Formats For Writing
Scientific Reports and Papers
Department of Geology and Environmental Science
James Madison University
"Guide to Writing, Organizing and Presenting Research Papers" a pdf file of complete guidelines for writing formal scientific reports and theses.
Rationalle For Formats
Format and Outline
A Few Hints and Guidelines About What is Good, and Really Bad About Scientific Writing
You can be the best geologist in the world but if you can't communicate your knowledge so others will know it ... "You ain't worth _____!"
And the only way other scientists will know what you know is what you write. Therefore, written scientific papers are critical to the scientific process, and your future success.
RationalleAll formally published documents follow a format, whether it be a book, a journal article, a newspaper article. Book formats are more or less universal. Book published anywhere in the English (and other) language(s) all follow the same conventions; otherwise it would be chaos.
The format of a publication also varies from discipline to discipline, with different disciplines having different conventions that everyone in the discipline comes to know and follow. Also, specific formats are usually specified by different publishing agency. Scientific journals, for example, typically have a "Guide to Authors" which specifies exactly how the journal wants its manuscripts organized and presented. The JMU Honors Program publishes a very detailed guidebook on the format of the thesis to be turned in; this format closely follows those for theses and dissertations around the world.
In the scientific community there exist general conventions for publications. The guide recommended here is a blend of scientific format, and the conventions used for theses and dissertations. Exactly which format you use depends on your advisor, but the format recommended here is the default position. In the absence of other instructions, do it as laid out in the "Guide to Writing, Organizing and Presenting Research Papers" (a pdf file).
Format and OutlineThe basic organization of a scientific paper include the following sections:
Materials and Methods
Results and Interpretations
This basic outline works for a relatively simple paper, perhaps like one turned in for a class. Formal research requires a more formal presentation.
A more complete discussion, including layout, binding, presentation, and descriptions of what each section of the paper should contain is found at "Guide to Writing, Organizing and Presenting Research Final Papers" a pdf file.
A Few Hints and GuidelinesThere are a lot of customs and conventions, written and unwritten, about writing scientific papers. They often differ from discipline to discipline, and journal to journal. Some journals are very strict about style, format, etc. and others less so. Usually they let you know in their "Instructions to Authors", but not always. Many of these customs and conventions you learn as you go, but a few to watch out for are the following.
Distinguish lab reports and popular writing from scientific papers.
A report of research findings is not a lab report. You are writing a manuscript (MS) of a scientific paper as if it was being prepared for submission for publication.
Avoid Use of the First Person.
Sentences like "My partner recorded the data while I measured..." or "We started our field work on a beautiful fall day at the bottom of the mountain," are unacceptable in scientific writing. If you do have something to say about your techniques just convert them into a direct statement in the active voice.
There are places where the first person is acceptable. An example would be, "I do not believe the generally accepted interpretation is correct because..." This is a statement of personal belief on the part of the scientist, about to be supported by facts or logic.
If you have doubts about when to use the first person, ask.
Distinguish What You Are Struggling to Learn from what other scientists want to learn from reading your paper. They do not care that it was hot or cold, or that it took ten hours, or that your instruments did not work right all the time, or that your partner fell off the cliff and broke his/her neck.
We care, both about your struggles to learn and your pain and injuries, but a scientific paper is factual and dispassionate,...although the best reach a high art.
The More Concise a Scientific Paper the Better.
Concise writing takes more effort than verbose writing, but work at it. Avoid gobbledygook and jargon; pare your sentences and paragraphs to the quintessential statement.
One way to write concisely is to read through your MS ignoring content and specifically looking for words to eliminate and ways to shorten sentences.
Be Thorough and Accurate! Written Mistakes Live Forever.
BIBLIOGRAPHY OF GUIDES TO SCIENTIFIC WRITINGThe following books and manuals are a selection of those available to help in manuscript preparation. Some of these are available in the Seminar Room in the Department of Geology and Environmental Science
Allen, Arly, 1977, Steps toward better scientific illustrations (2nd ed.): Lawrence, KS, Allen Press, 36 p.
Anon., 1986, Writer's Guide to Periodicals in Earth Science: American Geological Institute, Alexandria, Virginia, 2nd Ed.
Bishop, E.E., Eckel, E.B., and others, 1970, Suggestions to authors of the reports of the United States Geological Survey: Washington D.C. 20402, United States Government Printing Office (Stock Number 024-001-03010-1).
Cochran, Wendell, Fenner, Peter and Hill, Mary, 1979, Geowriting - a guide to writing, editing, and printing in earth science: Falls Church, VA, American Geological Institute, 80 p.
Day, R.A., 1979, How to write and publish a scientific paper: Philadelphia, PA, Institute for Scientific Information Press, 160 p.
Heron, Duncan, 1986, Figuratively Speaking: Techniques for Preparing and Presenting a Slide Talk: American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 110 p.
Hill, Mary, and Cochran, Wendell, 1977, Into Print: Los Altos, CA, W. Kaufmann, Inc., 176 p.
Katz, Michael J., 1986, Elements of the Scientific Paper: A Step by Step Guide for Students and Professionals: Yale University Press, 132 p.
Malde, Harold E., 1986, Guidelines for Reviewers of Geological Manuscripts: American Geological Institute, Alexandria, Virginia, 28 p.
Pratt, D. and Ropes, L., 1978, 35-mm slides: a manual for technical presentations: Tulsa, American Association of Petroleum Geologists, 32 p.
Rodolfo, K.S., 1979, Editorial - One picture is worth more than ten thousand words: How to illustrate a paper for the Journal of Sedimentary Petrology: Journal of Sedimentary Petrology, v. 49, p. 1053-1060.
Royal Society, 1966, Guide for preparation and publication of abstracts: American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin: v. 50, p. 1993.
Vansberg, Nicholas, 1952, How to write geologese: Economic Geology, v. 47, p. 220-223.
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