Science Results

Preliminary Results

We surveyed syllabi for general education courses in the sciences at UNC, all of which require at least 10 pages of written work. Based on our survey, we found that students in science courses most often write:

  • Transactional and informational genres–proposals, reports, plans, presentations–as opposed to the primarily literary or journalistic genres taught in many first year composition programs
  • Investigative and inquiry-based genres: responses, notes, discussion questions, etc.
  • Genres that require students to investigate a question or hypothesis first, and then draw conclusions based on the research data — not genres requiring students to choose a thesis first, then defend it, as in first year composition genres.
  • Genres that require empirical research. Research in the context of these assignments usually meant conducting experiments, observations, etc. to generate new knowledge, as well as research based on secondary sources–versus first year composition “research papers” which usually define research in terms of using library sources to report on existing knowledge.
  • Specific genres, not genre types (i.e. lab report, or policy report, or field report, not “report”)–compared with general types often assigned in first year composition
  • Various types of reports–including research reports, lab reports, policy reports, and field reports–made up 1/3rd of all writing assignments

Shared Goals

We also surveyed the course objectives in science syllabi, identifying the following goals, many of which may also be shared by composition instructors. These are listed in order of frequency:

  • Application of research: applying research to broader contexts or other out-of-class situations
  • Research from literature: conducting research based on secondary sources (print or online)
  • Active lab or field research: conducting research, keeping notes, and generating data and computations while working in a  field or lab
  • Understanding methodology/epistemology: understanding and explaining theories and methodological practices in their field
  • Project planning: planning projects in advance, including research design, timelines, and careful topic choice
  • Group work: generating research and conducting analysis in teams
  • Analysis of public issues: examining and analyzing an issue or reading on an issue of interest to the public
  • Oral presentations: Presenting research before the class, individually or in groups
  • Analysis of data: Analyzing or interpreting raw data
  • Description vs. analysis: Differentiating between description and analysis, and using the correct skill at the appropriate time
  • Discussing readings: Discussing assigned readings in class or in written responses
  • Documenting sources: Documenting sources properly, using citation methods used in their field
  • Attending to audience: Evaluating the needs and expectations of a given audience, rather than addressing only the instructor
  • Posing questions: Formulating effective questions for research, class discussion, and/or for visiting speakers
  • Drafting: composing multiple drafts of an assignment and revising based on feedback
  • Engaging primary sources: interpreting primary sources in the discipline
  • Evaluating sources: Understanding how to recognize a scholarly, peer-reviewed, and credible source
  • Concision and clarity: Attending to specificity and space constraints for a written assignment
  • Interdisciplinary application: Recognizing the significance of their research in the contexts of multiple fields of study or communities of practice
  • Comparing/contrasting: Mastering effective techniques for comparing or contrasting given topics
  • Peer feedback: Giving and receiving feedback on compositions in groups or pairs
  • Role play: Taking on the roles of members of a discourse community to which they do not (yet) belong
  • Multimedia composition: Composing requiring a combination of media and/or visual rhetoric along with written work