Developing a workplace writing sample repository for teaching epidemiology students
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. 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 UM 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.