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Writing in the Sciences

Enrollment is Closed


Enrollment in this course is now closed. All currently enrolled participants are more than welcome to continue working through the material in this course. A newer self-paced offering of this course is now live and available at

About This Course

Welcome to the self-paced version of Writing in the Sciences! The course is organized into 8 learning units. We anticipate that each unit will take about 2 to 6 hours to complete. After completing all 8 units, you will take a multiple-choice final exam. For those trying to earn a Statement of Accomplishment, your final grade will be based on: quizzes (20%); Unit 1-3 homework assignments (40%); and a multiple-choice final exam (40%). You will have two attempts on quiz questions, but just one attempt on homework and exam questions. To earn a Statement of Accomplishment, you must score at least 60% in the course. To earn a Statement with distinction, you must score 90% or better. You can monitor your cumulative grade in the course by clicking on the Progress menu.

Course enrollment and the materials and assignments will be open until at least June, 2018. If access to the course materials will be turned off at any point, notification will go out to all course participants.

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. Participants from non-science disciplines can benefit from the training provided in the first four units (on general principles of effective writing).

Course Format

In the first four units, we will review principles of effective writing, examples of good and bad writing, and tips for making the writing process easier. In the last four units, we will examine issues specific to scientific writing, including: authorship, peer review, the format of an original manuscript, and communicating science for lay audiences.

Throughout the course, participants will watch video lectures and complete quizzes, editing exercises, and a final exam. There are also 2 optional writing excercises. Participants who opt to do these assignments will have a chance to submit two short papers, edit and provide feedback to other participants who have submitted the papers, and receive feedback on their submissions.

Course Syllabus

Unit 1 - Introduction; principles of effective writing (cutting unnecessary clutter)
Unit 2 - Principles of effective writing (verbs)
Unit 3 - Crafting better sentences and paragraphs
Unit 4 - Organization; and streamlining the writing process
Unit 5 - The format of an original manuscript
Unit 6 - Reviews, commentaries, and opinion pieces; and the publication process
Unit 7 - Issues in scientific writing (plagiarism, authorship, ghostwriting, reproducible research)
Unit 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.

Course Staff

Kristin Sainani

Kristin Sainani (née Cobb) is an associate 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 has taught statistics and writing at Stanford for a decade and has received several Excellence in Teaching Awards from the graduate program in epidemiology. She writes about health, science, and statistics for general audiences. She authored the health column Body News for Allure magazine for a decade, and writes 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment?

Yes, participants who score at least 60 percent will pass the course and receive a Statement of Accomplishment.
Participants who score at least 90 percent will receive a Statement of Accomplishment with distinction.

How much of a time commitment will this course be?

The course consists of 8 units and each unit will take approximately 4 - 8 hours to complete, but you can work through all of the material at your own pace and on your own schedule. There are no due dates for any of the assignments.

Any additional textbooks/software required?

There is no textbook for this course. Participants 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.

Can I get CME credit for this course?

This free version of the course does not offer CME credits, but there is a fee-based CME version available as well. Go to the Stanford online CME course page for more information. You are welcome to take this free version of the course before the CME course, but note that you will still need to create an account on the CME site, pay the registration fee, and complete the CME Pre-test, Post-test, Evaluation Survey, and Activity Completion Attestation statement in order to receive your credits.

Course logo image adapted from one of Nic McPhee's photos on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

  1. Course Number

    SciWrite - SELF PACED
  2. Classes Start

  3. Estimated Effort

    Self Paced
  4. Price