Integrated Writing Strategy

Physics Department Integrated Writing Strategy

By the time they graduate, Physics majors should have achieved proficiency in the following types of good scientific writing:

  • Short answer explanations: brief descriptions of physical phenomena, experiments or calculations.
  • Formal lab reports: short reports (5 to 10 pages) describing specific experiments or derivations.
  • Research theses: long reports (over 10 pages) describing more involved research projects carried out over months/years.
  • Journal articles: formal presentations of the results of scientific experiments and derivations, usually peer-reviewed.

This writing should have one or more of the following qualities:

  • Clear overview and explanation of necessary background
  • Description of methods
  • Presentation of results, usually including a description of graphical representations of data
  • Clear discussion of the results and implications
  • Proper citation of scholarly sources

Majors will develop their ability to write well through the following courses and/or experiences:

  1. PHYS-151, 152 and 153 Tutorials: In these three courses that comprise the initial major’s sequence, students participate in weekly 50 minute tutorials. In these, students are presented with conceptual problems which they discuss in groups and write out short answer explanations. There is also normally a pretest worksheet and follow-up homework with a similar format.
  2. PHYS-151, 152 and 153 Labs: Each of these courses also contains a lab component, in which students carry out experiments and/or computer simulations. In the first two courses, the results are written up in a handout, in which they need to describe methods, present data and discuss results. In PHYS-153, this work is done in a lab book.
  3. PHYS-154: Methods of Experimental Physics(required for all majors): All students in this class may be required to write a small number (2-4) of formal lab reports of 5 to 10 pages each. The reports are graded on a rubric (attached) based on the five points noted above, with feedback from the instructor helping students develop good scientific writing skills.
  4. PHYS-301 to -304:Independent Research in Physics, or PHYS-311 to 314: Independent Research in Biological Physics (required for B.S. majors) Students in this course write a thesis based on their independent research. These are 10-20 pages for one semester and at least 20 pages for two semester projects. In addition to their research work, students enrolled in this course also attend periodic classes to strengthen writing, presentation and other professional skills. During these additional classes, drafts of the theses are reviewed by peers according to the scientific writing rubric (attached) developed for this course. The final drafts are graded by both their research mentor and one second reader from among the physics faculty. In addition, the research sometimes becomes part of a manuscript submitted to a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and the students are active participants in the preparation.