Science Writing – Telling a Story (a Video: Susan Holmes of Standford)

By Melody Pickle, Kaplan University Writing Center, Writing Specialist, WAC

In the KUWC, we are often asked if we are capable of helping students do science writing.  For example professors may ask, “Can a student get help with a lab report?”   Yes, the KUWC staff  can help all students with all writing types.  While different academic disciplines vary in the writing conventions and style, there are certain aspects of writing and the writing process that transfer across disciplines.  For example, just yesterday, I had a  Masters student working in an Epidemiology class ask: “Can you please explain a Literature Review to me in a way I  can understand?”   But, there are other connections between general writing and science writing.

In this video, Susan Holmes, a statistician from Standford University, explains the important role of writing in her life as a statistician.

Holmes says all to frequently those who discover important ideas  do not get the appropriate credit for their ideas because the researcher cannot communicate clearly outside his or her field.  It is only individuals who can clearly communicate and translate their ideas who get the credit in science writing.

Listen to Susan Holmes as she explains the importance of the writing process and the construction of a narrative within her job as a statistician.

This video is part of a larger collection of videos called Writing Matters produced by Standford University.  This video collection explains the role and function of writing in science, math, and engineering.

Holmes’ Basic Process

  1. Keep a journal of the scientific work “to communicate with oneself.”
  2. Look for patterns and make sense of that work for yourself.
  3. Start to communicate with your team about your findings and see if you can get them to understand.
  4. Synthesize a wide array of information and present it in a sequential way.
  5. Storyboard (like film) to help create a narrative of the findings.  Tell the story.

Here,  even in this scientific writing process, we see the writing and thinking process emerge.  As Holmes explains in detail in her video, telling the story of the data is very important if scientists wish to communicate their findings across fields.

Helping students get through this writing process is one of the things that the KUWC does very, very well.  That is why we encourage students and instructors to utilize the KU Writing Center from very early on in their writing process, even when working on science writing.

Here is a great blogpost from WAC@Illinois  which lists numerous videos on how to talk to students about writing.

Here are a few more video links from their blog:

Science Writing Series from UC Davis

University of Central Florida, History, Nursing, Psychology, Education

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