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Department of Geosciences
 

Guidelines for Writing in the Geosciences

Richard H. Lindemann and Katharine A. Cartwright

Revised April 24, 2002


WRITING GUIDELINES FOR RESEARCH PROPOSALS

Title page

Titles should be brief and incorporate key words that focus attention on hypotheses and objectives of the proposed research. Titles are centered and all in capital letters. The author's name is centered in capital and lower-case letters, with first name first. The author's address is centered in capital and lower-case letters in italics. Date of submission is centered as is the person or agency to which the proposal is submitted. The date and person/agency are appropriate for proposals, theses, and term papers but not for papers submitted for publication.

Abstract

The abstract is the first section of a proposal/paper following the title page and the last to be written. It is the most important section of the paper, and the most difficult to write. Abstracts are generally less than 250 words in length, very concise, and precisely worded. A Descriptive Abstract, which should be avoided because it cannot stand alone without the remainder of the paper, is a mere condensation of the paper. The preferred form, the Informative Abstract is a self-contained entity that:

1) states the problem or purpose of the research,
2) presents the basic methodologies used,
3) summarizes the principal findings,
4) points out the major conclusions.

Thus, the reader obtains the essence of the paper without the details of the full text. Where journal articles are concerned, readers will often go to the abstract only if the title is of interest and will read on only if the abstract is interesting and informative. In many instances, such as papers presented orally or as posters at society meetings, the abstract is the only published record of a body of research and, therefore, the mode of writing which is most critical to your professional development.

Introduction

Inform the reader of the subject, purpose, and scope of the proposed research. This section may include some literature review and a brief rationale as well as a statement of anticipated or realized beneficial outcome. Most importantly, the introduction must define the hypothesis and objectives of the proposed or completed research.

Justification

Justification sells the proposal by stating what can and should be done to accomplish beneficial outcome and demonstrate the importance of your research to science and to the application to science or to the benefit of humanity. This section must convince the reader that the proposed research is worth both doing and funding.

Literature review

This section consists of published information and controversies that pertain to the thesis of the proposed research. Though it is often presented in a history context, this literature establishes your expertise in working with the contemporary hypotheses, methodologies, and information of your field of research. Keep this section brief and to the point.

Methods

This section provides an outline of how your proposed work will proceed. It must provide information on the field and laboratory materials, data collection, and analytical techniques that you plan to use to accomplish your objective. The need for specific materials, laboratory equipment, and travel for field work should be justified in this section.

Discussion and conclusions

These sections, combined or apart, figure prominently in theses or research papers and are less developed in proposals. After all, at the proposal stage the author has not conducted the research and has no results upon which to base conclusions. However, in the proposal this section may be an appropriate place to consider future applications of anticipated results, thus further supporting the Justification section described above and to demonstrate your expertise in the area of proposed research.

References

Footnotes are rarely used in geowriting. Sources of information are cited within the text by placing the author's name(s) and date of publication in parentheses either within or at the end of the sentence which refers to that information. Quotations are similarly cited within the text by including the source page number(s) within the parentheses following the date of publication. Complete references to source publications are given in a Literature or References Cited section. An example might be: (Miller 1921, p. 70-76).

The References Cited section of your proposal is arranged alphabetically by the first author's last name, at the end of the proposal. Because the details of capitalization, punctuation, abbreviations, etc. vary among the geojournals it is essential that you scrupulously adhere to the citation style of the journal appropriate to your specific research. When in doubt use the GSA Bulletin format: http://www.geosociety.org/pubs/bulguid4.htm When you scroll down in the GSA Bulletin Style and Manuscript Outline to the "References Cited" section, you will find a link to "Sample References."



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WRITING GUIDELINES FOR RESEARCH PAPERS

Title page

Titles should be brief and incorporate key words that focus attention on hypotheses and objectives of the proposed research. Titles are centered and all in capital letters. The author's name is centered in capital and lower-case letters, with first name first. The author's address is centered in capital and lower-case letters in italics. Date of submission is centered as is the person or agency to which the paper is submitted. The date and person/agency are appropriate for theses, and term papers but not for papers submitted for publication.

Abstract

The abstract is the first section of a paper following the title page and the last to be written. It is the most important section of the paper, and the most difficult to write. Abstracts are generally less than 250 words in length, very concise, and precisely worded. A Descriptive Abstract, which should be avoided because it cannot stand alone without the remainder of the paper, is a mere condensation of the paper. The preferred form, the Informative Abstract is a self-contained entity that:

1) states the problem or purpose of the research,
2) presents the basic methodologies used,
3) summarizes the principal findings,
4) points out the major conclusions.

Thus, the reader obtains the essence of the paper without the details of the full text. Where journal articles are concerned, readers will often go to the abstract only if the title is of interest and will read on only if the abstract is interesting and informative. In many instances, such as papers presented orally or as posters at society meetings, the abstract is the only published record of a body of research and, therefore, the mode of writing which is most critical to your professional development.

Introduction

Inform the reader of the subject, purpose, and scope of the proposed research. This section may include some literature review and a brief rationale as well as a statement of anticipated or realized beneficial outcome. Most importantly, the introduction must define the hypothesis and objectives of the proposed or completed research.

Literature review

This section consists of published information and controversies that pertain to the thesis of the proposed research. Though it is often presented in a history context, this literature establishes your expertise in working with the contemporary hypotheses, methodologies, and information of your field of research. Keep this section brief and to the point.

Materials and Methods

This section provides an outline of how your proposed work will proceed. It must provide information on the field and laboratory materials, data collection, and analytical techniques that you plan to use to accomplish your objective. The need for specific materials, laboratory equipment, and travel for field work should be justified in this section.

Results

This section of the research paper is that in which you present the data obtained during the course of your research. This represents the core of your labors in the lab or the field and is the set of data upon which your interpretations are based. Depending on the nature of the research, this section will variously include tables, graphs, photographs, maps, geologic columns, and written descriptions. However, all but the latter must be described and referred to in written text. A graph, table, or image without written text to describe its contents is of no use to the reader and does not assist that person in perceiving your insight into the data.

Discussion and Conclusions

In a research paper, the discussion presents the analysis and interpretation of the results and demonstrates that you have accomplished the purpose of the research. Always bear in mind that interpretations must derive from, and be consistent with, your documented observations. Contrary to the inaccurate stereotype of scientific writing as a dispassionate reporting of facts and figures, the discussion is a persuasive essay that is structured to convince the reader that your interpretations are valid and your work is worthwhile. To accomplish this it is useful to restate your most important results, support them with relevant observations from the literature, and briefly restate the The discussion should end with a firm conclusion which is a clear and simple synthesis of your work that leaves the reader with the strongest and most important single point of the research. This is best accomplished in one or two sentences located at the end of the discussion.

References

Footnotes are rarely used in geowriting. Sources of information are cited within the text by placing the author's name(s) and date of publication in parentheses either within or at the end of the sentence which refers to that information. Quotations are similarly cited within the text by including the source page number(s) within the parentheses following the date of publication. Complete references to source publications are given in a Literature or References Cited section. An example might be: (Miller 1921, p. 70-76).

The References Cited section of your paper is arranged alphabetically by the first author's last name, at the end of the paper. Because the details of capitalization, punctuation, abbreviations, etc. vary among the geojournals it is essential that you scrupulously adhere to the citation style of the journal appropriate to your specific research. When in doubt use the GSA Bulletin format. When you scroll down in the GSA Bulletin Style and Manuscript Outline to the "References" section, you will find a links to sample references.

Appendices

An appendix consists of nonessential materials that support a point in the text by providing additional information. For example, the raw data used in statistical analyses usually appears as a table or data matrix in an appendix. These tables may include hundreds of data that are not well suited for inclusion within the body of the text itself. Another type of appendix consists of many paragraphs of discussion relevant to a specific point within the body of the text, but not to the discussion as a whole. A third type consists of a series of figures produced from statistical analysis, computer modeling, satellite imagery, and more that do not fit into the body of the text because or their large volume.

 

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General Guidelines

Double space the entire manuscript (abstract, text, references, figure captions, tables appendices) on 8.5 x 11 inch paper with 1 inch margins.

Number all pages; page number one is the page on which the abstract appears or on the first page of text if there is no abstract.

Use a standard font; 10 or 12 point only.

Do not justify or break words at the right margin unless they are hyphenated to begin with.

Use appendices for long tables or listings such as locality information.

Do not use footnotes.

There are two levels of text headings. Center the first and use all capitals; underline the second and separate it from the text by a period and two hyphens.

Use underlining instead of italics.

Formally proposed and time (e.g., Early Cambrian, Late Devonian) and time-rock designations (e.g., Lower Cambrian, Upper Devonian) are proper nouns and are not synonymous. Time units are measured in years whereas time-rock units refer to position in section.

Spell out whole numbers zero through nine except when associated with an abbreviated unit of measurement (e.g., 5 mm); use Arabic numerals for numbers 10 and greater. Spell out all numbers beginning a sentence.

Provide all measurements in metric units; English units may also be included in parentheses. Do not use periods for unit abbreviations.

The geoscience faculty expect you to submit college-level work that reflects serious effort and adequate preparation on your part. Grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors should not appear on any submitted paper.

Refer to The Skidmore Guide to Writing for specific details on standards for college-level writing.

Plagiarism is unacceptable.

 

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Plagiarism

For guidelines on what constitutes plagiarism consult The Skidmore Guide to Writing.

Especially in science you want to reference and credit all work done by others. Referencing is very simple (see the How to Cite Sources section). When in doubt, include a citation.

 

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How to present data

Data presented in the form of a table, bar chart, line graph, or figure quickly and effectively conveys your point or interpretation of the data to the reader/audience. Therefore, appropriate selection of the form for data presentation is important. That decision is based upon the point you wish to make. If the form you choose is well-constructed with an appropriate caption, it will be able to stand alone and will make a single point that supports a specific idea. All data must be presented with honesty, accuracy, and precision. If you choose to include a table or figure in your paper it must be cited within the text. Additionally, tables and figures are numbered sequentially and separately (e.g. Table 1, Figure 1, etc.) and each must have a descriptive caption.

Tables

A table is used to present a specific set of data to make a specific point. For instance, its easier to compare certain data points or to show trends or relationships between data when they are presented on a table. Provide the minimum number of rows and columns organized and labeled in a way that accurately and concisely conveys your point. If you wish to make more than one point, construct more tables.

Figures

Figures include diagrams, maps, photographs, flowcharts, line graphs, bar charts, and almost everything except tables and appendices. They must clearly and accurately convey additional information that may be difficult to convey in words.

Bar charts

Bar charts are used to present data for comparison in sizes or amounts, and especially to emphasize differences. They do not show individual data points. Avoid the confusion of using too many colors and patterns on the bars, and make the width of the bars wider than the spaces between them.

Line graphs

Line graphs effectively demonstrate trends or change over time or concentrations compared to a standard. Limit the number of axes to two if possible, and provide regular intervals along all axes. Set the lengths of the axes to eliminate distortion of the curve (too steep or flat) that connects the data points.

Photographs

Photographs provide perspective and context to the viewer and may be used to show a field area, specimen, laboratory equipment, and technique among other things. Photographs of your subject should be properly illuminated, in focus, and include all of the appropriate area. A scale, such as a ruler, hammer, or person, is necessary.

Maps

A map allows the reader to quickly understand where your study area is located. The coordinates of your study area (e.g. latitude and longitude or grid coordinates) must be included on the map, and the boundaries of the map should be limited to and include all of your study area. Simplify the map to eliminate unnecessary words, lines, or anything that detracts from the purpose of the map.

 

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How to cite sources

Footnotes are rarely used in geowriting. Sources of information are cited within the text by placing the author's name(s) and date of publication in parentheses either within or at the end of the sentence which refers to that information. Quotations are similarly cited within the text by including the source page number(s) within the parentheses following the date of publication. Complete references to source publications are given in a Literature or References Cited section, arranged alphabetically by the first author's last name, at the end of the paper. Because the details of capitalization, punctuation, abbreviations, etc. vary among the geojournals it is essential that you scrupulously adhere to the citation style of the journal appropriate to your specific research. When in doubt use the GSA Bulletin format.

 

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Research resources

Primary sources

Primary sources are research articles published in major geologic journals such as Geology, Science, GSA Bulletin, Journal of Sedimentary Research, and AAPG Bulletin.

Secondary (derivative) sources

Secondary sources are text or source books that do not contain primary research but in which the author has compiled the works of others.

Data bases

Many reliable data bases are available on web sites, including:


You should discuss with your advisor the use of appropriate data bases in your own research.

 

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Scribner Library


Interlibrary Loan (ILL)

GeoRef and GeoBase

These are international data bases that list virtually all publications in the geologic literature by author, subject, title, and key words.

Unacceptable resources

Do not use non peer-reviewed publications such as popular periodicals, nonscientific journals, class lecture notes, and virtually all web sites except those listed above under Data bases or those approved by your advisor. Scrupulously avoid encyclopedias and compendia.

 

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Weaknesses to avoid in scientific writing

Inadequate preparation

Scientific writing begins with a complete understanding of your subject, previous studies, methods, data, results, and conclusions. Initially, plan to spend a great deal of time gathering, studying, and understanding scientific literature related to your area of research. This will enable you to support your findings with other scientific work in addition to your own data, and to define the significance of your research.

Lack of focus and organization

Your paper must be centered around a single point of emphasis. Therefore, the organization of ideas in your paper should follow a logical progression that leads to your point. Always begin with an outline. Avoid adding too many diverse points, extraneous material, speculative ideas, unnecessary redundancy, and excessive wordiness.

Inadequate support for interpretations

Limit your interpretations to only those supported by your data.

Inconsistencies and errors

Carefully follow the writing guidelines provided.

Poor construction of figures and tables

Tables and figures should present data in the simplest form to avoid confusion and should be able to stand alone without the text.

 

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Published guidelines on scientific writing

Booth, V., 1993. Communicating in Science: Writing a Scientific Paper and Speaking at Scientific Meetings, 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Committee on the Conduct of Science, 1989. On Being a Scientist. National Academy of Sciences, National Academy Press, Washington D.C.

Committee on Sources, 1988. Sources, Their Use and Acknowledgment. Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH.

Davis, M., 1997. Scientific Papers and Presentations. Academic Press, New York.

Day, R., 1992. Scientific English: A Guide for Scientists and Other Professionals. Oryx Press, Phoenix, AZ.

Day, R., 1994. How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, 4th ed. Oryx Press, Phoenix, AZ.

Dreyfuss, H., 1984. Symbol Sourcebook - An Authoritative Guide to International Graphic Symbols. Van Nostrand Reinhold, NY.

Ebel, H., Bliefoert, C. and Russey, W., 1987. The Art of Scientific Writing. C H Publishers, New York.

Katz, M., 1985. Elements of the Scientific Paper: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students and Professionals. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Meador, R., 1985. Guidelines for Preparing Proposals. Lewis, Chelsea, MI. O'Connor, M., 1991. Writing Successfully in Science. Harper Collins Academic, London.

Reynolds, L. and Simmonds, D., 1983. Presentation of Data in Science. Nijhoff, The Hague.

Tuft, E., 1983. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Graphics Press, Cheshire, CT.



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Topic List

Abstract
Appendices
Conclusions
Discussion
General guidelines
How to cite sources
How to present data
Introduction
Justification
Literature review
Materials and methods
Plagiarism
Published guidelines on scientific writing
References
Research resources
Results
Title Page
Weaknesses to avoid in scientific writing

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