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Writing in the Discipline


Writing in the Discipline

1. In what ways is writing important to your profession?

Writing is critical in both chemistry and physics, both in the research process itself and to communicate scientific findings to a wider audience. Writing is important throughout the research process to keep an accurate record of the motivation, design, results and conclusions of an experiment. After the experiment is complete, it is critical that the findings be communicated to the wider community. This could be other scientists who will build on these findings, government or private employers who will use them to guide policy or to design technology or to the general public to help them make informed decisions on scientific issues.

2. Which courses are designated as satisfying the WID requirement by your department? Why these courses?


CHEM 205/206: Organic Chemistry
CHEM 404: Analytical Chemistry OR CHEM 416: Environmental Analytical Chemistry
CHEM 407: Physical Chemistry Lab

These courses progressively build the skills students need to keep accurate lab notebooks and write formal lab reports.


PHYS 313: Junior Lab
PHYS 413: Senior lab

In these courses, students do a series of experiments and are expected to keep an accurate lab notebook. In Junior Lab, students are introduced to the various sections of the formal lab report throughout the semester and learn what information should be included in each section. In Senior Lab, students learn to out all the pieces together to produce a complete formal lab report.

3. What forms or genres of writing will students learn and practice in your department’s WID courses? Why these genres?​

In both programs we have chosen to primarily focus on two genres of writing. These genres are related to the two purposes of writing in physics and chemistry: to record the research process and to communicate scientific findings to a wider audience.

For the first purpose, we focus on the keeping of a lab notebook. A lab notebook is not just a compilation of data, but a narrative of the entirety of the experiment. It is not only a document kept for personal use, but can also have legal, financial and ethical implications. The keeping of an accurate and properly formatted lab notebook is a critical skill for a scientist.

For the second purpose, we have chosen to focus on the formal lab report. This format is similar in many ways to that of professional journal articles in physics and chemistry. These types of articles are the main way scientists communicate their findings to the broader scientific community.

4. What kinds of teaching practices will students encounter in your department’s WID courses?

Students will get explicit instruction and feedback on keeping a lab notebook and writing formal lab reports. This includes the correct format for these genres, how to use scientific literature as a resource, how to correctly present results and draw conclusions and how to correctly cite scientific literature. For the formal lab reports, students do multiple drafts of the reports and receive feedback both from their instructors and in peer review.

5. When they’ve completed your department’s WID requirement, what should students know and be able to do with writing?​

Once students have satisfied out WID requirement, they should be able to

  • keep an accurate and correctly formatted lab notebook.
  • write a correctly formatted formal lab report. This includes
    • knowing the purpose of each section of the report (abstract, introduction, experimental methods, etc.) and including the correct information in these sections.
    • use data to support scientific conclusions.
    • communicate to other scientists in the discipline as well as to a broader audience.
    • correctly cite work from scientific literature.

Page last updated: February 17, 2021