National Writing Project

Scientific Writing and Technological Change—A Chapter From Teaching the New Writing

Date: May 2009

Summary: The technological changes of the last several decades have not only changed how science is done, but how it is communicated as well. Arguing that the teaching of scientific communication has a key place in the science classroom, Mya Poe and Julianna Radkowski Opperman trace these technologically-driven changes, and explore implications for developing modern, relevant science writing instruction.


Excerpt from Chapter:

The language of argument is central to the activity of professional science (Latour, 1987; Locke, 1992). Scientists talk about 'convincing data,' 'showing due diligence' as a researcher, and making a 'compelling' argument for the 'significance' of a research study. In fact, the language of argument pervades almost every aspect of scientific research, beginning with the selection of research topic, formation of hypothesis, and design of experiential protocol. In the experimental stage, data must be organized, categorized, selected, and analyzed. The teacher's challenge is helping student researchers understand what relationships are revealed in the experimental data. While technology allows students to easily generate plots of their findings, often those plots are poor representations of their work (Tufte 2001). We use the process of visual 'storyboarding' to help students think about the arguments they are making with their data and build the 'story' of their scientific article around those data. Our choice of the term 'story' rather than 'argument' was deliberate. In choosing to call our approach 'storyboarding' rather than 'argument and evidence,' we sought to encourage students to think about the overall arc of scientific findings and not just a single point in time. In a compelling scientific argument, there is an overarching story or narrative to the research that ties together the research question, methods, results, and interpretation of the findings."

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