Genre analysis of undergraduate theses: Uncovering different ways of writing and thinking in science disciplines
Writing in a discipline reflects the ways of knowing and writing practices specific to that discipline. There is no single scientific epistemology; instead, students need to learn the epistemology and paradigms of discipline-specific scientific communities. We have previously found that structured courses designed to scaffold the thesis-writing process and promote metacognition can improve writing and critical thinking skills in biology, chemistry, and economics.
Here we extend these previously published analyses of studentsﾒ scientific reasoning in their thesis writing to examine the following question: Does the Thesis Assessment Protocol (TAP) reveal meaningful differences in disciplinary ways of thinking, doing, and writing across these disciplines?
Using the TAP as the basis for assessment, we conducted exploratory factor analysis of studentsﾒ theses across disciplines to determine if there were meaningful constructs underlying the scores on the nine separate dimensions of the TAP.
We found one dominant underlying factor in each discipline, which we termed 'scientific reasoning in writing', but the three derived factors are not the same; these differences highlight important disciplinary ways of thinking reflected in writing. The evidence of disciplinary differences within the thesis genre has relevance for Writing-in-the-Disciplines programs, particularly regarding the need to identify and teach discipline-specific ways of knowing, doing, and writing. Our work suggests that employing the TAP as a means of comparative genre analysis may elucidate salient differences among science disciplines.
The evidence increasingly suggests that one should not ask whether writing is a generalized skill or discipline-specific skill, but rather ask how to differentiate that which is general from that which is discipline-specific. The corresponding implications are that educational practices can be more effective when they attend to both general and disciplinary-specific skills.
This work provides evidence that within the genre of the honors thesis, scientific reasoning in writing is more strongly associated with 'structuring the argument' in biology, 'making-meaning of findings' in chemistry, and 'structure-organization' in economics. These results can be operationalized by both instructors who teach courses to facilitate thesis preparation as well as for writing centers and studios that support Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) and Writing in the Disciplines (WID) programs.
Dowd, Jason; Robert J. Thompson, Jr., and Julie A. Reynolds. (in review) Genre analysis of undergraduate theses: Uncovering different ways of writing and thinking in science disciplines
Dowd, Jason, Tanya Duncan, and JULIE A. REYNOLDS. (accepted) 'Concept Maps for Improved Science Reasoning and Writing: Complexity isn't everything.' CBE - Life Science Education
Dowd, Jason, Michelle Connolley, Robert J. Thompson, Jr. and JULIE A. REYNOLDS. (2015) Improved Reasoning in Undergraduate Writing through Structured Workshops The Journal of Economics Education. 46(1): 14-27.
Dowd, Jason; Christopher Roy, Robert J. Thompson, Jr. and JULIE A. REYNOLDS. (2015) ﾓOn courseﾔ for supporting expanded participation and improving scientific reasoning in undergraduate thesis writing The Journal of Chemical Education 92 (1): 39ﾖ45.
REYNOLDS, JULIE A. (2013) Disciplinary-Specific Thesis Assessment Protocol: A validated rubric that promotes student learning and faculty development. in Robert J. Thompson, Jr. (Ed.) Changing the Conversation about Higher Education. Roman & Littlefield.
Thaiss, Christopher and JULIE REYNOLDS. (2013) How Writing-to-Learn Practices Improve Student Learning: Connecting Research and Practice through a Consideration of Mechanisms of Effect. in Robert J. Thompson, Jr. (Ed.) Changing the Conversation about Higher Education. Roman & Littlefield.
REYNOLDS, JULIE A., Christopher Thaiss, Wendy Katkin, and Robert J. Thompson, Jr. 2012. Writing to-Learn in Undergraduate Science Education: A community-based, conceptually-driven approach CBE - Life Science Education 11: 17ﾖ25. Also published in CBE - Life Science Education Highlights of 2012: 41-49.
REYNOLDS, JULIE A. and R.J. Thompson, Jr. 2011. Want to Improve Undergraduate Thesis Writing? Engage Students and Their Faculty Readers in Scientific Peer Review, CBE - Life Science Education 10: 209ﾖ215.
Goldberg, Richard, Kevin Caves, and JULIE A REYNOLDS. 2011. Improving the quality of writing in a capstone engineering design course, Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education, Toronto, Canada. AC 2011-1129.
REYNOLDS, JULIE A., Robin Smith, Cary Moskovitz, and Amy Sayle. 2009. BioTAP, a systematic approach to teaching scientific writing and evaluating undergraduate theses. BioScience 59 (10): 896-903.