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Guide to Writing at Stetson University

This guide is designed for students and faculty to use as a resource for what “good college writing” looks like—and how students can achieve it—and how faculty can encourage it.

Understanding the Assignment and Meeting the Needs

The Assignments: Understanding and Meeting the Needs

At Stetson, our professors assign a range of writing tasks and assignments. Students may be asked to complete lab reports, research papers, summaries of readings, responses to assigned readings, self-analyses, essays, discussion board postings, proposals, and brochures. Each of these kinds or genres of writing has its own set of expectations, and students must meet those expectations.

Students aren’t expected to know the standards for each genre instinctively; therefore, most students will be asked to revise a couple of times strengthen their arguments and the overall flow of the assignment. A common misconception is that being asked to revise means you “did it wrong.” However, this is not the case. Being asked to revise means you’re being given another opportunity to “do more things right.” By revising, you are practicing more with your writing and continuously improving as a writer.

Reading the assignment and making sense of it is one of the first steps. Start off strong by looking for the key words:

Analyze

List

Summarize

Explain

Argue

Define

Debate

Respond

Compare

Synthesize

Discuss

Evaluate

 

Each of these terms gives you very specific directions about what to do. Reading the assignments carefully and noting the guidelines the professor gives are both essential to doing the work well. These guidelines will help you stay focused on your topic while writing, and will help you when you review your work before you turn it in to make sure you followed the parameters of the assignment. In general, the objective elements of an assignment are length, format, and number and type of required sources; the intellectual elements are questions the instructor wants you to answer, problems they want you to solve, or ideas you should expand or explain. 

In addition to the assignment itself, students will often be asked to help each other in small group workshops or “peer editing” workshops. These workshops help students see the techniques and ideas other students are working with, which benefits everyone in the process. Reading and responding to the draft of an assignment sharpens the eye for critical reading and thinking. It is also helpful to talk to others about where you are both struggling in order to improve writing for both students. 

While it is often easier for students to give each other feedback on the surface elements of style, editing, and accuracy, seizing the moment to offer feedback on the quality of the idea. Examining the depth of analysis of a source not only sharpens the reader’s eyes, it sharpens the writer’s ideas.

FSEM Example 1: Dr Sapp's FSEM

Example 1: In Dr. Greg Sapp’s First Year Seminar Self & World, students are asked to argue and form an opinion on another’s definition:

For your first essay, you should use Plato's Republic, Books I and IV, and argue whether or not Plato's definition of "justice" is valid.You will need to carefully present his view as found in the text, and then determine whether or not this view is valid. Use the four-square hermeneutical box we discussed in class to guide your essay.You may not use first-person singular voice in the essay.

The paper should be no less than 1,200 words as measured by Microsoft Word's word counter. Your paper should be typed, in 10-to 12-point font using a standard, formal font style such as Times New Roman or CG Times.

Please use MLA's in-text citation for citing Plato..You will only need to cite the web source in your List of Works Cited page.Your in-text citations should be strictly of Plato.This paper must be completely original and may not have been turned in for credit previously.You must turn in a close-to-final draft to your preceptor one week before the paper is due that is at least 1,200 words in length. 

If you have any questions, please contact me via phone or e-mail.You may, of course, visit me in my office.

FSEM Example 2 Dr Thaver's FSEM

Example 2: In Dr Ranjini Thaver’s FSEM, students are asked to observe, reflect, and record:

You will be required to build an observation tower, also called an OT. The raw material required for this OT include your assigned reading/watching/listening each week in and out of class. You, the designer of the OT, will observe...observe...observe...observe the world around you: to what extent does your reading/viewing matter relate to the world around you –through personal interaction, social, economic, religious, and political action, the media, and other private and public actions? How does observation of the world differ from the readings/viewings assigned? Place yourself in the shoes of the authors you are reading/listening to, and based on your observation of the real world, how would you change the words, ideas, and themes that forms the core of the author’s products? Most importantly, write...write...write... your observations down.You will notice a miraculous change over time –writing this way will allow you to not only refine your writing skills, but it will also sharpen your thinking and response techniques. These in turn prepare you for other more substantial writing assignments and final portfolio.

FSEM Example 3: Dr O'Neill's FSEM

Example 3: In Dr. Megan O'Neill's FSEM, students often complete a research assignment that follows these steps:

Research Paper Step 1: Write one paragraph describing the general topic you will deal with in your research paper. Be as specific as you can be at this point.

Research Paper Step 2: Reference article: Find an article in a substantial reference work that provides detailed information about the general area that includes your proposed topic. 

Write a paper of about 250 words that summarizes what the article says, with particular attention to information that especially interests you and pertains to your proposed topic. 

Identify 2 or 3 people who were integral to the topic that interests you. Identify key terms to the topic, research them in the Library databases, and remember to include a variety of viewpoints and perspectives, not just the articles that agree with your position. 

Identify from the bibliography one or more sources that promise to be useful for your study.

Research Paper, Step 3: Read a scholarly, peer-reviewed  article that deals with a topic that is close to your topic. Fill in the following information.

1.         Complete bibliographical identification of article (author, title, journal, year, pages):

2.         What is the thesis of this article?

3.         What information does the author provide to support the thesis?

4.         What information might be useful for your research?

5.         What kinds of sources does the author use?

6.         What sources are cited that might be useful for your research?

Research Paper, Step 4: Compile a list of sources that you will use in your research. Separate them into two categories: primary sources and secondary sources. Write a brief note about each source stating how you think the source will contribute to your research and paper.

Research Paper, Step 5: Choose one of your primary sources and write an analysis of the source (what does the source show about the 18th century? How does the source contribute to an understanding of your topic?)

Research Paper, Step 6: Early draft of paper. Submit as much of the text of your paper as you have written. It should reveal at least the following information: (1) your initial thesis statement (what the paper proves) and (2) three or four principal points to be developed in the argument of your paper.

Research Paper, Step 7: Presentations. All students must submit a hard copy of their papers at the beginning of class on this date.

FSEM Example 4 Dr Work's FSEM

Example 4: Writing Lab Reports for Dr. Kirsten Work  (These scientific paper guidelines excerpted from the Biology II laboratory manual from Spring 2011):

After completing projects in your Biology classes, you will need to write lab reports to demonstrate what you have learned during the process (how thoroughly you collected background information, how you conducted the experiment, what you found out, and what it all means). Whether you are writing a paper for an English, Sociology, or Biology class, you must always produce something that convincingly conveys information…in other words, well-written and well thought out. The formats used in each discipline, however, are very different; you must conform to certain scientific writing conventions described below.

TITLE – The Title should convey some meaningful information about what the experiment did. For example, you can’t just use the title of the chapter in the lab manual. Imagine if you were searching on the web for articles to use in a report…you initially use the titles to decide whether an article will be useful. Can you see why the second of the two titles below gives you the best information and why the first is virtually useless?

(1)        Catfish reproduction

(2)        Reproduction in an invasive exotic catfish, Pterygoplichthys disjunctivus, in Volusia Blue Spring, FL, USA

ABSTRACT - The Abstract is a summary of the report. Basically, it includes a sentence or two each of introduction, methods, results and discussion. The Abstract should start with a sentence that introduces the topic of the experiment and then a statement of the hypothesis that was tested. The next sentence or two should provide a very brief description of the methods employed to test the hypothesis. The main findings are presented in a sentence or two followed by a statement of the main conclusion.

INTRODUCTION – Here you are setting the stage for your experiment. Start with the big picture and work your way towards a hypothesis. You need a good reason for posing a particular hypothesis…a hypothesis is an educated guess, so show the education part! You should refer to at least two published research or review articles…Why? Because you need to show where you got your information, and that  it is a reliable (scientific) source that anyone else can also look up. If, for example, you plan to look at the effects of pollutants on frog development, you need to devote a few sentences to the issue of aquatic pollution. You should devote a few sentences to frogs and their development from eggs to tadpoles to adults. At this point you are ready to point out a “problem” (something that needs to be investigated), and a “question” that you think your hypothesis answers. For example, there is a lot of water pollution in the waters where frogs lay their eggs (problem). Is frog development negatively affected by pollutants? (question). You can hypothesize that frog eggs exposed to the common yard chemical malathion will not develop normally, and these abnormalities will increase with increasing concentrations of malathion (hypothesis). Always be sure to state your hypothesis clearly….”We hypothesized that…”, or “I hypothesized that…”; the word hypothesis must be used.

METHODS – This section describes how you collected and analyzed the data. You need to provide enough detail so that someone else could use your report to replicate the experiment. Remember that science is all about being able to replicate another scientist’s results; if you can’t do that, something is wrong with their methodology or your use of it.

Never use lists or tell the reader what had to be done or should be done; simply explain what you did. Be sure to include all relevant details: concentrations of solutions, temperatures, species names, equipment used, statistical tests used, etc. Since you did the experiment, write this in the first person.

RESULTS – Here you present your results graphically and summarize key findings without explaining what your results mean.

Your choice of graph type is important, as it says something about the data. Line graphs tell you that the data are continuous (e.g. the amount of oxygen produced by a plant over time), whereas bar graphs show discontinuous data (e.g. how well yeast metabolized four different food sources). Graphs may be constructed differently in different disciplines; in the sciences, the independent (manipulated) variable is on the x-axis, and the dependent variable (the result) is on the y-axis. Everything on the graph must be labeled (axis units, axis label, overall title, and sometimes a legend). Figures should never be embedded in the text; each one belongs on a separate page, and all figures should follow the Literature Cited section at the end of the report.

After generating your graphs, write a few sentences that point out the highlights and patterns of the data in the graphs. Be sure to point out anything you think is particularly interesting. You don’t want to restate what is already in the graph. Don’t forget to refer to your figures in the text of the results (e.g.

“The higher the concentration of glucose, the more carbon dioxide was produced by yeast (Figure 1)”….not “The results are shown in Figure 1”). Be sure to mention the results of whatever statistical tests you ran, whether the results are statistically significant, and what the p-value is.

Each graph should have a short title and a caption that clarifies what is in the figure (defines symbols, explains statistics, etc.). The title and caption should be placed below the figure. The easiest way to format the figure properly is to make the graph in Excel and then copy and paste into Word. The title and caption can be written on the line below the figure.

DISCUSSION – In this section you interpret your results. Start off by briefly summarizing your finding and how those findings relate to your hypothesis. Clearly state whether your hypothesis was supported or not (hypotheses are not proven or shown to be correct). Use the rest of the discussion to really go into detail about what you found (trends, etc.) and why you think the experiment turned out the way it did. Relate your findings to those of other groups in your lab, and to published work. Point out any influences that the experimental design or data analyses could have had on the results. Were there any sources of error? Things that went wrong? Use a few sentences at the end to summarize findings and what should be done in future studies (new questions to answer, and/or new ways to answer those questions experimentally).

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS – Thank anyone (including lab mates) who helped you complete the experiment. Never say “I would like to thank….”; that implies that you don’t actually thank them…go ahead and thank them (“I thank….”).

USE OF REFERENCES AND LITERATURE CITED – This is not a bibliography, so all sources listed must be cited in your report. Follow APA style or the CBE Author-Year system. When citing an article or book in the text of your report, you must include the author’s last name and date of publication  (Gibbs, 2007)….never use the page number (Gibbs, 112).

Why? Scientists often publish more than one paper on the same topic, so page numbers would not be very useful if you tried to find the right article in the Literature Cited section and found that Dr. Gibbs had 6 articles published on similar topics! It would be a real pain to have to look through all 6 articles to find the bit of information you wanted.

Articles or books cited in your paper must be listed alphabetically in the literature cited section of your report using the following format:

Gibbs, M.A. (2003) A Practical Guide to Developmental Biology. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 118 pp.

King, M.S. (2006) Anatomy of the Rostral Nucleus of the Solitary Tract. In Bradley, R.M. (Ed.), The Role of the Nucleus of the Solitary Tract in Gustatory Processing, Taylor and Francis Group, Boca Raton, FL., pp. 17-38.

Work, K.A, Havens, K.E., Sharfstein, B., and T. East (2005) How important is bacterial carbon in the planktonic food web of a turbid, subtropical lake? J. Plankton Res. 27: 357-372.

FSEM Example 6 Dr Price's FSEM

Example 6: In Dr. Price's FSEM, students may be asked to reflect on their learning, using these questions to guide their responses:

Sometimes after completing a project or a section of a course, students may be assigned a reflective essay. While these take many forms and are sometimes less structured than a traditional paper, here’s a version of Dr. Harry Price’s reflective assignment as a relatively simple guide. (It is important to note, however, that to do quality reflection, Stetson students will need to do a considerable amount of thinking and diving deeper into the material.) Below are the question Dr. Price uses:

1)         What did you take away from the course?

2)         Did the course have a positive or negative impact?

3)         How could the course be improved?

Have a question? Ask a librarian! Email libref@stetson.edu. Call or text 386-747-9028.