Syllabus for Fall 2000: Advanced Writing: On the Natural Sciences

English 302 N07: Monday, 4:30 - 7:10 pm, Krug Hall 242

English 302 N08: Monday, 7:20 - 10:00 pm, Enterprise Hall 275

Dr Ellen Moody. My homepage address:

Advanced Writing: The Natural Sciences:

This is an advanced writing course. In some ways it may remind you of the introductory college freshmen writing course you took a few semesters ago. We will talk about how to write plainly and clearly, about the ways of constructing arguments, about how to synthesize materials to compose a research paper, about punctuation, documentation -- about, in short, everything we can think of having to do with writing essays; and we will read and discuss full-length books, stories, and essays.

The course will, however, differ from the introductory course in that you will be asked to use these skills to read books by scientists and about various aspects of science or the practice of a specific discipline. Since three English courses constitute the only prerequisite for this course, our perspective and discussions cannot be specialized or narrowly-focused on any single science or group of sciences. The background knowledge assumed is that of the typical generally-educated reader who has attained Junior status in a senior college. Richard Feynman's satirical autobiographies and essays will enable us to examine how science ought to be, and how it really is, practiced in our society. Our two will enable us to examine how Darwin came to his ground-breaking theory of natural selection, the cornerstone of sciences directly important to us today, among them immunology. In Edward Golub's The Limits of Medicine we will then discuss and write about the history of medicine as a science, though from a sociological standpoint: we will see how the modern applied technologies of medical science emerged from new attitudes of mind that arose in the Renaissance and how these technologies and this attitude of mind have altered the way we define illnesses, behave towards them and the medical establishment.

Required Texts (in the order we will read them):


Films, if time permits, parts of the following will be shown in class:

You will find a copy of this syllabus on my homepage (); you can print out another copy if you lose the one you are given the first day of class. My homepage will also include student models for you to read, bibliographies of books on Richard Feynman, Charles Darwin and books on medicine. If you would like to do research through the web, on my homepage I provide links for the following sites:

Richard Feynman:

  • (a large website)
  • and for Appendix F)

    Charles Darwin:

    Required Writing:

    You are required to write 3 essays and 3 book reviews and to give one short talk.

    First Essay (#1)

    Writing About How a Machine Works. The basic aim of the science essay is often explanation, and the basis of good scientific writing an ability to put something technical or complicated into English a reader can understand, and so we begin here.

    Imagine your audience is someone with one or two years of college, someone who can read and enjoy Scientific American, The American Scientist or Nature and explain to him or her:

    The sort of object or process you are to choose is something which is man-made or depends on a knowledge or manipulation or transformations of nature which are done by people. It can therefore also be an object that is the result of a mechanical or artificial or chemical process initiated by man, such as glass or steel.

    You can describe the process by which the object has been made or its history. You can also choose ordinary everyday processes. Cooking is not only an art; it is based on knowledge of nature. How did a bunch of eggs and flower and milk become a cake? How did people learn to brew beer? What's wine? There's a history behind ices.

    And remember a machine or man-made object need not be made of metal or plastic, and it can be used for aesthetic pleasure or emotional uplift: you can explain how any musical instrument works or the history of how it comes to take the form it does. A ballet-shoe is a man-made object which enables women to dance on the edge of their toes. Furniture and toys may be included. How does a zipper work?

    Your object need not be something technologically sophisticated; it can be a light-bulb or a pencil or a fountain pen. You can look at obsolete or older inventions: the windmill or a medieval knight's armor. You can explain the process whereby a book is made or history of book-making.

    You can also explain intellectual inventions like calendars.

    You can write this satirically. Pretend you are a person from a community with no knowledge or experience of such objects and use your description to criticize the society which uses such objects. You can write this personally: tell how you or other members of your household or school use the object. In all cases, you should have a thesis-statement and a context. You should in the essay include the reason why your reader ought to know how your machine or process works. You don't want your reader to be asking him or herself, 'why should I read this?'. To those who are saying to themselves, 'I'm not a scientist, I don't know the first thing about how things work. I turn the key in my car and it goes, period', I say, come in at the level that is natural to you and that will be natural to a college-level reader.

    Remember clarity is a special concern in the natural sciences. The intent here is to practice using language which is jargon-free and analogies which actually help readers to visualize and explain something.

    It is suggested you do some minimal research, and, therefore, you must document your sources and all verbatim quotations or paraphrases. We will review documentation before this essay is due. You may of course do research, but if you do please make sure your source is reliable and respected (e.g., the Encyclopedia Britannica or a specialized encyclopedia in the relevant field is a wonderful source, but World Book , Colliers, and such like junk are out. If you take information from the World Wide Web or an e-mail group of any kind, be prepared to verify the expertise of the person whose e-mail you are quoting or the respectability of the host of the website whose information you are relying upon. Length: minimum 3-5 double-spaced typed pages.

    Second Essay (#2)

    Observing Nature. To be a good scientist you must learn to observe accurately and disinterestedly; the conveying of information based on such observation is another basic aim of writing in the natural sciences. Thus our second essay.

    You are given the choice of writing about how an animal, or a plant, or some species of natural phenomena behaves. The idea of this essay is to describe nature in an objective and unbiased way, to say in words what it is one observes, and in so doing to explain something which occurs in the natural world without any man-made intervention or transformation.

    Suggestions: you might try to develop or confirm a hypothesis about an animal or plant. Here what you do is research patterns of birth or development and watch their strategies for survival, for, obtaining food, for sleep, for creating an environment for themselves, for mating, for interactions with one another. The reason it's good to start with a hypothesis is it can help you decide what to to look for as you watch and, if you like, questions for further research.

    The same remarks about clarity, research and length that apply to Essay #1 apply to Essay #2.

    Third Essay (#3)

    The Youngest Science. Our fourth book is a history and examination of the youngest science: medicine. But since this is not a pre-med course, we will be discussing not so much how to perform a Caesarian section or how to diagnose some illness, but rather how the science of medicine has radically changed our attitudes towards sickness and death and how medicine really is practiced in hospitals and at home in this country. Suggestions:

    1. You may write about how an illness has been treated in the past and is treated today. It need not be a lethal epidemic, but there is a good deal of literature on such illnesses. Examples: small pox, TB, influenza, cholera, measles, AIDS.
    2. You may write about a particular case history or medical problem. These include prolonging the life of someone who has permanently lost consciousness and procedures which are controversial. Examples: miscarriages (not well understood), artificial insemination, abortion, various kinds of very expensive procedures to replace organs.
    3. You may write some aspect of the medical profession. You can write about the way a hospital is organised; the education required of doctors and nurses or technicians. Questions you can ask yourself include: should nurse practitioners replace doctors in some aspect of daily care; if so, do they have to be better educated? what do we mean by better educated?
    4. You may discuss how our society should control and pay for medical treatment since it can powerfully affect individual lives and is expensive.
    5. I encourage students to write about their own experiences or those of close family members or friends. Part of the point of this part of the term's work is to encourage you to think for him or herself, take initiatives, consider how the social and psychological and economical realities surrounding illness have affected your own life or the life of someone you are closely connected to.

    This is to be a researched essay, but you are also encourged to use personal experiences. Length: minimum 4-6 double-spaced typed pages.

    Four good sources are required, but one of them may be Golub's The Limits of Medicine and another an interview with an experts or people who have had the illness you are writing about.

    The Annotated Bibliography: As part of the researched essay, you will be asked to hand in an annotated bibliography. An annotated bibliography provides short summaries and evaluations of the books and essays used in a research paper. The skill of synopsis will be reviewed. Models will be provided.

    An Abstract: You will also be asked to hand in an abstract of your own essay. We will in class learn to and practice the art of writing abstracts, of summarising, paraphrasing, and writing synopses.

    Three Book Reviews:

    Analysing Science Writing. You will be asked to write three book reviews. If you ever become a professional in any field, you may find yourself asked to review books and articles.

    There is a specific format which is followed which we will learn about. The first review ((#1) is to be on both Feynman books when we finish reading them. The second review (#2) is to be on those parts of Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle and The Darwin Reader that have been assigned. The third review (#3) is to be on Golub's The Limits of Medicine. The book reviews are also intended to provide practice on how to select, elaborate upon and judge sources. We will discuss how a good book review usually includes some or all of the following points:

    1. the book's context and intended audience;
    2. its thesis or theses;
    3. your evaluative statement about this thesis and the book's content;
    4. a synopsis or summary of its contents;
    5. an analysis of the book to reveal how the author's background or biases help or hinder the author and the quality of the evidence.

    We will review the skills needed for literary analysis. Length: minimum 2-3 double-spaced pages.

    The Short Talk. Talk is primary and writing secondary. I believe everyone can learn to write more clearly and enjoy writing more if he or she would only learn to talk on paper, to use the real language he or she might use in the classroom or any other natural situation which demands a certain coherence. Much of the advice you will find in John Trimble's Writing With Style is based on this belief. A writer must learn to think of his material as something he is communicating to someone else; not something he or she is mumbling to him or herself in the hopeless hope that no-one will actually read it, much less read it aloud. To do a short talk forces the student to experience these assumptions.

    Thus, each student will be asked to prepare a coherent seven to fifteen minute talk for classroom presentation on the readings from one of the five books which is due the day he or she is scheduled to talk upon. The talks will begin the third week of the semester. The idea is to practice inventing a clear thesis-statement which is supported by concrete details from a text or your own experience.

    The whole class will listen and try to respond; their response will tell the student whether he or she has made him or herself clear; the ensuing dialogue and the student's own later thoughts about either what happened when he or she or another student talked will (it is hoped) teach everyone something about the basis of writing -- again, clear thinking in clear language which comes naturally to the speaker-writer.

    Each student is asked to hand in an outline or cards (hand-written or typed) which he or she used to talk from, and I will return this material with the grade for the talk in the following session.

    Other Requirements :

    Assumptions behind this course : I think that 1) something is to be gained by coming to class, and that we all can learn a great deal from one another; 2) good writing can be discussed in simple words, and exemplified, learned, practiced, and improved through imitation of models; and 3) the only way to improve one's writing is by much practice over a long period of time.

    I have observed that people who write well are people who read a lot; thus:

    1. Classwork : I want everyone to attend class faithfully, to read all the books, and to participate in class discussions. If you miss a shorter writing assignment in class, you must make it up, but you must then type or print it from a computer. I ask that you limit your unexcused absences to a minimum; I regard weeks' of absence as one basis for a failing grade.

    2. Writing Assignments: I have allowed time for 1) revision of each essay; 2) discussion of student models to help you see what is expected and give you ideas on how to go about a particular task; and d) the class as a single group to listen to, analyse and comment on one or more of the essays someone in the class has written. I will try my best to write comments on your essays which can help you how better to organize your thoughts, correct your grammar, and write more gracefully and think more clearly.

    Grades :

    By the end of the term there should be seven grades for each student on my roster. These I will average together to form the final grade. I should have three grades for the three essays, and three for the book reviews, and a seventh for the short talk. All writing assignments and the short talk are due on the day set; if your essay is late, the grade will be pulled down one element for every session, it is late. You must give your talk on the day cited on the short talk schedule so as to ensure only one person will talk on a given day. If you do not give your talk, you must take an F and that will be factored into your final grade.

    For the final grade I also take into account 1) your attendance record; 2) your participation in class; and 3) if you came for help if you needed it in planning the essay, thinking up a perspective; organizing and revising it. A teacher can tell when an essay or short talks is done with care, is something really thought about, something for which a genuine self-educational effort was made. I respect hard work and reward it when I see it. I will also reward someone whose work improves.

    The Problem of Plagiarism:

    DO NOT PLAGIARIZE. Plagiarism is defined by the GMU English Department as follows:

    '"Plagiarism means using words, opinions, or factual information from another person without giving that person credit. Writers give credit through accepted documentation styles, such as parenthetical citation, footnotes, or end notes; a simple listing of books and articles consulted is not sufficient."

    If I suspect you of, or catch you at, plagiarising, I will follow the guidelines of the English department which require that I fail or report you to the Chair of my Department. I am serious about this.

    How to contact me outside class:

    Without an appointment:

    Write to me by e-mail. My preferred address is You can write me 24 hours a day; I look at my mail at least twice a day, and I write back. Be sure to type the e-mail address to which you wish me to send my reply at the end of your message. Please feel free to write me. I will provide thorough commentary on any drafts of essays that you send me through my e-mail addresses.

    You can call the phone in the office I use (993-1176) or the English office (993-1160) or leave a message in my box in the English Office, which is in Robinson Hall on the fourth floor. I have no voice mail, and there is no way you can fax me. It is also well to remember that I will have office hours on campus only one day each week. The secretaries don't call me; they simply place put a note in my box. Further, leaving essays in my box is a chancy business because materials get lost this way. No-one stands guard over the boxes. The safest speediest way to get a late essay to me is to bring it to the next class and give it to me warm hand to warm hand.

    With an appointment:

    Private conferences are available by appointment Mondays from 2:15 to 4:20 pm in Robinson Hall A455. Sign up on the stenography pad which will be placed on the corner of my desk every time the class meets.

    Tentative Calendar:

    Week 1

    August 28 (Monday):

    In class: Course introduction; explanation of syllabus; Importance of thesis statement; how to formulate; Making Inferences and Defining a Good Thesis. If possible begin talking about what is a line of argument and how paragraphs relate to one another. Short Talks thoroughly explained. Essay #1 gone over. If time permits, see The Last Journey of a Genius

    Outside class: Read for Week 3 (in 2 weeks): Trimble, Writing with Style , Chs 1-8 . Go to my homepage, hit teaching and then hit print out "Student Model for Essay #1"; read also Richard Feynman, Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman! , pp 1-163 (Introd., Vitals, Parts One-Three), and What Do YOU Care What Other People Think?, pp 7-53 (Preface, "The Making of a Scientist," and "What Do YOU Care What Other People Think?"

    Week 2:

    No Class :(

    You should be reading away and bring to class three choices for the one topic which will be yours for your short talk.

    Week 3:

    September 11th (Monday):

    In class: Openers; Middles; Closers. How to Write and Fill a Paragraph; What is a Paragraph. What is a Line of Argument. In-Class Describing a Machine. Short Talks given out. Documentation begun. Introducing Mr Feynman.

    Outside class: Read for Week 4: Feynman, SYJ, 163-174, 199-219, 234-337 (from Part 4 read only "The Dignified Professor," O Americano Outre Vez," & "An Offer You Must Refuse"; you may skip all intervening chatper; Part 5 through to 'Altered States'), and WDYC, pp 54-102 (the rest of Part One plus the private letters). You should be working on Essay #1. Your Topic Sheet for #1 is Due Monday Sept 18th; Esssay #1 is due Monday September 25th.

    Week 4:

    September 18th (Monday):

    In Class. TOPIC SHEET FOR #1 DUE. Short talk 1: RFeynman, boy and young man: The Qualities that Make up the Good Scientist (SYJ, Parts 1 & 2, WDYC, Chapter 1). Short talk 2: RFeynman's analysis of authority (its counterproductive uses of secresy to mask pride and hypocrisy) at Los Alamos and elsewhere (SYJ, Parts 2 & 3, especially "Los Alamos from Below" and "Safecracker Meets Safecracker"); Short Talk 3: RFeynman's ideas on what is real scientific learning: what ought to go on in a classroom, be in a book &c (SYJ, Parts 4 & 5, especially "O Americano Outre Vez" and "Judging Books by Their Covers;" also WDYC, Letters). During the break I will hand back the topics.

    Outside class: Read for Week 5: Feynman, SYJ, pp 338-346 ('Cargo Cult Science'), and WDYC, pp. 113-248 (Part Two: "Mr Feynman Goes To Washington", "Appendix F", "Value of Science"). Go to my homepage; hit teaching; then hit and print out "Book Review of Two Books by Feynman"; read and bring to class. Essay #1 is Due on Monday, September 25th.

    Week 5:

    September 25th (Monday):

    In class: ESSAY #1 IS DUE. Short talk 4: RFeynman's Adventures in Art, Music, Anthropology, and Conferences (SYJ, Parts 4 & 5, WDYC, Part 1 & Letters); Short Talk 5: Mr Feynman Goes to Washington: Why some NASA officials are driven to delude or lie to themselves and the public (WDYC, Part 2). Short Talk 6: SYJ, Cargo Cult Science, WDYC, The Value of Science" (Final Chapters). How to write a book review.

    Outside class: Read for Week 6; the rest of Trimble, Chs 8-15. Write Book Review and bring to class; read Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle, pp 1-28, 378-399 (Introd, Appendix One), and The Darwin Reader, ix-xiv, 1-27, 52-54 (Introductory Chapters on life, work, Darwin's voyage round the world); go to my homepage, print out, read and bring to class ''Student Models for Essay #2"

    Week 6:

    October 2nd (Monday):

    In class: BOOK REVIEW #1 DUE. We read and discuss Essay #1 and Essay #2 is assigned; we go over how to achieve a voice, punctuation, and the rest of Trimble's book. Introducing Mr Darwin. If time permits, we'll see some of Life on Earth.

    Outside class: Read for Week 7 Darwin Voyage, pp. 58-122 (Chs 3-6), pp 146-7, 158--97 (Part of Ch 9, 10-12, beginning of 13). You should begin to choose a topic and find out if it's feasible.

    Week 7:

    October 11th (Wednesday). Monday class meets on Wednesday

    In class: We read and discuss book review; Short Talk 7: Introducing Darwin One (Voyage, pp. 1-23, 378-99; Darwin Reader, pp. 1-27, 52-54). Short talk 8: Darwin and the Gauchoes, Observations on Large Animals and Vegetation, Chs 3-6 (pp 58-122); Short Talk 9: Discovering Extinct Species, Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands (Part of Ch 9, 10-12, beginning of 13, pp 158-97).

    Outside Class: read for Week 8 Darwin Voyage, pp. 228-67 (Chs 16-18); pp 268-332, 359-68, (Chs 19-21, part of 23); Darwin Reader , pp. 52-83 (Ch 3); Voyage, pp. 333-56 and 359-77 (Chs 22 and last part of 23). You should now have a topic, and your topic sheet for #2 is due Monday October 16th; Essay #2 is due Monday October 30th.

    Week 8:

    October 16th (Monday):

    In class: TOPIC SHEET FOR #2 DUE. Short Talk 10: The Chilean Earthquake, Mountain Climbing and How the Earth and Mountains Formed (Chs 16-18, pp. 228-67); Short Talk 11: The Galapagos Archipelago (, Ch 19 and The Darwin Reader, Ch 3, pp. 52-83. Short Talk 12: Tahiti, New Zealand & Australia, St Helena & Ascension (Chs 20-21, part of 23, pp. 290-332, 359-66). During the break I will hand back the topics.

    Outside class: Read for Week 9 Darwin, Voyage, pp. 333-56 (Ch 22), Conclusion (Ch 23, pp 366-77); Darwin Reader , Ch 2 (pp. 28-51), Ch 4, pp. 84-135 (from The Origin of Species), Ch 6, pp. 175-204; you should be at work on your project for #2.

    Week 9:

    October 23rd (Monday)

    In class: Short talk 13: Keeling Island, Coral Formation, Voyage, pp. 332-356, Darwin Reader, Ch 1 (pp. 28-51); Short Talk 14: The Origin of Species (as reprinted in The Darwin Reader, Ch 4, pp. 84-135).

    Outside class: Read for Week 10 Darwin Reader, Ch 6 , pp. 175-204 (from 'The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex', Ch 7, pp. 205-37 (from The Expression of Emotions in Man and Anmals; Essay #2 is due Monday October 30th; to to my home page, hit teaching and print out Book Review of Darwin's Voyage and Darwin Reader, ed. Mark Ridley.

    Week 10:

    October 30th (Monday):

    In class: ESSAY #2 DUE. Short Talk 14: The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (as reprinted in The Darwin Reader, Ch 6). Short Talk 15: 'The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals' (as reprinted in The Darwin Reader, Ch 7). We will discuss how to write the book review on the two Darwin books.

    Outside Class: Write your book review of the two Darwin books; go to my homepage, print out and read Model Research Essay I, and Model Research Essay II, and 'Learning to Write an Abstract, 'Instructions' and 'Practice I'. Read also Golub, Limits of Medicine, pp vii-31) (Preface, A Few Important Words, Introduction).

    Week 11:

    November 6th (Monday).

    In Class: BOOK REVIEW #2 DUE. We read and discuss Essay #2 and Essay #3 will be assigned. Introducing the subject of medicine. How to write an abstract; how to write an annotated bibliography.

    Outside Class: Read Golub, The Limits of Medicine, pp 31-133 (Part One, Chs 3-5, Part Two, Ch 6). Go to my homepage, read, print out and Do Practice II under 'How to write an Abstract'; bring to class. Start thinking about what your topic will be.

    Week 12:

    November 13th (Monday):

    In class: We read and discuss book reviews of 2 Darwin books. Short Talk 16: "The Rectangular Curves," "Framing Health and Disease, "The Constant Presence of Death" & "La Longue Durée (pp vii-59); Short Talk 17: "The Seeds of Change" and "Pasteur and the Authority of Science" (pp 59-94). Practice Second Abstract Together.

    Outside Class: Read for Week 13 Golub, The Limits of Medicine pp 134-201 (Part Two, Chs 7-9); Topic Sheet for #3 due on Monday, November 20th.

    Week 13:

    November 20th (Monday):

    In class: TOPIC SHEET FOR #3 DUE. Short Talk 18: "Rewriting History and "Never to Die of a Disease in the Future" (pp. 95-133); Short Talk 19: "Reframing the Internal World" (pp. 134-59). Short Talk 20: "Magic Bullets and the New Paradigm of Medicine" (pp 134-76). Topic sheets will be handed back during break.

    Outside class: For Week 14: finish Golub, Medicine, pp 205-226 (Part 3, Ch 10 & Finale). You should work on Essay #3 which is due the last day of class, December 4th.

    Week 14:

    November 27th (Monday)

    In class: Short Talk 21: "The Therapeutic Revolution" (pp. 177-201). Short Talk 22: "Reshaping the Goals of Medicine in the Era of Chronic Diseases" and "Finale" (pp 205-226). Everyone gives a 3 minute presentation of their research thus far. If time permits, we will see some of Near Death.

    Outside class: write your Research Essay, Abstract, and Annotated Bibliography; it is due next Monday.

    Week 15:

    December 4th (Monday):

    In Class: ESSAY #3 IS DUE. If there have been more students than 22 or if people would like to do a make-up talk, the following talks are available: Short Talk 23: A Review of David Attenborough's Life on Earth; Short Talk 24: A Review of the first two hours of Frederick Wiseman's Near Death together with Derek Bromhall's Journey Into Life.

    Week 16:

    December 18th (Monday):

    For 302 N07: 6:00 -- 7:15 pm, bring to Krug Hall 242, BOOK REVIEW #3 and any late, overdue or revised essays and book reviews.

    For 302 N08: 7:30 -- 8:30, bring to Enterprise Hall 275, BOOK REVIEW #3 and any late, overdue or revised essays and book reviews.

    Contact Ellen Moody.
    Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
    Page Last Updated 3 September 2000.