Center for Teaching and Learning

April 2, 2020

25 – Constructively Aligning Instruction of Scientific Content with Written-Communication Skills


Robin McLachlan, School of Oceanography, UW Seattle


Numerous national and global surveys show that employers care most about an applicant’s communication skills but are overwhelmingly unsatisfied with recent college graduates’ preparedness in communication. Few undergraduate curricula include coursework-based communication opportunities. Those that do are primarily discipline-specific, which prevents students from generalizing their findings and speculating about interdisciplinary implications. Therefore, I designed, implemented, and evaluated a way to effectively incorporate written-communication skills into any science curriculum with minimal requirements of time, training, or resources.

The intervention was evaluated in an undergraduate-level science course. Learning goals and teaching strategies were explicitly described to the students, and writing lessons were scaffolded and constructively aligned with scientific content. Students completed pre- and post- written assignments, which were blindly reviewed and scored by STEM professionals.

Students in the intervention group achieved significantly higher score changes than students in the control group, with slight improvements in individual communication skills compounding into a >10% greater average overall improvement. Reviews from academic and nonacademic professionals were similar, indicating that the skills taught are beneficial to a wide range of STEM careers. The intervention was found to be most effective for students earlier in the academic program, and the explicit teaching style benefited students with lower GPAs the most. Instructors reported good perceptions of the intervention’s usefulness and effectiveness and agreed that the chosen communication skills were instrumental for all students regardless of their career trajectories. These results suggest that incorporating short writing lessons early in university-level science curricula in an explicit and scaffolded manner can effectively improve student writing skills and better prepare them for STEM careers.

View a PDF of this poster

Video presentation


Q & A: Poster session 1 (2:00 – 2:50 p.m.)