University of Wisconsin–Madison

Two Short Writing Assignments in Zoology

Patricia McConnell, Zoology 335

These two related short formal writing assignments in a large lecture course ask students 1) to summarize multiple perspectives about a topic and 2) to make connections between course content and individual research—and to do so very concisely

Assignments: You need to turn in two assignments over the course of the semester, all based on one of the three topics announced during the 3rd week of class. All three topics will be related to a current controversy regarding human/animal relationships; examples from previous years are “Wild Caught versus Farm Raised Salmon,” “Trap, Neuter and Release in the Management of Free-Ranging Cats,” and “Decompression Research on Sheep.” Here are brief descriptions of the two papers you will write:

  • A THREE to FOUR PAGE PAPER, DUE March 13th: A three to four page paper illustrating that you have examined the biological aspects of your topic from several different perspectives. You can define “biological” broadly—including the issue’s effects on the human community and on the economy, if it relates to the controversial aspects of your topic. This will require using information from 3 sources: lecture, readings and independent research. Most importantly, a good paper will present an objective description of at least two perspectives, usually including the arguments both “for” and “against” a particular stand. See below for more details, and see Learn@UW for exemplary examples. Worth 100 points.
  • A 90 WORD PAPER, DUE April 10th. Write no more than 90 words that 1) summarize a philosophy from class that is 1) relevant to the topic of your 3-4 page paper, 2) close to your own perspective, and 3) applies it to the topic itself. This assignment will require a lot of thought and editing. You MUST stay under the word limit, and you must do a good job of advocating for a particular outcome based on the philosophy you choose. Worth 50 points. See exemplary examples posted on Learn@UW.

Logistics: Pay careful attention to the page and word limits.  Your first paper will not receive full credit if it is under or over the page limit. Thus, your first full paper must be no less than three pages, but no longer than four. Your second paper must be under 90 words but still adequately address the issue. Any paper over the word limit will be returned. The paper length is limited for obvious reasons and is one of your biggest challenges—in each case, every word is critical.

The page limit does not include your list of references. (References are not necessary for your 90 word paper.)  Your papers must be typed (no smaller than 12 point font) and be 1.5 or double-spaced.  A cover page is not necessary, but be sure that your name is clearly attached to your paper. You must number each page. Please avoid plastic or other fancy covers – use plain paper and staple the pages together. Please note that full credit requires you to follow these directions. You will lose points if your references are cited incorrectly, your paper is too long or too short, or the font is too large or too small. 

Topic/Research:  You must do your paper on one of the assigned topics, please do not ask to use another topic. You are expected to do independent research on your topic, and to cite references in the paper itself. You are encouraged to inform yourself by reading articles from the popular press and the web, but you must include articles from scientific journals. Your other main source of information should be assigned readings and lectures. Although each topic varies, between 15 and 20 total references are usually acceptable for the biology paper. References are not required for the second paper.

Evaluation: Your three to four page paper, due on March 13th, is worth 100 points. Your 90 word paper due on April 10th, and is worth 50 points.

Goals of Your Three To Four Page Paper: This paper should illustrate that: 1) you have examined the biological aspects of your topic from several different perspectives and understand the arguments both “for” and “against” a particular stand, and 2) whether you have used what you learned in lecture, research and readings to objectively and critically analyze the issue(s). We will evaluate your paper based on the breadth of issues presented and whether they are discussed in depth. Don’t hesitate to define “biological aspects” broadly. For example, the issues discussed might range from the impact on the environment to the impact on the economy (and thus on the welfare of humans). In other words, be sure to include humans in the “biotic community” when you are looking at this controversy. You’ll find examples of good papers on Learn@UW under Papers.

90 Word Paper Description: This paper (90 words maximum) needs to summarize one of the philosophies that we’ve discussed in class and apply it to the topic of your 3-4 page paper.  A good paper will provide a concise but thorough summary of a philosophical perspective, along with the reasons that it advises one should do “X” in relation to the controversial question. That is a lot of information to put into 90 words, but a good paper can be short and yet informative. Tip: Do not put this assignment off until the last minute, because a good paper will require many edits and a lot of thought. You’ll find examples on Learn@UW under Papers.