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Writing Assignment, Spring 2012

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 about the geology of the National Parks I would like you to read an article from the recent literature as part of your coursework. Then, starting 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 that article. Developing the ability to recognize which elements of a presentation provide key support for its conclusions and then communicate your analysis to others through a well-organized, clearly-written narrative is a skill that will serve you well in whatever work or studies you pursue.

Instructions for each part of the writing assignment

  1. Article: First, read one of the articles listed below. If you would like additional background you may want to look ahead at our text's discussion of the topics covered by the article you choose (chapter 8 or 9). Remember, however, that your outline is to present information only from the article and not from other sources.
  2. 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 which 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.
    • For some helpful advice on writing style and mechanics, check out: The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing.
    • Here is a list of the annotations I make on student writing assignments when I review them.
  3. Abstract: Third, prepare an abstract that summarizes the most important observations and conclusions of the article according to the instructions given on the accompanying template. (If you're not using Word, this abstract layout page will show you the correct margins and column sizes for your abstract and the PDF version of the template will give you other key information although it cannot be edited.) If you're not familiar with what an abstact is, check out this classic 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 template. Just highlight each element of the template (title, author name(s), journal title, abstract text, index terms, etc.) and type in the corresponding text for your abstract. The template will correctly position and space text on the page. Be sure to save the edited template so that if anything goes wrong you won't have to type it again. Your abstract text should fit into the space available in the left-hand column but not wrap over into the right-hand column. If it does you'll need to shorten the text accordingly. Also, the top line of the right-hand column should be flush with the title in the left-hand column. If it's not, be sure to remove any extra carriage returns in the right-hand column. Finally, you should only identify yourself by typing your PIN—not your name—in 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.
  4. 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.