IWC: the write way?

This Letter to the Editors was submitted by Thea Gessler, a sophomore at Concordia College.

A few statistics as of 2010-2011: 13% of students were registered as biology majors while 22% of students were registered as a bio, chem, math, or physics major (not accounting for double majors). The largest liberal arts major at Concordia is biology.

What these statistics obviously illustrate is that science and math majors hold a large presence at Concordia. I count myself as one of them, and as a result of this I have noticed a gap in our dearly beloved Inquiry series. IWC, as all of you know, serves to prepare students for writing at the college level. While I enjoyed my writing class, I do not feel that as a biology major, it adequately prepared me for writing in the sciences. Yes, we did cover a variety of paper styles and different techniques to employ while writing, but we missed that unique style known as “the scientific voice.” Science writing has a very specific style: it is very factual, concise, unbiased, uses descriptive words selectively and is often written in the passive voice. It sounds easy enough, but when you are conditioned to write in a style more common to English and the humanities, it can prove to be a bit of a challenge.

As students of Concordia, we are required to take one lab-based science class as part of our core curriculum, and these classes often involve the writing of a scientific paper. Shouldn’t we be as adequately prepared for these classes as we are for the other courses in the core? Now, to be fair, I must acknowledge that Concordia does offer an alternative option to IWC. Students can elect to take an advanced writing class instead. These courses, however, do not solve the problem. For neither do they fill the gap that science and math majors face, nor do they provide the diversity that I feel is lacking in IWC, since each class covers a specialized topic. When I came to summer orientation, though, I had already been signed up for my IWC class and was not aware that I had a choice. Even if I did know that I had options, I probably would have stuck with IWC, because I would have trusted that it would have covered all the writing basics that I, at that time undeclared in my major, would need to know.

To clarify, I do not think that IWC is a bad program. I do feel that it prepared me well for my non-science/math classes, and I do really enjoy writing in other styles. The papers that I have most enjoyed writing at Concordia have been classes such as Religion 100 and Arthurian Legends. But science writing can be valuable too. It uses different types of critical thinking skills and demands an intense focus on the paper’s topic. These are skills that can easily be applied to other subjects. How many of you have received back a paper, and were told that you included irrelevant information, swayed too far away from or did not thoroughly support your thesis? Having experience with the scientific style of writing could help students learn how to universally hone their writing focus.

To return to the statistics. There are a significant number of science and math majors at Concordia, and while adding a scientific unit to the IWC program would clearly benefit them, I would argue that it would also benefit all of Concordia’s students. After all, isn’t the point of a liberal arts education to explore different disciplines? Scientists are writers too, and their style has something valuable to offer us all.

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