Natural Sciences and My Magic Bullet

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Saxon_airport+selfie+2014[1].jpgGuest blogger Jessica Saxonis a faculty member at Craven Community College in New Bern, North Carolina, and she teaches composition and literature courses. A former WAC coordinator at Craven, her primary interests are WAC/WID programs and creating partnerships with other community colleges and universities. She is also pursuing a PhD in narrative theory and nineteenth-century British literature at Old Dominion University.

This post is the second in a series. View the first post: First Time WID Jitters and My Comfort Zone

We started the natural science unit recently in my ENG 112 class. Strangely, I am much more excited about this unit than I was about the first unit in my home discipline (humanities and literature studies). We have been talking about annotated bibliographies, scholarly and non-scholarly research, APA formatting, and possible research questions for students’ natural sciences annotated bibliographies. And, having learned from my modeling mistake in the humanities unit, we will be constructing a sample annotated bibliography in APA style together in class while the students are also working on their independent projects.

I teach APA style in both the natural sciences unit and the social sciences unit. However, An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing has section on CSE (Council of Science Editors) for instructors who would prefer to use CSE for the natural sciences unit. I have decided to teach APA in the natural sciences as well as in the social sciences because (1) faculty at my home institution in the natural sciences use APA instead of CSE or another documentation style, and (2) the majority of students at my home institution have more experience with MLA than APA and therefore need additional instruction in and practice with APA style. You should, of course, use the documentation styles most appropriate for your students and your home institutions.

The Assignment and Schedule

Students are asked to create an annotated bibliography in APA style on a topic related to the natural sciences. They are responsible for selecting a research topic and creating focused research questions. They cannot, for example, research global warming; instead, they must narrow the topic to something along the lines of researching the melting of Greenland glaciers or sea level rise in the eastern American states or shifting weather patterns in Southeast Asia.

Their annotated bibliographies must have (1) at least three academic, scholarly science journal resources and (2) at least three lay, non-academic, non-scholarly magazine (including magazine-like website) resources. Each source’s annotation must include summary, analysis, and comparison, and each annotation must address the source’s appeals to logos, pathos, and ethos as well as the source’s intended audience (including the context and purpose of the source). Each annotation needs to be no less than 160 words.

Students have the month of October to complete the project:


Writer’s Journal #10: Arguments and Research Planning

Introduction to Natural Sciences Writing and Annotated Bibliographies

Introduction to APA Conventions and Paper Formatting


Writer’s Journal #11: APA Style

Introduction to APA Style In-Text Citations and References


Process Assignment #7: Annotated Bibliography Questions and Sources 1

“Multiple Ebola Virus Transmission Events and Rapid Decline of Central African Wildlife” (available through ProQuest Central)

Annotated Bibliography Questions and Sources Workshop 1

Sample Annotated Bibliography Workshop 1 for “Multiple Ebola Virus”


No Class – Semester Break


Process Assignment #8: Annotated Bibliography Questions and Sources 2

“Smuggled Bushmeat Is Ebola’s Back Door to America” (available through ProQuest Central)

Annotated Bibliography Questions and Sources Workshop 2

Sample Annotated Bibliography Workshop 2 for “Multiple Ebola Virus” and “Smuggled Bushmeat”


Process Assignment #9: Annotated Bibliography Draft 1

Annotated Bibliography Draft Workshop 1


Process Assignment #10: Annotated Bibliography Draft 2

Annotated Bibliography Draft Workshop 2


In-Class Work on Annotated Bibliography and Annotated Bibliography Self-Reflection 

Annotated Bibliography (Due by the End of Class)

Process Assignment #11: Annotated Bibliography Self-Reflection (Due by the End of Class)


As I said in my previous blog post, I have been nervous about teaching this WID course for the first time. What do I know about science? Or about scientific journals? Or researching in the sciences? Or about APA style? Well, it turns out I know quite a lot already thanks to my own general education courses and to my general interest in science news. But more importantly than that, I know quite a lot about rhetoric, and that, in turn, gives me an entrance into natural sciences writing and researching.

I told a group of students in my college’s Scholars in Engineer and Sciences (SEAS) program that rhetoric was their magic bullet. Sure, that’s an exaggeration, but it is not entirely untrue. With a firm understanding of rhetorical strategies and situations, a student can begin to pierce complex texts for classes and projects. It gives them a vocabulary for understanding disciplinary writing styles, research expectations, and even citation formatting. For example, in my ENG 112 class today, we went over APA style expectations and paper formatting: avoiding first-person, headers, title pages, abstracts, and so on. During our discussion of why first-person works well in humanities projects but typically not in natural sciences and social sciences projects, we linked issues of voice back to formatting: MLA wants your name in the header, but APA couldn’t care less about your name in the header, much like it doesn’t want first-person references to yourself in the body.

The natural sciences project will be centering on rhetorical strategies and contexts. And the more I think about it, the more I wonder if this project might be a better first project than the literary analysis paper. This annotated bibliography gets students to work with scholarly and non-scholarly sources and makes them select (and narrow) their own topics. Plus it directly reinforces the discussions about rhetoric that we have during the first two weeks of the semester. I may have to revisit the structure of the course the next time around.

How do you approach natural sciences writing and researching in your WID classes? Do you uses CSE, APA, or some other documentation style in your natural sciences unit? At what point in the semester do you tackle the natural sciences? What’s the rationale for its placement in your schedule? What sorts of natural sciences projects do your students do?

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About the Author
Susan Miller-Cochran, now Director of the Writing Program at the University of Arizona, helped shape the First-Year Writing Program at North Carolina State University while she served as Director from 2007-2015. Her research focuses on instructional technology, ESL writing, and writing program administration. Her work has appeared in College Composition and Communication, Composition Studies, Computers and Composition, and Teaching English in the Two-Year College, and she is also an editor of Rhetorically Rethinking Usability (Hampton Press, 2009) and Strategies for Teaching First-Year Composition (NCTE, 2002). Before joining the faculty at NC State, she was a faculty member at Mesa Community College (AZ). She has served on the Executive Committee of the Conference on College Composition and Communication and the Executive Board of the Carolinas Writing Program Administrators. She currently serves as President of the Council of Writing Program Administrators.