RESOURCE: “Writing in the Sciences” online course

If you’re looking for a great (and free) course on academic writing, especially in the sciences, Stanford University’s “Writing in the Sciences” on Coursera is an excellent choice!

I’m a big fan of the online learning platform Coursera for its selection and high quality of offerings as well as for its ease of use. And I love that you can take the courses for free (you can pay if you want a proper certificate).

So! To those of you who want to become more effective academic writers, I highly recommend the massive open online course, “Writing in the Sciences.”1

This course teaches scientists to become more effective writers, using practical examples and exercises.

From course description, Writing in the Sciences, Stanford University@Coursera

☘ Whom is it good for?

Writing in the Sciences” is excellent for academics (especially in the sciences) who want to learn:

  • What is good, clear, and succinct writing for academia
  • How to edit your work
  • How to structure an academic paper (e.g., a journal submission) and what to put in each section
  • What are the ethical issues you need to be aware of for academic writing
  • How to make the most of peer review
  • How to write other kinds of documents (grants, recommendation letters, material for general audiences)

The course is explicitly geared to those in the hard sciences, but the concepts are applicable to any discipline.

☘ What if I don’t have time (or interest) to do the whole thing?

Even if you don’t have the time, interest, or energy to go through the whole course, you can still benefit from taking the parts you find most relevant.

Here’s what the course covers:

Content covered (by week)
  1. Key principles of effective writing (esp. cutting clutter)
  2. Writing with strong, active verbs. How to: write in the active voice, avoid turning verbs into nouns, choose strong verbs, and get to the main verb of a sentence quickly
  3. How to vary sentence structure and write strong paragraphs
  4. The writing process: tips to make the process easier and more efficient
  5. The sections of a scientific manuscript. Also how to format tables and figures.
  6. The peer review process, and ethical issues (authorship, plagiarism, predatory journals)
  7. Other kinds of writing (review papers, grants, letters of recommendation, personal essays)
  8. Communication with broader audiences

If you want to focus on editing/writing skills, I highly recommend going through the first 4 weeks (also week 5 if you write scientific papers) and doing the practice editing exercises to the extent possible.

☘ What if I’m not a “scientist” (I don’t work in the hard sciences)?

Because the course targets those working in the hard sciences, those of you who work in other fields may not be comfortable with the sample texts the professor uses.

▶ If the practice texts are too science-oriented for you, then practice using texts from your own field of expertise.

To do that, find any published journal article from your field whose (1) topic and content interests you; and (2) writing was somewhat difficult to understand.

Practice applying the course concepts to that article.

In the end, writing (and editing) both take a lot of practice. The more you can consciously apply the key concepts of good writing on practice documents or your own writing, the better you will get at it.

Course info

NameWriting in the Sciences
InstructorDr. Kristin Sainani, Associate Professor, Health Research and Policy, Stanford University
PrerequisitesNo previous experience/coursework necessary
Time commitment8 weeks of study, 3-5 hours a week
Content covered (by week)
  1. Key principles of effective writing (esp. cutting clutter)
  2. Writing with strong, active verbs. How to: write in the active voice, avoid turning verbs into nouns, choose strong verbs, and get to the main verb of a sentence quickly
  3. How to vary sentence structure and write strong paragraphs
  4. The writing process: tips to make the process easier and more efficient
  5. The sections of a scientific manuscript. Also how to format tables and figures.
  6. The peer review process, and ethical issues (authorship, plagiarism, predatory journals)
  7. Other kinds of writing (review papers, grants, letters of recommendation, personal essays)
  8. Communication with broader audiences
Other info

If you would like help applying principles of good academic writing to your work (and I know it’s a lot easier to be an external editor than to be a writer!), please get in touch via the contact form or email me at info@theclarityeditor.com.

Footnotes

  1. Disclaimer: I am not an agent for Coursera or Stanford or any of the parties involved in this course, nor do I receive any monetary benefit from promoting the course. I’m spreading the word solely because I was so impressed with the course!

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