This is an in-class activity--or an activity students do prior to class to in preparation for an in-class discussion--to help students identify stylistic components of published writing. I provide the students with an appropriate journal article, typically a communication from Inorganic Chemistry, such as Inorg. Chem. 2008, 47, 2922-2924 (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1021/ic702373b) or Inorg. Chem. 2009, 48, 2717-2719 (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1021/ic802052u) I have the students read the article, then answer the questions individually by writing their responses on the handout as preparation for discussion. The students then share their responses.
My purpose in creating this list of questions is to refocus students on style and other writing issues. By the time I see students in my inorganic course, they are very focused on extracting information from texts and are not used dealing with the non-content issues. In their own writing, they often have trouble expressing their results in a professional (non-lab report) way. I think this activity at least helps students begin identifying (and mimicking) the conventions of professional, published scientific writing.
A student should be able to identify and begin using accepted conventions of language and organization in his/her own writing in the lab.
Handout, journal article(s)
I give the list of questions and a journal article to the students at the end of class. I tell them that at the beginning of the next class, we will discuss their thoughts (as opposed to “answers”). I used this with 7 senior chemistry students, 4 of whom were non-native English speakers. The activity was useful for all the students, and it was interesting to see how the native English speakers could explain issues like tone and voice to the non-native speakers. I saved question 9 to give them after the discussion of questions 1-8 (I did not include question 9 on the handout I gave them with the journal article.) I think the issue of whether or not language/writing conventions affect science is a good convincing piece for science students who sometimes do not initially see the value in writing.