Lindemann & Cartwright

Guidelines for Writing in the Geosciences

Standards and expectations for writing


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.



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 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 historycontext, 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.


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.


Example of a student proposal


Research Papers

Title page


Introduction (link to Introduction above)

Literature review (link to Literature review section above)

Materials and Methods (link to Methods section above)


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 aind 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 most pertinent interpretations found in the literature.

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.




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, and 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.

General Guidelines


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.


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 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 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.


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.

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/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.

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 websites, including:

National Climatic Data Center

NASA EOS IDS Volcanology Team

Geologic Hazards Team

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

Scribner Library (create link)

Inter Library 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, non-scientific journals, class lecture notes, and virtually all websites except those listed above under Data bases or those approved by your advisor. Scrupulously avoid encyclopedias and compendia.

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.

Published guidelines on scientific writing

Example of a student research proposal:

Sedimentary Facies and Depositional Processes of the Hudson River
in the Southeastern Adirondacks

by Horace Bogdonovitch

to Skidmore Geosciences Faculty

April 1, 2007

Abstract: Approval is sought for an Independent Study (GE 371), to be conductted during the Fall 2007 semester, in which the applicant will define, map, and interpret the sedimentary facies of the Hudson River between Lake Luzerne and Warrensburg, New York.

Data from bathymetric mapping and sediment samples collected from the bed and banks of the Hudson River will provide the basis for facies analysis and interpretation. Sediment sample locations will be placed on overlays of the Lake Luzerne, N.Y., 15" quadrangle and will be analyzed using both mineralogic and standard granulometric techniques. Interpretation of the results will add to current understanding of the deglaciation and post-glacial history of the region.

Introduction: The Hudson River is both an economic and recreational resource of New York state. Sections of this river (especially those in the Adirondacks) are unparalleled in beauty and attract a great deal of attention by outdoor enthusiasts. Despite the popularity of this river, scientists have overlooked many geologically unique features found on the Hudson. A prime example of this lies just north of the town of Lake Luzerne in the southeastern Adirondacks. A wide variety of sediment types comprise the bed and banks of this section of the Hudson. Generally, three particularly interesting types of sediment comprise the bed and banks of the Hudson in this area: glacial till, stratified sand deposits, and varved clays. Each type of sediment is diagnostic of its associated paleoenvironment and therefore encourages study. Also, unexplained structures such as gravel bars that cut across the river and sand flats can be observed in this area.

Justification: This segment of the Hudson exhibits very diverse sediment types and structures within a remarkable short distance, very little research has been conducted pertaining to the origins and processes responsible for the deposition of these varied sediments and structures. The proposed study will contribute to our understanding of the region’s deglaciation, post-glacial lake, and post-lake fluvial histories. It will also compliment ongoing research that is being conducted by others throughout the New England region.

Literature: The only published information that directly addresses the geologic features and history of this area is an early study of the geology of the Lake Luzerne Quadrangle (Miller, 1921). As Miller explains, almost all rock found in this are is Precambrian and crystalline, so the bulk of his study focuses on these rocks. He briefly addresses the "Glacial and Postglacial" history of the quadrangle, but admits that he "made no careful detailed study of the Glacial and Postglacial history of the area." His purpose in addressing this issue was to "merely record and tentatively interpret many observations (he) made during the study and mapping of the old rock formations."

The glacial history of the Hudson River valley is essential to understanding the sediment it contains. Each of the three main types of sediment is intrinsically related to the most recent glaciation of this area. The southward movement of the great Laurentide Ice Sheet of Canada (that would eventually cover almost all of New York) removed all accumulated sediment and any loose bedrock from the Lake Luzerne Quadrangle (Miller, 1921), so any sediment currently present must have been deposited after the retreat of the ice sheet. Morainic deposits resulted from the retreat of the ice and account for the majority of sediment in the valley. This sediment shows evidence of glaciofluvial deposition in the grading of some deposits and the extensive rounding of large particles. Rounding and grading, however, do not necessarily indicate glaciofluvial deposition. As Evenson and Clinch (1985) suggested, rounded particles in glacial till could result from inclusion of older fluvial deposits. Also, Ashley (1975) concluded that graded glacial deposits could result from turbidity currents in glaciolacustrine environments.

Once the valley was free of ice, a glacial lake formed. Its presence in the Hudson River valley is supported by varved clays observed in the banks of the river and by large sand flats that may have formed as deltaic deposits where streams entered the glacial lake (Miller, 1921). Miller states that this glacial lake ("Glacial Lake Warrensburg") extended northward four miles up the Hudson River valley past Warrensburg and eight miles up the Schroon River valley from the Schroon’s confluence with the hudson. Glacial Lake Warrensburg was dammed a few miles southeast of Corinth by the retreating Hudsonian Ice Lobe, which blocked the Hudson River valley. Stratigraphy observed by the author in some sand flats suggests multiple fluctuations in the level of this lake. Morainic deposits sandwiched between cross bedded sands could record variations in the water level of the lake as well as small, localized progressions and retreats of the glacier. This strange stratigraphy could also be the result of caving and eventual melting of sediment laden icebergs in Glacial Lake Warrensburg (Easterbrook, 1982).

Following the retreat of the Wisconsin Ice Sheet, the Adirondak region began to differentially rise as a result of isostatic rebound. This differential uplift is recorded in the Lake Luzerne Quadrangle by the elevations of the sand flats, which generally increase to the north at a rate of several feet per mile (Miller, 1921).

The last major glaciation had a lasting effect on the Hudson River. On a large scale, glacial erosion drastically altered the course of this river. Repeated progressions and retreats of glacial ice removed a drainage divide that separated the area of study from Warrensburg, thereby connecting the Hudson with the now extinct Luzerne River (Miller, 1921). On a smaller scale, the cross-sectional form of the river channel is influenced by the erodability of the sediment on the river banks. Strong, cohesive banks (such as those formed by by varved clays) result in a narrow, deep river channel. Weak banks with low cohesion (such as banks formed by sand) produce a wide, shallow river channel (Mackin, 1956).

Purpose: The distribution of the various Pleistocene sediments along the Hudson River and the depth and channel morphology of the river will be mapped for an eight mile section of the Hudson stretching from the town of Lake Luzerne to a canoe access point approximately one mile north of the point where Stony Creek enters the Hudson. Through the process of mapping, the various types of sediment will be classified. Several stratigraphic columns will be constructed at points of interest along this valley. These maps and stratigraphic columns will then be used in conjunction with field observations to interpret:

    1. the geologic processes responsible for the deposition of the different types of sediment
    2. the geologic processes responsible for any observed structures, particularly the anomalous gravel bars
    3. relationships between current river morphology and the geologic history of the sediment in the river valley.

Methods: The majority of the work for this project will be completed in the field. The field work will include the classification of sediment and structures, sediment mapping, depth mapping, and construction of several stratigraphic columns at points of interest.

Classification of Sediment and Structures: The primary characteristics of the sediment as well as sedimentary structures preserved in deposits will be considered when classifying the various types of sediment along the river. Primary diagnostic features of the sediment include mean grain size and the range of grain sizes, general minerologic and lithologic constituents and their relative abundances, rounding, and sorting. The classification of sediment will also consider structures within the deposits (i.e. graded beds, cross-bedding, varves, etc.) and the general morphology of the deposits (i.e. sand flats, gravel bars, etc.).

Sediment Mapping: The distribution of the various types of classified sediment will be mapped for the river bed and banks. Most mapping will be done from a fifteen foot Dagger solo canoe. A bottom sampling dredge will be used to sample sediment on the river bed where it cannot be directly observed. The locations of the sediments along the entirety of the section being studied will then be recorded on a greatly enlarged fifteen minute USGS map of the Luzerne Quadrangle. Any necessary revisions to this USGS map will be made to accurately represent the shape of the river.

Depth Mapping: The depth and channel morphology will be mapped and recorded in much the same manner as the sediment distribution. Depth will be measured using "Fishin’ Buddy II," a sonar depth finder.

Stratigraphic Columns: Several stratigraphic columns will be constructed to aid in understanding changes in the depositional environment over time at a single location. Stratigraphic columns will be constructed for locations along the river bank that show a wide variety of sediment and structures. Beds will be measured using a Jacob staff. The character of the beds will be assessed on the same criteria as the sediment classification. Interpretation of the data collected in the field will occur in the lab. First, cross-sections of the river will be constructed from the data at points of interest. These cross sections will aid in interpreting relationships between channel morphology and sediment. Ultimately, the geologic processes responsible for the observed sediment distribution and structures will be interpreted. This will require knowledge of glacial processes, fluvial processes, and lacustrine processes and the ability to logically relate these processes to each other. A partial geologic history of the Hudson River valley will result from the interpretation of the data. Because of the many factors controlling the distribution of sediment and structures along any river, the task of interpretation is somewhat subjective – logic and Occum’s razor will govern these deductions.

Discussion: The relentless pursuit of science and technology has defined much of the last millennium. Often, however, we overlook opportunities to further our understanding of the world because we are caught up in the race for more technology. This project will not necessarily revolutionize our understanding of the geologic processes that govern our world, but it will aid in understanding a small but unique piece of our planet. No new specialized processes are being pioneered in this project; rather, this project offers experience and practice in the universally important skills fundamental to all of geology – the observation and interpretation of our environment.


MILLER, W.J., 1921, Geology of the Luzerne Quadrangle: New York State Museum Bulletin, nos. 245 – 246.

MACKIN, J.H., 1956, Cause of braiding by a graded stream: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 67, p. 1717 – 1718.

ASHLEY, G.M., 1975, Rhythmic sedimentation in glacial Lake Hitchcock, Massachusetts – Connecticut: Society of Economic Paleontologists and Minerologists, Special Publication 23, p. 304 – 319.

EVENSON, E.B., and J.M. CLINCH, 1985, Debris transport mechanisms at active alpine glacier margins: Geological Survey of Finland, Special Paper 3, p. 111 – 136.

EASTERBROOK, D.J., 1982, Characteristic features of glacial sediments: American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Memoir 31, p. 1 – 10.