Physics 416A,B: Writing in Physics


Welcome to Physics 416. This course is designed to teach you to

  • communicate succinctly and precisely
  • write a thesis/capstone report or a professional paper
  • access physics literature effectively
  • identify ethical issues that may arise in research
  • produce professional documents (resume, memo, etc.) and presentations


To enroll, you need to:

  • Have a research advisor that will be available during winter 2012 to give feedback on thesis drafts
  • Have a senior thesis research project that is essentially complete before January 4th, 2012
  • Turn in this consent form signed by you and your advisor to Diann Sorenson in the department front office


Your instructors are Jean-Francois Van Huele and Michael Ware. We are happy to meet with you, but haven't found formal office hours to be very effective for this course. Feel free to just stop by and ask brief questions, but if you want to have a longer discussion (say, to review a manuscript) please email us to set up an appointment.


This semester we will work together to become better writers. Together we will work through a number of exercises to achieve this goal, the most significant being your senior thesis. We expect that you will regularly attend and participation in class discussion, give appropriate feedback to peers, and integrate academic and professional standards into your writing.


You will be evaluated on your writing and communication skills, and on your mastery of course materials. This course is taught as a sequence of two block courses (416A and 416B), and you will receive a letter grade on your transcript for each portion. The letter grade will be determined using the following breakdown:

  • 50% for assignments directly related to the thesis manuscript (Denoted by T1, T2, etc. on the schedule)
  • 35% for other homework assignments (Denoted by H1, H2,etc. on the schedule)
  • 15% for participation activities and quizzes (denoted by Q1, Q2, etc. on the schedule)

Points for thesis, other homework, and participation assignments have different weights in the final grade; they should not be compared directly.  Assignments need to be turned in on time, and should be turned in electronically unless explicitly stated otherwise. Since some assignments require the input of your research advisor, you will want to share these assignments with your advisor well in advance of the deadline.  We will highlight these assignments in red on the schedule.

Checking Your Grade and Submitting Assignments

You can check your grades and submit assignments here

Reference Material


This schedule will be regularly updated throughout the semester.  Thesis (T) and homework (H)assignments are due two hours before class starts (8:00am)  on the days listed.  Quiz assignment (Q) will be collected at the beginning of class.  Late assignments will receive 50% credit up to 24 hours after the deadline.  After the 24 hour period, no credit will be given but we will still provide feedback on the assignment if you request it.

Date Class Topic Assignments Due
W Jan 4 Pretest  
F 6 Course Overview
Introduce H1 and T1
M 9 Logical flow of a thesis
Introduce T2
In-class review of T1
Q1. (10pt) Homonyms
H1. (5pt) So you have to write a senior thesis (Online)
T1. (5pt) 50 word summary of your thesis (Online)
W 11 Introduce T3 and T4
In-class review of T2
Q2. (10pt) Capitalization
H2. (5pt) Effective Titles (Online)
T2. (15pts) Outline of your thesis. (Online)
F 13 Introduction to LaTex
Equations in LaTex
The department class file
Q3. (10pt) Compound Words
H3. (5pts) LaTex Introduction (Online)
T3. (5pts) Title of thesis (Online)
M 16 Holiday
W 18 Introduce T5
The paragraph
Q4. (10pt) Abbreviations, Acronyms, Initialisms.
T4. (15pt) Revised Outline (Online)
F 20 Visit HBLL
Data base searching (JC)
H4. HBLL assignment
H5. search survey (5pts)
M 23 Introduction to BibTex
Structure of a paragraph
Introduce T6
Q5. Latin Phrases
H6. Fill out library post survey (2pts)
T5. Write a section of text for "Chapter 1" of your thesis with 300 words or more. (5pts)
W 25 Topic sentences and paragraphs
Introduce H8
Q6. Parentheses
H7. Fill in you BibTex .bib file and submit a pdf of your bibliography
F 27 The lard factor
In-class review of H8
Introduce H9
Q7. Dashes
H8. Find and underline the topic sentences in the following three texts: “What’s wrong with this prose?” by N. David Mermin, Physics Today 42, 5, 9-11 (1989), “Motivation” by Mark Transtrum, Senior thesis, BYU (2006), and this letter.
M 30 Review H10
Introduce H11
Q8. Plurals and Possessives
H9. Revise this text using the principles discussed in "The Lard Factor.
W Feb 1 Pictures, Schematics, and Diagrams
Introduce T7, T8, and H12
Q9. I and We
T6. A first draft of Chapter 1 (background) in a format like this, where rough spots and planned expansion are noted.  Your draft will be graded according to these criteria. (20pts)
H11. (5pts) Look through the thesis archive and find two examples of excellent figures, and two examples of figures that need some help.
F 3 Graphs
Introduce H13
Q10. Commas
H12. Make a publication quality schematic or drawing (preferably for your thesis) and turn in the publication quality pdf (10pts)
M 6 Tables
Introduce H14
Q11. Colons and Semicolons
H13. Make a publication quality graph (preferably for your thesis) and turn in the pdf (10pts)
W 8 Introduce T9
Work on thesis
T7. A first draft of Chapter 2 (Method/setup/process/etc.)  We will use the same grading criteria as in T6 for this chapter.  (20pts)
H14. Make a publication-quality table (preferably for your thesis) and turn in the pdf (10pts)
F 10 Work on thesis T8. Create a list of the figures and graphs that you will include in your thesis. Put references to these figures in your thesis and create a list of figures. Submit the list of figures page.
M 13 Abstracts
Introduce H16 and H17
Q13. Numbers
W 15 Peer-review of abstracts
Introduce T10
Q14. Equations
T9. Write a first draft of Chapter 3 (results/conclusions). Your draft will be graded according to these criteria. (20pts)
Write an abstract for your thesis
H17. Write an abstract for the Student Research Conference
F 17 Work on thesis / Interviews
M 20 Holiday  
Tu 21 Work on thesis / Interviews Q15. Review
W 22 Work on thesis / Interviews (10:00 Aaron Smith, 10:25 Steven Clouse)  
F 24 Last Day of Block A
Grammar test
Introduce T11 and H15
Work on thesis / Interviews (10:00 Ben Christensen, 10:25 Stuart Harper)
T11. Revised chapter 2, focusing on clarity and content. Assignment will be graded according to these criteria. (60pts)
M 27 Reading
Introduce H18
Q16. Adjective Clauses
H15. Read this text and follow the instructions at the beginning.  Read this text and one of the references in your thesis and be prepared to discuss them in class (5pts)
W 29 Refereeing and responding to criticism
Introduce H19
Q17. More Equations
Select a section of approximately two pages from your thesis for another student to review
F Mar 2 Work on thesis / Interviews (10:00 Blake Stauffer, 10:25 KC Erb) H19. Write a referee report of your peer's work (at least half-page, single spaced)


Work on thesis / Interviews (10:00 Ryan Sandberg, 10:25 Nathan Rock)
Introduce H20

Intervier (12:00 Joseph Rawlins, 12:25 Nathaniel Cook)
Q18. Sentences
W 7 Ethics
Introduce T12

Q19. More Sentences
Read ONE of the three cover story articles in the ethics (November 2004): Ethics 1, Ethics 2, Ethics 3. Comment on the contents of the article: did you learn anything new? Did anything strike you as particularly relevant to this class?
F 9 Making a useful index and appendices
Introduce H21
Work on thesis / Interviews (Matt Rytting 10:00)
T11. (80pts) Complete revised draft of the thesis, including majority of graphics, all equations, and a completed bibliography.  This draft should be given to your advisor for feedback.  Please be respectful of their time and give it to them promptly (at least by the due date for T10) so they can have time to give you feedback before the final draft is due. Assignment will be graded according to these criteria.
M 12 Designing a talk
Introduce H22
Q20. Review
Complete the index for your thesis.
W 14 Giving a talk
Introduce H23

Lauren Richey @ 2:00
Q21. Review
Make a complete draft of your student research presentation.  All text should be in place, but graphics need not be finished.
F 16 Practice student research conference talks Q22. Feedback to peers on talk (completed in class)
H23. Make a final draft of your student research presentation, and be prepared to give it
Sa 17 Student research conference
M 19 Curriculum Vitae and Resume H24. (5pts) Read these CVs and resumes (1, 2, 3, 4)
W 21 Writing for a popular audience H25. (5pts) Find and read an article from a popular news site that details a scientific research result.  Focus on the style of writing and come to class prepared to discuss this style
H26. (15pts) Create a CV
H27. (15pts) Create a resume
F 23 Persuasive writing
Introduce H29 and H30
H28. Write a press release targeted to a popular audience (think of a typical Daily Universe reader) about your thesis research (20pts)
M 26  
W 28   H29. (20pts) Write a memo to the department chair
H30. (20pts) Nomination Letter
F 30 Thesis due at 5:00pm
T12. Final draft of completed thesis.  Review your advisors comments on T10 and incorporate them in this final draft. (120pts)
M Apr 2 Writing a scholarly paper Q25. (5pts) Choose a journal for your scholarly paper and look up the formatting requirements.  Turn in the name of the journal and the source (e.g. web site) for the formatting requirements.
W 4    
F 6 Writing a grant proposal H32. (40pts) Write an introduction to a professional journal article paper. The introduction should be at least 500 words in length.
(5pts) Create a list of five potential funding sources for research in your thesis research area.  Include the contact information for the source (e.g. web site)
M 9 Review of Scholarly Papers Q27. (5pts) In-class review of scholarly papers
W 11 Q28 Grammar Final Quiz (20 pts)
Course Wrap-up
H34. (20pts) Write a propsal for ORCA funding (see the ORCA web site for details)
(5pts extra credit) Fill out the BYU class evaluation.  Check the box to release the fact that you filled it out to receive credit.

BYU Policies

Honor code

We expect all students in the class to abide by the BYU honor code. We encourage collaboration between students in this class, except when we state explicitly that the work is to be done individually. Writing in physics requires its own code of ethics, which we will encounter and discuss in class.

Preventing sexual harassment

BYU's policy against sexual harassment extends not only to employees of the university but to students as well. If you encounter sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination, or other inappropriate behavior, please talk to your instructors, contact the Equal Employment Office at 422-5895 or 367-5689, or contact the Honor Code Office at 422-2847.

Students with disabilities

BYU is committed to providing reasonable accommodation to qualified persons with disabilities. If you have any disability that may adversely affect your success in this course, please contact the University Accessibility Center at 422-2767. Services deemed appropriate will be coordinated with the student and instructors by that office.