Catalog Description

Intensive analysis of and preparation to write for publication in the scientific and technical literature. Intended for advanced students planning careers in science and technology. Notes: Intensive Writing and Intensive Oral Communication course. Offered in spring of odd years. Prerequisites: HMXP 102 with a grade of C- or better; and either ENGL 380 or successful completion of a 200-level or higher course in BIOL, CHEM, CSCI, ENVS, GEOG, GEOL, GRNT, NUTR, MATH, PHYS, PSYC, SCIE, or WELL, or permission of the instructor; or graduate status.

Course Introduction

“The fundamental purpose of scientific discourse is not the mere presentation of information and thought, but rather its actual communication. It does not matter how pleased an author might be to have converted all the right data into sentences and paragraphs; it matters only whether a large majority of the reading audience accurately perceives what the author had in mind.” – George D. Gopen and Judith A. Swan, “The Science of Science Writing”

“Rhetoric is the study and practice of suasion, per- or dis-, and suasion is the motive and the meat of all arguments. Science is the study of nature and the practice of making knowledge about nature […]. Rhetoric of science is simply, then, the study of how scientists persuade and dissuade each other and the rest of us about nature–the study of how scientists argue in the making of knowledge.” – Randy Allan Harris, “Introduction,” Landmark Essays on Rhetoric of Science: Case Studies

“Engineers who don’t write well end up working for engineers who do write well.” – The MIT Writing Across the Curriculum Program

Whether you are applying for a job, seeking funding to keep a research project going, proposing better production methods, advising policy makers, informing the public of new discoveries, or convincing fellow scientists that you’ve just solved the Grand Unified Theory, as a scientist or engineer you will rely your ability to communicate effectively with others. A central tenet of this course is that effective communication, including scientific and technical communication, is social, situational, and contextual, i.e., it is rooted in specific discourse practices based upon the goals of the speaker or writer and the expectations and interests of the intended audience. In other words, scientific and technical communication is rhetorical.

In this course we will study and practice composing in a number of genres scientists and engineers routinely encounter throughout their professional lives; we will study the rhetoric of science so that we may better understand how scientists and engineers practice effective per- and dis-suasive making of knowledge; and we will study how to analyze rhetorical situations so that we may effectively shape our discourse to advance our aims even as we meet the needs of our audience.

A note to graduate students: To demonstrate engagement with progressively more advanced content, knowledge of the literature of the discipline, and research in the discipline, graduate students in this class will be expected to produce work above and beyond that of the undergraduates in the course. To this end, graduate students will be required to complete two additional assignments: (1) a semester-long study of the rhetoric of science and science writing that will culminate in an annotated bibliography, and (2) an additional assignment (professional project) appropriate to the student’s disciplinary and professional goals such as a research grant proposal, an informational document targeted to a general audience, or a substantial lesson plan with supporting materials.