Three Types of Science Writing Assignments: An Overview

by Ariel Vilidnitsky

Science writing. That term may sound like a bit of an oxymoron, but I promise it’s not! An important part of being a scientist is not just understanding key theories in your field, but also being able to communicate these theories—and the ongoing research surrounding them—to an audience. Science professors, for instance, do this all the time when they publish their research in peer-reviewed journals.

At the undergraduate level, there tend to be three main categories of science writing: the grant proposal, the scientific debate paper, and the research report. The purpose of each of these writing assignments, as shown in the table below, is somewhat distinct. Just like with Expos papers, however, all three of these science writing assignments require you to analyze primary sources to make a claim of your own about some kind of knowledge gap in your field.

AssignmentDescriptionExample
Grant ProposalA description of a series of experiments—ones you will actually perform or not—that will help you answer some question in your field that previous research has yet to fully address.Fictitious grant proposals—ones in which you don’t actually end up performing the experiments—are common final paper prompts for science classes, especially if the focus of the class is on reading research papers.   The HCRP funding application requires you to write a grant proposal for research you will actually carry out, as do many post-grad fellowships.  
Scientific DebateA paper in which you argue your opinion about an ongoing debate in the scientific literature. Writing this type of paper requires considering the strengths and weaknesses of the research carried out by scientists from both sides of the debate. You might also consider how two opposing theories could coexist.  Prion or virus: Which is the true causative agent of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies?  A recent paper suggests that the universe may not expand in an isotropic manner, as was previously believed. Do you agree with the conclusions presented in this paper? Is there a way to reconcile these new findings with the previous hypothesis?  
Research ReportA paper in which you present your original data, draw conclusions from your research, and convey the implications of your findings.   Many statistics classes have final projects that require writing a report, either about a survey you conducted yourself or on external data that you analyzed in a new way.   Research funding programs often require a final report about the research that the funding allowed you to conduct.   Senior theses are basically just long research reports.  

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