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Resources for Undergraduate Courses in Bioinformatics: Science Communication

By Diane P. Genereux

Science Communication

Many students may be surprised to find a writing and communication emphasis within a bioinformatics course. However, even those working in the most technical aspects of bioinformatics typically find themselves, at least occasionally, needing to explain their technical work and findings to collaborators while a project is in process, and eventually to the public. Therefore, much like the capability to make at least basic scientific figures, skills in scientific writing are essential.

Many resources freely available online outline basic considerations for writing papers. Scitable, the online teaching/learning portal offered by Nature Publishing Group, provides helpful ebook resources including English Communication for Scientists, which gives a broad introduction to the major features of a scientific paper, though without specific attention to requirements for bioinformatics. Similarly, several print books offer overall guidance in combination with style guides that are broadly applicable to writing in many different areas of science. These include The 21st Century Guide to Writing Articles in the Biomedical Sciences by Shiri Diskin, and Hilary Glasman-Deal’s Science Research Writing: For Native and Non-Native Speakers of English. While both volumes are from the same publisher, Glasman-Deal addresses the specific needs of students writing in a language that is not their primary or home language.

To date, very few resources have emerged as guides for undergraduates writing about their work in bioinformatics. One potential explanation is that traditional biology courses have tended to focus on analysis of small data sets collected through labwork in the context of the course itself. While this approach offers students experience with the full process of scientific inquiry, from experimental design to presentation, it can limit opportunities for students to grapple with the specific challenges of writing about their analyses of larger, publicly available data sets. To address this gap, the recent article by Brett Mensch and Konrad Kording (“Ten Simple Rules for Structuring Papers”) may be a useful course reading, as it discusses the process of paper writing with sufficient generality to include cases where students may be analyzing publicly available data sets, rather than ones they collected themselves. The guidance provided in “Ten Simple Rules” is broad enough that it may also be helpful for students preparing to write about bioinformatics for a broader audience.(6)

6. Brett Mensch and Konrad Kording, “Ten Simple Rules for Structuring Papers,” PLOS Computational Biology 13, no. 9 (published September 28, 2017), https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005619