Dr. Dean Taciuch
George Mason University

Summer 2010


English 302: BN1 & BN2
Course Syllabus

These two sections of English 302 Natural Sciences are web-based courses, with no classroom meetings. All of the course readings will be online, and all submissions will be through BlackBoard or email.

Course Description

English 302 is an Advanced Composition course; this section will focus on the writing and research needs of students in the Natural Sciences. Although we will make use of technical formats (such as professional journal articles and literature reviews), the focus will be on conducting secondary research, organizing the results of the research, and presenting your interpretations of your findings to appropriate audiences, including interested non-experts.

In this course, you will not be gathering new data first hand; rather you are conducting secondary research by reading and analyzing the writings of others, forming your own opinion (a preliminary thesis, or hypothesis), then gathering more information via research to support or modify that thesis. Aside from the distinction between primary and secondary research, the research method in this course is the scientific method: you develop an idea based on the material you find, and you modify your ideas as you uncover new information.

The act of interpretation is key; theses, hypotheses, and theories are all based on facts, but theories are not facts themselves. Facts are raw data, the building blocks of theories. In the course of constructing a thesis, you must discriminate relevant from irrelevant data; you must analyze, select, and conscientiously try to avoid bias. Bias, however, is practically unavoidable. The very act of gathering information and presenting it requires you to make decisions as to the importance of certain details. As we shall see in the summary-writing exercise, even a "simple" task such as summarizing a difficult passage introduces bias.

In the sciences, and in most professional writing, such biases are alleviated by the process known as peer-review. Peer review is part of the general scientific method as well: when a new hypothesis is presented, others in the field try to disprove it. They aren't just doing this out of professional jealously. A valid hypothesis is falsifiable; that is, it makes predictions or statements which can be tested. If a hypothesis can withstand the tests of new data, if it makes predictions which can be shown to be true or false, then the hypothesis is accepted. Generally, however, hypotheses require refinement and alteration. One reason initial hypotheses so often fail is due in part to initial biases. Some data will be ignored as irrelevant because the researcher assumed it was unimportant. This "irrelevant" data often contradicts the hypothesis, and a better hypothesis will be required to explain as much relevant information as possible. This is the process of revision.

During the course of this class, you will revise your theses as you find more information. Information which contradicts your thesis cannot be ignored if it is relevant (and contradiction doesn't automatically imply irrelevance). Rather, the thesis will need to explain the apparent contradictions.



Dalton, Rex. “What's in a name? Fly world is abuzz: Nature News.”

Gibbons, Ann. “A New Kind of Ancestor: Ardipithecus Unveiled.”

Gibson, Daniel G. et al. “Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome.”

Katnelson, Alla. “Researchers start up cell with synthetic genome: Nature News.”

"Retraction—Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorderin children." The Lancet

White, Tim D. et al. “Ardipithecus ramidus and the Paleobiology of Early Hominids.”

Wu, Tim. "Network Neutrality FAQ".

And other readings from ScienceBlogs, Nature News, Slashdot, and other sites.

Course site

All assignments will be submitted via BlackBoard

Weekly Responses and exercises (15%)
Short Essay (15%)
Summary (15%)
Literature Review (15%)
Research Proposal (5%)
Annotated Bibliography (15%)
Research Paper (20%)


Course Policies

Grading: . Grades on the essays will be based primarily on the quality of the writing. I value clear, focused writing with plenty of examples. The audience for the essays will be the class itself, and I expect the papers to be written with this audience in mind.

Grades on the annotated bibliography will be based primarily on your evaluations of the sources and secondarily on the citations themselves.

I will give all assignments letter grades. I calculate final grades by converting the letter grades to a 100 point scale using the following values:

A+ 100  
A 95 C+ 78
A- 90 C 75
B+ 88 C- 70
B 85 D 65
B- 80 F below 60

A note on final grading: You must earn the grade of "C" or better in this course to receive credit for it and to fulfill this portion of the English composition requirement in General Education. A grade of "C-" or below will not be sufficient to receive credit for this course.

Late Assignments: Unless you make prior arrangements with me, late assignments will lose one letter grade per day. The lost grades cannot be made up by revision.

Revisions: The essays may be revised for a higher grade, but they must be substantially revised. You cannot lose a grade by revising, but a higher grade is not guaranteed. I have found that "B" papers (or higher) are often more difficult to revise, since serious revision requires thoroughly changing the essay's structure, and "B" papers usually have a fairly good structure. "C" papers (or lower) often respond more dramatically to revision, since the major changes they require are often more straightforward. I recommend revising "C" papers or lower only. If you plan to revise a "B" paper, please see me beforehand so we can discuss a revision strategy.

All revisions must be submitted within1 week of receiving a grade on the assignment. No revisions will be accepted after July 23.

Plagiarism: We will discuss the use of source materials quite extensively in this class. I consider the unacknowledged use of source materials to be plagiarism. Improper citations must be corrected, but improper citations alone will not get you sent to the Honor Committee.



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