Writing in the Life Sciences: A Critical Thinking Approach

ISBN : 9780195170467

Laurence Greene
512 Pages
193 x 236 mm
Pub date
Mar 2010
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  • Develops critical thinking and problem solving skills as students work through the many steps of scientific communication (i.e., planning, drafting, revising)
  • Offers clear explanations of the rhetorical goals of scientific writing
  • Highlights important questions and checklists through the process on inside front and back covers for ease of reference
  • Uses a variety of practical real-life examples and figures, as well as innovative process maps that outline the writing process, to illustrate the concepts throughout
  • Provides explicit instruction in the process of self- and peer review
  • Includes two appendices: the first walks students through preparing and delivering both oral and poster presentations, and the second is a glossary of sentence grammar terms

Practicing scientists know that the quality of their livelihood is strongly connected to the quality of their writing, and critical thinking is the most necessary and valuable tool for effectively generating and communicating scientific information. Writing in the Life Sciences is an innovative, process-based text that gives beginning writers the tools to write about science skillfully by taking a critical thinking approach. Laurence Greene emphasizes "writing as thinking" as he takes beginning writers through the important stages of planning, drafting, and revising their work. Throughout, he uses focused and systematic critical reading and thinking activities to help scientific writers develop the skills to effectively communicate. Each chapter addresses a particular writing task rather than a specific type of document. The book makes clear which tasks are important for all writing projects (i.e., audience analysis, attending to instructions) and which are unique to a specific writing project (rhetorical goals for each type of document). Ideal for Scientific Writing courses and writing-intensive courses in various science departments (e.g., Biology, Environmental Studies, etc.), this innovative, process-based text goes beyond explaining what scientific writing is and gives students the tools to do it skillfully.



An Introduction to Writing in the Life Sciences
Intended Audiences
The Culture of Science and Scientific Communication
Our Approaches to Successful Scientific Writing
A Critical Thinking Approach
A Process-based Approach
A Problem Solving Approach
A Goal-directed Approach
An Audience-centered Approach
A Discipline-specific and Content-rich Approach

Chapter 1: Defining Your Writing Project
Chapter Introduction
About the Process
Analyzing Your Writing Task
Attending to Instructions, Guidelines, and Evaluation Criteria
Seeking Clarification of Problematic Assignments and Directions
Selecting a Topic and Refining a Research Issue
Brainstorm topics that inspire your interest and enthusiasm
Ask knowledgeable experts for advice on hot research issues
Learn about hot research issues from the scientific literature
Learn about hot research issues on the Internet
Use your task analysis to refine your research issue
Add a novel twist to your selected research issue
Check ahead for the availability of scientific literature on selected research issues
Make sure that you have sufficient time and resources to learn the science on your research issue 
Learning about Scientific Discourse Conventions
Research Papers
Review Papers
Research Proposals
Analyzing Your Audiences
Key Questions for Audience Analysis
Taking Notes on Your Audience Analysis 
Searching for Scientific Literature
Evaluating the Credibility of Published Scientific Literature
Searching for Peer-reviewed Journal Articles: Research Papers and Review Papers
Searching for Scientific Books
Searching for Scientific Literature on Web Sites 
Reading to Learn Science
Solving Comprehension Problems
Reading and Taking Notes on Published Research Papers
Summing Up and Stepping Ahead

Chapter 2: Developing a Goal-based Plan
Chapter Introduction
About the Process 
Setting the Framework for Your Goal-based Plan
Distinguishing between Just-Okay Goals and Powerful Rhetorical Goals
Devising Strategies for Accomplishing Rhetorical Goals
The Structure of a Goal-based Plan
Taking Goal-based Planning to Heart
Relying Your Experience in Scientific Writing
Adopting and Adapting Conventional Guidelines 
Using Model Papers
Applying Your Task and Audience Analyses
Using the Helicopter Thinking Method
Starting to Draft
Revising Your Goal-based Plan
Check for whether your rhetorical goals are appropriate for the major sections in which you have placed them
Check your rhetorical goals for their content-generating potential
Check your rhetorical goals for their audience-affecting potential
Check your strategies for their detail and depth
Check your strategies for whether they are logically related to their rhetorical goals 
Summing Up and Stepping Ahead 

Chapter 3: Generating Content
Chapter Introduction
About the Process
Solo and Collaborative Brainstorming
Solo Brainstorming
Collaborative Brainstorming
Reading for Relevance 
Interpreting Study Data
Interpreting the Statistical Significance of Study Data
Interpreting the Practical Significance of Study Data
Synthesizing Study Outcomes
Focusing on Rhetorical Goals that Require Synthesis
Creating a Summary Chart to Guide Synthesis
Synthesizing Studies with Similar Conclusions
Synthesizing Studies with Contrasting Conclusions
Constructing Convincing Scientific Arguments
Setting up the Structure of a Scientific Argument
Evaluating Published Scientific Arguments
Evaluating Research Methods
Summing up and Stepping Ahead

Chapter 4: Organizing Content and Writing a Draft
Chapter Introduction
About the Process: Organizing Content
Choosing a Design for Your Organizing Plan
Taking a Principled Approach to Organizing Content
Organizing Your Paper's Major Sections
Organizing Your Paper's Subsections
Deciding Which Parts of Your Plan to Emphasize
About the Process: Writing a Draft:
Drafting Titles
Drafting Abstracts
Drafting Section Headings
Drafting Paragraphs
Drafting Sentences
Drafting Graphics
Citing References
Avoiding Plagiarism
Summing up and Stepping Ahead

Chapter 5: Revising Document Design, Global Structure, and Content
Chapter Introduction
About the Process: Revising for Matters of Document Design
About the Process: Revising for Matters of Global Structure
Disordered Sections 
Weak Global Unity
Mismatched Organizing Themes 
Redundancy of Content across Sections
About the Process: Revising for Matters of Content
Missing Content 
Ambiguous Content
Inaccurate Content
Content that Misses the Target on Key Rhetorical Goals
Content that Fails to Adequately Address Concerns of Audience
Saying Too Little or Too Much
Logical Fallacies in Scientific Arguments
Revising Graphics 
Excelling at Collegial Peer Review
Apply key methods of independent revision to guide your peer review
Take a goal-directed approach to generating feedback
Make it constructive criticism
Take on the role of writing teacher
Encourage dialogue
Avoid giving feedback based on personal preferences and pet peeves
Summing Up and Stepping Ahead

Chapter 6: Revising Paragraphs
Chapter Introduction
About the Process
Revising for Unity
Fractured Unity
Faded Unity
Frazzled Unity
Revising Topic Sentences
Missing Topic Sentences (when they're needed)
Misplaced Topic Sentences
Topic Sentences as Broken Promises
Vague Topic Sentences
Topic Sentences that are Too Specific
Revising for Coherence
Disordered Ideas
Missing Knowledge Links (when they're needed)
Oversights of Readers' Expectations 
Lack of Parallel Structure (when it's needed)
Revising for Cohesion
Missing Cohesion Cues
Misplaced Cohesion Cues
Unnecessary Cohesion Cues
Revising for Sentence Variety
Lack of Variety in Sentence Length
Lack of Variety in Sentence Beginnings
Lack of Variety in Grammatical Structure
Lack of Variety in Tone
Revising for Paragraph Design
Summing Up and Stepping Ahead 

Chapter 7: Revising Sentences
Chapter Introduction
About the Process 
Revising for Logic and Clarity
Illogical Expressions and Comparisons
Dangling Modifiers
Unclear Pronoun Reference
Illogical Tense Shifts
Problematic Shifts in Point of View
Misplaced and Awkward Phrasing
Inappropriate Emphasis
Revising for Style and Structure
Weak Subjects and Verbs
Misuses of Active Voice and Passive Voice
Unnecessary Jargon
Excessive Separation of Subjects and Verbs
Long Noun Trains
Lack of Parallel Structure
Revising Basic Grammar Errors
Sentence Fragments
Subject-Verb Disagreement
Noun-Pronoun Disagreement
Revising for Word Choice
Affect, Effect
As, Because, Since
Amount, Number
Compose, Comprise
Gender, Sex
Less, Few, Fewer,
Study, Experiment
That, Which
Than, Then
Who, Whom
Revising Punctuation and Mechanics
Problems Involving Commas 
Problems Involving Semicolons
Problems Involving Apostrophes
Problems Involving Colons
Problems Involving Hyphens
Problems Involving Quotation Marks
Problems Involving Capitalization
Revising for Biased and Inadvertently Offensive Language
Sexist Language
Age-Biased Language 
Biased Language Involving Ethnic and Racial Groups
Summing Up and Stepping Ahead

Chapter 8: Rhetorical Goals for Scientific Papers
Chapter Introduction
Rhetorical Goals for Introduction Sections
Rhetorical Goal 1: Present your research issue and explain its unresolved status.
Rhetorical Goal 2: Convince readers that your research issue is truly important and therefore worth resolving.
Rhetorical Goal 3: State your hypotheses and explain their rationale.
Rhetorical Goal 4: Introduce the novel and unique features of your research and writing project. 
Rhetorical Goal 5: Present the specific purposes of your research and writing project. 
Rhetorical Goal 6: Present your claims.
Rhetorical Goal 7: Describe the methods that you used, or plan to use, in carrying out your study.
Rhetorical Goal 8: Justify your use of selected methods.
Rhetorical Goals for Results Sections
Rhetorical Goal 9: Present the results that are essential for reaching and supporting your conclusions.
Rhetorical Goals for Discussion Sections
Rhetorical Goal 10: Briefly reintroduce the defining features of your study.
Rhetorical Goal 11: State your conclusions and support them with your study's results.
Rhetorical Goal 12: Relate your study's outcomes to those from previous studies on your research issue. 
Rhetorical Goal 13: Discuss the mechanisms that underlie your study's main results, and argue for the most plausible underlying mechanisms (when such an argument is warranted). 
Rhetorical Goal 14: Acknowledge significant methodological shortcomings to your study, and explain how they may have influenced its outcomes. 
Rhetorical Goal 15: Discuss the practical implications and applications of your study's results.
Rhetorical Goal 16: Propose future studies on your research issue.
Rhetorical Goals for the Body of Review Papers
Rhetorical Goal 17: Provide essential background knowledge about the studies, critical evaluations, and arguments that are central to your review paper.
Rhetorical Goal 18: Summarize the published studies on your topic or research issue.
Rhetorical Goal 19: Synthesize the published studies on your topic or research issue.
Rhetorical Goal 20: Explain and argue for the mechanisms underlying the results of the published studies you are reviewing. 
Rhetorical Goal 21: Convince readers to accept your original arguments.
Rhetorical Goals for the Conclusion Section of Review Papers
Rhetorical Goal 22: Briefly reiterate the key information, ideas, and arguments that were central to the body of your review paper. 
Rhetorical Goal 23: Suggest future directions and new studies on your paper's topic or research issue. 

Appendix A. Guidelines for Preparing and Delivering Oral Presentations and Poster Presentations

Appendix B: Glossary of Sentence Grammar Terms



About the author: 

Laurence Greene, PhD, taught scientific writing and integrative physiology at the University of Colorado at Boulder from 1993 to 2009. With funding from the National Science Foundation and the CU-Boulder Faculty Teaching Excellence Program, Dr. Greene developed discipline-specific scientific writing courses for undergraduate and graduate students. In 2009, Dr. Greene left academia to practice what he had preached as a writing instructor. He is currently a scientific and medical writer in South Florida.

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