Communication and Media Studies 407

COMS 407: Science and Environmental Writing

Prerequisites: COMS 130, COMS 230, and COMS 104, or permission of instructor

Credit Hours: (3) Four hours lecture and laboratory

Principles and practice of writing for scientific, educational and environmental publications; advanced reporting in public affairs and investigative journalism. Application of theories and models to advanced writing.


Detailed Description of Content of Course

The two main goals of the course are

1) To understand and appreciate the work of "public" scientists and writers who interpret science for the public through non-fiction genres of writing ranging from literary to investigative in style; and
2) To research, interview and write about scientific or environmental issues and the people involved in them. The course begins with a survey of the importance of public understanding of science, the history of science writing, the history of environmental writing, and a survey of contemporary science and environment writing.

It continues with an introduction to advanced research sources in scientific and environmental areas, advanced interviewing techniques with some emphasis on special problems in science and environment writing, and is followed by a training and practice in science and environment writing exposition, argument, description, and narration. The course also surveys media and audience types so that these writing styles are appropriately pitched for maximum public understanding.


Detailed Description of the Conduct of Course

The course is conducted as a lecture and lab combination course with theory and history, discussion and practice in writing receiving appropriately balanced emphasis. The course is divided into three overlapping phases. Initially the course emphasizes the analysis of written works; then involves increasing time devoted to in class writing exercises; and finally shifts to support for out of classroom research and writing assignments. This support will include discussion of methods and critiques of student work.


Goals and Objectives of the Course

1. To introduce the theory and history of science writing.
2. To analyze exemplary science and environment writing and apply the lessons of the analysis to student work.
3. To increase the ability of non-scientists to communicate non-fiction information about science and the environment.
4. To encourage boldness in the exploration of real events and creative empathy in the accurate description of real people.


Assessment Measures

Students will be assessed on their written reviews about science and environment writing and on their group reports concerning biographical, theoretical or historical information as a contribution to the classroom learning environment. Quizzes or exams will be given to assess student knowledge of the range of science and environment writing and the terms, techniques and issues confronting science and environment writers.

Students will also be assessed on their own research, interviews and written articles using standard journalistic and literary criteria such as grammar, logic, creativity, scope of subject and writing style appropriate for the audience.


Other Course Information




Joe Flickinger, Chair

May, 2011