Writing Assignment, Spring 2011
Because all scientific disciplines are changing rapidly, new ideas are commonly presented in journals months or years before they find their way into textbooks. In order to introduce you to some of the current ideas about the geology of California I ask that you read two articles from the recent literature during the course of the semester. Then, working from the premise that one of the best ways to understand something is to explain it to someone else, I also ask that you write an outline and an abstract (concise summary) of each article. Developing the ability to recognize which elements of a presentation provide key support for its hypothesis and then communicate your analysis to others through a well-organized, clearly-written narrative is a skill that will serve you well in whatever work or studies you pursue.
Instructions for both sets of articles
- Article: First, read one of the two articles from the set that pertains to the writing assignment you are currently working on. If you would like additional background you may want to look back (or ahead) at our text's discussion of the topics covered by the article you choose. Remember, however, that your outline and abstract are to present information only from the article and not from other sources.
- Outline: Second, write an outline of the article's key points using complete sentences. A good way to begin organizing your outline may be to imagine that you are telling a friend what the most important conclusions of the article are and which data support them. If you can organize your statements and data like this you'll be well on your way to writing a good outline.
- Your final version needs to be typed, and you should identify yourself only by typing your class PIN—not your name—on the upper, right-hand corner of the first page.
- The outline will be worth 10 points and will be graded on grammar, completeness, and the relevance of the material to the main ideas of the article (focus on major points, not peripheral details) according to the accompanying rubric. You should also review this sample outline, which was written from an article previously used for this assignment, so that you can get an idea of what sort of detail your outline should include. Because the rubric and sample outline (as well as the other sample documents linked below) are PDF files you will need to install a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to view them if you do not already have one on your computer.
» For some helpful advice on writing style and mechanics, check out: The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing.
» Rather than adding a lot of lengthy comments to your paper when I review it I will use some brief annotations (e.g., SP = spelling error; RO = run-on sentence). Here is a complete list of those annotations.
- Abstract: Third, prepare an abstract that summarizes the most important observations and conclusions of the article according to the instructions given on the accompanying template. (If you're not using Word, this abstract layout page will show you the correct margins and column sizes for your abstract.) If you're not familiar with what an abstact is, check out this short essay on what makes a good versus a bad abstract by Kenneth Landes.
- Your final version must be typed must follow the format given in the template. Just highlight each element of the template (title, author name(s), journal title, abstract text, index terms, etc.) and type in the corresponding text for your abstract. The template will correctly position and space text on the page. Be sure to save the edited template so that if anything goes wrong you won't have to type it again. Your abstract text should fit into the space available in the left-hand column but not wrap over into the right-hand column. If it does you'll need to shorten the text accordingly. Also, the top line of the right-hand column should be flush with the title in the left-hand column. If it's not, be sure to remove any extra carriage returns a the bottom of the right-hand column. Finally, you should only identify yourself by typing your PINnot your namein the space indicated near the top of the right-hand column.
- You will want to work from your outline, but be careful not to paraphrase the article too closely or include text directly from it without attribution. Doing so constitutes plagiarism and will result in a loss of points.
- The abstract is worth 20 points, and will be graded about 2/3 on content (clarity, originality, and thoughtfulness of answers) and 1/3 on form (spelling, punctuation, and organization) according to the acompanying rubric. You should also review this sample abstract, that was written from the same article as the sample outline above, so that you can see how the narrative content of the abstract is related to the ideas presented in the outline.
Article Set 1: Plate Tectonic Processes in California
- Earthquake Conversations by Ross S. Stein, Scientific American, January 2003, p. 72-79.
This article explores how the stress released by an earthquake along one fault, including transform plate boundaries like the San Andreas, may be transferred to nearby faults and either increase or decrease the likelihood of earthquakes along them.
- The Origin of the Land Under the Sea by Peter B. Kelemen, Scientific American, February 2009, p. 52-57.
This article presents a model for how magma is generated in the mantle beneath mid-ocean ridges, like the Gorda-Juan de Fuca ridge off the northern California coast, and how this magma rises to build new ocean floor crust.
Article Set 2: Geologic Resources and Hazards in California
- Squeezing More Oil from the Ground by L. Maugeri, Scientific American, October 2009, p. 56-63.
This article outlines some of the strategies that geologists are using to extract as much oil as possible from known reservoirs, including California's Kern River field.
- Seconds Before the Big One by R. Allen, Scientific American, April 2011, p. 74-79.
This article examines how the nature of seismic waves and advances in communications and computer technologies may enable us to develop an early-warning system that will give Californians critical seconds to prepare for the heavy shaking of a large earthquake.