DR. K's WRITING
CHAPTER 1: Writing in
One of the more
important aspects of both our academic and professional lives is the
ability to communicate effectively. This will take the form of either
oral or written communication. This handbook is designed to assist
students in improving aspects of their written communication by
discussing basic writing mechanics and techniques and, specifically,
the use of a variety of computer programs to significantly improve
your communication skills.
The effective use of
computers, as discussed in I. I. below, is becoming one of the most
important means of improving written communication as it encourages
and allows greater ability to edit the paper, provides spell checking
tools and produces a paper that is freer from error and looks more
professional. When a typical word processor is augmented by
graphical, statistical and photographic computer programs, students
are able to create true multimedia presentations that raises the
concept of "written" communication to new levels.
This handbook is
designed to provide students with the basic tools to improve their
writing and to create basic multimedia presentations. However, the
most important ingredient in writing, with or without computers, is
TIME. Good writing requires time and it is usually very evident to a
professor, or boss, when little time has been spent on a paper. This
is even more important when you are using a computer because even the
best programs take time to learn and even more time to use them
effectively. Therefore, plan accordingly. Allow sufficient time to
write the paper and to use the computer programs you need.
In order to do this, in
light of all the other events and requirements going on in your life,
learn to keep a semester date book listing all due dates, tests, etc.
If you put such things down as soon as you know when they are, you
should be able to predict which periods of the semester will be very
busy and which ones will be less busy. It is these "quiet" periods in
your semester that should be used to organize, research and write
B. Grading and
There is no way to give
a "cook book recipe" for an "A" quality paper. However, the following
criteria will provide guidelines for what professors are looking for
in a quality paper of any kind.
A Superior Paper:
well-defined, significant, thoughtfully selected topic or
question fully and explores the issues thoughtfully
depth, fullness, and complexity of thought. Goes beyond the obvious.
clear, focused, unified and coherent organization.
developed and detailed.
superior control of diction, syntactic variety and
well-defined, significant topic or question.
the question and explores the issue.
Shows some depth
and complexity of thought. Demonstrates recognition of important
well-developed, with supporting detail.
control of diction, syntactic variety, and transition; may have a few
clearly defined topic or question.
addresses the question and explores the issues.
Shows clarity of
thought but may lack complexity. May tend to rely on the obvious and
developed, with some detail.
competent writing; may have some flaws.
ill-defined or ill-chosen topic or question.
May distort or
neglect parts of the question.
May be simplistic
or stereotyped in thought. May be essentially
problems in organization. May be aimless.
generalizations without supporting detail or detail without
May show patterns
of flaws in language, syntax, or mechanics.
serious inadequacy in one or more of the areas specified for the weak
to begin discussing the topic.
off-topic paper. Failure to understand the topic.
incompletely developed as to suggest or demonstrate
As you read these
criteria you may notice that, in many areas, there are little
differences between the categories. It is these subtleties that make
the difference between a "superior" and a "strong" paper. Also, while
it is not possible to hold each of these categories to fixed grades,
there is a strong correlation between "Superior" and "A", Competent"
and "C", etc.
There is also a time
expectation for writing quality papers. Again, this is even harder to
quantify than the above criteria but it is evident in the quality of
the paper. Just as professors expect students to spend a minimum of
two hours of study outside of class for every one hour in class, so
they expect a minimum amount of work per page of a paper. At a
minimum, for a simple book report or short paper, you should plan on
two to three hours per page. A research paper for an upper division
class, however, or a paper that is a significant part of your grade,
should be given a minimum of four or five hours per page.
One of the most common
and vexing problems students encounter in writing papers is that of
plagiarism. The concept of plagiarism is one of the broadest and most
far reaching problem areas in academia and the science profession. As
defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, plagiarism is "to steal
and use the ideas or writing of another as one's own; to appropriate
passages or ideas from and use them as one's own; to take and use as
one's own the writings or ideas of another." In academics this
traditionally applies to the improper use of material from any other
source in your papers and lab reports, including other students,
without properly referencing them. In addition, it applies to the use
of someone else's answers on a test or quiz, someone else's results
or work in a lab project or write-up, etc. It is imperative that
students keep this concept in mind when they are writing a paper. See
also section I. G. Citations.
follow a set process in writing their papers that illustrates their
priorities in pursuing their project, as expressed by Dr. Glyer of
a. Prompt: someone makes
them write something
b. Panic: they think
about the work involved and what a poor grade means
c. Procrastinate: they
put it off until the pain of procrastinating is greater than the pain
d. Write with their eyes
closed: write but don't read the papers they turn in.
e. Hand it
f. Let's make a deal-
prayer: "If you just let me get a "B" , I'll..."
Therefore, students do
expend a great deal of energy in the writing of their papers but in
the wrong places- at b, c and f. Students need to reorient where they
invest their time, effort and energy. They need to establish a new
and more effective list of priorities such as the following,
developed by Nold and Bracy:
a. Thesis: Does the
paper have a point? Is it a point worth making? Is the point clearly
conveyed? Are there sections of the paper that do not contribute to
b. Audience: Are the
needs and expectations of the audience adequately addressed? Is the
writer's style and tone appropriate to the audience?
c. Type of Writing: Does
the paper satisfy the conventions of its kind? Does the paper
adequately address all dimensions of the given
d. Use of support: Are
generalizations adequately developed with details, examples, facts,
comparisons, descriptions, etc. Are a variety of development
strategies used? Are sources carefully documented and fully
integrated as per the criteria of the discipline?
e. Structure: Does the
paper have an interesting introduction and a satisfying conclusion?
Is each body paragraph clearly focused and purposeful? Is the
sequence of the paragraphs clear and deliberate? Are paragraphs
joined by logical transitions? Is attention paid to balance and
f. Syntax: Does the
writer avoid sentence-level problems such as fragments, run-ons, lack
of parallelism, choppiness, overuse of passive voice? Are the
sentences direct, clear, active, varied, economical, effective, and
mature in structure?
g. Diction: Does the
writer avoid word-level problems such as vagueness, sexism,
unintended connotations, frequently confused words? Is word choice
exact, concise and varied?
h. Mechanics: Does the
writer use punctuation, abbreviations and other graphic devices
i. Spelling/typing: Is
the paper free from careless errors in spelling and typing?
j. Presentation: Is
there careful attention to the appearance of the paper, including
correct margins, quality paper, and, if appropriate, a cover page,
page numbering, and a folder?
Following this set of
priorities and being sure that your paper adequately addresses the
questions expressed in each priority, will increase the effectiveness
of your paper.
1. Basic Overall
Process: Please keep in mind that the following process is not
strictly linear and will vary depending on the writer and on the
Step One: Prompt- What
are you being asked to do and who is asking you to do
External: Usually from
your professor or whoever is requiring you to do the
Internal: From yourself,
your own desire to succeed and receive a good grade
Step Two: Prewrite-
Begin getting organized!
What is the reason and purpose for writing the paper? Who is
audience? What is the
format under which the paper must be written?
Planning: Organize your
time into what needs to be done and approximately how much
time it will take. Take
into account other things that will occupy your time such as papers
for other classes, tests, work schedules, etc. By planning
sufficiently ahead, you can usually find time when you have a "slow"
time in your schedule that will allow sufficient time to effectively
write the paper. Organize your paper in an outline format that takes
into account the requirements of the paper and your knowledge of the
subject at the start. Keep it flexible so you can improve the paper
by changing things as new ideas come.
Gathering: Begin to
identify and gather the resources needed to write the paper. Conduct
your library and on-line
Step Three: Write- Begin
writing quickly and recklessly, just letting the words flow. Do not
worry about grammar,
spellings, etc. Just let it go, quick and dirty! This can be done
either section by section or by starting anywhere. Work on areas
where you have knowledge and material.
Step Four: Time Out-
Take a period of time to let it sit. This should be several days. Of
this implies that you
have begun it far enough in advance to have this time
Step Five: Revise-
Reread the paper and make massive changes such as adding, deleting
moving large blocks of
material. This is where writing the paper on a computer makes it much
easier (see II. C. below). Reread the original premise and
requirements for the paper. Be sure you are meeting these and
following your original ideas unless new and better ones have
occurred to you.
Step Six: Edit- Now
spend time looking at basic grammar such as paragraph and sentence
subject-verb agreement, proper tense, etc.
Step Seven: Proofread-
Look at the entire paper, make spelling changes, have someone else
read it for you. Make sure it all makes sense and meets the
a. Begin by finding a
few general books, articles or encyclopedia references to provide you
with basic knowledge on the topic to be studied.
b. Based on your
knowledge of the topic, create a list of key words that apply to your
topic. List all words that "mean" the same thing together (i.e.,
fish, minnow, blue gill, scientific names, etc.).
c. Do initial detailed
research using "Academic Abstracts", "First Search", etc. Try to find
review articles in the "Annual Review" series. Look through the Table
of Contents of recent issues of appropriate journals.
d. Based on increased
knowledge, revise your key words list and do a DIALOG search or other
type of computerized search system and begin using various abstract
e. Throughout this, keep
all references on index cards using correct, complete
f. Remember to use the
bibliographies accompanying your articles and books as sources of new
g. Check the
bibliography and reserve articles if provided.
3. CONDUCTING THE
a. Listen to and follow
b. Write down
everything! Keep two copies of your data (i.e., your lab journal and
the class log sheets.).
c. Check your experiment
d. Do not change any
procedure unless you have personally heard the professor change
4. STATISTICALLY ANALYZE
b. Arrange data
logically, keeping in mind what you need to find out.
c. Enter it into the
computer according to "Statview SE +" instructions.
d. Perform and record
basic descriptive stats to gather means, standard deviations,
e. Perform and record
ANOVAs between relevant data.
f. Create graphs and
tables of your choice to illustrate both data and its
g. Perform any
additional analysis you think relevant--be sure to check basic stats
books for suggestions and correct usage.
h. REMEMBER - Just
because two numbers (i.e., means of various treatments) are different
does not mean anything scientifically unless you can show that those
two numbers are statistically different.
The following are simply
resources to assist you in improving your writing, in the sciences or
any other discipline. They are available in libraries or bookstores.
Ambrose, H. and K. P.
Ambrose. 1995. A Handbook of Biological Investigation 5th ed.
Knoxville. Hunter Textbooks, Inc.
Barrass, R. 1993.
Scientists Must Write. London. Chapman and Hall.
Cook, C. 1986. Line by
Line: How to Improve Your Own Writing. Boston. Houghton Mifflin
Cutts, M. 1995. The
Plain English Guide: How to Write Clearly and Communicate Better.
Oxford. Oxford University Press.
Day, R. 1983. How to
Write and Publish a Scientific Paper. 2nd ed. Philadelphia. ISI
Hacker, D. 1995. A
Writer's Reference 3rd ed. Boston. Bedford Books.
McMillian, V. 1988.
Writing Papers in the Biological Sciences. New York. Bedford
Pechenik, J. 1993. A
Short Guide to Writing About Biology. 2nd ed. New York. Harpers
Weidenborner, S. and D.
Caruso. 1996. Writing Research Papers: A Guide to the Process. New
York. St. Marten's Press.
Weiner, E. and A.
Delahunty. 1994. The Oxford Guide to English Usage. Oxford. Oxford
The format of a paper
will vary from discipline to discipline, from class to class and from
one type of paper to another. The resources mentioned in section "E"
above are good places to begin looking for the correct format that is
to be used. In the sciences, however, there is a standard format for
a paper written to report the results of an experiment, whether or
not you are the one who conducted the experiment. The following is a
brief explanation of that format.
STRUCTURE OF A
NOTE: See section I. G.
"Citations" for information regarding the proper citing of any
material throughout the paper, regardless of which section it is in.
Some times there may be
a requirement to create an "Abstract" that will be at the beginning
of the paper. If required, this is to be a short, very concise,
version of the paper that hits the high points of each of the
sections to follow. It will usually have a stated and very specific
length that will be expressed in number of words or the size it must
fit into. In professional journals and presentations this is what
will be printed in indexes for others to know what the paper is on.
information on all areas of project, i.e., pollutants; abiotics; your
b. Reports on similar
projects, especially those that involve interactions of all the areas
you are studying in your paper. .
c. Introduction to your
project showing why it is necessary, worthwhile, etc.; state your
hypothesis but do not write "My hypothesis is..."!
2. Materials and
a. A narrative
description of exactly what you used and how you did your
b. Must allow someone
else to duplicate your work.
c. Must not include any
lists or step-by-step directions, it is not a lab
d. While this will vary
from professor to professor, this is usually to be done in the third
person passive such as: "A test tube was filled with 2% NaCl and
placed in an incubator." rather than "I took a test tube and filled
it with 2% NaCl. Then I placed it in an incubator."
a. General account of
how project went, including any problems, in a narrative
b. Specific account of
your data in either written, tabular or graphical
c. Specific account of
d. All tables, graphs,
figures, etc. must be referred to in the narrative portion of the
e. All tables, graphs,
figures, etc. must have sequential numbers and true captions.
f. There should be no
discussion of your results, what they mean, why they occurred,
a. Discussion of what
happened in your project.
b. Discussion of why you
got your results and what they might mean.
c. Tie-in to your
introduction, particularly similar projects.
d. Explanation of why
your hypothesis was or was not proven correct.
REMEMBER: Just because
your hypothesis was not proven correct or the results were
not what you expected
does not mean the experiment was a failure!
a. Alphabetical list of
all the references you actually cited in your paper.
b. Must conform to the
standards for the type of paper you are writing or the discipline
you are writing for. See
section I. G. Citations.
As was stated in section
I. B. Grading and Expectations in the portion on plagiarism, it is
imperative that students properly recognize, or cite, those who have
helped them in the writing of the paper. The list of texts mentioned
in section E. Resources includes a number of books that give a number
of methods for citing material used in the writing of the paper.
However, the majority of science papers make use of the "Harvard
Method" which is what will be discussed here.
1. Citations in text of
One author: (Smith,
Two authors: (Smith and
More than two authors:
(Smith et al., 1990)
Unknown author: (Anon.,
2. Citations in
"Literature Cited" sections:
Smith, J. 1992. Acid
Rain in North America. New York. J. Wiley and Sons, Publishers.
Smith, J. and Jones, T.
1995. Acid Rain in the Northern Hemisphere. New York. J. Wiley and
Smith, J., T. Jones, S.
Doe and M. Murray. 1990. Acid Rain. New York. J. Wiley and Sons,
Chapter in Edited
Smith, J. 1992. "Acid
Rain and its Effects on Vegetation Brazil". pgs. 55-75. IN Acid Rain
in South America. G. Martins (ed.) Chicago. Univ. of Chicago
Smith, J. 1996. Acid
Rain and its Effects on Cattails in Northern Michigan. Science 12
(6): 224-335. (Where 12= the volume, 6= the issue in that volume and
224-335= pages of the article)
On-line and Electronic
Lastname, Firstname Book
Title. City: Publisher, Date. Publication medium. Repository. Network
name Date of access.
United State General
Accounting Office. Drug-Exposed Infants: Report to the Chairman.
Committee on Finance US Senate. 6 Nov. 1992. Online U of Minnesota
Lib. Internet l May 1993.
Harris, Robert. Stories
from the Old Attic. Costa Mesa. 1992. Online Project Gutenberg.
Internet. S Oct.. 199S. Available FTP:
Title of Article." Journal Name date: page Database. Publication
medium. Service or network. Repository. Date of access. Available
Austin, Mary. "The
Little Coyote. Atlantic Monthly 89 (1902): 249~54. Online. U of
Virginia Electronic Text Center. Internet. 3 May l995. Available WWW:
Nachman, Tony, and Kevin
Lenkins. "What's Wrong with Education in America?. Trincoll Journal
Dec. 1994: n. page. Online. Internet. 22 Apr. 1995. Available WWW:
"FriscoTech.- Entertainment Weekly 4 Apr. 1995. Pathfinder. Online
Internet. 10 May 1995. Available WWW:
Alva A. Sylvia Alatore.
"Differential Patterns of Achievement Among Asian-American
Adolescents." Journal of Youth & Adolescence 22(1993):407-23.
Proquest General Periodicals. CD-ROM. UMI-Proquest June
"U.S. Population by Age:
Urban and Urbanized Areas." 1990 US. Census of Population and
Housing. CD-ROM US Bureau of the Census. 1990.
Discovering Authors. Vers. 1.0. CD-ROM. Detroit Gale,
"Volcanoes." Grolier's Multimedia Encyclopedia. 1995 ed.
Remner, P. I. "Re: Toe
Clips v. Clipless Pedals." 21 Apr. 1995. Online posting. Newsgroup
rec.bicycles.off-road. Usenet. 24 Apr. 1995.
Newton, Albert. E-mail
to Andrew Jergens. 14 Apr. 1995.
See discipline specific
writing manuals listed in section I. D. Resources for details on more
H. Writing with a
Writing with a computer
can be a very effective method for improving your written
communications. However, like all other tools it requires practice
and is not something that can be picked up in a few minutes.
Therefore, if you have never written extensively using a computer you
should set aside time to practice basic use of the computer. This is
best done on short papers, letters home, etc.
Many writers who use
computers use them only after having written, revised and edited the
complete paper with old fashioned paper and pen. Others write the
first draft on paper and then do all their revising and editing on
the computer. The ultimate efficiency, however, is to be able to do
all the writing, from start to finish, on the computer. This is
particularly helpful, if your typing skills are adequate, in light of
the suggestion in section D. Process to do the first draft "quickly
Those with little
computer experience are probably best off beginning with the first
method mentioned and, hopefully, slowly proceeding to the point where
they are comfortable doing everything on the computer. Again,
practice is of the utmost importance here.