How does a biologist become a Writing-in-the-Disciplines (WID) specialist?
After eight years as an RNA biochemist and thirteen as an immunologist, I started to become very interested in how scientists use writing. Writing is in many ways a scientist’s "bread-and-butter": written communication allows us to develop research questions, obtain the funding to investigate those questions, and then convince the larger scientific community to accept our interpretation of the results. However, although I could do these things, I had never thought consciously about how I had learned, or what framework underlay my writing choices. And I didn’t have any sense of how I might teach others, other than how I learned: by trial-and-error.
These turned out to be very interesting questions, and as a writing instructor and WID specialist, I investigate these questions every day, both in my teaching and my formal research.
I am particularly interested in these issues:
- How do the needs of scientists—to develop their questions, execute their research, and communicate their results—shape their writing choices?
- How does the rapidly-evolving landscape of science influence the way that scientists promote acceptance of their work?
- How do different scientific communities adapt the basic structures of science writing (e.g. the research article) to their needs? How and why do an RNA biochemist and an immunologist write distinctly differently?
- Most importantly to me, how do developing scientists learn to understand the communicative needs of their discipline and the reasons why experienced scientists make the choices that they do? How can we help emerging scientists to understand writing as a series of choices within a framework that let them best develop and present their work, and not as a set of rigid, abstract rules?