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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Research and communication skills

HSTM60571 (15 credits)

Semester One

Classes: one three-hour session every two weeks, Wednesday mornings

Contact: Dr James Sumner

The unit aims to:

  • introduce students to key research methodologies relating to history, policy and communication in science, technology and medicine
  • enable students to analyse critically key methods and techniques used by researchers
  • provide students with practical insights into research and writing, through the experience of current researchers
  • build awareness and skill in adapting writing and oral presentation style and technique to different audiences and formats
  • develop skills in drafting and editing of texts
  • develop skills in oral presentation.


On completion of this unit, successful students will be able to:

  • summarise and critically interpret the results of research
  • contribute to group discussion
  • present findings orally in a group session
  • understand key research methodologies relating to history, policy and communication in science, technology and medicine
  • critically and comparatively appraise source texts
  • identify and analyse critically a variety of different methodological approaches to research and argument
  • select and apply appropriate approaches to particular research questions
  • understand and begin to apply the practical skills required in professional research, from question formulation to publication
  • read for research, including skim-reading, source prioritisation, and following up references
  • compose and edit texts presenting the same content for different audiences, and reflect critically on the editing rocess and audience engagement
  • give an oral presentation based on a specific case study, and respond to questions or comments from others.


This unit has two main roles: to provide guidance and experience in writing and oral presentation, and to introduce students to a variety of approaches to research. The unit is required on both the MSc History of Science, Technology and Medicine (including Medical Humanities pathway) and MSc Science Communication programmes, and the case coverage will be drawn from across the disciplinary approaches covered by these programmes, with an emphasis on the shared themes of expertise and communication in science and medicine.

As this is a team-taught course drawing on staff research interests, the exact content will vary. However, it will generally include the following:

Research methods

  • Framing a research question
  • Investigating sources and evidence
  • Working in an archive
  • Using visual sources
  • Working with popular and fictional media
  • Oral history
  • Gender, identity and authority
  • Geographies of knowledge
  • Research ethics

Communication skills

  • Writing and editing as an iterative process
  • Writing for specific audiences and formats
  • Preparing and delivering an oral presentation
  • Engaging with audiences


One coursework assignment based on a research finding relevant to the student’s core programme/pathway: two summaries of the same material prepared for different audiences (1500-2000 words). Weighting: 50%

One oral presentation on a potential research theme (8 minutes, plus 2 mins approx for questions). Weighting: 50%

A comprehensive reading list is distributed at the beginning of the course. Useful introductory reading includes:

  • William Kelleher Storey, Writing History: a Guide for Students. Second edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

  • William Cronon et al, Learning to do historical research online at [].

  • Wayne C Booth et al, The Craft of Research. Third edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

  • Howard S Becker, Tricks of the Trade: How to Think about your Research while you’re Doing It. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

  • Sylvan Barnet et al, A Short Guide to College Writing. Fifth edition. New York: Pearson Longman, 2013.


The seminar discussion format of the course gives all students regular opportunities to discuss their ideas with teaching staff. Staff are also available to discuss essay proposals, seminar performance, and general course performance by appointment, on a one-to-one basis. All coursework is double-marked, and essay scripts are returned to the students with both sets of markers’ comments.


This is a team-taught course, and will feature contributions from all the active lecturing staff at CHSTM. Full details will be provided on arrival.

View a recent course outline (pdf)