ScWRL brings together students, faculty, educational strategists, specialist science writers, writing centre professionals and tutors to provide students with the resources they need to learn – and educators the resources they need to teach – the most important skills associated with good science writing.
Since the onset of the project in 2012, ScWRL has focused on developing these freely available resources to address the skills that students find especially difficult to master, based on student feedback and rigorous assessment of scientific written work.
Research has shown that extensive writing practice helps students learn the writing genre of the discipline and consolidate their understanding of the subject matter. Within STEM specifically, integrating scientific writing into undergraduate studies not only improves writing skills, but also improves scientific literacy, reasoning, conceptual understanding, and scientific argumentation, all of which are important parts of being a successful science student.
While there are many excellent general online writing resources, ScWRL found no comprehensive examples tailored to science writing. In response, a multi-year collaboration between the Faculty of Science and the Centre for Writing and Scholarly Communication led to the development of Science Writing Resources for Learning, a suite of open science-specific writing resources. This project fills a vital need for open, curated, science-specific writing resources.
- Help students become better science writers and educators become better science writing teachers.
- Encourage students and faculty alike to consider multiple formats for science communication including for both specialist and non-specialist audiences (via technical reports, blogs, oral presentations, podcasts, videos and newspaper-style articles).
- Encourage students to think critically and develop logical argumentation skills.
- Evaluate the impact that our resources are having on student writing skills in undergraduate science classes at UBC and other institutions.
Outcomes and impact
- UBC students using discipline-specific online resources when they need help with a science writing question (e.g. via homework activities and pre-class preparation).
- Faculty members and teaching assistants using these resources as support for communication assignments in their courses.
- Students and educators at other institutions using the resources. In fact, anecdotal evidence and comments on our YouTube channel suggest that students and educators at other institutions at a variety of levels are using these resources.
- UBC students understanding that science writing differs from writing in other disciplines, and being able to use these resources to easily understand those differences.
- Students (and student support workers/peer leaders) have a resource they can refer others to for questions and concerns with science writing.
The science-writing resources include science-focused lessons on writing topics such as using the active and passive voice, concise writing, transition words, minimizing jargon, descriptive and comparative techniques, summarizing, paraphrasing, and more. Each topic has pre-class readings with a short online quiz, in-class activities, and an online post-class module with additional exercises and a quiz.
ScWRL generated a collection of short and humorous science writing videos that can be used as a hook for the writing topics--the most popular video has nearly 200,000 views. The team collects data on website and YouTube channel visits. In addition, a series of podcasts is available for instructors about incorporating writing into the classroom.
Additional related resources are available such as guides on essay writing, literature searches, writing plan development. ScWRL created many resources relevant to writing for non-specialist audiences (e.g. how to write in a journalistic style, that could be applied to blogs and other multimedia formats) as well as general grammar and mechanics tips and a universal citation tool.
Recognizing the time commitments facing educators, the team developed comprehensive materials (lesson plans, PowerPoint presentations, handouts, marking guides, and pre- and post-class homework assignments with sample answers and suggested grading rubrics) to make it easier for such educators to incorporate writing-skills lessons and workshops into their courses. These materials can be accessed and downloaded after inputting a password once educator (non-student) status has been validated.
While originally developed for use in our courses, the resources are freely available under a Creative Commons license. All resources can be downloaded in an editable format so they can be tailored to specific needs.
With science communication expertise within the team, Skylight led the development of a science communication course at UBC (Communicating Science, SCIE 300), during which the team identified the need for science-specific writing resources. The team also contributed to both the vision and strategy for the project, ensuring they reflected Faculty of Science goals, and were achieved. Skylight’s has kept ScWRL up-to-date with the needs of students and faculty in SCIE 113, SCIE 300 and other communication-heavy courses.
- Science Communication Flipped: Teaching and Learning Resources for Improving Science Writing, Online Educa Berlin, Berlin, Germany, December 2014
- Science Writing Resources for Learning, Western Conference on Science Education, Western University, July 2015