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Writing Assignments: Summaries of Scientific Articles for Distinct Audiences - BIOS 202: Introductory Biology

Module by: The Cain Project in Engineering and Professional Communication. E-mail the author

Summary: This handout was used to assign two papers in an Introductory Biology course at Rice University. Each assigned paper required the student to find and summarize a primary research article on a biological topic. The defined audience and purpose of each summary differ; in the first paper, the student writes to an R&D scientist about the use of a scientific product, and in the second, he/she writes to an incoming Rice freshman about recent work in a laboratory. The assignments include grading criteria and assessment sheets that have been used by writing mentors to grade the papers. Even in the absence of writing mentors in a course, the criteria and assessment sheets are helpful to the course instructor as well as to the students because they help define expectations for the papers.

Instructions for Paper 1

Due date: ___________

Length: 400-500 words (not including references); use your word processor to count words and include word count at the top of your paper

References and Format: see requirements below

Source: Go to Fondren library or to Pubmed (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/) and find a current research article (not a review. A review does not include a Methods section and does not present previously unpublished research. Instead, a review summarizes multiple articles about a current research topic. Reviews are typically labeled “minireview” or “review” at the top of the article. If you are unsure whether your article is a review, contact your writing mentor.) on a cellular or molecular aspect of a human disease that interests you. Acquire the article by downloading it from the web (Fondren’s electronic journals are available at http://www.rice.edu/fondren/collections/electr/indexes.html). Alternatively, you may photocopy the paper (note that current journals are kept in the current journals stacks).

The article you choose must have a publication date on or after August 1, 2006 and come from one of the following journals:

  • Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA
  • Cell
  • Molecular Cell
  • Developmental Cell
  • Neuron
  • Immunity
  • Journal of Immunology
  • Current Biology
  • Nature Biotechnology
  • Nature Cell Biology
  • Nature Neuroscience
  • Journal of Cell Biology
  • Journal of Biological Chemistry
  • Journal of Clinical Investigation
  • Journal of Experimental Medicine

Assignment: For this assignment, imagine that you are an author on the article that you have chosen. Read the methods section of your article carefully, and identify a biotechnology company acknowledged as the source of chemicals/materials, equipment, or service (e.g., DNA sequencing) used in at least one of the experiments.

A research and development (R&D) scientist from that company has asked you to report on current research using the company’s product. The R&D scientist would like to report this research to his/her colleagues. This scientist (the audience for your report) has a Ph.D. in the biological sciences but is not aware of your research area.

Write a 400-500 word report describing your article to this scientist. Be sure to include the following:

  • A description of the purpose and specific aims of the article. What did you and your coauthors intend to do? Why did you do it? How did you do it? (You don’t need to elaborate on methods, but you need to communicate the purpose of the experiments).
  • An identification of how the company’s product was used (for example, to a Clontech scientist, you might say, “We used Clontech TALON resin to purify the His-tagged protein used in these experiments”).
  • A well-organized explanation of how the study’s results lead to its conclusions—in other words, the main line of argument in the paper.

Instructions for Paper 2

Due date: ___________

Length: 800-1000 words (not including references)

References and Format: see requirements below

Source: Use the requirements for Paper 1 to select an article for this assignment. If you wish, the paper you choose may relate to the topic you read about for Paper 1.

Assignment: Imagine you are an author on the article that you selected. Over the summer, a new high school graduate will be working in your lab before enrolling at Rice this fall as a biology major. The student has no prior research experience. Your lab technician has just emailed a collection of articles published in the lab for the student to read. You would like to ease the student’s transition into your lab by familiarizing the student with the article you selected, as it will pertain most closely to the student’s upcoming work in your lab.

Write a paper summarizing and explaining to that student the key points in the article you selected. Assume that the student will have had no previous experience reading technical articles of this sort. Pay particular attention to the definitions and background your audience will need as you include the following:

  • A description of the purpose and specific aims of the article. What did you and your coauthors intend to do? Why did you do it? How did you do it? (You don’t need to elaborate on methods, but you need to communicate the purpose of the experiments.)
  • A well-organized explanation of how the study’s results lead to its conclusions—in other words, the main line of argument in the paper.

Requirements for both papers

Plagiarism: Do not copy any portion of a paper into your essays. Plagiarism interferes with the main purpose of having you prepare these papers, which is to get you to synthesize what you have read and then explain it and analyze it IN YOUR OWN WORDS.

References: The first time you refer to your research article, be sure to parenthetically reference it using the author’s/authors’ name(s) and publication date, as shown below:

A recent study found that doing things rather than memorizing trivia helps educate students (Smith and Jones, 2002).

At the end of your paper, provide a complete citation, giving authors, year, article title, journal name, journal volume, and page numbers, as shown below:

Rosin-Bouffay, C., Jang, W., Caprette, D.R., and Gomer, R.H. (2000) A precise group size in Dictyostelium is generated by a cell-counting factor modulating cell-cell adhesion. Molecular Cell 6, 953-959.

Format:

  • Hand in a stapled printed copy in class (see late policy below)
  • Include at the top of the page:
    1. your name
    2. Bios 202
    3. date
    4. word count (use your word processing program)
  • Provide a copy of the article stapled to the back of your paper.

Late paper policy: For each day the paper is late (submitted within the 24 hour period after 11 a.m. on the due date), you will lose 8 points.

Grading criteria: Include a grading sheet so that you can see what criteria will be used by the writing mentors in grading your papers.

Meeting with a writing mentor: If you need help while writing your papers, peer writing mentors are available for individual meetings. A list of mentors will be provided in class. Contact your assigned mentor if you need assistance at any time in the writing process.

For last-minute help, one or two mentors will also staff the Meyer Conference Room in the RMC from 8 to 10 p.m. on the night before each assignment is due.

Figure 1: Grading Criteria for Both Papers, Assessment Sheet for Paper 1 and Assessment Sheet for Paper 2
To view Grading Criteria and Assessment Sheets
Media File: Grading Criteria(149).pdf

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