“Scientific Writing”: full article

Writing is a central activity in all courses: project reports, papers, Bachelor’s and Master’s theses, and dissertations are considered evidence of a successful learning process. Scientific writing courses are provided to help students develop competence in writing.

Beaufort (2007) proposes four interdisciplinary fields of competence for scientific writing in a discourse community: subject matter knowledge, genre knowledge, rhetorical knowledge and process knowledge. The fields of competence can serve as a framework for defining learning objectives, which specify the skills that students need to write successfully in their discourse community.

Beaufort’s analyses show that this comprehensive knowledge of the discourse community often is not taken into account in interdisciplinary writing courses. Students must therefore acquire the subtleties of the discourse community. It follows that writing practice should not be taken away from the subject discipline or discourse community, but rather should be integrated into the disciplinary courses of a programme. This approach is supported by a branch of applied linguistics termed English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP; see Flowerdew 2016 for a recent overview, and see also the approach of Writing Across the Curriculum, Bazerman et al. 2005; Paschke et al. 2011).

However, the assumption that writing should be learned within the subject discipline poses a great challenge to subject lecturers. Even experienced scientists who publish successfully often lack explicit knowledge about the writing process. This is why cooperation models have been developed. Eggensperger & Schanne (2016) present a cooperation model that combines the expertise of didactics, for example procedural knowledge on the writing process, and the expertise of scientists, for example knowledge about texts in the disciplines and discourse knowledge of the scientific community. This approach has been implemented at the University of Heidelberg.

At ETH, various models of scientific writing courses exist. They can be classified as follows:

  • Integration into subject learning at Bachelor’s and Master’s level
  • Separate, discipline-specific courses in scientific writing
  • Courses with broad disciplinary scope provided by the Language Center UZH/ETHZ
  • Cross-disciplinary courses

At the Refresh Teaching event, Melanie Paschke (D-USYS, D-BIOL) will present a Moodle course for scientific writing. It helps students acquire the procedural knowledge and lecturers teach scientific writing in their disciplinary courses. This course platform is open for all interested lecturers. Simon Milligan from the UZH/ETHZ Language Center offers writing courses for various study programmes. Both lecturers adapt their courses to specific disciplines.


Bazerman, Charles; Little, Joseph; Bethel, Lisa; Chavkin, Teri; Fouquette, Danielle & Garufis, Janet (2005). Reference Guide to Writing Across the Curriculum. Parlor Press and the WAC Clearinghouse https://wac.colostate.edu/books/bazerman_wac/

Beaufort, Anne (2007). College Writing and Beyond: A New Framework for University Writing Instruction. Utah State University Press.

Eggensperger, Petra & Schanne, Sita (2016). Vom Nature-Paper zur Bachelor-Arbeit. Kompetenzorientierte Schreibangebote in den Lebenswissenschaften. In: Hirsch-Weber, Andreas & Scherer, Stefan (Hrsg.). Wissenschaftliches Schreiben in Natur- und Technikwissenschaften. Neue Herausforderungen der Schreibforschung. Wiesbaden: Springer Spektrum (p. 155-176).

Flowerdew, John (2016). English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP). In: Writing and Pedagogy, Vol. 8., No. 1. http://dx.doi.org/10.1558/wap.v8i1.30051.

Paschke, Melanie; McNamara, Pauline; Frischknecht, Peter; Buchmann, Nina (2011). Wissenschaftliches Schreiben in den Pflanzenwissenschaften. Zeitschrift Schreiben:online. https://doi.org/10.5167 /uzh-57616


Authors: Elke Tomforde, Sara Morgenthaler