Sequencing Different Genres of Writing Assignments in a Women’s Studies Syllabus

Professor Caitilyn Allen, Plant Pathology

Women’s Studies 530: Biology and Gender

WS530 is a writing-intensive course. During the semester you will submit two brief summary papers and two longer papers. In addition, there will be several in-class writing exercises. These written assignments will help you understand and analyze the course material and simultaneously improve your writing skills. You are expected to write thoughtfully and revise your work to make it concise and clear.

The Women’s Studies S530 Writing Fellows

We are fortunate to have peer writing tutors, called Writing Fellows, assigned to our course this semester. They will work with you individually outside the classroom to help you improve the clarity and effectiveness of your writing. I have chosen to work with Writing Fellows in this course because I believe in the philosophy behind this program: “All writers, no matter how accomplished, can improve their writing by sharing works in progress and making revisions based on constructive criticism.”

Writing Fellows are:

– undergraduate students who will read your writing and make constructive suggestions for revision

– trained in how to critically evaluate writing and respond helpfully

– supervised closely by your professor

Writing Fellows do not:

– grade your papers

– teach you course-specific content

How it works:

The Writing Fellows will work with you on two different assignments, the evolutionary psychology paper and the popular media paper. In each case, you will submit a polished draft* of your paper to me on the assigned due date. I will pass it on to your Writing Fellow, who will carefully read your paper, make comments on your draft, and then meet with you individually for a conference to discuss your writing and suggestions for revision. You will then revise your paper and submit both the original draft and your revised version on the specified revision due date. Please include a cover letter briefly explaining how you responded to each of your Writing Fellow’s comments.

*What’s a Polished Draft?

A polished draft represents your best effort at the assignment. It is typewritten (double-spaced) and has a complete bibliography. It is of quality comparable to what you would turn in for grading. It is not an outline, a rough draft, or a first draft. Proofread carefully to remove any grammar or spelling errors (see handouts on common usage errors and editing your own prose). This will ensure that when you meet, your Writing Fellow can focus on larger issues like organization, presentation, and clarity of style.

Due date policy: I will deduct 10% per day up to two days if papers are late. I will not accept papers more than two days after the due date. Please see me if you start to fall behind or need assistance.

References: You must cite references for facts and ideas that are not your own. Anything less is plagiarism. If you refer to material from the course reader, you may cite it simply by author and year in parentheses, e.g.: (LeVay, 1991). You may also cite class lectures as (WS530 Lecture). Give a more complete citation in a footnote if you cite an outside source. Sample format:

Fisher, Helen. 1992. Anatomy of Love: The Natural History of Monogamy, Adultery, and Divorce. W. W. Norton and Co., New York. 431 p. (book)

Profet, Margie. 1993. Menstruation as a defense against pathogens transported by sperm. Quarterly Review of Biology 68:335-386. (journal article)

Academic Honesty: You should be familiar with the University’s standards for academic honesty as described in the pamphlet, Academic Misconduct: Rules and Procedures, published by the Dean of Students’ Office. You are expected to work alone on the individual writing assignments and exams. Books, articles, and class notes may be consulted but you must cite any such sources in your papers and exams. The only exceptions to this policy are the explicitly-labeled group assignments.


  1. Two one-page summary papers. An important goal of this course is to teach you to read scientific literature critically. To help you take an active rather than a passive approach to these readings, you will write brief summaries of two research papers. You must choose one paper from Group 1 and one paper from Group 2 (see list below). Together, these short papers are worth 15% of your grade. They are due in class on the day the reading is assigned.

Each paper should contain a concise summary of the research or concept described in the reading, followed by your critique. Typed papers should be one page, double-spaced. Handwritten papers should be two pages; if you must hand-write your papers, please skip lines and write legibly.

      The summary should answer the following questions:

  1. What hypothesis was the author(s) trying to test?
  2. What methods were used to test the hypothesis?
  3. What results were obtained?
  4. How did the author(s) interpret these results?
  • You should be able to write a general summary in four or five sentences. Don’t get bogged down in unnecessary details. Avoid copying the abstract.

      The critique should be about half your paper. It may consider one or two of the following questions (or others as appropriate):

  1. Did the experimental approach adequately test the hypothesis?
  2. Did the results obtained justify the interpretation and conclusions?
  3. Were appropriate controls used?
  4. Could bias have affected the results obtained? How?
  5. Were all relevant results or sources considered?
  • Effective critiques often use specific examples to support an argument. Cite your sources!
  1. A five-page paper on evolutionary psychology. (WF) Choose one of the two topics below. The listed research papers present conflicting scientific evidence on a question. In a carefully documented essay, critically compare and contrast the papers. Focusing on the experimental methods, assumptions, and data, explain which, if any, is correct? Cite specific evidence from sources listed below, and from assigned readings. Focus on the biology behind the arguments. This essay should be understandable to an educated non-scientist and is worth 20% of your grade. (Note: most references are in the back of the Course Reader.)

Topic A: What is the “good” female body? Evolutionary psychologists believe that men are genetically programmed to be attracted to women who have specific traits that certify their reproductive potential. A woman’s mate value can be detected from visual cues that form a universal standard of female beauty. Problem: What are these cues?

Singh, Devendra. 1993. Adaptive significance of female physical attractiveness: role of waist-to-hip ratio. J. Personality and Social Psychology 2:293–307.

Tovee, M, S. Reinhardt, J. Emery, and P. Cornelissen. 1998. Optimum body-mass index and maximum sexual attractiveness. The Lancet 352:548.

Yu, D.W., and G. H. Shepherd. 1998. Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Nature 396:321–3.

Topic B: What do women want in a man? Evolutionary psychologists believe that women exercise female choice in human mating systems. What criteria do (heterosexual) women use in choosing a mate?

Buss, D.M. et al. 1991. International preferences in selecting mates: A study of 37 cultures. Cross-Cultural Psychology 21:5–47.

Perrett, D. I., K.J. Lee, I. Penton-Voak, D. Rowland, S. Yoshikawa, D. Burt, S. Henzi, D. Castles, and S. Akamatsu. 1998. Effects of sexual dimorphism on facial attractiveness. Nature 394:884–887.

Due date: A polished draft of this paper is due in class on Monday, October 9.

The revised version of this paper is due in class on Monday, October 23.

  • A five-page “laboratory-to-breakfast table” analysis (popular media paper). (WF) We learn most of what we know about scientific research on biology and gender from the popular press. What happens to a scientific idea as it travels from the lab bench to your morning newspaper? How is scientific information “translated” by the press for the general public? Is press coverage of such research accurate, objective, and complete? Follow these steps to complete this assignment:
  • Choose a well-publicized scientific paper, published since 1995, that addresses biological differences between human groups. If you are unsure if your choice is appropriate, discuss it with me. 
  • Begin this longer paper with a brief (about one page) summary of the research and results as described above.
  • In the remaining four pages, critically consider mass media reporting of the research described in the scientific source. What aspect of the research was emphasized? Was anything important omitted? Were the results accepted uncritically? Were conflicting opinions discussed? How did different popular articles differ from each other? This paper will require some library research since you must cite at least two non-scientific articles about the research paper.
  • Attach copies of your research sources to your completed paper.
    • Research sources: Search the CD-ROM databases in Memorial, Middleton, or Steenbock Library (staff are very helpful if you aren’t familiar with this technology). Use multiple terms in your search; try the author’s name and home institution, together with general terms like menstruation or homosexuality. Avoid excessive specificity. Try searching indices like The New York Times, or the Washington Post for newspaper articles. For periodicals like newsweeklies or women’s magazines try Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature or Lexus Nexus. If you want to effectively criticize the original scientific article, the media response, or both, you will probably need to cite some scientific sources as well.
    • Database searching is very thorough and ultimately a big timesaver, but it may take you a while to learn to use it efficiently. Start this assignment early.
    • List your sources at the end of the paper, using the reference style described above.
  • This paper should be about five double-spaced pages, typewritten, and is worth 20% of your grade.

Due date: A polished draft of this paper is due in class on Monday, November 20.

The revised version of this paper is due in class on Wednesday, December 6.

WS530Summary of Written Assignment Due Dates

  1. Take-home worksheet: “Baby X Revisited” Monday Sept 11
  2. 1-page summary: “From vigilance to violence” Friday Sept 29†  or: 1-page summary: “Does facial attractiveness honestly advertise…” Wednesday Oct 4†
  3. *Evolutionary psychology paper Monday Oct 9
  4. 1-page summary: “Menstrual cycle symptomatology…” Friday Oct 13† or: 1-page summary: “Estrogen-related variation…” Monday Oct 16†
  5. Revised evolutionary psychology paper Wednesday Oct 25
  6. Midterm examination (in class) Monday Oct 30
  7. *Popular media paper Monday Nov 20
  8. Revised popular media paper Wednesday Dec 6

†You should submit only two 1-page summaries; choose one paper to summarize from each pair.

*Work with your Writing Fellow on these assignments