Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Revisiting Scientific Writing, and Not Much Has Changed

Last week, I worked tirelessly writing the abstract and data summary for Module 1. I really wanted to turn in a quality piece of work, so I canceled plans, skipped sleep, and even punted a 20.320 pset to get it done. And where was I when I turned in the final product? Frantically making last minute changes before submitting it 30 minutes before the due date. Submitting the final product felt great, but I sacrificed a lot of work in my other classes to get it done. Now, I'm playing the catch up game while I take a short break from 109.

As a science fair person in high school, I've had my fair share of writing research papers. But the criteria for writing a good paper are so much more intense here. Back in high school, I had to make it a point to clearly delineate my hypothesis, control, variables, materials, and everything else on a poster board. The paper was an afterthought; something the judges can casually glance at. I thought I was really prepared for this class, as I have already done research writing in the past. I could not have been more wrong...

Back in high school, I had trouble fulfilling page requirements for papers. I developed a tendency to be the opposite of concise: I like to repeat things, add unnecessary colloquialisms, and repeat things. This tendency carried over to my writing drafts in 20.109. My most common form of feedback involved cutting out extraneous information. I cut down my original methods section from a 2.5 page beast to only a single page. To be fair, I still don't know my grade on it. Hopefully, downsizing my methods section did more good than harm.

Thinking back on it, it's not too surprising that I'm having a lot more difficulty in this class than I thought. After all, I put the majority of my high school science efforts in getting those posters done. Writing my first serious research papers in 20.109 has been quite humbling. I've had so much experience in science communication in the past, and I felt like a complete newbie when writing method and figure drafts. These past few weeks, I've learned more about science communication than I have during my entire science fair career in high school. On one hand, it's been a real struggle to improve. Even now, I still find it difficult to grasp the Module 2 paper- we have to write another 15 page monster??? But it has also been deeply rewarding, knowing that I am learning at a really fast pace. Even if that means a lot of short-term stress, I really do believe it will pay off in the end. That's what all the MIT graduates say, right?

Anyways, here's the poster for one of my science fair posters during high school. In hindsight, it is a truly hideous piece of work. But I was able to present it at a national convention!

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