Writing in the Sciences: Human Origins

Course Description

Humanity has been transcribing ideas since the earliest cave etchings of the Paleolithic, some forty-thousand years ago.  This unique ability to write, interpreting the world symbolically, is a product of human biological and cultural evolution.  As science writers this semester, we build on an ancient literary legacy – writing about our own evolutionary history.  It is in part an introspective process – understanding the developments that led to our higher mental capacities, the ability to craft and utilize tools – and ultimately our native ability to write.

In the contemporary world, “writing science” is fundamental to sharing ideas among scientists and with society, creating the scientific literature.  Modern human evolutionary theory itself originates in the literature, with Charles Darwin’s landmark book, The Descent of Man (1871), where Darwin establishes humanity’s shared evolutionary history with other life forms – as one that differs “in degree but not in kind”.

In this writing seminar, we explore human origins through writing adapted to specific audiences.  Our writing perspectives are: 1-scientists writing for themselves (e.g. field and laboratory logs); 2-scientists writing for scientists (e.g. journal articles, abstracts); 3-scientists writing for students (e.g. textbooks, instructional materials); and 4-scientists writing for society (e.g. essays, periodicals, books).  To inform our own writing, we read and discuss Darwin’s original works, and the writings of other eminent evolutionary theorists, and paleoanthropologists, including Ian Tattersall, Donald C. Johanson, the Leakey family, Stephen Jay Gould, and Stuart Altmann – all of whom forwarded our understanding of human origins.

College Writing 2 – Writing in the Sciences, is a second semester, discipline-based writing seminar that provides students with the opportunity to hone their writing skills within a field of scientific inquiry.  Because lucid writing is essential to communicating science, students will work on the clear expression of ideas within different genres of scientific literature.  In developing the science writer’s craft, students will also gain techniques applicable to other academic disciplines – since writing skills have a universal application.

Course Documents