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Department-by-Department Reference Guide

Writing in Physics Courses

A Sampling of Advice from Faculty

1.  What kinds of writing assignments can I expect in Physics classes?

  • Homework
  • Microthemes (short, focused papers)
  • Laboratory reports
  • Essays
  • Research project abstracts
  • Scientific papers

2.  What are the valued qualities in an outstanding Physics written assignment?

  • Clarity, cogency, brevity, logical flow of ideas in presentation of material, and placement of the topic in the context of the discussion
  • Correctness of physical ideas and demonstration of the completeness of numbers and units used to describe a quantity
  • Correct grammar and punctuation, and complete sentence structure

3. What kinds of evidence are recognized in Physics?

     The answer to this question varies somewhat according to the particular course and assignment. Be sure to check with your professor regarding the goals and evaluation criteria for the work you are doing.

     In general, here is what you can expect to be stressed when different kinds of writing are evaluated:

  • Homework: Major physical laws
  • Laboratory reports: Measured data
  • Microthemes and essays: Primary sources and texts
  • Scientific papers: Primary sources

4.  What citation conventions do you require your students to use?

     See the individual course instructor regarding citation conventions.


5.  Special advice for writing in Physics:

     Much writing for Physics courses will involve the use of diagrams and schematics for clarification purposes. Following the recommendations below will help you present your material effectively:

  • Make sure that diagrams are neatly drawn, are large enough to be legible, and contain no ambiguous symbols.
  • Use neat and legible graphs.
  • Label axes with respect to numbers and units.
  • Identify data points clearly.
  • Give mathematical expressions in complete sentences.
  • Present references to diagrams and graphs clearly in the text.
  • For excellent advice about integrating numerical material into your writing, consult The Chicago Guide to Writing About Numbers by Jane E. Miller (2004).
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Page Last Modified: October 18, 2018

  For suggestions and corrections, please email
Dr. Rebecca Nowacek, Associate Professor of English
Director of the Ott Memorial Writing Center, 240 Raynor Library (414.288.5542)
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P.O. Box 1881 · Milwaukee, Wis. USA · 53201-1881