News & Events
May 23, 2017
Manuscript 101: A Data-Driven Writing Exercise For Beginning Scientists

Michael A. Halbisen, Amy Ralston. This article is a preprint and has not been peer-reviewed



Learning to write a scientific manuscript is one of the most important and rewarding scientific training experiences, yet most young scientists only embark on this experience relatively late in graduate school, after gathering sufficient data in the lab. Yet, familiarity with the process of writing a scientific manuscript and receiving peer reviews, often leads to a more focused and driven experimental approach. To jump-start this training, we developed a protocol for teaching manuscript writing and reviewing in the classroom, appropriate for new graduate or upper-level undergraduate students of developmental biology. First, students are provided one of four cartoon data sets, which are focused on genetic models of animal development. Students are instructed to use their creativity to convert evidence into argument, and then to integrate their interpretations into a manuscript, including an illustrated, mechanistic model figure. After student manuscripts are submitted, manuscripts are redacted and distributed to classmates for peer review. Here, we present our cartoon datasets, homework instructions, and grading rubrics as a new resource for the scientific community. We also describe methods for developing new datasets so that instructors can adapt this activity to other disciplines. Our data-driven manuscript writing exercise, as well as the formative and summative assessments resulting from the peer review, enables students to learn fundamental concepts in developmental genetics. In addition, students practice essential skills of scientific communication, including arguing from evidence, developing and testing models, the unique conventions of scientific writing, and the joys of scientific story telling.

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