University of Wisconsin–Madison

Writing to an Outside Audience in Astronomy 150

Professor Christy Tremonti, Astronomy 150

Learning Goal:

Students will be able to explain why we believe the Universe began in a Big Bang and how we know that most of the Universe is composed of Dark Matter and Dark Energy to an audience no background in astronomy.

Assignment:

Write a 5-6 page letter to the school board of your high school advocating that some basic information about the origin and evolution of the Universe be taught in either middle school or high school. Your letter should be in 11-point type and double spaced.

I am not asking you to actually send this letter, just to write it. However, it will be useful if you treat it as a real letter. Think about your audience—the school board members—and what they might know or not know and any prejudices they might have. Think about the tone of your letter. Be professional, but avoid being overly technical. Your letter should have the following basic structure.

  • Introduce yourself. Again, think about what the school board might want to know. Citing some of you high school or college accomplishments might be appropriate, but be sure to keep it brief and interesting. This section should be no more than a few sentences.
  • Explain why it is important for students to have a solid understanding of our Universe. This section should be fairly short (no more than ½ page total) but be sure to spend time crafting a careful argument. If the school board is unconvinced, they might not read further.
  • Describe the content that you think your school should be teaching. It’s safe to assume that the school board knows nothing whatsoever about the Universe, so you’ll have to educate them about the Big Bang, Dark Matter, and Dark Energy. This will be the focus of the bulk of your paper (4-5 pages).
  • Suggest where this topic would fit into the curriculum. Should students be exposed to this material in an elective course or a required course? How much time should be devoted to this material, a week? a month? a semester? Would it be better to teach it in middle school? (If so, you can write to your middle school.) This section should be about a paragraph in length.
  • In addition to your letter, you must also fill out a short coversheet that will provide some useful information to your writing fellow. I will send the coversheet via email with your writing fellow’s name later today.

Writing Fellows:

We are fortunate to have peer writing tutors, called writing fellows, working with our course. Writing fellows are skilled undergraduate writers who have received special training in writing pedagogy. Each of you will work with one of them outside of class to improve the clarity and effectiveness of your writing. It is mandatory that you work with your writing fellow, as outlined below, even if you consider yourself a great writer.

Timeline:

  • Monday Feb 9: Read this assignment carefully and ask questions. Meet the writing fellows.
  • Monday March 2: A polished draft of your paper is due in class. Please bring a printed copy to class and turn in an electronic copy to the Learn@UW dropbox (MS Word Format preferred). By polished draft, I mean a paper that is ready to be turned in and graded. I will send your polished draft to your assigned writing fellow.
  • Monday March 9: Your writing fellow will return constructive comments on your draft. Their feedback will help you improve the way you structure and present your ideas. (They will not comment on the scientific content of your paper, nor will they proofread it for spelling and grammar mistakes.) You will then set up an appointment to meet with your writing fellow.
  • March 9-18: Meet individually with your writing fellow and discuss your planned revisions
  • Wednesday, March 23: A revised draft of your paper is due. You must also turn in your original polished draft with the writing fellows’ comments and a cover sheet describing how you addressed those comments.