Primary school English education focuses on literary works in the form of short stories, novels, poetry, and evaluates students through written essays analyzing common characteristics found in these works. What often goes untouched, even in university level courses, is the role of written communication in STEM fields.
When focusing on Human A&P, Organic Chemistry, participating in service learning, and remembering to eat, English Composition is a class that seems irrelevant; another core requirement. The nature of scientific writing is undoubtedly different from the narrative and even “research paper” methodology we are taught in English composition classes, but can inform important rules that one uses in science. First and foremost, the ability to be concise when writing. Primary scientific literature follows guidelines established by each individual journal. The article requirement for Nature cites an average of 3,000 words as being appropriate to fully explain the entirety of your research, and letters to Nature are not to exceed four pages. That is not a lot of wiggle room to engage in anything but relevant information.
With such a steep departure from the styles of writing that we commonly engage in as students, it remains critically important to understand fundamental concepts taught in composition courses. Pay attention to your audience, organize your writing in a logical manner, make your arguments crystal clear, and properly cite all of your source information.
What all of us science students need to consider is that strong writing skills carry high significance when looking for post-graduation employment. In researching jobs hiring around the country at all experience levels, one of the most common listed skill requirements is strong communication skills, both verbal and written. In such a competitive job market, demonstrating your exemplary writing abilities can set you apart from job applicants who have overlooked what seems to be an auxiliary skill rather than a primary one. I encourage you to not make the same mistake and to continuously improve your written abilities both in the classroom and out.
For many scientists, research is a passion and sharing that passion with the world is invaluable. Making a difference in how you write today could very well enable you to change your field and the world in the future.
Zee Molter is an Environmental Science major at JCU. This is her second year as a Writing Center consultant.