Writing styles

Write astrobites in your courses!

Undergraduates, have you ever wanted to write your own Astrobite? Teachers, would you like to help make this happen?

At Astrobites, we like to break down complex astronomical topics so that our undergraduate readers can understand them. Not only do our readers benefit, but our authors often walk away with a better understanding of the context of the summarized research paper, the motivation for the research idea, and its impact on the field as a whole – the same things we want our readers to learn. Inspired by what we learned while writing our own bites, we realized that writing your own Astrobite could be a much more immersive way for you to learn about a research paper or astronomy in general beyond simply reading Astrobites!

In fact, several professors teaching undergraduate and master’s courses have designed their programs by asking their students to write Astrobite-style papers, some of which you may have seen. on our website! In this bite, we’d like to encourage other instructors to consider asking their students to write Astrobites and provide examples of the framework you could use to make this happen. (And to any college students out there – if that sounds cool, show your teachers this bite!)

Around the world

Over the past few years, we’ve published student excerpts from five different courses (from three different continents!):

  1. Foundations of modern astrophysics: a major undergraduate graduate course with approximately 30-40 students taught by the professor Cara Battersby (UConn)
  2. Another Earth: an undergraduate non-major course with approximately 50 students taught by the professor David Kipping (Columbia University)
  3. Galaxies and Galaxy Dynamics: a Master with about ten students given by the Professor Claudia Lagos (University of Western Australia)
  4. Reading and writing astronomical literature: a joint undergraduate and master’s course with approximately 50 students taught by the professor Zhang Zhiyu (Nanjing University)
  5. Astrobiology in Science Journalism: An Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Writing Seminar as part of UCLA Cluster Program with approximately 20 students taught by a graduate student instructor Briley Lewis (UCLA)

The first three were regular astronomy classes that mainly focused on a few topics in astronomy rather than writing itself as a primary focus, while the last two focused primarily on writing.

Figure 1. It could be you! (or your students!) Coffee not required. Adapted from Lovely Mockups.

The initial setup

Students were largely tasked with writing an abstract of a research paper that mimicked the style we use on Astrobites. Battersby and Lagos allowed students to write Astrobites that were a bit longer than a typical Astrobite post. Lagos also gave two such assignments per semester. Battersby’s Astrobite mission differed the most in that it required students to write a summary of a topic in astronomy instead of a specific paper. Most of these courses allow students to choose their own research papers (or topics) to write about, with the exception of the Lewis and Lagos courses in which they chose the papers themselves so that they relate to the course material. Kipping also required students to choose papers related to course material, while Battersby had to approve all topics beforehand as a formality.

Although homework preparation varied a lot from course to course, there were a few things they had in common. Each professor made sure to give their students more time than a typical Astrobite author would need to write their tidbits. They usually gave these assignments at the beginning or middle of the semester and gave students at least three weeks to complete the assignment. At the very least, they all also introduced Astrobites to their students and told them to read examples before they started writing their bites. Battersby in particular also recommended giving students specific Astrobites to read as examples, while Lagos also discussed specific Astrobites with his students during class.

When presenting the assignment, Battersby provided his students with this Project description, which includes a rubric. Lewis first introduced Astrobites by a reading assignment intended to discuss the idea of ​​a hearing, then guided his students to write their own article with this job descriptionwhich includes a rubric and worksheet on how to analyze scientific papers. Other useful materials you could provide your students on how to write a good Astrobite are those by Haley Wahl. twitter feedby Mitchell Cavanagh presentation note that he developed for the Lagos class, or our workshop guide of the 2020 AAS meeting organized and administered by Caitlin Doughty, Stephanie Hamilton, Briley Lewis and Kate Storey-Fisher.

two slides from Mitchell's presentation, one introducing Astrobites and the other talking about the target audience being undergraduates.

Figure 2. Two slides from Mitchell Cavanagh’s presentation guide to writing an Astrobite.

Editing and presentations

Most assignments included some type of review process. Battersby had his students edit each other’s drafts in groups of three or four, resembling the editing process we have at Astrobites where each bite is edited by another author. With her assignment spanning a month and a half, one of the improvements she has made in the more recent iterations of the course has been to have clear checkpoints before final submission. This change was made to alleviate the tendency for students to do most of the work at the last minute. Similar to Battersby’s course, Zhang randomly assigned students to anonymously rate each other’s drafts so that each student received three review reports they could use to improve their bites. Zhang encouraged students to make their final submission at any stage of the process, as long as they felt confident in their work. Lagos and Zhang each offered to read their students’ drafts before their final submissions if they were interested, and Lewis gave formative feedback to each student as part of the assignment.

Beyond a review process, three of the courses supplemented the bites with presentations. Zhang asked the students to give a ten-minute presentation on a different article that might be related to the one they were writing about. Battersby incorporated students giving one- to two-minute pop lectures on their bites after submission. Lagos asked students to give seven-minute presentations followed by a question and answer section. She recommended scheduling these talks ahead of the scheduled stings date so they can help students improve their stings.


As with other facets of your astronomy lessons, the goal is for students to do something that benefits them! Regarding their favorite part of the course, one of Battersby’s students said: “Probably Astrobite, as it was a chance to connect astrophysics with other interests, which reinforces the two subjects better. than the old regular studies.” Another student commented, “Astrobites were awesome, loved being able to dig deeper into something that is close to my heart and also being able to learn from other people’s presentations.” The best sign that the Lagos course was a success is that he influenced two of the students in his course to become Astrobite authors: Katy Proctor and Mitchell Cavanagh. Katy noted, “I found I really enjoyed the process and it was a good way to force myself to understand the papers.” Mitchell commented: “I found it extremely rewarding to have the opportunity to inject some creative writing into what would otherwise have been another dry, formal assignment. Writing an Astrobite summary made me appreciate the value of distilling complex articles into summaries that are short, accessible, engaging, and fun to read!

Remember that not all students will like the idea of ​​writing. Battersby’s recommendation was to point out to students “not to consider this as extra work, but as an opportunity to delve deeper into a subject which we will not cover in detail in class”. Lewis warned that many students “will be intimidated or feel unprepared for writing, and may even be not prepared to write about science”; however, she noted that “it’s a great opportunity to teach valuable discipline-specific writing skills and build their confidence as communicators.”

Bonus: post as guest posts

Once these assignments were completed, students who wrote more polished bites were given the opportunity to submit them to our website as guest posts, which we hope will inspire students to do good work. writing their bites. Like our regular bites, we paired each student with an editor to polish the bites before they were published. You can find the published bites of each class under the Course assignments category or these specific tags: Battersby’s Journey, Kipping course, The course of Lagos, Zhang’s Courseand The Lewis Course.

Picture 3. Two sample course assignments, one from Zhang’s course and one from Battersby’s course.

We’d like to see more undergraduates practice writing Astrobite-style papers, and more undergraduates submitting guest posts. If you are a professor or instructor teaching a course where you have students writing Astrobites, please let us know (at our email: [email protected]) and we would be happy to arrange the publication of some of your students here on Astrobites!

Thanks to professors Cara Battersby, David Kipping, Claudia Lagos and Zhang Zhiyu, and authors Mitchell Cavanagh, Katy Proctor and Briley Lewis for their help in creating this Astrobite.

Astrobite edited by Briley Lewis

Featured image credit: Adapted from Lovely Mockups

About Michael Hammer

When I was writing for Astrobites, I was a graduate student at the University of Arizona, where I simulated planets, vortices, and other phenomena in protoplanetary disks. Now I am a post-doctoral fellow at ASIAA in Taipei, Taiwan. I’m from Queens, NYC; But I’m not Spider-Man…