Being a chemist. Oops, science is POWERFUL!

ENGL 390, 390H, and (sometimes) 398V  Class Journal


Writing a concise definition memo

Many memos are really short definition/description memos. What is hard for many scientist is the limiting of information for Audience, Context, Purpose.

Using definition theory from classical rhetoric helps.  Definition is one of the cognitive frames of stasis theory. This link takes you to a conceptual diagram about how environmental scientists use stasis theory to

  1. assemble the known science for stakeholders and 
  2. write an expert, advisory document for decisionmaking.

The structure and type of paragraphs you will write follow Aristotle's stasis theory (very much a system of analysis and action, like your scientific method steps):  Here we focus on unpacking definition.  Recall the cognitive wedge and the given-new construct? Today we add a secondary structure to appear in all the paragraphs as a binding or cohesion element:  form of the rain garden and the function of the rain garden.

Our first stasis is the conjecture or question lurking in the context: what is a rain garden.

  • Para 1: Definition (what is a rain garden, briefly, by two functions)
  • Para 2Classification (what type of technology is this? Hint: low impact development and storm water management)
  • Para 3: Description (Illustrative; give detail on the layers of soil and the type of plants)
    • include two examples; consider the ones on campus (we will curate links)
Jump now to the Evaluation Stasis (where is practical causality:  In the form and function.  TBD)
  • Para 4: Evaluation (is this good or bad?  Use Dr. Davis' research as you do not have authority to evaluate based on your expertise)

I would think you need about one source per these paras: classifying, illustrating, evaluating.  Use (author, date) citation from APA guidelines. Include a works cited page also.

Audience scenario for this memo: Here is Jane, our boss. She asked for the memo at the end of our last staff meeting. 

irst up! What is a memo?  

By the way, the OWL website at Purdue is a fabulous resource for writing. Memos also have a standard format:  See the image to the left.  Also, look at the email heading in your software.  This electronic message is based on the memo format.  Bonus question:  what is the difference, traditionally, between a memo and a letter.

Topic Sentences: A list of qualities for you to strive for


  • Usually a short direct sentence (think announcement)
  • Signals the topic in the paragraph (think preview)
  • Hooks the reader by 1) raising a question or 2) provoking thought
  • Can be placed anywhere, but early on in the paragraph is the best default strategy for most professional documents; in other words, at the beginning of the paragraph
  • Contains an element of transition from the previous paragraph

Note:  topic sentences can be implied in tightly coherent prose (for now, leave this subtle technique to the professionals!)

Let's look at examples of topic sentences useful in the rain garden memo:

Rain gardens, or bioretention ponds, are a kind of low impact development.  Low impact development....

Rain gardens have two components:  layers of percolation material and carefully chosen plants.

Rain gardens protect the local environment by absorbing water run-off from impervious surfaces and by sequestering pollutants.

Dr. Allen Davis studies rain garden effectiveness.  Davis, a civil engineering professor, has been studying bioretention for more than twenty years.

Let's also think about sentences generally.  General advice to you?  Write shorter sentences than those you are familiar with in literature and many of your textbooks. 

Now, let's think about sentences: 

Sentence Patterns

Buffy and Sentences

Pitch the Verb

And, on to paragraphs:

Paragraph Definition: think Architectures

Paragraph Types

Dates:  PEER REVIEW ON MONDAY.  DUE FOR A GRADE ON WEDNESDAY, February 14.  Happy Valentine's day to us.


Posted on Wednesday, February 7, 2018 at 07:53AM by Registered CommenterMarybeth Shea | CommentsPost a Comment

Class sourced guide on visual genres

will be built here in a google doc table.

For Monday, cruise around the internet to have a working definition of what a rain garden is. By the way, that link is to a ScoopIt web exhibit built by former ENGL 390 students. Here are some search terms:

  • rain garden
  • low impact development
  • bioretention

Spend about ten minutes of your time on this.  See what the Wikipedia entries look like.  If you would like additional ways to focus your search time, look at rain garden topics limited to the Mid Atlantic, Maryland, and even Prince George's County. 

Posted on Friday, February 2, 2018 at 08:49AM by Registered CommenterMarybeth Shea | CommentsPost a Comment

More frames for this class

all treating audience awareness (Aristotle's canon of memory). Here are some slides sets:


Posted on Wednesday, January 31, 2018 at 07:22AM by Registered CommenterMarybeth Shea | CommentsPost a Comment

Day 3 Monday Terms/Vocab

First some class business:

  1. Sign up for our GroupMe site here.
  2. For Friday, browse this slide set and pick three favorite visuals.  Be prepared to talk about your selection criteria.
  3. For your three visuals, identify the category.  Some are obvious to us.  Others may require some consultation in class or sleuthing.  This task is one that you could try out on GroupMe.

For example, at least one of our visuals is a Sankey Diagram.

I like the name of a category of charts that uses a metaphor: swim lane charts.  Can you imagine what they look like? Speaking of swiming, here is a visual metaphor for how we organize the class. Taken from Trevor Mackenzie.


Posted on Monday, January 29, 2018 at 08:27AM by Registered CommenterMarybeth Shea | CommentsPost a Comment


This is our class "text" -- more detail in class.

Posted on Wednesday, January 24, 2018 at 08:53AM by Registered CommenterMarybeth Shea | CommentsPost a Comment