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Write a ReLog

Practical instructions for starting to ReLog in this course.

Why Writing?

There are multiple benefits to writing in general:

  • Clarify your thoughts by forcing you to work on the gaping holes in your arguments. Gaps in logic are easy to miss, if all is 'in the head'.
  • Allow others to participate in what interests you.
  • Ask for help or feedback.
  • A great way to learn something is to explain it to someone else. An even greater way is to do that in clear and concise writing.

Why here?

Writing can be difficult if it is to be done well. There are many tricks about how to write well, and these have been compiled elsewhere. Of particular local interest is the Writing Center at UW-Madison: they have great resources like their Writer's Handbook and offer Individualized Help. Make the most of this unique opportunity and visit them to get help with your writing. They can help you a lot, but they will not save you from the full force of two fundamental rules of writing:

  1. Good writing comes from years of practice.
  2. Good writing needs revision.

This course will provide you with a substantial opportunity to practice and train your writing skills.


To break down the huge area of writing into smaller and more tangible units in this course, we focus on a few types of scientific writing:

  • Smaller units of writing that should stand on their own and that you do all by yourself (ReLog-entries).
  • A larger piece of writing that needs more planning and where you collaborate with others (Group project: Grant proposal).

This page focuses on the smaller units, which are organized in small mini-series called 'ReLogs'. Each student maintains her own independent ReLog.

What are ReLogs?

Like blogs, ReLogs are series of independent texts that all relate to some topics of interest. They are always written by an author who wants to share something new with an audience.

ReLog stands for ResearchLog or ReflectiveLog or ReviewLog or ReporterLog.

ReLogs chronologically log small stories that authors want to share about discoveries they made in a particular area.

 The 'Re' in ReLog is very important. A ReLog documents important milestones on a quest to cover an area or to discover something. Each ReLog entry is like a mini-milestone and should be written with the corresponding care for quality despite the enormous diversity needed for covering the various aspects of a quest or area. Thus, ReLog entries can contain research, reflection, review, reports, references, data, questions, models, methods, hypotheses, ideas, speculations, ... as needed. They may even contain failed experiments if presented appropriately. As long as it is explained well, it will find its audience.

An important part of this course for you as a student is to work independently on developing your own thoughts. The outcomes of that inspire your ReLog entries.

ReLogs are not ...

  • LabBooks, which faithfully record everything, even failed experiments, random notes and incomplete scribbles.
  • Blogs, which often cover topics not related to discovery, from the daily details of life to to current world news.
  • CopyPasteYards, which may focus on a topic, but only collect raw material and do not represent original writing with full proper citation of sources an a critical evaluation of the material.
  • ... written for yourself.

If you feel the need to generate entries of these types during the course, you are welcome to use the course website to keep all related material in one place (to make it easy to tell them apart, you can keep them as 'private' entries (see the state of a document); if you publish them to the rest of the course, please do prefix their title appropriately (eg. 'LabBook: Entry xyz') . Make sure you do not submit such entries for peer review, as this might harm your grades.

You can use a ReLog to document a history of ideas and observations that you make during research in a particular area. However, you have to explain them well, so outsiders can follow. You need to connect the dots and turn this history of successes and failures into stories that others can follow and that you wrote yourself. If you can do that for every LabBook Entry, then your ReLog and LabBook may merge. However, this can be too time consuming, so in most cases you would prefer a separate LabBook.

Why ReLogs?

Maintaining a ReLog in this course has several benefits:

  • You can use your graded ReLog opportunities to systematically build up content for the research proposal that you work on in your group. This is recommended.
  • You can explore the topics of the course better (either by reflecting on material covered in class or by venturing further on your own). Either way you will get more out of this course than if you passively consume content.
  • You can develop your own topics, even if not discussed in class (as long as you can maintain some link to either evolution or systems biology or quantitative methods or tools useful for biology; please do not forget to spell out this link for your readers).
  • You can write introductions to particular methods or areas that you know well and that others in the course could benefit from (this can substantially build your teaching skills or can help you write the introduction or methods parts, when you write papers in your area). 
  • You can use ReLogs to develop standards of how you propose certain things should be done (each ReLog entry could highlight current problems and develop certain aspects of what might become a tool, a proposal for a standard or - if very lucky - a standard).
Additional benefits of weekly writing for a semester such as for the ReLogs in this course:
  • Take the opportunity to establish a writing routine, which you could keep and use for other projects after the course (many authors say that it is important to spend 30-60 min writing in the early morning, before there is much opportunity for the day to go 'wrong'; if you can establish this as a habit during this course and maintain it for other writing projects, it will do you a lot of good). 
  • Try running a public blog without the cost of trying. If you ever thought about running any blog, you can explore some of the challenges of maintaining a blog:
    • Fit weekly writing or more into your life.
    • Hear what your others think about your writing and get tips for how to improve it.
    • Wrestle with defining the topics to cover, one of the key question of every periodical publication. 
    • Do all this in a safe environment without publishing your mistakes to a global audience, where they can follow you for the rest of your life.
Even if you are not thinking about blogging and do not establish a writing routine, the actual writing you do as part of this course will build up your general writing skills. Whether or not it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert writer is another question. The up to 120h writing that you can put into this course will certainly help you if you focus on improving particular aspects of your writing. Writing better will help you.

Practical forms of ReLog Entries

Try to decide ahead of time, which type of ReLog entry you will want to write. Possible options include:

  • Review/discuss a scientific paper
  • Introduce an existing concept/idea/field 
  • Introduce an existing method of observation or analysis
  • Document an existing trend
  • Document observations you made or data you collected
  • Build, analyze or test a model
  • Present a new idea you had
  • Propose an idea for a tool or method
  • Propose a standard
  • Discuss the efficiency of a scientific workflow.

Then focus your writing accordingly. You may want to consider following these stages:

  • Collect material to decide on feasibility ('is this a good idea?')
  • Sketch out an overview of the ideas on *paper* (usually much more efficient than electronically)
  • Redraw your overview a few times until it has a good structure.
  • Produce the figures you want to include.
  • Transfer your ideas into the computer and write a first draft.
  • Then revise the draft, add proper references and polish.
  • Finally, read one more time before submitting.

 Practically, ReLogs in this course all have to be put into your ReLog folder on this website; you will get this after you get your login account.

 By submitting your ReLogs to the course website you agree to the following:

  • You agree to follow the Course Honor Code and promise to not cheat (e.g. by plagiarizing). If you still cheat, you will fail this course. If scientists cheat, their career is over; why should it be different for this course?
  • You agree to allow all fellow students in this course to read everything you write. They may comment on it in their ReLogs or provide peer-review feedback, some of which you may not like. You allow all students to see all the feedback you received, positive or not. Thus all you write in this course will be very visible within this course. There have to be some stakes here to make sure you take the writing serious.
  • You agree to not share or publish anything from this course that your fellow students have written unless you get the written consent of the course instructor and the student author(s). While you are free to do as you please with your own material, you agree to not publish without written consent your own writings if they cite writings of another student. You agree to not publish any of the reviews you write as part of this course.
  • You allow the course organizers to make particularly well written parts of your work available to other students of this course. However, any external publication will still require your consent.
  • You agree to not sue course organizers or other students of this course in case of a data breach.

All ReLogs are here.