post-class set will require you to do this when referring to the summary article (below) of a recent science discovery that was published in a university newspaper. Hint: All three quotes came from the same person, who was a lead researcher involved in the discovery.


Research involving scientists from Trinity College Dublin has discovered a ground-breaking new technique that will make determining cell membrane protein structure up to 20 times more efficient.
Making use of a highly specialized syringe, researchers will be able to place protein crystals into the path of X-rays at precisely the right speeds to produce diffraction patterns from which the 3-D structures can be interpreted.
This discovery will have major implications for drug research because over 50% of the drugs currently on the market target cell membrane proteins. But scientists can only hope to design new drugs that act effectively if they have accurate protein structure ‘roadmaps’ from which to work from.


Quote 1: “The key is in being able to present the protein crystals at exactly the right speeds, which is what the syringe enabled us to do.”
Quote 2: “It’s a tremendously exciting breakthrough. Instead of waiting for six months to decode a specific protein structure, researchers might now only need to wait for 10 days.”
Quote 3: “We showed in our research how quickly we were able to decode a known protein structure, treating the process as though we were working from scratch and had no idea how this particular membrane protein looked structurally. It was important to work this way because if we had determined an unknown protein structure using a new technique, people might have wondered how accurate our findings were because they had no blueprint to confirm it against.”


Question 7 (1 mark)

Which quote should be used as it is in the article?

A: Quote 1
B: Quote 2
C: Quote 3


Question 8 (1 mark)

Which of the three quotes should not be used in any way in the article? Hint: this one should not even be paraphrased.

A: Quote 1
B: Quote 2
C: Quote 3


Question 9 (1 mark)

Which quote is the best choice to paraphrase instead of using as a direct quote?

A: Quote 1
B: Quote 2
C: Quote 3


Question 10 (2 marks)

Explain your answer to Q9. Briefly state why this quote should be paraphrased (1 mark) and then succinctly paraphrase it yourself (1 mark).

Version 2

Using Quotations and Paraphrasing: Student Post-Class Activities

These activities will build on the skills you learned previously. You will be working with another interview transcript to gain more practice in selecting quotes and paraphrasing material, but will begin by considering how to re-order quotes from an interview to make the resultant article more engaging.

Recall that it is acceptable, and often necessary, to re-order quotes to make them slot in better with the story you are telling; it is very rare that you will receive good, coherent quotes in the order you need when interviewing somebody, and/or you might decide to write your story from a different angle based on what your interviewee tells you. The important thing is to make sure you do not misrepresent your source.


Questions 1 and 2 (4 marks each, 8 marks total)

For each of the following two questions, try to first choose the most effective opening to the story (1 mark) before ordering the three related quotes in the most effective way possible (3 marks) to make your story interesting and engaging. Copy and paste the opening to the story you like best, and then copy and paste the quotes in the order that you think they should appear.


Q1: For the opening, choose either A or B:

A: Astronomers used a high-tech new telescope to take a peek at the coldest place in the universe and were surprised when they found it looks like a ghost.
At -458° Fahrenheit, they originally thought it looked like a bow tie before the greater resolution provided by the new telescope showed a ghost-like shape.
B: Astronomers were shocked to find that the coldest place in the universe (the Boomerang Nebula) looks like a ghost when viewed through a high-resolution telescope.
The Boomerang Nebula, which is about 5,000 light years away from Earth and is in its final stages of life as a star, has a temperature of just -458° Fahrenheit.


Now select the order that the following three quotes (all taken from the lead researcher, Duncan Galloway) should appear in the story:

1: “They’re not just cold at this late stage though as they also emit lots of UV radiation, which is what allows us to see them from so far away.”
2: “What remains of a star at this stage of its life cycle is just the very central component of the original star. They aren’t burning now, which is why they are so cold.”
3: “We’ve seen some funny images over the years, but the ghostly spectre of the Boomerang Nebula was a real shock.”


Q2: For the opening, choose either A or B:

A: Students at the University of St. Andrews have designed a new app that helps schedule the time they keep in hand ahead of their assignments.
Project developer Andrew Stephen explained that the idea sprung from an unhappy classmate who complained about having three essays due in the space of four days.
B: Failing to manage time spent on coursework effectively could be a thing of the past after students from the University of St. Andrews developed an app to help time scheduling.
Project developer Andrew Stephen explained that he hopes the invention will prove useful to fellow students all over the world.


Now select the order that the following three quotes (all taken from Andrew Stephen) should appear in the story:

1: “The basic idea is to help students plan ahead more effectively.”
2: “Although we have road-tested the app, it’ll be a few weeks yet before it’s ready.”
3: “Without good planning, deadlines can often creep up on you and you’ll find yourself with too little time to devote to an assignment worth a lot of marks.”


Writing an Interesting, Relevant Article

Read the interview transcript entitled ‘Exercise Motivation Interview’. A pdf copy of this is available for you to download here. As you read it, try to think what makes the research interesting, and how you should write your article about it (after all, there is no point writing a boring article or one with little relevance to the research that was done).

The questions that follow will give you more practice in using interview material to select an effective angle to take with your article, as well as in extracting quotations and paraphrasing material.


Question 3 (5 marks)

Consider the five following angles that could be taken when you write an entire article about this research. Try to rank these from most interesting to least interesting. Hint: Imagine reading an article framed entirely around each one of these revelations. This should help you decide which angles are more newsworthy, novel, and interesting.

A: It is important to track motivation changes in follow-up studies to see if people have maintained their commitment to exercise.
B: You must commit more than six months to an exercise regime to change your attitude towards being active.
C: Some people do not enjoy exercise and only do it because they feel they should.
D: A high proportion of Canadians do not exercise.
E: Five different studies were analyzed to assess attitudes to exercise.


Question 4 (3 marks)

Imagine that your editor has asked you to produce a very short article explaining (to the general public) how the researchers measured motivation. Read the first response given by Wendy Rogers in this transcript when she was asked this question. Try to paraphrase how researchers measured motivation. Try to remove all jargon and complex, potentially ambiguous words (1 mark). Do not write more than 60 words (1 mark), but make sure you explain the important elements of the research and do not change the meaning (1 mark).


Question 5 (3 marks)

Now read the second response given by Wendy Rogers in this transcript (when she was asked about how many people were studied, and how they were studied). Try to paraphrase this material and remove all jargon, and complex, potentially ambiguous words (1 mark). Do not write more than 50 words (1 mark), but make sure you explain the important elements of the research and do not change the meaning (1 mark).


Question 6 (1 mark)

Imagine that you have just paraphrased the third and fourth responses given by Wendy Rogers (when asked how she defines long-term exercisers, and how many people fit into these categories in Canada) as:


Wendy Rogers explained that ‘long-term exercisers’ are people who exercise at least three times a week, and who have done so for at least a year.
Worryingly, a small proportion of Canadians fit into this category.
Rogers said: “…


Choose one quote to incorporate into the writing above (1 mark).


Critiquing Other Articles

Now you have had a good amount of practice in writing interesting articles, selecting quotations, and paraphrasing material succinctly, you should be able to critique articles written by other people. The final activities in this post-class set will require you to do this when referring to the fictional summary article (below) of a recent science discovery that was published in a university newspaper.


Students who spend at least one hour a day reading for pleasure are more likely to sleep better at night, according to a recent study published on a Navan University science blog by graduate student Lily Maeve.
Maeve asked students who never previously read non-course-related books to wear sleep monitors for a three-month period in which they agreed to read such material before bed, before comparing their sleep patterns with those of students who only read course notes.
She found that the ‘readers’ slept for longer, and enjoyed less broken sleep than the ‘non-readers’. She also noted from qualitative responses that the ‘readers’ said they felt more awake in class and were better able to relax at night.


QUOTE 1: “We thought that we would consider two groups of students: those who agreed to read for pleasure, and those who either only read course notes or did not want to read other things.”
QUOTE 2: “Most students said afterwards that they weren’t surprised by the results, which makes me wonder why more people don’t read for pleasure all the time.”
QUOTE 3: “I think the results are very reliable because we used sleep monitors that were previously validated in other experiments; values from these were compared with data that people personally recorded about their sleep patterns, such as when they went to bed and got up, and when they woke up at night. The sleep monitor data was very reliable when correlated with these personal observations.”


Question 7 (1 mark)

Which quote should be used as it is in the article?

A: Quote 1
B: Quote 2
C: Quote 3


Question 8 (1 mark)

Which of the three quotes should not be used in any way in the article? Hint: this one should not even be paraphrased.

A: Quote 1
B: Quote 2
C: Quote 3


Question 9 (1 mark)

Which quote is the best choice to paraphrase instead of using as a direct quote?

A: Quote 1
B: Quote 2
C: Quote 3


Question 10 (2 marks)

Explain your answer to Q9. Briefly state why this quote should be paraphrased (1 mark) and then succinctly paraphrase it yourself (1 mark).

Version 3

Using Quotations and Paraphrasing: Student Post-Class Activities

These activities will build on the skills you learned previously. You will be working with another interview transcript to gain more practice in selecting quotes and paraphrasing material, but will begin by considering how to re-order quotes from an interview to make the resultant article more engaging.

Recall that it is acceptable, and often necessary, to re-order quotes to make them slot in better with the story you are telling; it is very rare that you will receive good, coherent quotes in the order you need when interviewing somebody and/or you might decide to write your story from a different angle based on what your interviewee tells you. The important thing is to make sure you do not misrepresent your source.


Questions 1 and 2 (4 marks each, 8 marks total)

For each of the following two questions, try to first choose the most effective opening to the story (1 mark) before ordering the three related quotes in the most effective way possible (3 marks) to make your story interesting and engaging. Copy and paste the opening to the story you like best, and then copy and paste the quotes in the order you think they should appear.


Q1: For the opening, choose either A or B:

A: Each and every one of us can make a difference when it comes to recycling materials that are harmful to the planet.
That is the message that sprung from a recent research project performed by undergraduate students at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
B: Undergraduate students at the University of British Columbia (UBC) recently performed a research project focusing on recycling.
Their results suggest that everyone can make a big difference in this area as we collectively seek to minimize the damage we cause our planet.


Now select the order that the following three quotes (all taken from the lead researcher, Duncan Galloway) should appear in the story:

1: “It was shocking to note that only one in four people actually put their recyclable containers in green bins.”
2: “Initially, we wanted to quantify the proportion of UBC students who recycle their lunch boxes every day.”
3: “It’s frustrating because it’s so easy to recycle. And if we all did this one simple act, UBC would produce 30,000 tons less garbage every year.”


Q2: For the opening, choose either A or B:

A: Lack of sleep can hinder performance in the classroom, but only if you are really tired.
Students at the University of British Columbia (UBC) found that if they slept for at least six hours each night then their exam performance was not diminished.
B: Performance in the classroom is dependent on the number of hours sleep that you get each night.
However, students from the University of British Columbia (UBC) found that they only started to perform less well if they slept less than six hours each night.


Now select the order that the following three quotes (all taken from lead researcher, Amy Weatherburn) should appear in the story:

1: “If students slept for just five hours a night, they were toast in an exam situation. Yet if they got six hours snooze, they performed as well as if they had much more.”
2: “In my next study, I am going to see whether different mental stimulation before sleep has any effect on exam performance. For example, will it make a difference whether students watch 30 minutes of TV, or if they read class notes before turning out the light?”
3: “What was interesting is that these students said they felt very tired and sluggish if they didn’t get at least six hours sleep.”


Writing an Interesting, Relevant Article

Read the interview transcript entitled ‘Exercise Motivation Interview’. A pdf copy of this is available for you to download here. As you read it, try to think what makes the research interesting, and how you should write your article about it (after all, there is no point writing a boring article or one with little relevance to the research that was done).

The questions that follow will give you more practice in using interview material to select an effective angle to take with your article, as well as in extracting quotations and paraphrasing material.


Question 3 (5 marks)

Consider the five following angles that could be taken when you write an entire article about this research. Try to rank these from most interesting to least interesting. Hint: Imagine reading an article framed entirely around each one of these revelations. This should help you decide which angles are more newsworthy, novel, and interesting.

A: It is important to track motivation changes in follow-up studies to see if people have maintained their commitment to exercise.
B: You must commit more than six months to an exercise regime to change your attitude towards being active.
C: Some people do not enjoy exercise and only do it because they feel they should.
D: A high proportion of Canadians do not exercise.
E: Five different studies were analyzed to assess attitudes to exercise.


Question 4 (3 marks)

Imagine that your editor has asked you to produce a very short article explaining (to the general public) how the researchers measured motivation. Read the first response given by Wendy Rogers in this transcript when she was asked this question. Try to paraphrase how researchers measured motivation. Try to remove all jargon and complex, potentially ambiguous words (1 mark). Do not write more than 60 words (1 mark), but make sure you explain the important elements of the research and do not change the meaning (1 mark).


Question 5 (3 marks)

Now read the second response given by Wendy Rogers in this transcript (when she was asked about how many people were studied, and how they were studied). Try to paraphrase this material and remove all jargon, and complex, potentially ambiguous words (1 mark). Do not write more than 50 words (1 mark), but make sure you explain the important elements of the research and do not change the meaning (1 mark).


Question 6 (1 mark)

Imagine that you have just paraphrased the third and fourth responses given by Wendy Rogers (when asked how she defines long-term exercisers, and how many people fit into these categories in Canada) as:


Wendy Rogers explained that ‘long-term exercisers’ are people who exercise at least three times a week, and who have done so for at least a year.
Worryingly, a small proportion of Canadians fit into this category.
Rogers said: “…


Choose one quote to incorporate into the writing above (1 mark).


Critiquing Other Articles

Now you have had a good amount of practice in writing interesting articles, selecting quotations, and paraphrasing material succinctly, you should be able to critique articles written by other people. The final activities in this post-class set will require you to this when referring to the mythical summary article (below) of a recent science discovery that was published in a university newspaper.


Students who run at least twice a week are less likely to suffer from stress, according to a recent study published on a Kilberry University Science blog by graduate student Lily Maeve.
Maeve gave previously non-exercising students a survey designed to ‘rank’ stress levels from non-existent to very high, both before and after a six-month period in which they either ran at least twice a week or maintained doing little to no regular exercise.
She found that the ‘runners’ decreased their stress levels by a great amount whereas the ‘non-runners’ were just as stressed at the end of the experiment as they were at the beginning.


QUOTE 1: “We thought that we would consider two groups of students: those who decided to take up running, and those who decided not to,” explained Maeve.
QUOTE 2: “Most students said they expected to see these results yet other data shows that less than a quarter of these same students actually run twice a week, so I think it’s time to stop making excuses and get that running gear on!”
QUOTE 3: “I think the results are very reliable because we used a survey that was previously validated in other experiments; values from this survey were compared with medical data from the same people whose stress hormones in the blood were measured. The survey was found to be a very accurate predictor of the real stress levels.”


Question 7 (1 mark)

Which quote should be used as it is in the article?

A: Quote 1
B: Quote 2
C: Quote 3


Question 8 (1 mark)

Which of the three quotes should not be used in any way in the article? Hint: this one should not even be paraphrased.

A: Quote 1
B: Quote 2
C: Quote 3


Question 9 (1 mark)

Which quote is the best choice to paraphrase instead of using as a direct quote?

A: Quote 1
B: Quote 2
C: Quote 3


Question 10 (2 marks)

Explain your answer to Q9. Briefly state why this quote should be paraphrased (1 mark) and then succinctly paraphrase it yourself (1 mark).

BC Dinosaur Interview

BC
 dinosaur
 interview:
 Reporter
 ‐
 Hayley
 Dunning
 (HD)
 and
 Researcher
 – Victoria 
Arbour
(VA)

HD: 
So 
you
 (or 
someone) 
found
 the
 jaw
 of 
a 
flying 
dinosaur 
in 
BC?

VA: 
That’s
 right, 
although 
it’s
 not
 actually 
a 
dinosaur,
 it’s
 actually 
like
 a 
pterodactyl,
 and
 we
 call
 them
 pterosaurs.
 They’re
 not
 dinosaurs,
 but
 they’re
 the
 closest
 evolutionary
 cousins
 to
 dinosaurs.
 Dinosaurs
 and
 pterosaurs
 have
 a
 common
 ancestor
 but 
they’re
 not 
the 
same
 thing.

The 
specimen 
was 
found 
by 
someone 
called 
Sharon
 Hubbard,
 and
 the
 place 
that 
it’s
 from
 is
 called
 Hornby Island.
 At
 that
 location
 you
 find
 these
 little
 nodules,
 little
 concretions 
of
 rock
 and
 people 
will
 go
 out
and
 look
 for
 them
 and
 crack
 them
 open
 and 
sometimes
 they
 have
 fossils
 inside.
 A
 lot
 of
 the 
time
 you 
find marine 
animals
 like
 clams
 or 
ammonites
 or
 crabs
 of
 things
 like
 that,
 but
 this
 time
 they
 cracked 
it
 open and it 
had 
this 
jaw
 inside 
of
 it‐
 That’s
 kind
 of 
unusual
 and 
that’s
 when 
it
 got
 brought
 to 
our 
attention.

HD: 
When
 was 
it
 discovered?

VA: 
Probably 
about 
7 
or 
8 
years 
ago. 
I 
got 
involved 
with
 the 
project 
in 
2007.

HD:
 I
 guess
 you
 haven’t
 been
 working
 just
 on
 the
 jaw,
 are
 there
 some
 other
 finds
 from
 that
 area?

VA: 
Well 
it’s 
the 
first 
thing 
I’ve 
worked 
on 
from 
southern
 BC, 
a 
couple 
of 
years 
ago 
I
 actually 
wrote 
a
 paper
 talking
 about
 the
 first
 dinosaur
 remains
 from
 BC,
and
 those
 are
 from
 a 
place 
north‐central 
called 
the
 Sustut
 Basin.
 That’s
 why
 Phil
(Currie)
asked
 me
 to 
be 
involved 
in 
describing 
this 
specimen. 
Even 
though 
I started
 talking
 about 
it
 in 
2007,
 and
 it’s 
now 
2011,
 that’s 
because 
I 
also 
work 
on 
armoured 
dinosaurs, that’s
 my
 thesis,
 so
 this
 has
 been
 sort
 of 
like 
a
 side
 project.
 It
 takes 
a 
while
 to
 get
 these
 things 
worked on 
sometimes;
 we 
had 
to 
prepare 
it 
a 
little 
bit 
more 
because 
we 
had
 to 
have 
a 
bit 
more 
detail 
exposed, 
and for
 a
 long 
time 
we 
didn’t 
know 
what 
it 
was, 
so
 it 
took
 us 
a 
really 
long 
time 
to 
get 
on 
track 
with 
what 
kind of 
animal 
it 
was 
before 
we
 even 
began 
writing 
the 
paper.

HD: 
How 
did 
you
 figure
 out 
in
 the 
end
 that 
it 
was 
part 
of 
a
 flying
 reptile, 
especially
 when
 there 
were
 no 
others 
found 
in 
BC?

VA: 
We
 basically
 just
 read
 a
 lot
 of
 scientific
 papers
 over
 a
 long
 time,
 and
 I
 have
 a
 friend
 here, Derek
 Larson,
 and
 he
 worked
 on
 dinosaur
 teeth
 and
 teeth
 of
 other
 things
 from
 different
 places
 in 
Alberta, and
 one
 day
 he 
just
 said
 to 
me 
“Well,
 have
 you
 tried 
any 
pterosaur
 papers?”
 and
 I 
said
 “No, 
but 
maybe 
I should.” 
So 
I 
did, 
and
 not 
too 
long 
after 
that 
suggestion 
I
 came
 across
 a 
paper
 describing 
a 
pterosaur 
from China
 from
 the 
early 
Cretaceous, 
and 
when 
I
 looked
 at 
it
 I
 thought
 “You 
know
 that
 looks
 pretty 
similar 
to
what 
we 
have”.
 I 
started
 to 
re‐orient 
what
 I 
was 
looking
 at 
in
 the
 specimen
–
 so
 originally
 what 
I
 thought
 for
 a
 long
 time 
might
 be
 a
 lower
 jaw,
 when
 I
 looked
 at
 that
 specimen
 I
 kind
 of
 flipped
 it
 around
 and
 went
 “Aha!
 It’s
 an
 upper 
jaw.” 
And
 then
 things 
started
 to 
move 
pretty
 quickly
 and 
I
 found
 more
 papers
 and
 more animals 
that 
looked
 similar 
and
 it 
just
 kind
 of
 went
 from
 there.

HD: 
What 
precise
 time 
period
 is
 this 
pterosaur
 from?

VA: 
So 
it’s
 from 
the 
Late 
Cretaceous, 
its 
rocks 
from 
the 
Campanian, 
about 
70 
million
 years
 ago.
 The neat
 thing
 is
 it’s
 about
 the
 same
 age
 and
 the
 famous
 dinosaur
 localities
 in 
Alberta
 like 
Dinosaur
 Provincial
 Park.
 It’s 
from
 a 
similar 
time 
period 
but 
a
 different 
geographic
 location,
 so 
it’s 
kind
 of interesting
 that
 there’s
 different
 things
 there.

HD:
 I
 read
 that
 it’s
 the
 first
 pterosaur
 in
 BC,
 but
 are
 there
 others
 elsewhere
 in
 Canada?

VA:
 We
 have
 some
 really
 fragmental
 stuff
 from
 Dinosaur
 Provincial
 Park,
 but
 it
 belonged
 to
 a
 different
 kind
 of
 pterosaur
 which
 is
 a
 giant
 pterosaur,
 so
 this
 is
 the
 pterosaur
 that’s
 like
 the 
size
 of 
a
small
 aeroplane.
It’s
 really
 cool 
but 
it’s
 also
 found
 in
 the 
United
 States.
 So
 we 
have 
some 
of 
that 
species in 
Canada,
 but
 this 
one 
in
 BC 
is
 the 
first 
one
 that’s
 unique 
to
 Canada, 
so 
we
 were
 pretty 
excited 
about that.

HD:' 
I
 noticed
 also
 there
 was
 a
 little
 controversy
 about
 the
 finder...

VA:
 Yeah,
 actually
 there
 isn’t
 much
 controversy;
 basically
 what
 happened
 was
 we
 made 
a
 bit
 of 
an
 error
 in 
who
 actually
 collected
 the
 specimen. 
So
 in
 the
 paper 
we
 said
 that
 Graham
 Beard
 collected
 it,
 he’s the
 one
 that
 brought
 in
 to
 our
 attention
 because
 he
 runs 
a
 museum
 out
there,
 and
 Sharon
 Hubbard
 is
 the collector.
So 
we’ve
 been 
just 
working
 to
 make
 sure
 that
 people
 understand
 that
 she
 was
 the
 one
 that
 collected
 the 
specimen.
 But 
beyond
 that
 there 
isn’t 
really 
much
 controversy 
because
 it 
was 
just 
a 
mistake that 
we 
feel 
bad 
about.

HD: 
I
 read
 that 
she 
was 
a 
bit 
angry
 about 
it...

VA: 
Yeah 
and 
understandably 
so,
 it’s 
important 
that
 we 
give 
the 
right 
credit.

HD:
 As
 far
 as
 being
 a
 new
 species
 and
 being
 a
 pterosaur
 in
 BC,
 which
 you
 haven’t
 found
 before, 
does 
it
 say 
something 
unique 
about 
what 
kind 
of
 environment 
or
 what
 else 
existed
 there 
at
 that
 time?

VA: 
The
 reason
 that 
I’m
 really
 excited
 about 
it 
is
 that
 it 
means 
maybe
 we’re
 going
 to
 find 
more
 land-dwelling 
animals 
from
 that
 time 
period 
in 
that 
area. 
A
 few
 years
 ago
 there
 was
 a
 paper
 that
 talked
 about some
 fossil
 bird
 bones
 in
 the
 same
 formation,
 now 
we’ve
 got
 pterosaurs,
 so 
we’re 
learning 
a
 little 
bit
 about
 the 
animals
 that
 were
 flying
 around
 that
 area,
 which
 is
 pretty
 cool
 because
 we
 don’t
 normally
 find
 that,
 even
 in 
Alberta.
 If
 I
 could 
wish 
for 
something 
it 
would 
be 
really 
cool 
if 
we 
did 
start 
to
 find 
some dinosaur
 material 
in 
that 
formation. 
If 
we’re 
finding 
pterosaurs 
and 
birds,
 there’s
 a 
good 
chance 
we’re going
 to 
eventually 
find 
a 
dinosaur.
 But
 again 
its 
marine
 sediments
 which 
means 
things 
have
 to 
be 
washing 
in 
or
 falling
 in.
 So
 it 
just 
increases
 our
 knowledge
 of
 what
 was
 living
 there
 at
 the
 time,
 and
 it
 was
 something
 quite
 unexpected,
 so
 that’s 
what
 got
 us
 so 
excited
 about
 it.
 I 
would
 never
 have 
guessed
 that
 that would
 be 
what 
we
 would 
pick 
up
 off 
the 
beach 
there.

HD:
 I
 noticed
 some
 press
 releases
 also
 come
 with
 a
 really
 nice
 picture
 [attached],
 how
 did 
that
 come about?

VA: 
That’s
 actually
 something
 I
 drew.
 The
 reason
 we
 did
 that 
is,
when 
we
 finished
 writing
 the 
paper 
I knew
 I 
wanted 
to
 do 
a 
press 
release, 
because
 it’s
 a
 cool
 find
 and
 I
 wanted
 people 
in 
BC
 to 
know
 about
 it. But
 the
 specimen 
itself
 doesn’t
 photograph
 really 
well;
 it’s 
actually
 not 
a 
really
 pretty
 specimen
 to 
look at. 
It’s 
cool 
if 
you 
know
 what
 it
 is,
 but
 it’s
 quite
 small
 and
 it
 has
 long
 teeth
 but
 they’re
 also
 small,
 and
 it’s
 hard
 to
 visualise
 what
 that
 animal
 would
 have
 looked
 like
 from
 that
 fossil
 unless
 you’re 
a specialist 
in 
the 
field.
 So
 I 
wanted 
to 
have 
a 
picture 
that 
would
 give 
people
 an
 idea
 of the
 shape 
of
 the animal, 
because
 all 
the
 people
 know 
what 
dinosaurs 
look
 like
 but
 they
 might 
not
 know
 what
 pterosaurs
 looked like. 
The
 drawing
 is
 a 
little 
bit
 of 
a 
guess, 
because
 we
 only
 have 
the
 tip
 of
 the 
snout, 
but
 overall
 it’s probably
 what
 the 
animal 
looked
 like 
in
 shape.

HD:
 How 
big 
do 
you 
think 
the 
animal 
was?

VA: 
We’re 
got 
the 
tip 
of
 the 
snout, 
which
 is 
about 
10cm 
long,
 so
 I
 would 
estimate 
the
 skull
 is
 at least
 50‐60cm,
 and
 the
 wingspan
 was 
maybe 
around
 3m.
He
 would
 be 
a
 medium‐sized
 pterosaur.

HD: 
Is 
there 
anything 
you 
wanted 
to 
add?

VA: 
It 
was
 a 
lot 
of 
fun 
to 
work
 on 
the 
project. 
British 
Colombia 
has 
a
 lot 
of 
really 
cool
 fossils
 that
 we 
don’t
 hear 
as
 much 
about 
because
 of
 course 
here 
in 
Alberta 
we 
have
 Dinosaur 
Provincial 
Park
 and
 all the 
great
 dinosaur 
finds 
going 
on,
 but 
this 
shows
 us
 that
 BC
 has
 a 
lot
 of 
interesting
 things
 going
 on
 as well
– 
we
 should
 definitely
 keep
 looking
 for
 stuff.
 I
 hope
 that
 people
 are
 excited
 about
 it
 because
 I
 was
 and
 it’s
 an
 interesting
 find.

Exercise Motivation Interview

Exercise motivation interview: Reporter – Hayley Dunning (HD) and Researcher - Wendy Rodgers (WR)

HD: You measured the time it takes to get into exercising in terms of people’s motivation over an amount of time. How did you measure motivation?

WR: We used an instrument that assesses what’s called people’s ‘self-determination’ for exercise. It comes from a theory called ‘self-determination theory’ that proposes people can do things for a variety of reasons that range from very extrinsic pressure; ‘I have to’ kinds of motivation, some call it external, to very internal or more self-determined motives, the highest point being intrinsic ‘I really like it’, and just below that ‘I think it’s important’, ‘I value it’, ‘it’s part of my identity’. It measures the extent to which people endorse all those kinds of motives, and then through statistics we can see how well the different categories of motives associate with their behavior. What we want to see is that the more self-determined motives are the things that are more primarily ass associated with behavior, because that’s associated with longer persistence.

HD: How many people did you study in this, did you study them over a period of time or did you just take a cross-section sample of people?

WR: The particular paper you’re talking about is actually a secondary analysis of five other samples. So, one of the samples of regular exercisers had over 1000 people in it. Then, the five studies that looked at initiate exercisers, so these were people who were previously sedentary who joined a program to become more active, they ranged in size from about 30 to about 300 I think. And we studied all five of those longitudinally, for different lengths, so the longest one was 6 months, which is how we came up with the ‘it takes longer than 6 months’, but there are 2 or so in there that were around 12 weeks, which is 3 months. So the shortest was 10 weeks and the longest was 6 months: there was one 4 month, so that means there was one 3 month. They were all longitudinal analyses, with cross-sectional you can’t come to these kinds of conclusions; with cross-sectional you have to follow the people over time to see how much they change as we’re going along.

HD: How do you define people who have been long-term exercisers?

WR: Those are people who have been involved in exercise or physical activity, so it could be a sport or dance or something like that, regularly for a minimum of 3 times a week for a minimum of one year. But the average time of our people was 8 years I think. You probably know someone like this, who has exercised their whole lives, then there’s the sporadic ones who do something on and off, then there’s the sedentary ones, who never really get into it.

HD: Do you have any statistics on how many people in Canada or in Alberta fit into these kinds of categories?

WR: We know that in Canada about 60% of Canadians are physically inactive, and we know that around 30%, but a little bit less than 30% reach guidelines for physical activity. So that’s one of the reasons why we are really concerned with improving physical activity levels because physical activity is so associated with other positive health states, and physical inactivity means 60% are inactive, which means they’re probably not doing much of anything, and there’s about 20% that are doing a little, and fewer than 30% are doing enough.

HD: So the results of your study are that it takes more than 6 months to be positioned across the spectrum of motivation that associated with long-term exercise. What do you recommend for people who are going into exercise, what advice do you give them: stick at it?

WR: Yup, basically that’s about it, there’s a little bit of a belief system that’s been put forward by older research that by the time you’ve stuck with a new exercise that within 6 months you’d really be in the maintenance stage, so you’d be ready to just carry on, and don’t really need to pay much special attention or do anything special about it. So, one of the strengths of our research is it’s not just one study, it’s 5. It shows that even after 6 months, motivationally speaking, what we have are people who are still in endorsing less self-determined motives, so more extrinsic reasons, ‘I should’, ‘I have to’, ‘because somebody made me’; these kinds of reasons, more strongly than we would like. And those reasons are more strongly associated with their behavior. So everybody goes and exercises sometimes because they should or they have to or because somebody made them or they have an obligation, everybody does that, but in what we call the ‘lifer’ exercisers the main reason that they exercise most of the time, what’s most strongly associated with their behavior is the intrinsic reasons, ‘because I value it’, ‘because it’s important to me’, ‘because it’s part of my identity’, those kinds of reasons. And we’re still not seeing those kinds of reasons endorsed highly enough even after 6 months.

So if you’re just starting off exercising, I would say for probably up to year you’re going to be talking yourself into it a fair bit, it’s going to take a while, you’re probably still going to have some lapses, where something happens, you know exams, holidays, you hurt yourself, anything can happen, too much work to do or something like that, and you fall off, it’s going to be hard to get back going again and you have to expect that and people think they’re going to get to the point where they love exercise and it’s going to be easy, and they’ll really miss it while they were having their exams and be anxious to go back, probably not! You’re going to have to talk yourself into it, try hard, I would say for at least a year, but we don’t have enough data to know, so we don’t really know how long it takes, just that it takes longer than 6 months. Which is a novel finding, because most people would say 6 months is good enough, we would say not, you’ve got to keep working at it.

So yeah, just expect to work at it, for possibly up to a year.<br.

HD: Do you have any plans for follow-up studies to see how long it takes?

WR: Based on this we’ll probably do a lot more longer-term follow-ups of our study participants. So there’s quite a large research group because it was 5 studies, it was myself and some colleagues from the University of Western Ontario, mostly. We do quite a lot of studies where we bring people in and teach them how to exercise, and they’re usually with us for a training program of 10 or 12 weeks: the longer term studies the 4 month and 6 month ones are a little more rare. But even after that we probably need to be checking back in with the people every 3 months or so up to 1 year or 2 years even, to see what’s happening to them motivationally. The risk is if we keep our gaps too big that they’ll fall apart and we’ll lose them before we do the follow-up. And the ones that turn over to those more internal motivations more quickly probably don’t need to hear from us as much, so it’s finding that balance. But we’ll definitely be following people for longer.

HD: Do you have anything you’d like to add?

WR: I’m glad you guys are interested, because people that are right around 20 years old, that’s a nice time to start building on those skills and to not be discouraged, because students also have a very up-and-down schedule where it’s alright for a little while then it’s terrible for a little while,and just understanding that it’s going to be hard to come back from those things, but come back, because it’s important for their long-term health. We say that this is the period when you are gathering life skills that are going to enable you to carry on later.SO encouraging them as much as possible is important I think.

Science Essay Writing for First-Year Undergraduates

Introduction

Writing an Argumentative Science Essay

These resources have been designed to help teach students how to write a well-structured argumentative science essay (approximately 1,250 words) over the course of a term. They will take part in four interactive in-class activity sessions (intended to last 50 – 60 min each) that each focus on a different, critical theme in writing essays, and which are designed to supplement pre-class homework readings and short activities.

Student essays can be written to address any brief. An example is:

Identify a current controversy in science that interests you. State your opinion, and present the evidence that justifies your position.

The four in-class activity sessions will help students develop their essays (see Table 1).

Table 1: The four topics that will be covered in in-class activity sessions will help students develop their essays over the term. ‘PRE’ classes refer to readings and very short activities that must be completed before they come to the in-class sessions.

Class Topic
PRE 1
Good Essay Structure
(thesis and development statements, main body, conclusion)
IN 1
PRE 2
Using Sources and Avoiding Plagiarism
(primary, secondary and tertiary sources, citing/referencing)
IN 2
PRE 3
Effective Paragraphing
(paragraph structure, topic sentences, transitions)
IN 3
PRE 4
Peer Review
(giving and using feedback to improve written work)
IN 4
Science Essay Writing Framework.jpg

Figure 1. Essay Writing Framework

Essay Structure

Pre-Class Activity

The Fundamental Components of a Good Essay Structure

A good essay requires a good structure; it needs to be clear and concise, and it needs to integrate ‘signposts’ throughout so that a reader is able to follow the logical argument that the author is making. There is no room for an author’s thoughts to wander away from the purpose of the essay, because such misdirection will lead to the reader becoming confused. To stop this confusion arising, various writing and reading conventions have developed over time. One of these conventions is the internal structure of an academic essay.

This internal structure resembles an ‘ɪ’ shape. The top horizontal bar represents the thesis, or part of the essay that will comprise a thesis statement and one or more development statements. The thesis statement is the claim of the argument presented in the essay. Without this, the reader would not know what to expect the rest of the essay to develop. The development statement(s) are also crucial as they tells a reader which points will be used to support the argument, and also which order they will be presented in. If some of these points are not listed – or presented in a different order to the one stated – the reader might fail to understand the author’s intent, or even discount the steps used to support the argument.

The vertical bar of the ‘ɪ’ represents the main body of the essay, where each of the points presented in the development part of the thesis should be presented and discussed. Examples and references (citations) are generally included in these paragraphs, but it is important to note that each paragraph should contain only one main idea with examples or references that justify it. This main idea should be presented in a topic sentence at the beginning of the paragraph; these topic sentences act as signposts throughout the main body of the essay.

The bottom horizontal bar of the ‘ɪ’ represents the summary/conclusion of the essay. Here the thesis (main claim) and pieces of supporting evidence (different points that developed the argument) are restated briefly to show the reader why/how everything fits together. No new information should be added to the essay at this point.

Essay Writing.jpg Thesis statement and development statement(s): The central argument is stated, along with the points used to develop it, in the order that they will be discussed. All writing in the essay is focused on supporting this main, central argument.





Main Body: Shows the reader how the writer is supporting the central argument by discussing the points stated in the thesis and development statement(s). The topic sentence of each paragraph will be related to a point stated in the thesis and development statements. The points must be discussed in the order in which they were written in the thesis and development statements.




Conclusion – Summarizes the entire argument. May suggest new avenues for enquiry, but does not include new material.

** Materials adapted from those provided by Joanne Nakonechny, UBC Skylight **


Thesis and Development Statements Recap:

How to write a good thesis statement

Your defining sentence/sentences must clearly state the main idea of your writing. You must include the subject you will discuss and the points that you will make about that subject in the order in which you will write about them.

The value of development statements

These list the different reasons (which will be accompanied with evidence) that the writer is going to use to support his/her claim. These narrowed or more focused points provide the steps of the argument to establish the validity of the thesis statement.

Note that if these reasons are too broad, the essay will be vague, because not all aspects of them can be addressed.

Vague development example:

“Science can solve starvation, disease and crime.”

Stronger development example:

“Science, through genetically modified foods and better crop fertilizers, can contribute to solving starvation.”

Note that this second example provides the reader with information about the specific steps the writer is going to use to support the thesis that science can contribute to solving starvation; genetically modified foods and better crop fertilizers are the reasons that the author is going to expand on to support his/her claim that science can contribute to solving starvation.


Activity 1 (complete before the in-class session)

Throughout these classes, you will develop an argumentative essay in which you state a clear thesis, make claims and supply reasons and evidence to support these reasons, and write a sound conclusion. To begin with, you must:

  1. Identify a current controversy in science that interests you.
  2. State your opinion and some of the reasons that you can use as evidence to support your position.
  3. Come to class prepared to speak about these with a partner.

In-Class Activity

The Fundamentals of a Good Essay Structure [In-Class Session]

Activity 1 (5 minutes)

Produce short written responses that show:

  1. One idea in the reading that you already use in your essay writing
  2. One idea in the reading that you will now use in your essay writing


Activity 2 (10 minutes)

Take part in a class discussion about the structure that a good essay should take. Specifically, think about and discuss:

#What is a thesis statement? #What are development statements? How are they linked to the thesis statement? #What is the purpose of these parts of an essay? #How should the main body of an essay be organized? #What is a topic sentence? Is it the same as a development statement? #What sort of information should appear in the conclusion to an essay?


Activity 3 (10 minutes)

As a general rule, thesis statements in many essays are too general, which means it is not possible for the author to fully address them with reasons and evidence in his/her writing. Stronger thesis statements should provide narrowed or more focused points.

Rank the following four thesis statements (from best to worst) and justify your decisions:

A) Recreating deadly viruses to study their evolution has more downsides than upsides.
B) Recreating deadly viruses to study their evolution can bring many benefits by helping us better understand how rapidly they change and how we can better design vaccines in outbreak situations.<br?
C) Recreating deadly viruses to study their evolution comes with many risks, seeing as these viruses can mutate into more deadly forms.
D) Recreating deadly viruses to study their evolution brings both downsides and upsides but we need to study how quickly they mutate and how dangerous they are.


Activity 4 (15 minutes)

In the homework, you were asked to identify a current controversy in science that interests you, and to state your opinion and think of some of the reasons that you could use to support your position.

Choose a partner and briefly speak to them about this (you should both aim to have spoken about your interests and opinions within five minutes).

Now, in the next five minutes, try to write a thesis statement and one or more development statements that you will use to begin your argumentative essay.

And, in the last five minutes, talk to your partner about your thesis statement and development statement(s) and see if you can help each other improve them.

Hint: Are your statements too broad/vague, and do they list enough reasons that you will use to support the main claim made in the thesis statement. Re-writing a thesis statement can take some time, but revision is an important part of the writing process. Try to settle on a good thesis and development statement by the next class but don’t rush things – in many ways, these are the most important parts of an essay.

Sources and Avoiding Plagiarism

Pre-Class Activity

Searching the Literature and Including Citations and References

Effective Searching

For tips on how to search the literature effectively, to find useful material that could support the development of your essay, and on how to integrate these into your essay, we advise you to read our guides here and here.


Avoiding Plagiarism

Before coming to class, we also ask you to read the following information about plagiarism, so that you know how to identify the different types – and, more importantly, avoid them in your own writing; after all, it is your responsibility to know what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.

To start, review the information in this website link: http://help.library.ubc.ca/planning-your-research/academic-integrity-plagiarism/, before reading more at this one: http://learningcommons.ubc.ca/resource-guides/avoiding-plagiarism/


Activity 1

You should come to class with an idea about how to avoid each of the three types of plagiarism noted here, ready to participate in a discussion about the main issues. Make some brief notes if you feel they will help you.


Identifying Different Types of Sources

Read the following website link to learn how to differentiate between different types of sources and evaluate how appropriate and useful they are for your essay here: http://help.library.ubc.ca/evaluating-and-citing-sources/evaluating-information-sources/ Make sure you read the information about ‘Primary Sources’ and the related link to ‘Learn about finding…’.

You are also encouraged to watch the following Grammar Squirrel videos to help you solidify these concepts:

  1. Sources
  2. Citing Sources in Science Writing


Activity 2

Make some brief notes on the main differences between primary, secondary and tertiary resources and come to class ready to discuss these.


Searching the Literature

To help you start gathering material for your essay, you should start searching for appropriate literature to support your thesis and the reasons that you are going to develop in the main body of your writing. For a guide on how best to do this, see here.


Activity 3

Before class, find one example of each of primary, secondary and tertiary sources that relate to your essay. On a single sheet of paper, for each resource, write notes on the following, and bring these with you to the in-class session.

  • Is this a primary, secondary or tertiary source? Why?
  • How might you use this resource in your essay?

In-Class Activity

Searching the Literature and Including Citations and References

For your homework, you were asked to review information about the three main types of plagiarism, and how these can be avoided. You were also asked to read information and watch videos about identifying different types of sources.


Activity 1 (10 minutes)

Take part in a discussion with your classmates and instructor(s) about the three main types of plagiarism. What are they? Have you ever committed any of these before without realizing? How can you avoid plagiarism in your essays?


Activity 2 (15 minutes)

First, take part in a brief discussion with your classmates and instructor(s) about the differences between primary, secondary and tertiary sources. Why are primary sources usually preferred for use in essays and scholarly writing? Are any tertiary sources useful or reliable? Why/why not?

Second, form groups of 4-6 people, and take turns to fill out a table of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources that you each found to support the development of your essays.

When filling out the second column (How might you use this?), think about how the information contained in this source applies to the scientific controversy that you are writing about; specifically, try to outline how you could use this source to provide a reason and evidence to support the thesis of your argument. You should explain this to your classmates as you fill in the table.

Source Example How might you use this?
Primary
Secondary
Tertiary


Activity 3 (10 minutes)

Take part in a discussion with all of your classmates and instructor(s) about the sources that you found. Are they suitable for inclusion in your essays? Why/why not? How are you going to find more sources to help add content depth to your essays?


Activity 4 (10 minutes)

Work with a partner to try to paraphrase some of the information in one of your sources (preferably your primary source); remember the video you watched before class about integrating sources in your work – it is important in science essays to reword what has been written in a source and then attribute the idea to the author(s) of that source.

For now, try to just reword the key information so that it could be included in the main body of your essay. For a more complete guide to attributing the information to the author(s) of the source from which it came, please read the following if you have not already done so: Integrating and Citing Sources.

It is important that you learn the correct format for including citations in your essay, and for compiling the references list at the end.

Paragraphing

Pre-Class Activity

Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences and Transitions

Good essays are easy to read and follow a logical development. Structuring the content of your essay in an organized way is thus critical to making sure your reader(s) understand the argument you are making. Even the most content-rich essay can be misinterpreted if it is not structured properly.

A good structure relies upon effective paragraphing. You should try to only include one main content point per paragraph, even if this means some paragraphs are much smaller than others; the key when writing an essay that defends a thesis statement is to use one paragraph for each reason that you present to provide support for your main claim.

Once you have split your essay into discrete paragraphs, you should add in topic sentences to begin each one; these sentences should act as signposts for your reader(s), telling them clearly and succinctly what they can expect to read about in the following paragraph. You can think of them as mini development statements that map the logical development of your essay from paragraph to paragraph.

Finally, you should add in transitions (little words and phrases) that link each sentence together smoothly and make everything easy to read. Words such as ‘initially’, ‘secondly’, ‘however’, ‘furthermore’ and ‘lastly,’ and phrases such as ‘as a result’, ‘on the other hand’ and ‘in addition’ are typical examples that you probably already use on a day-to-day basis.

For more information on effective paragraphing, we advise you to read the following student guide before coming to class: Organizing


Activity 1

Think about the different elements that make a piece of writing effective, and come to class prepared to discuss some of these.


Activity 2

Also, make sure that you bring at least two primary sources that you have found to use in your essay; you will work on writing paragraphs about these with a partner in class.

In-Class Activity

Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences and Transitions

To prepare you for this class, you should have read the student guide about organizing your writing (how to paragraph effectively). Remember that you must present your essay in a logical way if it is to be interpreted as you mean it to be by your reader(s). A big part of this is invested in writing paragraphs that each present one main idea.


Activity 1 (10 minutes)

Take part in a class discussion by thinking about the following question: “What makes a good piece of writing?” Hint: Think of as many things as possible (not just those that relate to paragraphing, and structure).

Your instructor will brainstorm the class ideas on the blackboard/whiteboard, but you should do the same so that you can refer to your notes later.


Activity 2 (25 minutes)

Take out the sources that you brought with you (which relate to the current scientific controversy that you are going to discuss in your essay); you should have brought at least two, and these should preferably be primary sources.

Take 10 minutes to write a paragraph about each one so that it could fit into the essay you are writing. Use the brainstorm/notes you took from Activity 1 to help guide your writing. Do not worry too much about writing long paragraphs at this point, but try to make sure you only talk in depth about the one main point of the source you are using in each one.

In the remaining five minutes, try to write a topic sentence for each paragraph; remember that this should act as a mini development statement (or a signpost) that tells a reader what they can expect to read about in the coming paragraph. Lastly, try to add some transition words/phrases to link all the sentences smoothly together.

Make sure you include a citation for your sources (at least one per paragraph)


Activity 3 (15 minutes)

Swap your writing with a partner, and read each other’s work. In the first 10 minutes, make notes on their writing (being constructive) that will help them improve it. Some things to focus on include:

  1. Is there only one main point per paragraph?
  2. Does each topic sentence serve as a good signpost? Is it clear from this one sentence alone what the author is going to talk about in that paragraph?
  3. Does each sentence transition smoothly into the next one?
  4. Are any of the transition words/phrases confusing?
  5. Does the writing follow a logical path?
  6. Are there any confusing terms used (overly complex words, or science jargon)?
  7. Are the citations formatted correctly?

For the last five minutes, you should take your piece of writing back and begin to improve it based on the feedback your partner gave you. If you do not finish all of these improvements by the end of class, you should complete them as homework; you should try to complete a first draft of your essay soon after this class anyway.

Peer Review

Pre-Class Activity

The Importance of Peer Review

When a researcher, or team of researchers, finishes a stage of work, they usually write a paper presenting their methods, findings and conclusions. They then send the paper to a scientific journal to be considered for publication. If the journal’s editor thinks it is suitable for their journal he/she will send the paper to other scientists, who research and publish in the same field and ask them to:

  1. Comment on its validity – are the research results credible; is the design and methodology appropriate?
  2. Judge the significance – is it an important finding?
  3. Determine its originality – are the results new? Does the paper refer properly to work performed by others?
  4. Give an opinion as to whether the paper should be published, improved or rejected (usually to be submitted elsewhere).

This process is called peer review, and it is incredibly important in making sure that only high-quality written work appears in the literature, but it also allows authors to improve their original work based on the feedback of others.

Did you know?

There are around 21,000 scholarly and scientific journals that use the peer-review system. A high proportion of these are scientific, technical or medical journals, which together publish over 1,000,000 research papers each year.

By the way...

Peer review is also used to assess scientists’ applications for research funds. Funding bodies, such as medical research charities, seek expert advice on a scientist’s proposal before agreeing to pay for it. Peer review in this instance is used to judge which applications have the best potential to help an organization achieve its objectives.


Peer Review – Your Essay

You are not reporting the results of experiments in a journal article or applying for funding, but are writing an essay about a current controversy in science that interests you.

The process of peer review that you will undertake is very similar, however; by hearing what your peers think about your work before you hand it in, you should gain a valuable insight into how they interpret it, and where they think it can be improved. If you make suggested improvements, it is very likely that it will receive a higher grade when you hand it to your instructors.

You already have some experience of the peer-review system, because you provided feedback on a partner’s two paragraphs in the last class, and had them provide you with feedback on your own writing.


Activity 1

For some further tips on how to give effective feedback, make sure you read the following guide before coming to class: How to Give and Receive Effective Feedback, and arrive ready to participate in a discussion about peer review and its importance.


Activity 2

Make sure you also bring a draft of your essay to class; you will be working with a partner to provide feedback on these essays.

In-Class Activity

The Importance of Peer Review

Peer review ensures that only high-quality work appears in the science literature; it also allows a writer to improve his/her work based on feedback provided by someone within his/her field. Today you will get the chance to provide constructive feedback on someone else’s essay, while having them comment on yours. This exchange should help you improve your work greatly.


Activity 1 (10 minutes)

Take part in a class discussion about peer review and its importance. Some specific questions to think about include:

  1. What would happen if scientists didn't have their work reviewed by their peers?
  2. Are they any downsides? What happens if there is a disagreement?
  3. What sort of feedback is the best to give/receive?


Activity 2 (30 minutes)

Choose a partner (preferably someone you haven’t worked with before) and swap your essay drafts. First of all, read through their essay in its entirety before going back and reading it in smaller chunks. Comment on it by annotating the work where you are confused, or where you think improvements can be made. Rather than editing it, suggest other options that would lead to improvements (e.g. don’t make the improvements yourself).

Pay extra attention to the most important elements that dictate whether an essay has a good structure and reads well:

  1. Are the thesis and development statements clear? Are they too narrow or too broad?
  2. Is the work split up into paragraphs that focus on one main point each?
  3. Does the essay follow a logical path of development? Do the reasons that are supplied to support the original thesis follow the order that they were set out in the original development statement(s)?
  4. Are topic sentences used effectively so that someone who was lost (just started reading halfway through) would understand the route being taken (what the author was going to elaborate on in a given paragraph)?
  5. Are transition words and phrases used effectively so that each sentence transitions smoothly into the next one?
  6. Is the conclusion clear and concise? Does the author introduce any new material here that is confusing in any way?
  7. Is the essay interesting? Do you feel you have learned something new? Do you agree with the thesis statement now that you have read the whole essay (have you been convinced by the author’s argument)?


Activity 3 (10 minutes)

Read through the comments you have received from your partner and make sure you understand them all. Once you are satisfied that you do, spend the remaining time making improvements based on their feedback. You will not be able to finish all of these in class, but you can take the feedback away with you and use it to improve your essay before handing it in.

Peer Review: In-Class Practice Session

This in-class peer-review practice session is designed to give students some experience of the process before working with real examples provided by their peers. It should take approximately 50 minutes. The main aims are to consider what sort of feedback is most useful, what sort of language offers constructive help, and how to go about providing feedback to avoid editing an entire piece of writing.

You should hand out copies of the sample Essay for Feedback – Peer Review Exercise and the Giving Effective Feedback – Peer Review – Student Handout documents found in Using Peer Review.

Session Timeframe

Session Timeframe

The session can be broken down as follows:

1. Five minutes: Put students into groups of 3-5 and share the sample essay and the assignment details so the students know what the original task was for the essay author:

The author needed to write a short argumentative essay in which he/she answered the following prompt: ‘Should limited research funds be allocated to basic or applied research projects?’ They should have taken a stance and defended it by making claims and supported them with specific pieces of evidence.

2. Five minutes: Review higher and lower-order concerns and ask student to prioritize their responses accordingly.

Higher-order concerns include things such as poor logic, organization, and not backing claims up with evidence, whereas lower-order concerns include things such as poor grammar, over-use of jargon, and a lack of transitions and everyday analogies.

3. Five minutes: Talk about using constructive and productive language, even when it may be challenging, and refer students to their Effective Feedback handout for further guidance and some examples.

Ask the students to think about how they could best help the author improve their work as a direct result of the feedback they provide. Stress the importance of being supportive yet honest, and being very specific in their feedback.

4. Fifteen minutes: Have each group read the sample essay and talk about what feedback they would give the author. Check in with each group throughout, answer questions, etc. Ask each group to come up with specific feedback.
5. Ten minutes: Each group must delegate a speaker to come up and share that feedback with the class as if the class was the student who wrote the piece.
6. Ten minutes/debrief: Compare the feedback offered by each group, and ask the class as a whole which feedback worked, and which didn’t? Why? How did the class feel in general when the feedback was shared with them?