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English 105 Online Curriculum Module: Scientific Illustration and Writing: Home

Lesson Context


Image from Vesalius: A skeleton stands by a podium, resting its elbow on the podium and stroking its chin.

This online curriculum module consists of two lessons that can be incorporated into an English 105 natural sciences unit, the first about scientific illustration and the second about scientific writing. The exercises included in this guide encourage students to investigate, discuss, write, and reflect on the following topics:

  • The history of scientific illustration;
  • The history of scientific writing; and
  • The characteristics of scientific illustration and writing today.

For students in the natural sciences unit of English 105, an activity or assignment using primary source materials can start conversations about the nuances of scientific research and writing, as well as some of the challenges that scientists face today as they conduct research and write scholarly articles for publication.

Like scholars in the humanities and social sciences, scientific researchers approach their work with certain biases based on their scholarly contexts — which may include the history of their discipline; the source(s) of funding for their research; and the priorities of their employer, among many other factors — as well as their life experiences. Furthermore, both the methods and standards of scientific research and writing have evolved significantly over time.

The exercises provided in this module encourage students to think about scientific research and writing as an evolving process, which they have the ability to participate in, critique, and even improve. By participating in the scholarly conversation around how scientific research is conducted and conveyed, students can be active participants as the discipline continues to evolve and grow.

Scientific Illustration Activity


In this activity, students will observe and analyze a selection of anatomical illustrations, which span from the sixteenth century through the nineteenth century. This activity will also introduce the concept of D.O.C.S. (Design, Organization, Content, Style) and its applications in the natural sciences discipline. While completing the exercise, students will consider the following questions:

  • What are the characteristics of different historical models of scientific illustration?
  • How do these historical models differ from one another?
  • How do these historical models differ from scientific illustration today?
  • How does scientific illustration reflect the culture of the time period in which it was produced?

Learning Outcomes

The goal of this exercise is for students to develop visual analysis skills, while also considering how these skills might be applied to research and writing in the natural sciences. 

Instructional Materials


This activity uses the Think-Pair-Share model of discussion. This technique is used by K-12 and college instructors to encourage all students to participate and to make room for a variety of different learning styles and personality types. First, students are given individual reflection time ("think"), then they are asked to share their reflections with a peer ("pair"), and finally they are asked to share something specific from their reflection and/or conversation with the class ("share"). For more information about how to integrate Think-Pair-Share in the college classroom, see the resources below.

Scientific Illustration - Image Gallery

Scientific Writing Activity


In this activity, students will compare a contemporary scientific article with an excerpt from a 1677 edition of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Before class, students will read a scientific article of their choosing (or one selected by the instructor). Then, in class, they will work in small groups to complete the scientific writing worksheet, which asks them to compare and contrast contemporary scientific writing and the writing that appears in the Philosophical Transactions.

This activity will continue to build on students' understanding of D.O.C.S. (Design, Organization, Content, Style) and its applications in the natural sciences discipline. While completing the exercise, students will consider the following questions:

  • What are the characteristics of scientific writing in the Philosophical Transactions?
  • What are the characteristics of contemporary scientific writing?
  • Are there differences and/or similarities in the design, organization, and style of the two scientific texts?
  • How does scientific writing reflect the culture of the time period in which it was produced?

Learning Outcomes

The goal of this exercise is for students to use the Philosophical Transactions as a lens to think about the conventions of scientific writing and how those conventions have changed over time. 

Instructional Materials

Scientific Writing - Image Gallery


Cait Kennedy

Carolina Academic Library Associate, Robert B. House Undergraduate Library 

Ashley Werlinich

Graduate Research Assistant, Wilson Special Collections Library; Ph.D. Student and Teaching Fellow, Department of English and Comparative Literature​

Discipline Areas

This online curriculum module is designed for use in the natural sciences unit of English 105; it could also be adapted for an English 105i: Health and Medicine or an English 105i: Natural Sciences unit. 

English 105 Requirements

This unit sequence meets the following English 105 requirements:

  • D.O.C.S. (Design, Organization, Content, Style);
  • Information Literacy; and
  • Primary Source Literacy.


Why use primary source materials in a natural sciences unit? Researchers have found that because of their interdisciplinary nature, both STEM education and primary source research lend themselves to practical, real-world pursuits (Pfiester, 2017, p. 73). For more information about teaching STEM lessons with primary sources, see the resources below.

Possible Adaptations

This unit sequence could be adapted to use a variety of other materials from the Health Sciences Library Special Collections, or elsewhere in Wilson Special Collections Library, depending on your research interests, desired learning outcomes, and other instructional goals. Contact the Special Collections to discuss other possible adaptations for your English 105 section.


Schedule an Instruction Session

If you would like your class to visit Wilson Special Collections Library, request a special collections instruction session.

Teach with Health Sciences Special Collections

If you have questions about teaching with Health Sciences Library Special Collections materials, contact Dawne Lucas.

Share Your Feedback

Instructor Check-In

Let us know when and how you're using materials from the Scientific Illustration and Writing online curriculum module by filling out this brief survey!

Instructor Survey

Do you have ideas for how this content could be expanded or improved? Share your feedback and ideas by filling out this survey.

Student Survey

Ask your students to share their experiences with the Scientific Illustration and Writing online curriculum module by completing this survey.

Start a Conversation

To start a conversation about how future online curriculum modules can support your English 105 instruction, contact Jason Tomberlin, Head of Research and Instructional Services.  

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Jason Tomberlin
Wilson Special Collections Library

Research & Instructional Services

(919) 962-3765