Writing Assignment, Spring 2014
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 or classic ideas in Earth history I would like you to read an article from the recent literature during the course of the semester. 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 articles
- Article: To begin, 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. Remember, however, that your outline is to present information only from the article and not from other sources.
- Outline: Then, 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.
- In addition to turning in a hard copy of your outline in class please also submit a copy to turnitin.com. Our class ID is 7465506 and the password is available from me.
- 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 will make on student writing assignments when I review them.
- Preliminary abstract: Next, 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 in turn (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 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. Doing so constitutes plagiarism and will result in a loss of points.
- The preliminary abstract will be worth 10 points and will be scored about 2/3 on format (page layout and index terms) and 1/3 on content (sentence structure, narrative coherence and completeness and accuracy of content). You should also review this sample abstract, which was written from the same article as that used for the sample outline, so that you can see how the narrative content of the abstract is related to the ideas presented in the outline.
- Final abstract: Finally, prepare a revised abstract that takes into account all of the comments you received on you first version. This final abstract will be graded about 2/3 on content (clarity, originality and coherence of narrative) and 1/3 on form (layout, index terms, grammar and sentence structure) according to the acompanying rubric. Special emphasis will be given to those sections where you were asked to make changes to the preliminary version. It will be worth 20 points.
- Impact from the Deep by Peter D. Ward, Scientific American, October 2006, p. 64-71.
This article explores how changes in Earth's ocean and atmosphere during an episode of Late Permian global warming may have led to a mass extinction that killed 90% of the species on Earth.
- Tracking an Ancient Killer by Ramond R. Rogers and David W. Krause, Scientific American, February 2007, p. 42-51.
This article uses climatic and forensic analyses to learn what killed a diverse assemblage of dinosaurs in Madagascar several million years before the K-T extinction.