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Writing in the Life Sciences

A Critical Thinking Approach

Laurence Greene

Publication Date - 13 January 2010

ISBN: 9780195170467

512 pages
7-1/2 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

A unique, critical-thinking approach to scientific writing that takes beginning writers step by step through the writing process


Practicing scientists know that the quality of their livelihood is strongly connected to the quality of their writing, and critical thinking is the most necessary and valuable tool for effectively generating and communicating scientific information. Writing in the Life Sciences is an innovative, process-based text that gives beginning writers the tools to write about science skillfully by taking a critical thinking approach. Laurence Greene emphasizes "writing as thinking" as he takes beginning writers through the important stages of planning, drafting, and revising their work. Throughout, he uses focused and systematic critical reading and thinking activities to help scientific writers develop the skills to effectively communicate. Each chapter addresses a particular writing task rather than a specific type of document. The book makes clear which tasks are important for all writing projects (i.e., audience analysis, attending to instructions) and which are unique to a specific writing project (rhetorical goals for each type of document). Ideal for Scientific Writing courses and writing-intensive courses in various science departments (e.g., Biology, Environmental Studies, etc.), this innovative, process-based text goes beyond explaining what scientific writing is and gives students the tools to do it skillfully.


  • Develops critical thinking and problem solving skills as students work through the many steps of scientific communication (i.e., planning, drafting, revising)
  • Offers clear explanations of the rhetorical goals of scientific writing
  • Highlights important questions and checklists through the process on inside front and back covers for ease of reference
  • Uses a variety of practical real-life examples and figures, as well as innovative process maps that outline the writing process, to illustrate the concepts throughout
  • Provides explicit instruction in the process of self- and peer review
  • Includes two appendices: the first walks students through preparing and delivering both oral and poster presentations, and the second is a glossary of sentence grammar terms

About the Author(s)

Laurence Greene, PhD, taught scientific writing and integrative physiology at the University of Colorado at Boulder from 1993 to 2009. With funding from the National Science Foundation and the CU-Boulder Faculty Teaching Excellence Program, Dr. Greene developed discipline-specific scientific writing courses for undergraduate and graduate students. In 2009, Dr. Greene left academia to practice what he had preached as a writing instructor. He is currently a scientific and medical writer in South Florida.

Table of Contents


    An Introduction to Writing in the Life Sciences
    Intended Audiences
    The Culture of Science and Scientific Communication
    Our Approaches to Successful Scientific Writing
    A Critical Thinking Approach
    A Process-based Approach
    A Problem Solving Approach
    A Goal-directed Approach
    An Audience-centered Approach
    A Discipline-specific and Content-rich Approach

    Chapter 1: Defining Your Writing Project
    Chapter Introduction
    About the Process
    Analyzing Your Writing Task
    Attending to Instructions, Guidelines, and Evaluation Criteria
    Seeking Clarification of Problematic Assignments and Directions
    Selecting a Topic and Refining a Research Issue
    Brainstorm topics that inspire your interest and enthusiasm
    Ask knowledgeable experts for advice on hot research issues
    Learn about hot research issues from the scientific literature
    Learn about hot research issues on the Internet
    Use your task analysis to refine your research issue
    Add a novel twist to your selected research issue
    Check ahead for the availability of scientific literature on selected research issues
    Make sure that you have sufficient time and resources to learn the science on your research issue
    Learning about Scientific Discourse Conventions
    Research Papers
    Review Papers
    Research Proposals
    Analyzing Your Audiences
    Key Questions for Audience Analysis
    Taking Notes on Your Audience Analysis
    Searching for Scientific Literature
    Evaluating the Credibility of Published Scientific Literature
    Searching for Peer-reviewed Journal Articles: Research Papers and Review Papers
    Searching for Scientific Books
    Searching for Scientific Literature on Web Sites
    Reading to Learn Science
    Solving Comprehension Problems
    Reading and Taking Notes on Published Research Papers
    Summing Up and Stepping Ahead

    Chapter 2: Developing a Goal-based Plan
    Chapter Introduction
    About the Process
    Setting the Framework for Your Goal-based Plan
    Distinguishing between Just-Okay Goals and Powerful Rhetorical Goals
    Devising Strategies for Accomplishing Rhetorical Goals
    The Structure of a Goal-based Plan
    Taking Goal-based Planning to Heart
    Relying Your Experience in Scientific Writing
    Adopting and Adapting Conventional Guidelines
    Using Model Papers
    Applying Your Task and Audience Analyses
    Using the Helicopter Thinking Method
    Starting to Draft
    Revising Your Goal-based Plan
    Check for whether your rhetorical goals are appropriate for the major sections in which you have placed them
    Check your rhetorical goals for their content-generating potential
    Check your rhetorical goals for their audience-affecting potential
    Check your strategies for their detail and depth
    Check your strategies for whether they are logically related to their rhetorical goals
    Summing Up and Stepping Ahead

    Chapter 3: Generating Content
    Chapter Introduction
    About the Process
    Solo and Collaborative Brainstorming
    Solo Brainstorming
    Collaborative Brainstorming
    Reading for Relevance
    Interpreting Study Data
    Interpreting the Statistical Significance of Study Data
    Interpreting the Practical Significance of Study Data
    Synthesizing Study Outcomes
    Focusing on Rhetorical Goals that Require Synthesis
    Creating a Summary Chart to Guide Synthesis
    Synthesizing Studies with Similar Conclusions
    Synthesizing Studies with Contrasting Conclusions
    Constructing Convincing Scientific Arguments
    Setting up the Structure of a Scientific Argument
    Evaluating Published Scientific Arguments
    Evaluating Research Methods
    Summing up and Stepping Ahead

    Chapter 4: Organizing Content and Writing a Draft
    Chapter Introduction
    About the Process: Organizing Content
    Choosing a Design for Your Organizing Plan
    Taking a Principled Approach to Organizing Content
    Organizing Your Paper's Major Sections
    Organizing Your Paper's Subsections
    Deciding Which Parts of Your Plan to Emphasize
    About the Process: Writing a Draft:
    Drafting Titles
    Drafting Abstracts
    Drafting Section Headings
    Drafting Paragraphs
    Drafting Sentences
    Drafting Graphics
    Citing References
    Avoiding Plagiarism
    Summing up and Stepping Ahead

    Chapter 5: Revising Document Design, Global Structure, and Content
    Chapter Introduction
    About the Process: Revising for Matters of Document Design
    About the Process: Revising for Matters of Global Structure
    Disordered Sections
    Weak Global Unity
    Mismatched Organizing Themes
    Redundancy of Content across Sections
    About the Process: Revising for Matters of Content
    Missing Content
    Ambiguous Content
    Inaccurate Content
    Content that Misses the Target on Key Rhetorical Goals
    Content that Fails to Adequately Address Concerns of Audience
    Saying Too Little or Too Much
    Logical Fallacies in Scientific Arguments
    Revising Graphics
    Excelling at Collegial Peer Review
    Apply key methods of independent revision to guide your peer review
    Take a goal-directed approach to generating feedback
    Make it constructive criticism
    Take on the role of writing teacher
    Encourage dialogue
    Avoid giving feedback based on personal preferences and pet peeves
    Summing Up and Stepping Ahead

    Chapter 6: Revising Paragraphs
    Chapter Introduction
    About the Process
    Revising for Unity
    Fractured Unity
    Faded Unity
    Frazzled Unity
    Revising Topic Sentences
    Missing Topic Sentences (when they're needed)
    Misplaced Topic Sentences
    Topic Sentences as Broken Promises
    Vague Topic Sentences
    Topic Sentences that are Too Specific
    Revising for Coherence
    Disordered Ideas
    Missing Knowledge Links (when they're needed)
    Oversights of Readers' Expectations
    Lack of Parallel Structure (when it's needed)
    Revising for Cohesion
    Missing Cohesion Cues
    Misplaced Cohesion Cues
    Unnecessary Cohesion Cues
    Revising for Sentence Variety
    Lack of Variety in Sentence Length
    Lack of Variety in Sentence Beginnings
    Lack of Variety in Grammatical Structure
    Lack of Variety in Tone
    Revising for Paragraph Design
    Summing Up and Stepping Ahead

    Chapter 7: Revising Sentences
    Chapter Introduction
    About the Process
    Revising for Logic and Clarity
    Illogical Expressions and Comparisons
    Dangling Modifiers
    Unclear Pronoun Reference
    Illogical Tense Shifts
    Problematic Shifts in Point of View
    Misplaced and Awkward Phrasing
    Inappropriate Emphasis
    Revising for Style and Structure
    Weak Subjects and Verbs
    Misuses of Active Voice and Passive Voice
    Unnecessary Jargon
    Excessive Separation of Subjects and Verbs
    Long Noun Trains
    Lack of Parallel Structure
    Revising Basic Grammar Errors
    Sentence Fragments
    Subject-Verb Disagreement
    Noun-Pronoun Disagreement
    Revising for Word Choice
    Affect, Effect
    As, Because, Since
    Amount, Number
    Compose, Comprise
    Gender, Sex
    Less, Few, Fewer,
    Study, Experiment
    That, Which
    Than, Then
    Who, Whom
    Revising Punctuation and Mechanics
    Problems Involving Commas
    Problems Involving Semicolons
    Problems Involving Apostrophes
    Problems Involving Colons
    Problems Involving Hyphens
    Problems Involving Quotation Marks
    Problems Involving Capitalization
    Revising for Biased and Inadvertently Offensive Language
    Sexist Language
    Age-Biased Language
    Biased Language Involving Ethnic and Racial Groups
    Summing Up and Stepping Ahead

    Chapter 8: Rhetorical Goals for Scientific Papers
    Chapter Introduction
    Rhetorical Goals for Introduction Sections
    Rhetorical Goal 1: Present your research issue and explain its unresolved status.
    Rhetorical Goal 2: Convince readers that your research issue is truly important and therefore worth resolving.
    Rhetorical Goal 3: State your hypotheses and explain their rationale.
    Rhetorical Goal 4: Introduce the novel and unique features of your research and writing project.
    Rhetorical Goal 5: Present the specific purposes of your research and writing project.
    Rhetorical Goal 6: Present your claims.
    Rhetorical Goal 7: Describe the methods that you used, or plan to use, in carrying out your study.
    Rhetorical Goal 8: Justify your use of selected methods.
    Rhetorical Goals for Results Sections
    Rhetorical Goal 9: Present the results that are essential for reaching and supporting your conclusions.
    Rhetorical Goals for Discussion Sections
    Rhetorical Goal 10: Briefly reintroduce the defining features of your study.
    Rhetorical Goal 11: State your conclusions and support them with your study's results.
    Rhetorical Goal 12: Relate your study's outcomes to those from previous studies on your research issue.
    Rhetorical Goal 13: Discuss the mechanisms that underlie your study's main results, and argue for the most plausible underlying mechanisms (when such an argument is warranted).
    Rhetorical Goal 14: Acknowledge significant methodological shortcomings to your study, and explain how they may have influenced its outcomes.
    Rhetorical Goal 15: Discuss the practical implications and applications of your study's results.
    Rhetorical Goal 16: Propose future studies on your research issue.
    Rhetorical Goals for the Body of Review Papers
    Rhetorical Goal 17: Provide essential background knowledge about the studies, critical evaluations, and arguments that are central to your review paper.
    Rhetorical Goal 18: Summarize the published studies on your topic or research issue.
    Rhetorical Goal 19: Synthesize the published studies on your topic or research issue.
    Rhetorical Goal 20: Explain and argue for the mechanisms underlying the results of the published studies you are reviewing.
    Rhetorical Goal 21: Convince readers to accept your original arguments.
    Rhetorical Goals for the Conclusion Section of Review Papers
    Rhetorical Goal 22: Briefly reiterate the key information, ideas, and arguments that were central to the body of your review paper.
    Rhetorical Goal 23: Suggest future directions and new studies on your paper's topic or research issue.

    Appendix A. Guidelines for Preparing and Delivering Oral Presentations and Poster Presentations

    Appendix B: Glossary of Sentence Grammar Terms



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