The Science Writing Resources for Learning (ScWRL) project brings together students, faculty, educational strategists, specialist science writers, writing centre professionals and tutors at the University of British Columbia with a combined interest in science communication.
Specifically, the team wishes 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, the team has focused on developing these resources to address the skills that students find especially difficult to master, based on student feedback and rigorous assessment of scientific written work.
To read about individual ScWRL team members and other contributors, please view our bios on the People page. To read where we have been showcasing our project and the cache of resources we have developed, view this page.
The primary motivation for developing resources to help budding science writers stems from the fact that science differs from other disciplines. As a result, writers need to use different skills to communicate scientific information effectively. Science is something we all encounter in our everyday lives, so being ‘scientifically literate’ should help us all make better life choices. For example, science is a discipline that deals with uncertainty, yet it is used as the deciding factor in many important governmental decisions on a daily basis. As three more examples among a great many, science writers must also know how to deal with jargon, produce effective visual materials to accompany their text, and cite trustworthy sources in a very different style to other disciplines.
The driving force behind our project is the desire to help students become better science writers, and educators to become better science writing teachers. Specifically, our goals are to:
- Develop high quality, science-specific writing resources for students, and associated teaching guides and materials for instructors
- Use these resources to teach students how to address 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
- Develop this website to share these resources with students and instructors, free of charge, on a global scale
From the beginning, we recognized the increasing interest in science from outside the discipline itself, and, as a result, our resources are not restricted to scholarly writing; while we have developed guides to help with literature searches, writing plan development, and basic grammar and mechanics, we have also 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). On a related note, we have produced a number of animated Grammar Squirrel videos (housed on the UBC Science Writing YouTube channel) to reinforce the points that are made in these written resources. Additionally, these writing skills are tested in voluntary quick quizzes.
We have created freely available resources for students and educators. Our student materials were developed with high-school and undergraduates in mind, but these can be accessed by anyone with an interest in improving their science writing skills, and have applications outside their primary target group. These resources include written guides, multimedia videos, quick quizzes, handy hints and links to further reading.
We recognize the time commitments facing educators, and therefore developed comprehensive materials (including lesson plans, PowerPoint presentations, handouts, marking guides, and pre- and post-class homework assignments) 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.
We thank the UBC Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund for support in the 2012/13, 2013/14, and 2014/15 academic years, as well as the UBC Science Centre for Learning and Teaching and the UBC Centre for Teaching, Learning & Technology for in-kind contributions. We also thank the students and instructors who gave invaluable feedback and road-tested our materials and resources.