Writing Assignment, Fall 2015
Because all scientific disciplines are changing rapidly new ideas are commonly presented in journals months or years before they are incorporated into textbooks. In order to introduce you to some of the current ideas in astronomy I ask that you read an article from the recent literature. Then, working from the premise that one of the best ways to understand something is to explain it to someone else, I also ask that you write an outline and an abstract (concise summary) of the article. Developing the ability to recognize which elements of a presentation provide key support for its hypothesis and then communicate your analysis to others through a well-organized and clearly-written narrative is a skill that will serve you well in whatever work or studies you pursue.
Instructions for individual writing assignments
- Article: First, read one of the articles linked below. (Follow the link in the title to Etudes, click on "Resources" on the left-hand side of the Etudes homepage for our class, and then click on the PDF for the article you want to read.) If you would like additional background you may want to look back (or ahead) at our text's discussion of the topics covered by the article you choose. Remember, however, that your outline is to present information only from the article and not from other sources.
- Outline: Second, write a outline of the article's key points using complete sentences. A good way to begin organizing your outline may be to imagine that you are telling a friend what the most important conclusions of the article are and what data support them. If you can lay our your statements and data this way you'll be well on your way to writing a good outline.
- Your final version needs to be typed, and you should identify yourself only by typing your class PIN—not your name—on the upper, right-hand corner of the first page.
- The outline is worth 10 points, and will be graded on grammar, completeness, and the relevance of the material to the main ideas of the article (focus on major points, not peripheral details) according to the accompanying rubric. You should also review this sample outline, which was written from an article previously used for this assignment, so that you can get an idea of what sort of detail your outline should include. Because the rubric and sample outline (as well as the other sample documents linked below) are PDF files you will need to install a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to view them if you do not already have one on your computer.
Here is a list of the annotations I make on student writing assignments when I review them.
- Abstract: Third, prepare an abstract that summarizes the most important observations and conclusions of the article according to the instructions given on the accompanying abstract instructions. If you're not familiar with what an abstact is, check out this short essay on what makes a good versus a bad abstract by Kenneth Landes.
- Your final version needs to be typed using the format given in the abstract instructions.
- Finally, you should only identify yourself by typing your PINnot your namein the space indicated near the top of the right-hand column.
- You will want to work from your outline, but be careful not to paraphrase the article too closely or include text directly from it without attribution. Doing so constitutes plagiarism and will result in a loss of points.
- The abstract is worth 20 points, and will be graded about 2/3 on content (clarity, originality, and thoughtfulness of answers) and 1/3 on form (spelling, punctuation, and organization) according to the acompanying rubric. You should also review this sample abstract, that was written from the same article as the sample outline above, so that you can see how the narrative content of the abstract is related to the ideas presented in the outline.
- Revised abstract: Fourth, prepare a revised abstract that takes into account all of the comments you received on you first version. This revised abstract will be graded using the abstract rubric (see above) but with special emphasis given to those sections where you were asked to make changes. It will also be worth 20 points.
- Planets We Could Call Home by D.D. Sasselov and D. Valencia, Scientific American, August 2010, p. 38-45.
This article describes how astronomers infer the locations and characteristics of exoplanets from observations of their host stars and discusses how planets with similar compositions but greater masses than Earth are likely to differ from our world.
- The Long-Lost Siblings of the Sun by S.F. Portegies Zwart, Scientific American, November 2009, p. 40-47.
This article presents evidence that the Sun may have been born as part of a larger star cluster and outlines observations that could enable us to locate some of the stars that formed with it.