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Public Health Reports: Writing Assignments in Epidemiology Courses: How Many and How Good?

In a recent article in Public Health Reports, Dr. Ella August and Ms. Karen Burke of University of Michigan School of Public Health, Dr. Cathy Fleischer of Eastern Michigan University, and Dr. James A. Trostle of Trinity College assessed the proportion of epidemiology courses that required one or more writing assignments and the degree to which these assignments included six recommended characteristics. These characteristics include (1) a description of the writing’s purpose and the assignment’s learning goals, (2) presentation of a problem that is authentic to the discipline that is approached with critical thinking, (3) requirement of a profession-specific document type, (4) clear explanation of the assignment expectations and the criteria for evaluation, (5) identification of a target audience, and (6) a process supporting the writing through specific tasks, such as multiple drafts with revisions. Syllabi, writing assignments, and grading criteria were requested from instructors of both undergraduate and graduate epidemiology courses taught during 2016 or 2017. The extent to which these assignments incorporated six characteristics of effective writing assignments was also assessed. Five hundred and ninety-four instructors from 58 institutions were contacted and received at least some evaluable materials from 59 courses at 28 institutions. About 89 percent of courses required some writing. However, the prevalence of document types and the recommended characteristics varied. The authors concluded that the characteristics of writing assignments in public health programs do not reflect best practices in writing instruction and should be improved.

Full article.

Public Health Reports (PHR) is the official journal of the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service and has been published since 1878. The journal is peer-reviewed and publishes original research, reviews, and commentaries in the areas of public health practice and methodology, original research, public health law, and teaching at schools and programs of public health schools and teaching. It is published bimonthly, plus supplement issues, through an official agreement with the Association of Schools and Programs of Public HealthPHR’s mission is to facilitate the movement of science into public health practice and policy to positively affect the health and wellness of the American public.

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