Teaching & Learning


Improving students' writing skills

Dr Nephtali Marina-Gonzalez and Professor Jennifer Rohn, Division of Medicine, introduced writing activities and formative feedback into coursework to develop scientific writing and teamwork skills.

11 November 2022

MediaCentral Widget Placeholderhttps://mediacentral.ucl.ac.uk/Player/3e61F25e

Writing as an assessment tool

The ability to write both for the scientific community and for the lay audience is an essential academic skill in higher education. In recent years the student population has become increasingly diverse with widening participation programmes and a high influx of overseas students who lack the preparation for the required standards of academic writing, and therefore face difficulties in a system where writing is the ‘key assessment tool’. 

We have implemented a collaborative writing assessment modality in our year-1 undergraduate medical sciences programmes to reduce the challenges of written assessments, facilitate the acquisition of teamwork skills and prepare students for a successful academic career.  

Formative feedback 

A two-phase formative feedback element was embedded into 2 coursework assignments for the modules ‘Cardiovascular Function in Health and Disease (CRF)” and “Musculoskeletal systems in Health and Disease (MSK)” of the Medical Sciences undergraduate programmes. These modules have the format of a two‐hour lecture per week that were attended by a cohort of 186 students from 7 undergraduate programmes. The coursework assignments had the objective of guiding students to synthesise various scientific articles and to summarise arguments into either a scientific mini-review (CRF) or a UCL Reflect blog directed to a lay audience (MSK).  

Collaborative writing groups 

First, we deliver an asynchronous session at the beginning of each module, to teach the principles of scientific writing (CRF module) and popular science writing (MSK module). The students work in an online collaborative writing task in small groups (3 students per group). Students are instructed to work collectively in shared files and write collaboratively through sustained peer interactions and communications and to submit a short draft (75 words) that would eventually be incorporated into the final piece of writing. 

  • The first round of generic formative feedback was delivered during a synchronous session, and it focused on assessing the writing structure of a random selection of anonymised submissions. All students then submit a revised version with tracked changes that incorporate the lessons learned from the generic feedback session.  This means that they could use the feedback for the draft for improvements in the final text. 

  • The second round of formative feedback is provided in writing to each Turnitin submission by two independent instructors, one assessing the writing style and the other assessing the scientific content. Three weeks later, the students had to complete and hand in the final version for summative assessment. 

Related resources

Efficient Ways to Improve Student Writing - University of Wisconsin - Whitewater 

Download the video script

Do you have a topic idea?

If you would like to propose a MicroCPD-UCL topic, please fill out this form and send it to arena@ucl.ac.uk and a colleague from the  Arena Centre team will be in touch.