Applying Written Communication Skills in Biological Sciences
Alice Lee, a professor in the College of Sciences, explains the importance of writing skills for students in biological sciences.
This article is part of a series on NC State’s Pack Proficiencies, which include the five skills all NC State undergraduates should develop before they graduate: written communication, oral communication, quantitative literacy, critical thinking, and creative thinking.
By Samantha Rich, DASA Assessment
At NC State we “Think and Do,” and our students do a lot of writing. That’s because written communication is one of NC State’s Pack Proficiencies—the skills that faculty and staff think all students should master.
Written communication is defined as the “purposeful development, expression, and revision of ideas in writing for specific audiences. Effective written communication follows appropriate genre conventions and may include a combination of text and other media.” Whether it’s a lab report, research paper, presentation poster, or poem, NC State students have many opportunities to develop their written communication skills inside and outside of the classroom. Alice Lee, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, explains that the ability to communicate effectively will serve students well beyond their graduation.
In the interview below, Lee describes how students in the College of Sciences might experience written communication in their discipline and demonstrate their written communication skills in their daily lives. Interview excerpts are edited for brevity and clarity.
Why is it important for our students in the College of Sciences to develop proficiency in written communication?
“Our students will be future microbiologists, ecologists, climatologists, marine biologists, physicists, and chemists, and in all of these scientific disciplines, written communication is extremely important. From writing research journal articles to communicating research findings to writing research proposals for funding, and putting together scientific posters to communicate your work at a conference, written communication is really important. In addition to these more formal writing exercises, many of our students in these particular careers will go on to write for popular science magazines, they might write blogs, or they may answer questions from social media, so they have a broad range of audiences and contexts for which they are writing. It’s really important for students to be able to articulate to a broad audience their groundbreaking research findings. This may be important for the trajectories for their careers as well. The ability to communicate in written form, not just to their scientific peers but to Senators, family members, neighbors, and colleagues…is all very important to be able to get laws and regulations put in place, to inform the public about health concerns, and will even shape the public’s perceptions of science in some cases.”
How might students experience written communication in their discipline after graduation?
“Upon graduation, students will experience a variety of scientific communications whether they are writing briefings, summaries, research articles, or reports. And in all of these cases, they need to know their audience, who they are writing for, and the context in which they are writing. They need to be purposeful. In addition, when they are working professionally, they need to have strategies for how to approach writing. A lot of this writing is nonlinear and complex. Oftentimes it requires teamwork with multiple colleagues that spans multiple countries. As professionals, students will need to be able to communicate well to write their journal articles and research proposals. Students must also be able to use appropriate technologies to be able to produce, compose, and publish their writing in a lot of different environments.
“Whether you are working in the sciences or not, you need to be able to locate and evaluate the relevant sources to use in your written communications. Particularly in the sciences, all of your work builds on other people’s work, and you need to be able to evaluate, synthesize, and contextualize that work to find evidence to support your hypothesis or ideas. All of this will allow our students, in their future professional careers, to be effective changemakers, policymakers, and productive citizens.”
Question: How will NC State students use written communication in their daily lives after graduation?
“Our students will be tasked with a variety of written communication and they will need to be clear and concise to be able to transmit their message. That message may impact whether a particular piece of legislation gets passed to protect the environment or whether or not a public health concern is explained in an effective manner so that it positively impacts public health. In their daily lives, students will utilize written communication to impact change in their community.”
Question: What can students do if they want to improve their written communication skills?
“One way students can develop their proficiency in writing is to write a lot. They should seek opportunities to write inside and outside of the classroom. Students could write for their campus professional society or club. Being able to write for a variety of audiences and genres is important to understanding how to communicate effectively.”
To learn more about the Pack Proficiencies and how they are assessed, contact the Office of Assessment and Accreditation or visit go.ncsu.edu/PackProficiencies.