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MCC Daily Tribune Archive

All WRite: WAC in Practice

Writing Across the Curriculum in the Sciences

By Ryan Clemens (Chemistry/Geosciences)

Are you thinking about making your science course a writing intensive (WR) course? Not sure about how to do so or where to start?  At first, it may seem quite the challenge to implement WR in a science course; however, if you take a quick inventory of the writing assignments already in use in your course, you will likely find that the key components to making the course writing intensive are already in place.  In organic chemistry, as with most upper level science courses, we already had students writing lab reports and maintaining a laboratory notebook, which provided a solid foundation of writing.  In order to be certified as writing intensive, a course must have both formal and informal writing assignments. What is the difference between formal writing and informal writing? Formal writing is written to communicate ideas to another reader, while informal writing is written for the author. The vast majority of informal writing in organic chemistry takes place prior to and during the laboratory. 

The type of informal writing depends on the type of lab we are conducting. Some of the labs are more traditional while others are inquiry driven.  For the traditional lab experiments, students write a summary of the method and materials prior to the start of lab.  As with most informal writing, we only evaluate it for completeness. Students use the written procedure to perform the experiment and during the experiment they record observations and notes, which are used later to write the formal lab report.  For the inquiry driven experiments, students perform the experiment while also working through questions in which the students use writing to develop cognitive skills such as classification, summary, and compare and contrast, which are later re-worked into the formal writing assignment.  Each lab also requires a formal writing assignment. For the traditional experiments, a more in-depth lab report consisting of an introduction, procedure, experimental results and analysis, and conclusion is required.  The traditional formal reports typically average two to three pages in length. For the inquiry-driven experiments, students are typically required to write a short conclusion summarizing the experiment, usually two to three paragraphs in length.  All formal writing is evaluated for clarity, completeness, and organization with an emphasis placed on standards as defined by the discipline, including proper tense and narrative form (e.g., third person).

As you can see from the types of writing that we use in organic chemistry, making your course writing intensive does not have to be a monumental task.  It is likely that you already have many of the writing aspects in place and after some careful evaluation of the writing assignments you want to include, you should be well on your way to getting the course WR certified. For more information about WR certification and the application process, see the WAC webpage, If you have any questions about how to make your science course writing intensive, or if you’d like to see examples of assignments, please do not hesitate to contact me at <> .

**Note: This the first installment of a series of Trib articles written by members of the Writing Across the Curriculum steering committee. We’re calling this series All WRite: WAC in Practice, and the purpose is to showcase how faculty in different departments teach their courses as writing intensive.

If you are a WR-certified faculty member who would like to be featured in future installments (Fall 2016, for example), please contact Amy Burtner, Interim Coordinator for WAC, at <> . We would love to highlight your teaching!

Amy Burtner
Writing Across the Curriculum