University of Vermont

Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources

ecological planning curriculum

EP Writing

Writing Program for 
UVM Field Naturalists and Ecological Planners

Communication is central to the work of conservation and stewardship professionals who seek to influence the politicians, corporate leaders, and citizens making daily decisions that impact the Earth. Writing skills Field Naturalists and ecological planners are developed through deliberate curricular attention to the role of writing in advancing and expressing ideas, insights, and information to a variety of audiences. Below is an outline of writing activities that Field Naturalists (FNs) and ecological planners (EPs) might expect in the course of their studies. It represents 11 writing genres (listed at the end). 

I. First Year Program

Writing Retreat I

Before Fall classes officially begin, first-year Field Naturalists and ecological planners spend a week "on the road" (in vans, streams, tents, woods, and cabins) with program faculty. The kick-off event for this exploratory week is a writing retreat where students are introduced to strategies, techniques, and motivations for keeping a naturalist's journal throughout their two years in the program. During subsequent months in the field and the classroom, students may use journals to observe, remember, plan, reflect, and speculate about a variety of ecological issues in specific "place-based" settings in New England.
Click to see photos and description of recent Fairfield, VT, writing retreats.

Course: Fundamentals of Field Science (PBio 223/NR 385)

Three different approaches to "putting nature on paper" are emphasized in this Fall semester course: technical/scientific writing, integrative writing, and persuasive writing. Through a diverse set of readings and writings, FNs and EPs actively explore the interconnections between audience, purpose, and stylistic approach.
Click to see the Naturalist's Journal (PDF).

Course: Field Practicum (PBio 311)

Every Friday, all day, Field Naturalists and ecological planners visit, explore, and interpret a wide range of field sites (e.g., an old-growth forest, a glacial lake, a thrust fault, an aggrading stream, a constructed wetland, an abandoned hillside farm, a montane ecotone). The tangible product of each investigation is a "site review" that explains the who, what, where, when, and why of each site. These site reviews emphasize the landscape as an interconnected whole rather than a collection of organisms that happen to be in the same place at the same time. 
Click to see sample site reviews (PDF).

Professional Writing (PBio 333/NR 333)

Students participate in writing workshops and seminars throughout the Fall and Spring semester to examine, sharpen, and stretch their writing abilities. Workshops often address questions such as: How do you start writing? How do you continue? How do you know when you're finished? How do you write when you're not in the mood? What are some effective editing tricks? What makes your best writing "good"? What makes your worst writing "bad"?

Resume and cover letter writing is also addressed in the workshop format.  Students write covers letters to their Service-Learning Community Partners (Project Sponsors) to express their interest in working on specific projects in a cover letter to the Community Partner.  In addition, a targeted, updated resume is attached to the letter.  The selected project becomes a major component of the work in the summer and second year, and a major writing task (see below).

Course: Place-based Landscape Inventory and Assessment (NR 378)

Students conduct a field-based ecological inventory and assessment that addresses a specific real-world landscape problem for a community partner (service-learning sponsor).  The culminating professional report is team-written for the sponsoring organization and includes original maps, graphs, and charts, and typically runs to over 100 pages in length.
Click to see.......

Project Proposal Writing

Learning to sell one's ideas effectively is a pivotal skill in environmental problem-solving and fund-raising, and marketing your ideas on paper is what proposal writing is all about. This part of the writing curriculum starts with drafting and redrafting proposals for two different fellowships. One sponsoring organization asks students to "focus on a specific issue affecting the conservation of fish, wildlife, or plant species in the United States." The other foundation asks candidates "how his or her career goals will have a direct, early, and positive impact on environmental quality." Field Naturalists and ecological planners submit their proposals to the funding organizations, and most years some number of students are awarded a fellowship.
Click to learn more about proposal writing for FN and EPs.
Click to read sample proposals to the Switzer Fellowship Program.

Summer Project Reflections

Twice during the summer, students reflect on how their project is developing.  These notes, ideas, and field journal entries become the source material for Writing Retreat II and the final semester Academic Reflection. 
Click to read some sample summer reflections.

II. Second Year Program

Writing Retreat II

FNs and EPs gather for a day at the beginning of their second year to reflect, speculate, and write about their summer research experience. In a rural retreat setting, participants write, share their writing, tell stories, take walks, build bonfires, and eat well.

Program Newsletter

First and second year students collaborate to produce an annual program newsletter (Field Notes and Ecolog).  Some students serve as editors, others as contributors.  Several genres of writing are developed in the newsletter.
Click to see recent newsletters.

Course: Conservation, Systems, and Sustainability (NR 385)

As part of this course, students develop a personal blog in which they express reactions and opinions to current conservation issues.  Writing components also include Op. Ed. and Web entries (Encyclopedia of the Earth). 
Click to see an example EoE entry.
Click to see example Op. Eds.

Course: Professional Writing (NR/PBio 333)

Each student continues to enroll in a year-long one-credit writing workshop focused on several writing elements. 

The Popular Article: Students work on writing persuasively to lay audiences. Students examine, imagine, and question the larger implications of their research projects and compose publishable stories for magazines, newsletters, etc.  Target publications for these student essays have included Northern Woodlands, Orion, Natural New England, Vermont Life, Natural History, Yankee, and other local, regional, and national publications with an interest in conservation, ecology, and forestry.
Click to see samples of recently written popular articles (PDF).

The Sponsored Document: For their sponsored project, students operate as consultants to various organizations in need of technical assistance.  In the Fall Term, students complete a first draft of a formal Master's Project required for graduation. These professionally-oriented documents can take many forms.  Applied projects result in natural resource inventories and analyses, planning recommendations, web sites, educational curricula and outreach plans, species monitoring plans, etc. 
Click to see some recent reports for sponsoring organizations.

The Academic Reflection and Literature Review: In the Spring Term, students complete an Academic Reflection with a Literature Review.  The goal of this exercise is to ensure that students a) are aware of how their work relates to broader efforts in society, and b) can analyze and evaluate the approach they took in the context of similar contemporary work.  This work starts with a thematic concept map, moves to an annotated bibliography, and then evolves into a literature review and synthetic paper.  This more academically-focused writing has an audience of the larger research community.  Sometimes these products are published in scientific journals. 
Click to see the variety of synthesis papers students have written.
Click to see some examples of more formal scientific publications.

Eleven Writing Genres

The writing program covers personal writing, professional writing, and public writing, which can be categorized into the following genres (courses/activities employing the genre are in parentheses):
  1. site reviews (Field Practicum)
  2. cover letter (Professional Writing/Project Selection)
  3. resume (Professional Writing/Project Selection)
  4. proposal writing for fellowships (Professional Writing/Project Selection)
  5. published op-ed, blog, etc. (Professional Writing, Conservation/Sustainability, Place-based Analysis)
  6. newsletter (non-coursework program requirement)
  7. technical/science writing piece (Fundamentals, Conservation/Sustainability, Academic Reflection)
  8. professional report writing (Placed-based Analysis, Sponsored Document, EP Field Final)
  9. popular article (Professional Writing)
  10. journaling/field journal (Reading the Landscape, Field Practicum, Fundamentals)
  11. free-writes (most classes) & critical reflections (Conservation Sustainability, Fundamentals, Professional Writing)



Last modified March 20 2012 03:00 PM

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