METM19 Chronicles: Ann Bless

The title Thinking of teaching a course on scientific writing? really appealed to me; I am an in-house authors’ editor, who has never given a course on scientific or academic writing. As a lot of my work is for doctoral students who receive no training in academic writing, it would really make sense for me to offer an in-house course. However, having no training in teaching and no background in science, I do not feel ready to take the plunge. I was hoping that this course would give me some starter tips, which it did.

Ann had a handout detailing an example course of hers that runs over four (non-consecutive) days, with each day consisting of four hours, including breaks. The first three days each deal with up to five topics. Although the topics are quite general, this structure could be helpful in deciding which (of the manifold) areas to cover and in which order to cover them. Day 1, for example, covers points such as “Comparing various styles in scientific writing” and “How to write an Introduction”. On Day 2, one point is “Grammar in scientific writing”. As this is also obviously a huge area and it could be hard to decide which points to cover, it was interesting to hear that Ann generally concentrates on just two things: punctuation and the tenses that should be used in the different sections of a research article. Day 3 deals with “How to write a paragraph”, among other things. On Day 4, Ann does a one-on-one with each student, in which she provides feedback on their writing.

In addition to the information on the structure of her course, Ann also told us how she manages the contact to her students. Before the course begins, Ann asks about their expectations of it, and at the end of the course the students are asked to evaluate it. Ann stressed the importance of these components to us. During the course, the students’ writing (some of which is done in homework assignments) is discussed and analysed, both by Ann and by the other students. Ann tells her students that they should put themselves in the shoes of the reader, and she works on improving the structure and readability of their writing. She also encourages them to read their writing out loud and to show it to colleagues.

Ann emphasized throughout her presentation that her courses are interactive and that she believes the students learn as much from each other as from her. Her presentation was conducted in the same way: it was very interactive and Ann’s first reaction to questions was to ask us what we think, before then giving her own opinion. As several of the participants were themselves very experienced scientific editors and teachers of academic writing courses, this certainly was useful. Incidentally, for me, this is typical of the lovely atmosphere at MET, where people with vast expertise and experience are not only prepared to share that expertise (thank you, Ann) but are also still open to and interested in other contributions.

So, am I going to take the plunge? Well, there are always plenty of excuses not to – or at least to procrastinate. I did enjoy the talk but, as it was quite short, I feel that it only gave a general impression of how to teach a course on scientific writing and was maybe not enough to get a complete novice going. As I often think after the shorter METM presentations, maybe this would be a good subject for a workshop at future METMs.

This METM19 presentation was chronicled by Gráinne Newcombe.

Featured photo by METM19 photographer Mario Javorčić.

4 thoughts on “METM19 Chronicles: Ann Bless

  1. I fully agree with everything you comment here, Gráinne. And a more extensive workshop would be a good idea, especially if Ann herself could do it. I also felt that it was too short to get me on that road.

  2. Thanks for this review of Ann’s talk, Gráinne. As someone who couldn’t make it to METM this year it’s so useful to read about what went on.

  3. Thank you Grainne! I also heard good things about this session but was at another one, so good to hear how it went.

  4. Thank you, Gráinne, for this very useful review. I’ve dreamed about giving a similar course just to keep me from tearing my hair out I the editing process! I missed the talk but would also be onboard if Ann (or someone else) were ever to give a more elaborate workshop.

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