About This Course
This course teaches scientists to become more effective writers, using practical examples and exercises. Topics include: principles of good writing, tricks for writing faster and with less anxiety, the format of a scientific manuscript, and issues in publication and peer review. Students from non-science disciplines can benefit from the training provided in the first four weeks (on general principles of effective writing).
In the first four weeks, we will review principles of effective writing, examples of good and bad writing, and tips for making the writing process easier. In the second four weeks, we will examine issues specific to scientific writing, including: authorship, peer review, the format of an original manuscript, and communicating science for lay audiences. Students will watch video lectures, complete quizzes and editing exercises, write two short papers, and edit each others’ work.
Week 1 - Introduction; principles of effective writing (cutting unnecessary clutter)
Week 2 - Principles of effective writing (verbs)
Week 3 - Crafting better sentences and paragraphs
Week 4 - Organization; and streamlining the writing process
Week 5 - The format of an original manuscript
Week 6 - Reviews, commentaries, and opinion pieces; and the publication process
Week 7 - Issues in scientific writing (plagiarism, authorship, ghostwriting, reproducible research)
Week 8 - How to do a peer review; and how to communicate with the lay public
The course has no prerequisites other than fluency in English.
Kristin Sainani (née Cobb) is a clinical assistant professor at Stanford University and also a health and science writer. After receiving an MS in statistics and PhD in epidemiology from Stanford University, she studied science writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She writes about science for a range of audiences, including authoring the health column Body News for Allure magazine and the statistics column Statistically Speaking for the journal Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. Dr. Sainani has previously taught "Writing in the Sciences" on Coursera and OpenEdX; and "Statistics in Medicine" on OpenEdX.
Joshua Wallach (TA)
Joshua Wallach graduated with a Bachelors degree in Economics from the University of California, Davis in 2012. As a current PhD student in Epidemiology and Clinical Research, he is interested in evaluating statistical and epidemiological methods, identifying and minimizing biases, and promoting reproducibility of research. Joshua is passionate about the interdisciplinary nature of epidemiology and meta-research and enjoys working as a Teaching Assistant. When not busy pursuing an academic career, Joshua loves living in Oakland and enjoys hiking, playing guitar, and working out.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment?
Yes, students who score at least 60 percent will pass the course and receive a Statement of Accomplishment.
Students who score at least 90 percent will receive a Statement of Accomplishment with distinction.
How much of a time commitment will this course be?
You should expect this course to require 4 to 8 hours of work per week.
Any additional textbooks/software required?
There is no textbook for this course. Students who would like additional reading may enjoy:
- On Writing Well, William Zinsser
- The Elements of Style, Strunk and White
- Sin and Syntax, Constance Hale
- Essentials of Writing Biomedical Research Papers, Mimi Zeiger
- Science and Society: An Anthology for Readers and Writers, eds: Nelson-McDermott, LePan, Buzzard
- We recommend taking this course on a standard computer using Google Chrome as the internet browser. We are not yet optimized for mobile devices.
Course logo image adapted from one of Nic McPhee's photos on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.