Research Paper Format Assignment

WRITING A SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH ARTICLE

| Format for the paper | Edit your paper! | Useful books |

FORMAT FOR THE PAPER

Scientific research articles provide a method for scientists to communicate with other scientists about the results of their research. A standard format is used for these articles, in which the author presents the research in an orderly, logical manner. This doesn't necessarily reflect the order in which you did or thought about the work.  This format is:

| Title | Authors | Introduction | Materials and Methods | Results (with Tables and Figures)
Discussion | Acknowledgments | Literature Cited |

TITLE

  1. Make your title specific enough to describe the contents of the paper, but not so technical that only specialists will understand. The title should be appropriate for the intended audience.
  2. The title usually describes the subject matter of the article: Effect of Smoking on Academic Performance"
  3. Sometimes a title that summarizes the results is more effective: Students Who Smoke Get Lower Grades"

AUTHORS

1. The person who did the work and wrote the paper is generally listed as the first author of a research paper.

2. For published articles, other people who made substantial contributions to the work are also listed as authors. Ask your mentor's permission before including his/her name as co-author.

ABSTRACT

1. An abstract, or summary, is published together with a research article, giving the reader a "preview" of what's to come. Such abstracts may also be published separately in bibliographical sources, such as Biologic al Abstracts. They allow other scientists to quickly scan the large scientific literature, and decide which articles they want to read in depth. The abstract should be a little less technical than the article itself; you don't want to dissuade your potent ial audience from reading your paper.

2. Your abstract should be one paragraph, of 100-250 words, which summarizes the purpose, methods, results and conclusions of the paper.

3. It is not easy to include all this information in just a few words. Start by writing a summary that includes whatever you think is important, and then gradually prune it down to size by removing unnecessary words, while still retaini ng the necessary concepts.

3. Don't use abbreviations or citations in the abstract. It should be able to stand alone without any footnotes.

INTRODUCTION

What question did you ask in your experiment? Why is it interesting? The introduction summarizes the relevant literature so that the reader will understand why you were interested in the question you asked. One to fo ur paragraphs should be enough. End with a sentence explaining the specific question you asked in this experiment.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

1. How did you answer this question? There should be enough information here to allow another scientist to repeat your experiment. Look at other papers that have been published in your field to get some idea of what is included in this section.

2. If you had a complicated protocol, it may helpful to include a diagram, table or flowchart to explain the methods you used.

3. Do not put results in this section. You may, however, include preliminary results that were used to design the main experiment that you are reporting on. ("In a preliminary study, I observed the owls for one week, and found that 73 % of their locomotor activity occurred during the night, and so I conducted all subsequent experiments between 11 pm and 6 am.")

4. Mention relevant ethical considerations. If you used human subjects, did they consent to participate. If you used animals, what measures did you take to minimize pain?

RESULTS

1. This is where you present the results you've gotten. Use graphs and tables if appropriate, but also summarize your main findings in the text. Do NOT discuss the results or speculate as to why something happened; t hat goes in th e Discussion.

2. You don't necessarily have to include all the data you've gotten during the semester. This isn't a diary.

3. Use appropriate methods of showing data. Don't try to manipulate the data to make it look like you did more than you actually did.

"The drug cured 1/3 of the infected mice, another 1/3 were not affected, and the third mouse got away."

TABLES AND GRAPHS

1. If you present your data in a table or graph, include a title describing what's in the table ("Enzyme activity at various temperatures", not "My results".) For graphs, you should also label the x and y axes.

2. Don't use a table or graph just to be "fancy". If you can summarize the information in one sentence, then a table or graph is not necessary.

DISCUSSION

1. Highlight the most significant results, but don't just repeat what you've written in the Results section. How do these results relate to the original question? Do the data support your hypothesis? Are your results consistent with what other investigators have reported? If your results were unexpected, try to explain why. Is there another way to interpret your results? What further research would be necessary to answer the questions raised by your results? How do y our results fit into the big picture?

2. End with a one-sentence summary of your conclusion, emphasizing why it is relevant.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This section is optional. You can thank those who either helped with the experiments, or made other important contributions, such as discussing the protocol, commenting on the manuscript, or buying you pizza.

REFERENCES (LITERATURE CITED)

There are several possible ways to organize this section. Here is one commonly used way:

1. In the text, cite the literature in the appropriate places:

Scarlet (1990) thought that the gene was present only in yeast, but it has since been identified in the platypus (Indigo and Mauve, 1994) and wombat (Magenta, et al., 1995).

2. In the References section list citations in alphabetical order.

Indigo, A. C., and Mauve, B. E. 1994. Queer place for qwerty: gene isolation from the platypus. Science 275, 1213-1214.

Magenta, S. T., Sepia, X., and Turquoise, U. 1995. Wombat genetics. In: Widiculous Wombats, Violet, Q., ed. New York: Columbia University Press. p 123-145.

Scarlet, S.L. 1990. Isolation of qwerty gene from S. cerevisae. Journal of Unusual Results 36, 26-31.

 

EDIT YOUR PAPER!!!

"In my writing, I average about ten pages a day. Unfortunately, they're all the same page."

A major part of any writing assignment consists of re-writing.

Write accurately

  1. Scientific writing must be accurate. Although writing instructors may tell you not to use the same word twice in a sentence, it's okay for scientific writing, which must be accurate. (A student who tried not to repeat the word "hamster" produced this confusing sentence: "When I put the hamster in a cage with the other animals, the little mammals began to play.")
  2. Make sure you say what you mean.
  3. Instead of: The rats were injected with the drug. (sounds like a syringe was filled with drug and ground-up rats and both were injected together)
    Write: I injected the drug into the rat.

  4. Be careful with commonly confused words:

Temperature has an effect on the reaction.
Temperature affects the reaction.

I used solutions in various concentrations. (The solutions were 5 mg/ml, 10 mg/ml, and 15 mg/ml)
I used solutions in varying concentrations. (The concentrations I used changed; sometimes they were 5 mg/ml, other times they were 15 mg/ml.)

 Less food (can't count numbers of food)
Fewer animals (can count numbers of animals)

A large amount of food (can't count them)
A large number of animals (can count them)

The erythrocytes, which are in the blood, contain hemoglobin.
The erythrocytes that are in the blood contain hemoglobin. (Wrong. This sentence implies that there are erythrocytes elsewhere that don't contain hemoglobin.)

Write clearly

1. Write at a level that's appropriate for your audience.

"Like a pigeon, something to admire as long as it isn't over your head." Anonymous

 2. Use short sentences. A sentence made of more than 40 words should probably be rewritten as two sentences.

 "The conjunction 'and' commonly serves to indicate that the writer's mind still functions even when no signs of the phenomenon are noticeable." Rudolf Virchow, 1928

  

Check your grammar, spelling and punctuation

1. Use a spellchecker, but be aware that they don't catch all mistakes.

 "When we consider the animal as a hole,..." Student's paper

 2. Your spellchecker may not recognize scientific terms. For the correct spelling, try Biotech's Life Science Dictionary or one of the technical dictionaries on the reference shelf in the Biology or Health Sciences libraries.

 3. Don't, use, unnecessary, commas.

 4. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

USEFUL BOOKS

Victoria E. McMillan, Writing Papers in the Biological Sciences, Bedford Books, Boston, 1997
The best. On sale for about $18 at Labyrinth Books, 112th Street. On reserve in Biology Library

Jan A. Pechenik, A Short Guide to Writing About Biology, Boston: Little, Brown, 1987

Harrison W. Ambrose, III & Katharine Peckham Ambrose, A Handbook of Biological Investigation, 4th edition, Hunter Textbooks Inc, Winston-Salem, 1987
Particularly useful if you need to use statistics to analyze your data. Copy on Reference shelf in Biology Library.

Robert S. Day, How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, 4th edition, Oryx Press, Phoenix, 1994.
Earlier editions also good. A bit more advanced, intended for those writing papers for publication. Fun to read. Several copies available in Columbia libraries.

William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, The Elements of Style, 3rd ed. Macmillan, New York, 1987.
Several copies available in Columbia libraries.  Strunk's first edition is available on-line.

Virginia Montecino
 montecin@gmu.edu

© Virginia Montecino Jan 1997
You may use this assignment if you attribute the source and include the URL
http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/researchpap.htm

Research Paper

The goals of this assignment are to help you:

  • become more knowledgeable about finding and using varied research sources in your major.
  • further develop your critical thinking skills and back up your points with evidence.
  • become more adept at synthesizing information and developing informed views.
  • discipline yourself to follow a scholarly research format to document in-text sources and a reference page (bibliography).
  • compose a well organized, clear, concise, research paper to expand your knowledge on a subject in your major.
[You will need to go to a library to do this assignment. Do not expect to get all of our resources off the Internet. Scholarly sources which reside on the Internet and are also in print in a scholarly journal are not considered Internet sources. Many scholarly journals either do not publish on the Internet or have membership only access to journals online. I will not accept papers with only Web material as resources unless you convince me there is a valid reason. You may have to submit a request for some resources, so don't wait until the last minute.]

FIRST STEP: Before you brainstorm about topics or begin your proposal or research,  read "Help with Writing Research Papers(http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/writ-pap.htm)."

I. Research Paper Proposal(http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/res-pap-pro.html): You will submit a research paper proposal. See the due date for your proposal on the course schedule. Attach a copy of the final proposal to the end of the final version of your research paper to be turned in with your portfolio).

II. Research Paper: Yourresearch paper must be your own work. Review theHonor Code and Plagiarism  (http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/plagiarism.htm) statement and the Copyright and the Internet(http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/copyright-internet.htm) guidelines.

Topic: Your research paper project begins with a fact finding search on some current issue in your major to advance your knowledge. After you brainstorm about possible subjects and then select one, narrow your topic down to a manageable issue. Investigate possible approaches to your chosen topic and map out your strategy. Your final product will be judged on how well you succeed in producing a well though out, clear paper which shows you can interpret and intelligently discuss the issue and how well you can backup your findings with evidence.

Science and technology rapidly advances; therefore, "old "stuff," other than as background information, can be misleading and lead to wrong conclusions. Look for possible topics and background information in specialized encyclopedias, such as McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, Magill's Survey of Science: Life Science Series, Encyclopedia of Computer Science and Technology, American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine. Encyclopedias should not be your main sources, but can give you good background information and clarify concepts.  If you aretaking a course in your major this semester, you can research a topic for that course (with my permission and the other professor's).

Approach: Your paper does not have a chance to be substantive unless you have substantive sources. Find 7 to 10 VARIED (NOT all Internet sites, for example) sources - including professional journal articles and professional publications, Internet sources, and possibly (but not required) an interview. It is a balancing act to find sources that you can understand - that relate to your level of study in your discipline, and, at the same time, challenge you intellectually. In this paper I do not want you to try and solve a problem or necessarily reach a conclusion. What I am looking for is evidence that you can gather a body of knowledge on a particular subject, narrow it down to a particular focus and show that you can synthesize the information and make some intelligent, insightful observations about the subject. What I don 't want is just a regurgitation of information strung together. A significant part of the paper should be your interpretation of the information and how your knowledge about the subject has been enriched.

Your paper should contain these parts:

Introduction: Your introductory material should set up your topic for your audience. Briefly summarize your findings on the subject - If the sources disagree about the value of or perspective on the subject, point out the areas of disagreement. Your introduction should not meander around the point of your paper. It may be more than one paragraph in length, but at some point, very early in the paper you then need to start the substance of the paper. Your thesis should come at the end of your introductory material. State your thesis in the form of a sentence or two. It shouldnot be in the form of a question. Your thesis should be a brief statement, in your own words, that points out the major issues about this topic that you discovered in your research. If you can't articulate in a sentence or two what your main point is then you probably don't have a good idea of what you will be writing about.

Body of Paper: Use subheadings, where appropriate, to separate different aspects of your paper which support your controlling idea (your thesis). The body of your paper should provide supporting evidence to support your thesis, in a logical, fully developed manner. For each new topic which supports your overall thesis, provide a topic sentence or two which is, in effect, the thesis for that sub-topic. If you do not use subheadings, you need to provide transition sentences to move your reader from one paragraph to the next. Your supporting sub-topics should address these issues: How will this knowledge advance science or technology or society - not in broad, abstract ways, but in concrete ways? What is the major impact of these findings? How will they affect people? What are the benefits to people? Are there any disadvantages? For example, if you are a nursing major, you might summarize findings on various treatment options or recent research findings for a particular medical condition. A computer science major might address a particular technology breakthrough with its plusses and minuses in application.

A writer of a research paper should synthesize the information gained from sources and weave them into a well ordered discourse, using the sources as evidence to support key points. A paper which is just a string of quotes shows that the author made no attempt to come to grips with the subject and is relying on the sources to speak for her or him.

Conclusion: Your conclusion should make some "wrap up" statements about what you learned about your chosen topic and the possible impact of your findings on people and perhaps society in general. Also, address any issues that may still not be resolved for you. Don't be reluctant to address any issues that aren't easily resolved or have negative or ambiguous outcomes. I am not necessarily looking for a neatly wrapped up conclusion with no loose ends. I am looking for a conscientious, thoughtful look at some topic in your field, sharing of the major significance of this issue, and any unanswered questions, if any, you are still dealing with.

***************************************

Audience: Your paper should be understood by a broader audience than scholars in your field - for example, your classmates. You will have to explain concepts and not expect your audience to understand in-house jargon. If you are working on a paper in your major for another class this semester or on the job, we can negotiate the focus of your paper and the audience requirements. Have a target audience in mind. Who would be interested in and benefit from your treatment of the subject? By anticipating your audience you can anticipate the kinds of questions that may arise.

Format: [Web-based papers will approximate these guidelines.]

I prefer the APA (American Psychological Association) style. If you want to use another one, check with me.  Use one of these APA Research Style Guides(http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/stylgui.htm).

Length - 5 to 7 double spaced pages of text (not including graphics, cover page, appendices, or reference page). Ten "rambling" pages is not better than 7 clear, fully developed pages.

Margins - 1 inch top, bottom, left, right

Cover Page - in APA style (which should include your name, course and section, date, my name. The title should give your audience a good idea of what your paper is about - not tease your audience. For example, a clear title might be: The Internet - Changing the Way Students Learn and Teachers Teach.

Pagination: Put page numbers in top right hand corner of each page, including the cover page. Also include your last name and abbreviated title: Smith - Internet 2

Sources: Take notes on your sources and photocopy or print out original source material. I may ask to see them. For long articles, photocopy the first page, the pages you quote from, and the reference page (if there is one). Check out theGMU Libraries online and others  ( http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/book-lib.htm). Don't rely entirely on the Internet for sources. Search Bank - INFOTRAC (http://www.searchbank.com/searchbank/viva_gmu) - has the capability to transmit the full text of some article onto your Web Browser for saving to a file or for printing.) Also check out the Washington Research Library Consortium
(http://www.aladin.wrlc.org.)  You will be required to do some of your research at a "real," not virtual, library. Much scholarly work and other valuable information still resides only in hard copy. Relying only on the Internet will give you a false impression of what is out there.

Use a minimum of  7 varied and CURRENT sources (at least three from the past year 1997) - for example, journals in your major, Internet sources, interviews (no textbooks, please or encyclopedias - unless they are specialized encyclopedias in your field of study and you are using them for definitions of concepts. Encyclopedia and similar sources should be in addition to the 7 minimum. Books (often outdated by the time they get published) are generally poor sources for scientific subjects except for background info. Trade magazines or special interest group sources have built in biases, but can have some valuable information. But, for example, if you are writing about the value of advertising on the Internet, a company whose product is Internet advertisements would probably not be an objective source, but might be a good source for showing what is being done with Internet advertising. But you would have to point out the possible biased interest of the source. Check the source of all information for reliability. Is the Internet site sanctioned by a reputable institution or organization? Does the person you interview have credentials and experienced with your subject? Does he or she have a built in bias you need to address in your paper? What biases of your own may you have to be aware of to produce a scholarly look at this subject?

Documentation: Follow the online APA Style Guide (latest version) for documenting the sources in your text and your Reference Page. If you are unsure about a particular source, we can discuss it.

Use parenthetical citations (citation information in text between parenthesis) for information that is someone's opinion and is not common knowledge. Give parenthetical citation information for quotation sand paraphrases. Include page number for direct quotes. APA requires the date be included in in-text citations:

As Smith (1993) stated, "magazines for the general public generally have less reliable evidence than scholarly or professional journals" (p. 2).

OR

As Smith said, "magazines for the general public generally have less reliable information than scholarly or professional journals" (1993, p. 2).

Paraphrased version: Magazines written for a lay audience tend to have less objective information than that found in scholarly publications (Smith, 1993). NOTE: There are no quotation marks or page number for a paraphrase. Paraphrasing means restating in your own words the original author's EXACT meaning - not just rearranging words in the author's original text. You can embed a short quote of a key phrase in paraphrased material and give the page number of the quote.

It is poor form to begin a paragraph or a sentence with a quotation - letting the source speak for you instead of incorporating the source into your text. For example, here is an example of poor form, which shows no input from the writer of the paper. He or she is just writing what the original author said, without trying to paraphrase the information or, at the very least setting up the quote in context:

"The proliferation of multiple births in this country speaks to the need to formulate ethics guidelines to regulate the fertility clinics" (Jones, 1997, p. 82).

An example of a more graceful form of setting up a quote is:

Because of significant number of multiple births in the United States, Jones points out that this country needs to "formulate ethics guidelines to regulate the fertility clinics" (1997, p. 82-84).

All sources in your research paper, like the examples above, are not only documented in the body of your paper, but must also be listed in the proper format on the References page.

Use quotes judiciously. Use them only when paraphrasing will make the statement unclear or a kernel of an idea is so perfectly stated that trying to paraphrase in your own words will ruin the impact of the statement. See the APA Style Guides for how to handle long quotes

Appendices: Graphics or charts should only be used if they can clarify some concept in your paper. Don't use them just for a "flashy" effect or for "gee whiz" value. If you include large graphics or charts, include each on a separate appendix page and label each one A, B, and so on. Refer to such appendices in the text where you discuss that issue. Graphs, charts, and appendices are not included as pages of text. They must be in addition to the 5 to 7 pages.

Final advice - try to relax

Consult me when needed throughout the process - I'm happy to help. 


 Virginia Montecino |montecin@gmu.edu

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