Writing Science with Clarity

Environmental scientists are rarely taught how to write effectively, yet writing comprises the bulk of their work. Concepts such as understanding your audience, context, and purpose or selecting a writing style are vital to clear communication. Environmental scientists need a process, and when they work without one, they struggle with procrastination, writer’s block, and anxiety.

“I wish I would have Writing for Clarity when I was in college, it would have helped me so much in my career! Dr. Baker does a great job in giving participants new ways to be better writers and make the process flow easier.” Laurie Heupel, Shepherdstown, West Virginia

Unfortunately, university writing training remains inadequate, because it focuses exclusively on the peer-reviewed journal article. While this writing style remains the gold standard in academia, environmental scientists engage with governments and non-governmental organizations. They intersect with the policy world, writing briefing and white papers as well as technical and regulatory reports. Standards for these documents vary widely. And the methods used for writing journal articles simply do not apply.

“I learned / got access to many great tools that will help me write more efficiently and effectively.”  Amelia O’Connor, Newport, OR

After working for years with environmental scientists struggling with these problems, I wrote Writing in the Environmental Sciences: A Seven-Step Process (Cambridge UP, 2017). The book is designed to help environmental scientists become more focused, gain clarity, and have a process for tackling writing projects. The seven steps and a brief description of each are listed below:

  • Laying the Foundation. Students learn how to assess their audience, their purpose, and their context, so they know which information to include and exclude, identify the right tone, and formulate a relevant logic.
  • Exploring. In an effort to combat writer’s block and eliminate procrastination, students practice several strategies for understanding what they already know about a topic and formulating research questions to fill in the gaps. The course also reviews research strategies and resources applicable to working professionals as opposed to academics.
  • Arranging. Many environmental science documents come with a template, but writers must still distribute their raw information throughout the template and organize it within sections of the template. The course goes beyond Roman numeral outlines to create meaningful logical strategies for a variety of content situations.
  • Selecting a Writing Style. Some information is best conveyed in narrative form; other times a summary is more appropriate. These writing styles have different conventions and strategies, from preplanning to word choice. Here, the course pauses to bridge the gap between Exploration, Arrangement, and Crafting by selecting a writing style and exploring its conventions.
  • Crafting. At this stage, which most people refer to as “writing,” students learn how to craft unified, developed, and coherent paragraphs; craft sentences with strong, clear, and consistent subjects and verbs; include transitions (that are properly punctuated); and use words that are vivid, descriptive, and engaging.
  • Revising. After practicing strategies for gaining perspective when time is not an option, students divide revision into manageable steps that focus first on content and organization, then on paragraph and sentence structure, and finally on grammar and mechanics.
  • Polishing. Throughout the class, the course offers grammar refreshers through fun, competitive games. The course is concluded by addressing any outstanding questions and reviewing important resources.

The course teaches writers the basics of composition in a new way: by offering a systematic process, a protocol of sorts. These steps offer a different way of thinking about writing. Instead of asking an employee to look at a polished, published document and replicate it, the course shows them how to start from the beginning, when all they have is a topic. With this process, you do not have to be a naturally gifted writer to write well: you just need to follow the steps.

“I think my worst habit is feeling like I am a bad writer! Now I have so many tips, strategies, and tools to use in my everyday workspace to help me improve my skills. I know that I will always need to improve, but I feel more confident in my writing style and skillset. Confidence will make me a better writer!” Katie Powell, Boise, ID

The course begins with an understanding of audience, purpose, and context, a lesson that serves as the foundation for the rest of the course. Questions about Arranging or Selecting a Writing Style are made based on an understanding of these elements.

As students progress through the seven steps, they also receive substantive lessons in paragraphing, sentence structure, and grammar. Students then have the opportunity to practice what they learn immediately, by writing on a topic of their choice, step by step. These lessons are supplemented with individualized attention in the form of feedback on a shared website.

Instead of looking at and assessing artificial situations, writers work within their own daily writing context, learning to create topic sentences, move subjects and verbs, and understand comma rules in the documents they write. These learning strategies are proven to help students retain more of what they learn.

“I am a biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and I recently took the Writing with Clarity class.  I can’t say enough good things about Michelle and the class.  Michelle is supportive, encouraging and extremely knowledgeable in all aspects of the writing cycle.  I went into the class feeling frustrated and discouraged with the writing process, but I learned tools and strategies that make the process manageable and maybe even fun! I now feel stronger and more confident in my writing skills which will help me throughout my professional career.  I highly recommend this class, particularly under Michelle’s guidance, to anyone who is tasked with writing documents and reports as part of their profession.”  Maureen Kavanagh, Vancouver, WA

For all of these reasons, I think your staff would benefit from this course, and I hope to have the opportunity to bring it to you. Please contact me directly for pricing and availability. I hope to hear from you soon!

Michelle Baker, the Conservation Writing Pro–teaching, writing, and editing so environmental scientists can communicate more clearly!

L. Michelle Baker, Ph.D.
441 Walina Street, Apt. 804
Honolulu, HI 96815
304 283 4573
Author: Writing in the Environmental Sciences: A Seven-Step Guide