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Course Description 312--Writing in Biology

Satisfies Junior Year Writing requirement for Biology majors. Students write and revise short papers on subjects likely to be encountered by biologists.

The goal of my section is to prepare students to confidently write, format, and submit a research manuscript for publication. Much of the work in the course is focused on writing from experience, rather than from sources, and composing text appropriately for each section of a research paper. Each hands-on project builds upon the skills developed in the previous project: a Methods Project leads to a Research Proposal and finally culminates in a whole-class Research Project. In each project, students actually conduct some research, usually related to local ecology, and write a paper in a format that would be suitable for submission to a peer-reviewed journal. In addition, this section brings a focus on visual representation of scientific information: composing multi-panel scientific figures and creating a poster, rather than a manuscript, for the final presentation.


Hofmann, A.H. 2016. Writing in the Biological Sciences. 2nd Ed. Oxford University Press, New York. 290pp. ISBN# 978-0-19-024560-3

Copies are available via Amazon through SPIRE.

Class Meetings

The course is scheduled for Friday from 1:25 - 3:45pm in Morrill Sci. Ctr. (III) rm 317. I am planning that, after the first class meeting, we will meet in the BCRC (Morrill 311 III). For an overview of the semester's events, including meeting locations, consult the Course Schedule.

The course website will be at this URL:

Prior to coming to class, students should consult the appropriate week's course Preparation Page, which will review the activities to be completed before class. The preparation pages, generally posted by Monday, will provide specific assignments and activities to be completed before class.

Course Structure

Write, write, write! The goal of the course is to give students practice writing. Writing includes weekly unstructured writing (journal writing and perfect paragraphs), individual projects (Methods and Reflective Essay), as well as group projects (Research Proposal and Research Project). Each of these is described on the Projects page.

I encourage you to do all of your writing using a text editor and to keep local backup copies of all of your writing, against the event of technical problems. I strongly encourage you to become comfortable using a text editor, rather than a word processor for everyday writing. Please consider writing your submissions -- all of the words -- and then transfering them into something else to post or format.

For Macintosh computers, I recommend using TextWrangler. This is currently a free program that requires Mac OS X.

For Windows computers, I recommend using Notepad++. Notepad++ is Free Software.

For Linux computers, I recommend using vim. Vim is Free Software.

I highly recommend posting all of the text you generate for rough drafts as journal writing.

For each project, once a team has been formed, I will create a Google Doc for the team to use for their final paper.


Student performance will be assessed on each of components of the course plus a score on Class Participation. For each project, a detailed rubric will be provided that explains how the project will be assessed. Grades will be assigned using the table below.

Many of the activities in the class depend on comprehensive preparation before class and enthusiastic participation during class. For that reason, I am reserving 100 points for class participation to encourage you to come to class prepared and participate fully in the class activities.



Weekly Journal Entries


Perfect Paragraphs


Methods Project (Individual)


Research Proposal (Group)


Research Project (Group)


Reflective Essay (Individual)


Class Participation (Individual)


Total points possible


Grades will be assigned using the following table:

Letter Grade

Numeric Score





















Academic Honesty

Students are expected to uphold the highest principles of academic honesty as outlined in the UMass Code of Conduct.


All laboratory procedures will be conducted with strict attention to accepted safety practices. Students will be provided with copies of safety guidelines during the first laboratory exercise.


Any student in this course who has a disability that prevents the fullest expression of their abilities should contact me as soon as possible, so that we can discuss class requirements.