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3030 - Writing on Science & Society Course Descriptions

The following list is alphabetical, by instructor's last name. Course offerings below are for the Fall 2016 semester. Check the current Course Schedule.

This course has 2 primary goals: 1) to enhance your ability to make persuasive scientific/technical arguments for general readers, and 2) to enhance your ability to write for academic readers in your specific disciplines.  To these ends, the course will be divided into 2 parts.  In the first half of the course we’ll study Aristotelian principles of persuasion and focus on the challenges of doing scientific and technical writing for a lay audience that might not trust scientific and technical evidence as much as you do.  This part of this course is topics-oriented and past foci have included energy policy, bioethics, NASA policy, and human health and welfare.  In the second half of the course each student will research and rhetorically analyze the academic writing of his/her discipline, paying special attention to stylistic conventions and argumentative technique.  We’ll conduct class in both discussion and workshop formats.  Among other assignments, you will compose an in-class essay, two brief argument papers, an analysis of disciplinary rhetoric, and a proposal.
Science, at its heart, is an act of creation. It creates new ways of looking at and understanding our diverse social order… and, at times, attempts to create entirely new societies and worlds. It attempts to create utopia, that supposedly perfect world of perfect science. But, what are the limits of science? When does the scientific creation of a utopian society turn deadly, and actually morph into a dystopia? Can science be trusted? Can it build our ideal societies? As a class, these questions will be our foundation as we investigate science as a force for social creation. More specifically, we will study the utopian tradition from its ancient roots to its current manifestations, all the time analyzing how science is being used (or abused) in each unique social order. Our investigations will coincide with our production of a wide variety of genres. You will write a report on a specific utopian text, and present this report to the class, craft a business letter, an argumentative essay, and a memo, until ultimately fashioning an exhaustive prospectus for a utopian society, replete with a detailed annotated bibliography. This final project will be your chance to actually build a utopian, scientific society, and you will present your findings to the class in a creative, multimodal manner.

Writing on Science and Society is a second-level writing course that expands and refines students’ writing, critical thinking, and communication skills. Topics such as rhetoric, argument, ethics, science communication, and current social issues that also contain scientific, technological, economic, and political dimensions, are the grounding for our semester-long practice of writing and rhetoric. This course introduces, analyzes, and guides the production of various texts in important genres of scientific and professional writing, and aims to prepare students for the writing situations and critical-thinking challenges that they will encounter as professionals and citizens.

The fruits of scientific investigation carry the authority of being verifiable and reproducible but their acceptance depends significantly on the willingness of people to adopt the same point of view towards nature that scientists have and the investigative methods that scientists use. The fact that many segments of modern societies reject or question scientific facts points to a disconnect between the ethos of scientific culture and the populations to which it communicates its findings. At the interface of these two cultures is the scientist as communicator. In this course you will discover and develop competence in the genres of scientific communication that promote the advancement of the understanding of science. You will explore your own strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and develop skills that will help you recognize the needs of the various audiences of science that, when met, are most likely to promote clear understanding and acceptance of scientific developments and discoveries. Through this process you will begin to develop your ideas about your role as a scientist in the public sphere.

As a future professional in the sciences or engineering, you will be expected to write and speak clearly and convincingly to audiences not only in but also, and especially, outside your field. The purpose of this course is to provide you the opportunity to practice techniques for communicating analytically and persuasively, to further develop your creative- and critical-thinking skills, and to consider how your field relates to other fields and to the civic arena. As a way of pursuing all of these objectives, you will complete a service-learning project for which you will tutor local high school students for a total of 10-12 hours in math, the sciences, or a variety of other subjects. (The hour requirement depends on where you tutor.) We will use this experience to examine, among other things, the relationship among doing, teaching, and learning a field; the sociological, political, and institutional factors shaping education in math and the sciences; and the various rhetorical norms involved in scientific pedagogy and practice.

Most of the material we will work with in class will be produced by you, discipuli extraordinaria. You will collaborate with one another, write with one another, teach one another. Count on staying busy each and every class period. In addition, we will analyze the characteristics of persuasive writing about and in the sciences and education for a variety of audiences. The course will include brief units on logic and visual rhetoric. At various points in the semester we will discuss the craft of writing—e.g., writing strong, beautiful sentences that capture audiences, filling them with awe and admiration and wonder. You will complete a number of informal writing assignments. You will write two professional career documents: a personal statement and an exit message, both addressed to your service-learning partners. In groups you will write children’s books for local first graders. You will write fallacious dialogues. You will create a series of posters that teach the CU campus community about Shakespearean-era science. And you will put together an annotated bibliography that will prepare you for your final project: a piece of writing that uses book arts to share research in math or the sciences with a public audience.

This course focuses on arguments and audiences as they relate to science in modern society. We will investigate the rhetorical dynamics of scientific controversy: how scientists establish ethos, how they argue with one another, and how their rhetoric changes when they speak to the lay public in policy debates. We will tackle the issue of who is qualified to speak about science, and what ethical and rhetorical issues are faced by those who write about it. We will analyze the rhetoric of pseudoscience and those who battle it.

Over the course of the semester, you will write in several of the genres most likely to be required of you in a science or engineering career, including personal statements and CVs; letters of inquiry and proposals for funding; conference paper abstracts and Powerpoint presentations; and blog posts to disseminate scientific research to the non-professional public. Students with outside funding opportunities in mind will be encouraged to pursue them via the course assignments.


There is a disconnect between what we know as fact in the sciences and the response from politicians and the public. We will explore many of these issues including vaccinations and global warming. There will be three major writing assignments, one collaboration and two oral presentations. Students will give news updates on topics of interest in the sciences and engineering. The focus will be on peer reviewed research and critical thinking. The skills learned will help with graduate school exams as well as job applications. This is a discussion based class and work will be peer critiqued. In additional to research papers, the writing will include professional elements including memos and abstracts. All the reading appeared in “The Best American Science Writing” and will be available free on D2L.


This course asks the questions: How is science communicated in the public sphere and how is it used rhetorically in discussions about environmental, social, economic, and political issues? We’ll focus on representations of science in news media, in artistic/cultural works, in public policy, and in industry.

Because the ways we perceive and choose to interpret science significantly shapes our understanding of our world and how it works, the work of this course will better prepare you to be more savvy, more informed, and more intentional readers and writers so that you can engage in the important political, environmental, economic, and social challenges of our time. Over the course of the semester, we’ll look at various texts to explore these questions:
  • How is scientific knowledge rhetorically constructed/presented?
  • In what ways is science a form of economic, political, material, and social power?
  • Whose science counts?
  • How do we navigate/interpret contradictory scientific accounts?
As a semester-long project, you will write ONE of the following: an essay on science, technology and public policy; a preliminary draft of an honors thesis; a post-UROP paper; a UROP, Capstone or other research proposal; an engineering or product licensing proposal; a curriculum reform proposal. You will choose a topic and genre, and then compile an annotated bibliography. Midway through the semester you will begin drafting your paper. At the end of the term, you will convert your paper into a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation. While you are doing preliminary research for your project, you will write a brief essay on ONE of the following topics: research ethics, professional ethics, creativity in science or engineering, truth in science, the social effects of technology. This essay will prepare you for your term project by teaching you how to define terms, clarify unstated assumptions, present evidence in support of an assertion and respond to likely objections.