The World of Science
The field of science is a very fascinating, complex world. There are millions of branches that connect to the base of generalized science. Yet, they all have one goal in mind, to make advances on critical hypotheses. Those whom are a part of this Discourse, or way of life, have become very familiar with the different components that make science unique from other areas of study. In Learning to Read Biology: One Student’s Rhetorical Development in College, Christina Haas explores this process through a college student who is entering her apprenticeship. Haas, like others in the natural and social science Discourse, used the IMRaD (Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion) paper format to present her experiment and the data collected. This paper format holds an important role in science. A.J. Meadows stresses this idea in his paper “The Scientific Paper as an Archaeological Artefact”, and how ,along with other practices, it has evolved over the years. By recognizing specific qualities that preside in science, it is clear that not just anyone can claim to be a member of this Discourse.
In Haas’ study we explore the life of a student through her four years of college in terms of science. Eliza began freshman and sophomore year by reading text autonomously, meaning “entities functioning without contextual support from author, reader, or culture,” (Haas 45). She believed that science research papers stood alone from textbooks, not with them. Yet, when Eliza began her internship in a lab she started seeing things in a different lighting. Gee would count this internship as Eliza’s apprenticeship into the Discourse of Science. “enculturation (“apprenticeship”) into social practices through scaffolded and supported interaction with the people who have already mastered the Discourse,” (Gee 7). This start allowed Eliza to see where the textbook and research papers began to coexist.
“In both her reading for this particular research paper and her reading more generally, Eliza exhibited a greater awareness of the contexts surrounding the texts she read,” (64–65)
This was when Eliza made the transfer from autonomous reading to reading with a rhetorical frame. She began to make connections and see the motives and participants that make up the rhetorical frame. This allowed her to understand the purpose of the research at hand and connect it to other sources. In the beginning, Eliza was an outsider of the science Discourse attempting to skim by by just remembering the information instead of making connections. Then, through this apprenticeship Eliza was enlightened by the complexity that is the science Discourse, including the importance of the IMRaD format. She was able to identify different components of papers and actually make sense of what the researcher is trying to say. In an interview with Haas, Eliza states that she can tell that in the discussion section the researcher is unsure of what they’re trying to prove (66). Through this apprenticeship, like many others, Eliza was taught the different things that are valued in the Discourse.
Going through lab write ups or other research documents, what is valued is can be shown in both subtle and blatant ways. Finding these values is recognizing what Gee would consider the politics of a Discourse, “what is being communicated as to what is taken to be ‘normal’, ‘right’, ‘good’, ‘correct’…” (Fiano 83). Through Meadows we can see there is importance that goes along with claiming an idea as your own.
“A paper might be read more quickly if submitted to a smaller society, and so permit priority to be claimed by a scientist who was not actually first in the field,” (Meadows 28)
Whether or not an outsider cares about who published what first, it is held with extreme importance to be able to say that your idea is original in the scientific community. It allows for a level of respect or high regards to be recognized as the first to propose an idea and this is why dates were included into citations in papers. In scientific papers, you are not supposed to use quotations instead you are expected to summarize what you found and then put credit where it is due by using the citation. This shows that, although you are not putting quotations around something, it is still not your own work. Aside from the status received from being cited in a paper, it also allows someone to be able to reference other documents. This is extremely important when someone is trying to branch off of one experiment and make a contribution to the overlying problem trying to be solved. This could be the difference from a failed or inconclusive experiment and finding where the experiment went wrong. Through the evolution of the scientific journal over time, the format has become easier and more efficient for the reader.
Advances in Science
As technology is progressing rapidly throughout the years, the need to progress the paper format has grown with it. Meadows discusses this evolution in paper styles has occurred and reasons why it is important in the Discourse of Science. He states “as the volume and level of specialisation of scientific knowledge has increased. so has the need for efficient information retrieval,” (Meadows, 28). If one was to look at scientific journals now and journals from years past, they will be able to see the difference in things like formatting as well as titles. Meadows analyzed the change in the word count of titles over the years finding that more words were involved as the years progressed.
“What seems to have happened is the that, while the number of scientific papers in circulation has gone up rapidly in the post-war years, so has the amount of information provided by authors in the titles to their papers,” (Meadows, 28).
Adding more information in the title of a scientific journal allows the reader find a more relevant article faster. This goes along with the idea of increasing efficiency. Making this process of gathering information easier for the scientist allows them to get their research done faster. Which coincides with the previous idea of being the first to publish your ideas. Although scientist are piggy backing off of one another, their research could hold a major impact on the pressing issue. By having the tools like the IMRaD format, the Discourse of Science is able to evolve at a faster rate.
The IMRaD format is very simple and easy to follow, hence why it is a perfect format for scientific papers and lab write ups. Haas, like many others, use it to help distinguish the different parts to their experiment. The four sections include Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion, like the acronym implies and there are very few times that a researcher will steer away from using those to title their sections.
Carnegie Mellon University published the “IMRAD Cheat Sheet” to help break down the different sections and show the importance. According to the cheat sheet, the result section is the most important, which is to be expected since it holds the most vital information in regards to the overall experiment. There is high value in this section because it allows the reader to see what came out of the experiment and, if they wanted, to see if they can use it for their own experiment. Since the Discourse of science values this evolution of hypothesis and experiments, this is a highly important part of the scientific journal. Under the results section of the cheat sheet it states, “when talking about this data, we can think of the results as having two parts: report and comment,” (Global Communication Center 1) which we can see in Haas’ paper. Haas will begin by feeding us information about Eliza’s habits each year and then comment on her findings or ideas about said habits. This format makes it easier for those both inside and out of the Discourse to be able to use the titles and subtitles and determine each section’s purpose. This is also true for being able to determine the importance of the information and what the different components mean to both the paper and the Discourse itself.
Like others, the scientific Discourse entails many values and practices, both unique or common. A major practice, shown in Haas’ journal, is the IMRaD paper format. Although researchers do not blatantly express the importance of this format, it is greatly shown by the commonality of it. Yet, this might not be known to someone who is not in the Discourse. We see this in Eliza, she began by thinking that the information written in a textbook stood alone and the papers she had to use for her research projects had no correlation. Through her transition into the Discourse, she began to see how each piece of research helped drive a lot of the information found in textbooks and vice versa. This is true for the majority of outsiders, for example, college students. Many of us are guilty of sitting down and reading the textbook over and over again to try to memorize it and not try to understand it. Yet, those who are in the Discourse might try to relate it to things that they have done or read to try and understand it.
“Each of these readers moved beyond an ‘autonomous’ text and tried to account for a number of situational or rhetorical element — author, authorial intent, reader identity, and historical, cultural, and situational context — to ‘frame’ or support the discourse” (Haas, 49).
By comparing textbook information to experiments, it allows one to make revelations about information in either source, making one go from being an autonomous reader to one that uses a rhetorical frame.
The Discourse of science, like others, has different qualities which make it unique. The IMRaD paper formatting being one of them. Although this format is fairly simple, those outside of the Discourse might not know or appreciate the significance of it. Implementing the IMRaD format allowed for Discourse wide simplicity and made the analysis of scientific journals become more efficient. These authors goals were to provide their findings and hopefully provide the information needed for other scientist to branch off. We can see this idea in Meadows paper when he discusses the importance of citations and the different values in the Discourse. We can also see these values throughout Haas’ paper and the evolution between the outsider to the apprentice. By analyzing the Discourse of science, one can notice the different ways that common practices can be used, for example the citation. Although other Discourses use them, there are different values that correspond to it especially in science. Through the Discourse of Science we can see how complex Discourses can seem to those not whom are outsiders.
Fiano, Darcy. “Primary Discourse and Expressive Oral Language in a Kindergarten Student.” Reading Research Quarterly 49.1 (2013): 61–84. Print.
Gee, James. “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATION 171.1 (1989): 5–17. Print.
Haas, C. “Learning to Read Biology: One Student’s Rhetorical Development in College.” Written Communication 11.1 (1994): 43–84. Print.
“IMRAD Cheat Sheet.” An Introduction Meteorology for Wind Energy (2015): 171–74. Carnegie Mellon University. Print.
Meadows, A.j. “The Scientific Paper as an Archaeological Artefact.” Journal of Information Science 11.1 (1985): 27–30. Print