Developing a workplace writing sample repository for teaching epidemiology students

Developing a workplace writing sample repository for teaching epidemiology students

Academic Year:
2016 - 2017 (June 1, 2016 through May 31, 2017)
Funding Requested:
Project Dates:
Chair Uniqname:
Overview of the Project:
The purpose of this study is to collect and describe the types of writing that professionals with epidemiology degrees use in their workplace.

The types of writing that are enacted in a discipline can be a window into the activities, roles, values and context of that discipline. For example, in the field of law, a written legal judicial opinion offers information about the content-- the legal decision made-- but it also provides insight into the role of a judge in wielding this opinion, and the way in which the opinion can be used. A judicial opinion allows us to better understand the legal system’s values about fairness, and provides a sense of how legal professionals communicate, as well as their notion of what counts as legitimate evidence for a particular argument. It also gives us insight into broader systems and processes in that discipline, as well as the context of the writing of and implementing this opinion. Types of disciplinary writing in medicine, law, business, the life sciences, economics, physics, mathematics, computer science, engineering and many other disciplines have been described and analyzed for their connection to a given disciplinary workplace but also to allow their use pedagogically in helping students to gain a deeper understanding of their field of study.

continued in project objectives...
Number of Graduate Students Affected Annually:
2 graduate students
Proposal PDF:
Budget Administrator:
Laura Cifor <> and yvonne groves <>
Final Report Fields
Project Objectives:

Project Overview continued...

Nothing, however, exists on the writing formats of epidemiology. Not only are we lacking an analysis of how the writing types in epidemiology relate to our discipline, but there is no published description of types of writing specific to epidemiology. This is unfortunate as epidemiologists engage in many different types of writing to a variety of audiences including the disease outbreak report, health surveillance briefs, health messages aimed at the public, as well as more mundane types of writing such as the “data dictionary” to name just a few examples. 

Currently in the U-M Department of Epidemiology, some disciplinary writing types are used in the classroom: primarily the scientific manuscript, the NIH-style grant application and the scientific poster. These types of writing are enormously important in helping students engage in disciplinary activities and understand how epidemiologists think, act, engage in discourse, in learning what they value and what their different roles are. But many more types of writing are used in our field. By limiting our pedagogical interactions with students to such a narrow range of writing types, we limit our opportunities to help students to learn other aspects of our discipline and to develop professionally.

I propose to collect samples of disciplinary writing from our alumni working in diverse areas of our discipline. I will organize a database of these writing types and use them in teaching my course EPID 530 Scientific Writing for Epidemiologists. I will also make this information available to all faculty in my department. Additionally, I plan to develop and publish a manuscript describing these writing styles and how they connect to the discipline of epidemiology.

Project Objectives

The overall motivation behind this project was to expand and enrich the assigned writing we ask our epidemiology students to engage in. Research has shown that it’s important to assign writing using authentic formats used in the real world. Currently our instructors tend to assign writing in a narrow range of formats, including most frequently the scientific article, the NIH grant application and the scientific poster, but many more writing formats are used in our field. The purpose of this project was to collect examples of the writing our Epidemiology alumni use in their workplaces and organize them into a repository that can be used for teaching. Specific objectives were: • to collect information on the employer names, job titles and job descriptions of our Epidemiology alumni so that we can better understand the type of work our alumni do after graduating with MPH or PhD degrees • to collect samples of workplace writing from our Epidemiology alumni for use in teaching

Project Achievements:

I collected over 300 workplace writing examples from 84 Epidemiology alumni and have organized these samples into a repository. I plan to use the repository materials in teaching EPID 530 (Scientific Communication for Epidemiologists) fall 2017 and have made the repository available to all faculty in the Department of Epidemiology at the School of Public Health. The repository materials can be used in a variety of different ways for teaching and I have created a faculty guide outlining these possibilities including suggested writing assignments that can be tailored to the teaching style and content of a faculty member. Additionally, I created a “spotlight” movie with slides highlighting 42 alumni including their names, photos, employer name, job title and snippet of their workplace writing example. Finally we plan to use the materials in the repository for recruitment purposes and for alumni relations.

In addition to using the project to support teaching in our department, it will be used for recruitment at the department level and for alumni relations at the school level. Additionally, I will continue to collect workplace writing examples from newly graduated alumni as they transition out of school and gain employment.
I will be formally presenting the repository and spotlight slideshow at our end-of-year faculty retreat. I also wrote a commentary about the repository which I plan to submit to the American Journal of Public Health. I have also shared the project with our School of Public Health communications director so that she can help publicize it.
Advice to your Colleagues:
This project was a lot of work but very fun to put together. The alumni who contributed workplace writing samples seemed very eager to be involved and I feel it will enrich our teaching practices.