Writing assignments in epidemiology courses: How many and how good?
English Language and Literature
Public Health Reports
Objectives: Schools and programs of public health are concerned about poor student writing. We determined the proportion of epidemiology courses that required writing assignments and the presence of 6 characteristics of these assignments. Methods: We requested syllabi, writing assignments, and grading criteria from instructors of graduate and undergraduate epidemiology courses taught during 2016 or 2017. We assessed the extent to which these assignments incorporated 6 characteristics of effective writing assignments: (1) a description of the purpose of the writing or learning goals of the assignment, (2) a document type (eg, article, grant) used in public health, (3) an identified target audience, (4) incorporation of tasks that support the writing process (eg, revision), (5) a topic related to a public health problem that requires critical thinking (1-5 scale, 5 = most authentic), and (6) clear assignment expectations (1-5 scale, 5 = clearest). Results: We contacted 594 instructors from 58 institutions and received at least some evaluable materials from 59 courses at 28 institutions. Of these, 47 of 53 (89%) courses required some writing. The purpose was adequately described in 11 of 36 assignments, the required document type was appropriate in 19 of 43 assignments, an audience was identified in 6 of 37 assignments, and tasks that supported a writing process were incorporated in 19 of 40 assignments. Median (interquartile range) scores were 5 (1-5) for an authentic problem that required critical thinking and 4 (2-5) for clarity of expectations. Conclusions: The characteristics of writing assignments in public health programs do not reflect best practices in writing instruction and should be improved.
Link to Published Version
August, E., Burke, K., Fleischer, C., & Trostle, J. A. (2019). Writing assignments in epidemiology courses: How many and how good? Public Health Reports, 134(4), 441–446. https://doi.org/10.1177/0033354919849942