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Storyboarding With Data: Using Quantitative Reading to Teach Research Writing

This page authored by Mya Poe, MIT, based on an original activity created with Dennis Freeman (MIT).
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project

Summary

Storyboard

This exercise gives participants practice in critically assessing visual representations of data and linking those explanations to drafting a research article. We begin by teaching two aspects of critically reading figures:

  • how to assess a single figure, and
  • how to assess a series of figures to determine coherence across a data set.

We then ask participants to write their explanations in bullet point form. These explanations are categorized by the appropriate research article section in which they would appear. The combination of images and bullet point explanations becomes the "storyboard" for the research article. The research article text is then written around these categorized bullet points.

Through this approach, participants learn how to logically link a series of data representations to develop reader conidence that data are complete and accurate. They also learn how to build a coherent research article around data. Finally, participants learn how to discern the accurate representation of data from potential misrepresentations.


Learning Goals

Reading and Assessing Figures

Writing a Research Article

Context for Use

This activity was developed for technical writing teachers. This activity was designed to give new technical writing teachers a short introduction to incorporating quantitative data in writing courses. Workshop activity can be modified for undergraduates or graduate students in any course that includes visual representations of data, including Economics, Business, and Science. Figure reading activity takes 20-30 minutes. Drafting research article from bullet points take additional time.

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity is meant to teach participants how to analyze visual representations of data and use that analysis as a basis for writing research findings. Three parts to this activity include: (1) analyze a single figure to assess its meaning, (2) analyze a series of figures to determine coherence across a data set, and (3) use bullet point explanations of those figures as a basis for writing an organized research article.

In the first part, participants are given a figure from a current article on the distribution of research-oriented articles in Writing Studies journals. They are asked what the figure shows, what conclusions can be drawn from this figure, what the individual bars on the plot represent, and what questions are left unanswered. Participants work in groups of 2-3 to discuss these questions. They then report to the larger group for discussion.

In the second part, participants are given two figures from the Kentucky Department of Education. They are asked what the figures show, what conclusions can be drawn from these figures, how these figures relate to each other (e.g., Do they support each other? Contradict each other?), and what additional questions are left unanswered. Participants work in groups of 2-3 to discuss these questions. They then report to the larger group for discussion.

In the third part, participants write their answers to the above questions. Participants then classify their answers by the section of a research article--methods, results, discussion--in which that information would appear. By placing bullet point explanations with the sections of a research in which that information would appear, participants learn how to "build" a research article around visual representations of data

slides including handouts and directions for participants (PowerPoint 738kB May16 08)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This workshop activity was originally developed in an undergraduate biomedical engineering course to help students write more effectively about their research data. This activity (using data on diffusion) was part of a larger sequence of activities on "storyboarding" with data that led students through the scientific research writing process. Our rationale was that weighing various kinds of data evidence is central to the practice of conducting research. In the process of becoming professional biomedical engineers, students must internalize how to provide thorough, concise, readable explanations of research findings through visual representations of findings.

This activity was modified for writing teachers to help them comment more effectively on student technical writing. Technical writing teachers had tended to focus on superficial aspects of data representations, such as axes labels and figure numbers. This activity helped them understand critical reading and argument in representing scientific data.

Assessment

grading rubric storyboarding i.doc (Microsoft Word 27kB May16 08)

References and Resources

The original lecture slides from the biomedical engineering course are available on OpenCourseWare and DSpace at MIT:

"How to Translate Data into a Written Presentation of Your Findings"
dspace.mit.edu/.../916C1580-2C63-4FB4-AB9D-C23CBDD0DC20/0/6021JwrittenpresentationsOpenCourse.pdf

and the Biomedical Engineering course site.

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