Course Descriptions

The following courses are offered online for Science Writing students, who receive enrollment priority by concentration.

Requirements (9 courses): Two Cores, two Workshops, two Electives, one Residency, one student choice, followed by Thesis & Careers in Science Writing.

State-specific Information for Online Programs

Note: Students should be aware of state-specific information for online programs. For more information, please contact an admissions representative.

  • Core Courses

    491.658 - Techniques of Science-Medical Writing

    This core course develops and hones the reporting, creative and explanatory skills demonstrated by the best science-medical writers. The course features writing assignments and exercises in journalistic and literary writing, plus interviewing, ethics and the use of scientific journals and databases. In some cases, students may be able to choose from a range of writing topics, including nature, technology, health, space, biology, medicine, or other scientific issues. Science Writing students should complete this course before enrolling in any writing workshop.

    491.750 - Contemporary Science-Medical Writing: Creative and Professional Forms

    This core course provides a broad foundation in the diverse forms and venues encountered in contemporary science writing careers. Students learn elements of classic forms, such as essay, profile, news article, and op-ed, and they explore magazines, institutional publications, literary journals, blogs, speeches, and even museum exhibit text. The course covers the differing goals of various forms and how they might be used in multimedia, social networks, and other digital communication. Guest speakers present real-world expertise, with students engaged in discussion, exercises, and writing assignments. Science writing students needing a stronger foundation should complete this course before enrolling in any writing workshop.

  • Thesis

    491.802 - Thesis and Careers in Science Writing

    This final degree program course involves the creation of a thesis and a final capstone experience that prepares a student for a writing career. Students usually enroll in this course after completing all other cores, workshops, and electives. Thesis: Each student’s thesis is created from work in earlier courses. Students revise and refine an individual portfolio that includes creative writing, journalism, multimedia and communication writing. The first draft of a thesis is due in the second week of the thesis term; students spend the term revising that work under the direction of a one-on-one thesis advisor. Capstone: The group experience of the course requires each participant to develop a career plan that includes personal goals such as publication, job applications, or career advancement. Other capstone experiences may include attending science writing events or seminars, publication of a course magazine or journal, and discussions of the changing business of writing. The Science Writing Program also may propose an optional mini-residency for thesis students that includes commencement and other onsite experiences at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and Washington. Note: All thesis students should submit a Science Writing Thesis Planning Form at least one month before the course begins. See the Science Writing Program website for more information.

    491.888 - Thesis Continuation

    This course is for students who completed 491.802 Thesis and Careers in Science Writing but failed to finish an approved thesis and were not approved for an incomplete. If both conditions are met, students must register for this course and pay its accompanying fee for every term (including summer) until a final thesis is approved.

  • Workshops

    491.673 - Science-Medical Writing Workshop

    In a writing workshop, students receive professional guidance in translating complex scientific, medical, or technological knowledge and research into graceful, lucid prose. Students submit individual essays or articles, or parts of a larger work in progress. Writing submissions are critiqued by peers as well as by the instructor, then revised. Students are encouraged but not required to take this course from different instructors. (The three section numbers designate the academic term in which the workshop is offered. Students earn workshop credit by taking any section number multiple times, or by combining any sections.) Prerequisite: 491.658

    491.674 - Science-Medical Writing Workshop

    In a writing workshop, students receive professional guidance in translating complex scientific, medical, or technological knowledge and research into graceful, lucid prose. Students submit individual essays or articles, or parts of a larger work in progress. Writing submissions are critiqued by peers as well as by the instructor, then revised. Students are encouraged but not required to take this course from different instructors. (The three section numbers designate the academic term in which the workshop is offered. Students earn workshop credit by taking any section number multiple times, or by combining any sections.) Prerequisite: 491.658

    491.675 - Science-Medical Writing Workshop

    In a writing workshop, students receive professional guidance in translating complex scientific, medical, or technological knowledge and research into graceful, lucid prose. Students submit individual essays or articles, or parts of a larger work in progress. Writing submissions are critiqued by peers as well as by the instructor, then revised. Students are encouraged but not required to take this course from different instructors. (The three section numbers designate the academic term in which the workshop is offered. Students earn workshop credit by taking any section number multiple times or by combining any sections.) Prerequisite: 491.658

    491.680 - Writing the Tech Story Workshop

    As an increasing presence in our lives, technology is much more than cell phones, tablets, or other gadgets. Technology reaches into medicine, transportation, culture, agriculture, climate change, relationships, and many other fields. Writers who can explain technology and its ramifications in clear, engaging prose provide a valuable service and will also find a growing market for their work. This workshop course explores the reporting and writing techniques used to produce compelling stories about technology, its inventors, and its consumers. Students first analyze outstanding examples of technology writing on a range of subjects, forms, and styles, from hard news to creative nonfiction. They then submit their own writing about technology for standard workshop discussion. Special topics include making technology interesting to the non-geek and avoiding a tendency to sound promotional about consumer goods. Guest speakers who specialize in technology writing will discuss how to attract readers and find work in the field. This course counts as a workshop for degree or certificate requirements.

    491.754 - Science Narratives Workshop

    Students in this specialized workshop explore and write science narratives, an approach that joins scientific information and storytelling. Students read and discuss examples by authors such as Rebecca Skloot, Ferris Jabr, and Lee Gutkind, as well as write their own narratives. This course provides a workshop credit for science writers. Prerequisite: 491.658

    491.755 - Science Personal Essay and Memoir Workshop

    In this specialized workshop, students experiment with memoir and the personal essay as distinct forms and as an exploration of the self. Seminal essays are read to clarify students' thoughts and to help them develop their own voice and style in personal science writing. The topics of health, technology, environment, and other realms of science or medicine will be paramount, whether in reported content or within the personal experience, feelings or ideas of the writer. This course provides a workshop credit for science writers. Prerequisite: 491.658

    491.756 - Advanced Science Writing Workshop

    An advanced workshop is offered occasionally to select students, depending on enrollment and available faculty members. The course may focus on a special form or topic, and/or it may be led by a visiting writer, special instructor, or other experienced faculty member. In most cases, enrollment will be competitive, and new writing samples may be required. This course provides a workshop credit for science writers. Application information and other details for each advanced workshop will be presented in the appropriate term’s course schedule. Prerequisite: 491.658

    491.757 - Science Profiles Workshop: Writing About People

    This workshop focuses on writing about people involved in science, medicine, technology, or policy. Students analyze models of the form, then report and write profiles of various lengths and purpose, from mini-profiles to quick features to longer, in-depth works. The course includes guest speakers who specialize in the research, interviews, and writing needed for effective, readable biographical works. This course provides a workshop credit for science writers. Prerequisite: 491.658.

  • Elective Courses

    491.696 - The Nature of Nature

    This reading course focuses on Mother Nature, human nature and the nature of the beast. Students analyze books, essays and articles from writers who tell gripping, true stories about topics ranging from outdoor adventure to personal reflections on illness. Readings include authors such as Richard Selzer, Diane Ackerman, E.O. Wilson, Kay Redfield Jamison, and John McPhee.

    491.697 - The Literature of Science

    In this reading elective, students analyze current and classic books, magazine articles, and newspaper series to discover how the best science, medical, nature, and environmental writers create compelling, entertaining, factual literature. Craft topics include structure, pace, sources, content, explanatory writing, and clear, lyrical language. Assignments may include brief reviews and a team presentation of an assigned book, from such writers as Erik Larson, Atul Gawande, Rachel Carson, John McPhee, James Gleick, Lewis Thomas, Elizabeth Kolbert, or Jonathan Weiner.

    491.707 - Prize Winners: The Best Writing about Science, Technology, Environment & Health

    Whether they have received a National Magazine Award, a Pulitzer, a Peabody award for electronic media, or other honors, the work in this course offers lessons in reporting and writing for any science writer. Readings may include articles, essays, or books. Included will be guest sessions with prize-winning authors, by video or tape, to discuss how they created their winning work. Readings and guests for each section of this course will be announced, but they might include Pulitzer-winners Diana Sugg, Siddhartha Mukherjee or Natalie Angier, Peabody winner Christopher Joyce, or National Book Award finalist Lauren Redniss. Students join in team or individual presentations, with several options for a final writing assignment.

    491.719 - Technology Tools, Multimedia and Digital Publications for Science Writers

    This course explores the tools and theories of multimedia storytelling, with examples from cutting-edge digital media, guest lectures by science communicators, and a lot of hands-on practice. Students critique pieces from the real world to learn how multimedia is being used today. They become familiar with tools to create stories using photos, illustrations, audio, video, animation, and data visualization, and they learn about platforms where this content can find an audience. Each student creates a multimedia package around a single science story to be published in an online magazine. This online course is designed for science writing students, focusing on science, medicine, or technology. A separate, on-site version of this course in Baltimore or Washington is for MA in Writing program students and concentrates on fiction and nonfiction.

    491.752 - Advanced Reporting & Writing in Science

    This course builds on foundation skills in reporting and writing about science, medicine, or technology by expanding into advanced techniques of research, documents, computer analysis, extended interviews, and other tools. The course also expands knowledge of longer or more sophisticated forms, such as magazine essays, narrative nonfiction, and investigative reporting. Students engage in reporting and writing exercises, which may be discussed in group workshops. With adviser permission, this course may be counted as a workshop. Prerequisite: 491.658 or adviser permission.

    491.758 - Current Issues in Science Writing

    This innovative elective course focuses on the latest research, issues and challenges in writing about or covering developments in science, medicine, or technology. Topics will vary based on breaking news, research, and changing developments, but they could include climate change, space exploration, digital privacy, or GMOs. The course features interaction with cutting-edge researchers and the journalists who cover them. Each student creates a final writing project on a contemporary issue, with the goal of preparing writers and editors for the fast-paced intersection of today’s science and journalism.

    491.807 - Independent Study in Science Writing

    An independent study is reserved for science writing students who have special interests not covered in the program’s curriculum. Most independent studies involve a student working one-on-one with a faculty member or other writer or editor. Students should submit an Independent Study proposal at least 60 days before the start of any term. The proposal must include work equivalent to a full-semester, graduate-level course; interested students should consult their advisor well in advance. Only students who have completed four courses or more are eligible to propose an independent study, and only a limited number are approved each year. The tuition for an independent study is the regular, single-course rate for the term in question. With advisor approval, this course counts as an elective or workshop. For more information, see the Science Writing Program website.

    491.808 - Internship in Science Writing

    Internships are available to select students with advisor approval. Students should submit an internship proposal well in advance. With the advisor’s help, students may develop their own internship where they live, or they may apply for existing internships at publications, companies, agencies or elsewhere. Internships usually are reserved for students who have completed four courses or more. In most cases, an internship counts as an elective.

  • Residency Courses

    491.691 - Science Policy, Funding and Politics

    This Residency course, intended to be onsite in Washington, D.C., explores how science, medicine and technology are affected by politics and practices within government, the private sector and within the fields themselves. Students or program alumni use the evolution of science policy as context for discussion, research, and writing about contemporary issues. Students meet with leaders from Capitol Hill, the White House, and federal agencies, and they visit important sites relevant to science policy.

    491.708 - Medicine in Action

    This special Residency course based at world-renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore allows students, program alumni, and others to experience the front lines of medicine. Participants spend time observing doctors and nurses in action and may be assigned to follow a practitioner during a shift at the hospital. The course includes meetings with doctors, nurses, and patients, plus a final writing project. Previous sections of this course included meetings with winners of the Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize.

    491.709 - Science in Action

    This Residency course takes students to the front lines of scientific research, with a focus on reporting skills, story idea development, and the craft of explanatory writing. Science in Action explores fields beyond medicine and health, including space, environment, energy, climate change, and other topics. The course involves field trips and lab visits, plus video and other links with visiting or out-of-town scientists. This Residency course is held in Washington, Baltimore, or other locations, as announced.

    491.710 - In the Field: Science Writing in the Woods, Coasts, & Labs of Mt. Desert Island

    Maine’s Mount Desert Island, home to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, is a place of exquisite natural beauty. With thriving environmental science centers and a world-class genetics laboratory, the island is also a hub of cutting-edge research. This Residency course allows participants to immerse themselves in the region’s stimulating natural and intellectual environments while honing their reporting skills, refining their writing artistry, and gathering information for stories. Extensive field excursions will be announced.

    491.753 - Nature, Place, and the Environment: A Mountain Immersion in Shenandoah National Park

    While ensconced in the remote, quiet wonder of some of the oldest, most beautiful mountains on Earth, students in this course explore their writing voices, the latest conservation and environmental issues, and a panorama of mountain forests, streams, and meadows. This course features field trips, writing exercises, hikes, and interaction with researchers, plus a student reading and other community-building activities.

    491.781 - On the Bay: Exploring the Chesapeake

    This Annapolis, Maryland-based Residency course focuses on the shimmering beauty, complex ecology, and environmental pressures of the nation’s largest estuary. Field excursions on and around the bay introduce students to scientists, policymakers, and authors who specialize in bay issues, with time allotted for students to report and receive coaching on their own stories.