Teaching Writing for STEM

Writing in STEM(Photo by Tra Nguyen on Unsplash)

Writing is undoubtedly one of the most crucial skills every student must have today. Mastering effective writing not only helps us do well in academics but also articulate, argue, and present our thoughts and ideas clearly. As most students know, a large part of their courses, including Social Sciences and even hardcore Science classes, require them to write effectively. In exams and mid-term papers, students are required to demonstrate their acquisition of knowledge by summarizing, analyzing, and or discussing various aspects of the subject matter they studied that semester. This kind of writing, usually taught in English classes, emphasizes the 5-paragraph essay structure with an effective hook in the introductory paragraph, a strong thesis statement, 3 body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph that summarizes the main points of the essay.

To this day, the essential writing skills that students learn are based on this foundational model of writing. Additional tips and tricks to customize content for different types of essays are taught to expand on this model of writing. Once students have mastered the 5-paragraph essay model, they are taught to tweak it to suit the needs of an informative, descriptive, or argumentative essay. Most of the writing skills taught in school adhere to this structure and focus on developing students’ descriptive and creative writing skills that teach them how to organize their ideas and arguments so that the essay works as a coherent piece of argument or information.

While this model is quite useful for many kinds of writing requirements, exposing students primarily to this model limits their understanding of the kinds of practical writing skills they would need in the future. With the ever-increasing spread of technology into every aspect of our lives, effective writing skills for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields are in high demand today. As one can guess, the kinds of documents usually created in these fields are more objective in nature and demand a more crisp, impersonal and precis form of writing.

STEM fields require students to create reports, procedural manuals, research papers, theses documents, etc. that either record observed data, explain how-to procedures, or detail complex scientific concepts. Therefore, while the approach to planning any kind of writing might be the same (who are the audience, how best to structure the content/argument), there are some fundamental differences between scientific writing and writing in an English or Social Sciences class. The earlier students are exposed to these differences, the stronger would be their mastery of differences in language required for the two.

This can be achieved by changing our attitudes about the onus of teaching writing skills. This should no longer be limited to only the English teacher. Different kinds of scientific text examples and writing assignments should be introduced and discussed in class so that students recognize the difference in tone and language as well as understand the rationale behind them. A thorough understanding of scientific writing can only come from exposure to different kinds of texts and a teacher’s timely intervention to encourage these essential skills for STEM fields.