Handbook on Excellence in Learning and Pedagogy

Sample of a Writing Assignment for Chemistry

Article Reviews

Purpose for writing: Education. You are explaining your article to the reader of your paper.

Style of writing: Conversational. You are �telling� your reader something. As you will be explaining something that occurred in the past, your paper should be written in the past tense. As with all scientific papers, the use of personal pronouns (I, we) should be avoided, as should reference to �your article.� Including a direct quote from the article is frowned upon in the sciences. You are not regurgitating the paper; you are reviewing it (paraphrase!). As mentioned in the writing workshop, it is improper to express your own opinion in an article review; you�re not here to pass judgment on article or the science discussed within, you�re here to report on it.

Intended audience: Your mom (or dad, or Uncle Charlie, or Aunt Bertha, etc.). In other words, someone who knows NOTHING about chemistry, especially your article. One of the common mistakes students make when writing an article review is thinking they need to impress the professor with their language or vocabulary. This is almost never the case and is especially incorrect with respect to this assignment. Although I will be the one reading and grading this paper, your goal is to simplify the article to the point where I know you understand it. In other words: pretend I don�t know anything about chemistry and explain the article to me. Does that mean you avoid jargon and big chemistry words? Perhaps sometimes, but your job is exactly the opposite: you use the big chemistry words and explain them such that I understand what is going on.

Organization: In an article review, do not worry about separating your paper into different sections. As mentioned above, your paper should be written in a conservational tone. Thus, as with any good story, each word, sentence, and paragraph should flow seamlessly into the next.

Three-Sentence Review

This is a non-trivial exercise. Distilling a professionally written scientific reading into three sentences is not easy. I would recommend you first treat each of the sentences as separate beasts and connect them after you�ve written them separately.

� Sentence one should clearly state the topic of the article (what was done?). What was the goal or purpose of the research described in your article?
� Sentence two should make mention of how this goal was accomplished (how was it done?). What methodology or plan of attack did the researchers employ? Did they use a novel form of instrumentation or a new technique? Be specific; experimental details (even numbers and/or results) are good.
� Sentence three should comment on the importance of the work done (why do we care?). The process of scientific research is very expensive and receiving funding for it is very competitive. As a result, effectively no research is performed unless there is a clear motivation behind it. It is crucial to determine this motivation. Why was this research performed? Why was it funded? Why should we, as chemists, care? Why should biologists (or other scientists) care? Why should everyone (even non-scientists) care? Does this research have application in larger society?]

One-Page Review

Once your three-sentence review is completed, all you need to do to get from the three-sentence review to the one-page review is take your three-sentence review and add to each of the three sentences. In sentence one, you may need to further introduce the topic of your article (more detail on what specifically was done, a brief history of research performed, etc.). In sentence two, perhaps you mentioned a specific type of instrumentation or technique that you need to explain or expand upon. Finally, in sentence three, you may need to extend your treatment of applications and the point of the research that was done. As your review progresses in size and complexity, the three sentences you started with may become fused and intertwined, but don�t lose sight of the main point of each of those sentences: what was done, how it was done, and why it is important. After your one-page review is completed, you should be at the point where you completely understand your article.

Final Review

Provided you�ve performed the other stages of the review adequately, you may find it easy to write a final draft. Once again, go back to your three sentences: 

1) What? 2) How? 3) Why?

We�ve talked a lot about the connection/application of your article to chemistry, science, and/or the everyday world; however, it needs to be made clear that the most important issue with respect to writing a good article review is that of content. There is NO substitute for taking every step necessary to assure that you understand everything that is discussed in the assigned reading. It is nearly impossible to write an effective review of a journal article without understanding it first. Additionally, as discussed in the writing workshop, you should take every necessary step to ensure your final review is written clearly, professionally, and scientifically. Once again, ��papers exhibiting �frequent or serious� problems with usage, grammar, spelling, punctuation, or sentence structure are D/F papers� (straight from the grading pyramid and writing workshop).

As far as converting your one-page review into a final review, I would recommend you begin by considering areas that seem light on content or are confusing then go through two or three proofreading cycles to improve grammatical issues.

Back to Course-Specific Assessment Page

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Assignment Copyright � 2005 Trent Snider
Last revised 19 July 2005
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