Scientific Literature & Writing - Biology
Instructor: Gary Ritchison
Course syllabus: Click
Reading & Citing
Scientific Literature | Guidelines for Better
Writing | Writing Proposals | Accessing
Writing a Scientific Paper |
| Introduction | Methods
| Results | Discussion
| Literature Cited | Useful Links
Scientific writing is NOT a science (but . . . see The
Science of Scientific Writing). There are no proven theories
or testable hypotheses.
The writer must present research in a way that your audience can understand.
What is the 'audience' for a scientific writer?
is a SKILL that must be developed through practice. Good writers never
should inform the reader.
instructor of a class
advisor & committee
attendees at scientific meeting: state, regional, national, or international
readers of theses
readers of scientific journals: state, regional, national, or international
Before writing a scientific paper, determine:
The audience influences style!! For example, how would research
on avian mating strategies be presented to an ornithological journal, to
a departmental seminar audience, & to a local bird club??
This course will focus primarily on writing for others in the profession,
i.e., on writing publications for the primary literature. The primary
1) state, regional, national, & international professional journals
The primary literature is indexed in such forms as Current
Citation Index, & Dissertation
Abstracts. Primary literature contains primary publications. A primary
2) conference proceedings (if edited or peer-reviewed)
3) annual reviews
4) some books (if edited & containing original results)
5) theses & dissertations
6) technical reports of government agencies or private organizations
7) on-line journals (if edited or peer-reviewed)
1) the 1st publication of original research results,
There is also a secondary literature (more general works that are
based on primary sources):
2) in a form in which peers can repeat the experiments & test the
conclusions (i.e., methods & results included),
3) in a journal or other form readily available within the scientific
community (i.e., the PRIMARY LITERATURE)
1) textbooks & lab manuals (not original results),
2) review papers that summarize & interpret primary literature,
3) some books (unedited or not containing original results),
4) articles in popular magazines (e.g., Natural History, Audubon, &
5) scientific encyclopedias & dictionaries
The relative ‘prestige' of journals in the primary literature varies:
The format of publications in these various journals varies but,
wherever a paper is submitted, an author should strive to write the best
paper possible. How do you get a paper published?
1) Submit your manuscript to the editor of a journal (making sure you've
followed the journal's
2) The editor sends the manuscript to 2 - 4 reviewers
3) The editor reads the manuscript, evaluates the reviews, & may
4) Once accepted, the author(s) must submit a 'clean' version of the manuscript
(i.e., proper format with any 'problems' corrected) along with original
figures. Many journals now also require that this final version of the
manuscript be submitted on diskette (along with a hard copy).
accept the manuscript for publication with few or no changes
ask the author(s) to make certain changes (ranging from minor to substantial)
&, after resubmission, decides whether or not to publish
decide that he or she likes the study (or the data) but the changes needed
are so substantial that, upon resubmission, the manuscript must once again
be sent to reviewers
reject the manuscript
5) Editor assigns manuscript to particular volume &, at the appropriate
time, sends it to the publisher.
6) About 2 - 3 months before that volume is to be published, the author
receives page proofs (manuscript in form that it will appear in the journal).
The author carefully reviews proofs to make sure there are no typos or
other problems. A limited number of changes can be made in the manscript
at this point but the authors must pay for any changes not the fault of
the publisher. The author is also informed about page charges at this point
& the availability of reprints.
7) Manuscript is finally published.
Is good writing important?
Active biologists write papers for the primary literature, but they
also write lots of other things such as lectures, poster presentations,
grant proposals, resumes (or vitae), letters (e.g., of application &
recommendations), memos, & progress reports.
Others who read these make judgements about you based on the quality
of your writing. How does a poorly written letter of application affect
your chances of getting a position? What chance does a poorly written proposal
have of getting funded? What chance does a poorly written manuscript have
of being accepted for publication? Obviously, good writing is very important!
How does one become a good 'scientific writer?'
examine how other scientists write (by studying their publications)
become familiar with the basic 'rules'
submit your work for review!
In BIO 801, you'll be writing a research proposal, a research
paper, an oral presentation, and a poster. You'll also be reviewing several
manuscripts. Your proposal, paper, presentation, and poster will be based
on a 'study' of your choosing. This 'study':
1) will not actually be conducted, but will be based on data (unpublished)
obtained from me, your advisor, or some other faculty member. In the real
world, of course, a study is proposed, then conducted (and data are collected).
However, because one semester simply isn't enough time to propose a study
and actually conduct the research, you will 'propose' a study that has
already been conducted.
Once you've selected a topic, of course, your next step is to find all
relevant references. Some good places to begin this search include:
2) will be the focus of most of your writing in this course. And, you'll
be reading and writing (and re-writing) about it all semester!! So, it's
very important that you choose a topic of interest to you. I'd be happy
to provide some ideas and I'd also encourage you to discuss ideas with
your advisor or other faculty members (or other graduate students).
Check textbooks (including literature cited sections)
Scan journals in basement of library
Check with advisor, other faculty, & other grad students
To obtain books and journal articles that the EKU library doesn't
have, use InterLibrary Loan!!
Reading & Citing the Scientific Literature
Research is published as journal articles or papers
Articles are factual & explanatory but, often, are also persuasive.
Authors attempt to persuade readers that what they've done is valid &
Common format consists of 4 standard sections (IMRAD):
plus a Literature Cited section
Each section plays a part in supporting the larger argument of the whole
Papers written using the IMRAD format consist of 2 sections that describe
the study (Methods & Results) framed by 2 sections that place the work
in the context of previous knowledge (Introduction & Discussion). FRAMING
SECTIONS and DESCRIBING SECTIONS use different verb tenses:
Framing - often use present tense if reporting common knowledge or an important,
well-known, and agreed upon principle (e.g., "The availability of suitable
nest sites is known to influence screech-owl populations.") BUT use past
tense if referring to findings of particular researchers (e.g., "Ritchison
(1992) suggested that screech-owl populations may be limited by the availability
of suitable nest sites.")
Describing - typically use past tense to describe actions already taken
and data already collected (e.g., "We located nests by observing the behavior
of female chats." or "Adult chats fed nestlings at an average rate of 3.5
times per hour.")
Reading Scientific Papers
1 - Acquire some background knowledge
Papers are written for a relatively specialized audience & assume
some knowledge of the subject matter & vocabulary. So, you may wish
to start by reading appropriate sections in texts, scientific encyclopedias,
popular science magazines (e.g., Scientific
American) & books (i.e., books on specific topics written for a
non-specialized audience), or review papers.
2 - Read the abstract first
Review papers provide historical perspective, summarize contributions
of influential researchers, & often point out where additional work
is needed. The Literature Cited sections of reviews are an excellent introduction
to the primary literature of a particular field. Reviews may occasionally
appear in many journals and some publications specialize in review papers
(e.g., the Annual Review series).
Provides a summary of the paper & should help you decide whether
to read the rest of the paper.
3- Understand the basic aims of the study
Read the Introduction. Why was the study conducted? What hypotheses
were being tested (i.e., what were the objectives)?
4 - Unless your research requires it, don't focus too closely on METHODS
Understand the experimental design, use of controls, sampling techniques,
or other methods related to specific objectives. Generally, you need not
understand the precise details. If necessary, go back to the Methods section
after you understand the major findings and conclusions.
5 - Read, and perhaps re-read, the Results carefully.
6 - Understand the Discussion
Don't panic if you don't understand some of the details (e.g., the statistical
Focus on main qualitative findings, them move on to more difficult material.
It may be helpful to read through the Discussion & then return to the
Don't overlook Figures & Tables.
7 - Plan on rereading important papers
Do the data support the conclusions?
What does the author believe is the primary contribution of the study?
How do the conclusions relate to your research interests or to your particular
Specifically, do the author's conclusions in any way agree or disagree
8 - If aspects of a paper are relevant to your work, summarize that material,
for future reference, in your own words. It's very important to avoid plagiarism:
You may miss important details with a single reading.
You may gain new insight into a paper if you come back to it at a later
date & after becoming more familiar with the subject.
It takes additional time to summarize in your own words because, to do
so, you must have a clear understanding of the work you're summarizing,
but you will avoid plagiarism and, perhaps, will better understand the
copying an author's exact words & putting them in your paper without
using wording that is very similar to that of the original source, but
passing it off as entirely your own (the most common type of plagiarism)
9 - If a paper is relevant, get complete bibliographical information
[author(s), date (year published), title, publisher or journal, volume,
page numbers, & editor (if in an edited volume)] & either send
for a reprint
or make a photocopy.
10 - Develop a system for keeping track of all your references. For
Bibliographic management software, e.g.:
Manuscript Manager (Pergamon Software, Maxwell House, Fairview Park, Elmsford,
ProCite (Personal Bibliographic
Software, Inc., P.O. Box 4250, Ann Arbor, MI 48106)
EndNote (Niles and Associates, 2200 Powell, Suite 765, Emeryville, CA 94608-1809)
GUIDELINES FOR BETTER SCIENTIFIC WRITING
1) Omit unneeded words; shorten wordy phrases. Here are some examples
of sentences with unneeded words; edit to make them more concise.
There is now a method, which was developed by Jones (1973), for analyzing
the growth of rotifer populations.
It has been reported by Smith (1988) that the majority of birds are
It should be noted that most nests were in close proximity to the forest
Singing was monitored in order to determine if older males have the
ability to produce more complex songs.
Traps were checked on a daily basis.
Increased levels of nitrogen gave rise to quite a few changes in leaf
It was demonstrated that juvenile sparrows lack the ability to forage
as efficiently as adults.
The eggs were blue in color, and they were covered with a large number
of black spots.
HINT: Modifiers such as very, quite, & rather are meaningless
in scientific writing (so, in other words, don't use them!).
ADDITIONAL HINTS: Useful
information about word choice.
2) Use active voice (but not excessively)
Passive: Most seedlings were eaten by rabbits.
Active: Rabbits ate most seedlings.
Passive: Territory size was found to vary with population density.
Active: Territory size varied with population density.
Passive: From field observations, it was found that all radio-tagged
individuals remained on the study area.
Active: Field observations revealed that all radio-tagged individuals
remained on the study area.
Passive: Several marking techniques were used on the birds.
Active: I used several marking techniques on the birds.
Pronoun Reference (identification of a pronoun with its intended
antecedent). Make sure all pronouns can be easily identified.
Unclear: Northern Cardinals have been studied by ornithologists
for several years. They typically initiate breeding behavior in March.
Make sure each verb agrees with its subject. Do not lose sight of
the subject in a sentence by focusing on modifying words, such as prepositional
phrases, occurring between the subject and verb. For example:
Better: Studies by ornithologists have revealed that Northern
Cardinals typically initiate breeding behavior in March.
Even better: Northern Cardinals typically initiate breeding
behavior in March.
Faulty: Farrar and Calie (1998) examined the foraging behavior
of House Sparrows. They reported that their diet consisted primarily of
Better: Farrar and Calie (1998) examined the foraging behavior
of House Sparrows, and found that sparrows fed primarily on seeds.
Even better: House Sparrows fed primarily on seeds (Farrar and
The size of all territories was [not were] reduced at high population
The dominant male, along with his subordinates, defends [not defend]
the den site.
The color and shape of the beak are [not is an] important taxonomic
features [not feature].
Avoid repetition - Some sentences or paragraphs are wordy
because the writer includes the same information twice. For example:
Wordy: In Cupp's study, he found that temperature had no effect on
display rates (Cupp 1993).
Concise: Temperature had no effect on display rates (Cupp 1993).
Wordy: The opossum is of moderate economic importance according to Hamilton
(1988), who reviewed the importance of the opossum in detail.
Concise: Opossums are of moderate economic importance (Hamilton 1988).
Make sure paragraphs are coherent units of thought.
Paragraphs should be logically constructed passages organized around
a central idea often expressed as a topic sentence. A writer constructs,
orders, and connects paragraphs as a means of guiding the reader from one
topic to the next, along a logical train of thought. Topic sentences often
occur at the beginning of a paragraph, followed by material that develops,
illustrates, or supports the main point.
Vary your sentences.
Pay attention to the structure, length, and rhythm of your sentences.
If your writing is unvarying and one-dimensional, you will not get your
message across as effectively. For example, the following paragraph is
dominated by short, choppy sentences:
Many doves exhibited 'nest-calling' behavior. They assumed a position
with the tail and body axis pointing slightly upwards. In this posture,
they flicked their wings. This behavior was observed in both sexes. It
was especially common in males. I saw it performed both on and off the
By combining related sentences, this paragraph becomes more readable:
Many doves, especially males, exhibited 'nest-calling' behavior both
on and off the nest. During this display, doves assumed a position with
the tail and body axis pointed slightly upwards and flicked their wings.
Be careful about using nouns as adjectives:
Beginning writers frequently use nouns (sometimes proper nouns) as
adjectives. For example:
Gray (1997) found that Red-winged Blackbird females were less vocal
during the pair-formation period.
This would be better as:
Gray (1998) found that female Red-winged Blackbirds were less vocal
during pair formation.
commas and hyphens correctly, use numerals correctly, & use the correct
Most research requires some funding! Cost and quality are not necessarily
correlated; low-budget research can be high-quality research! But, it's
nice to get some financial assistance even for low-budget projects.
Requests for funding are called GRANT PROPOSALS. Research can also be
supported by CONTRACTS, e.g., USDA Forest Service or the Kentucky Department
of Fish & Wildlife Resources may provide funds to perform work that
they specify. The researcher is contracted to perform specific work. Grants
are usually awarded on a competitive basis, while contracts often are not.
A grant proposal must convince readers that the work will be valid AND
that the granting agency should pay for it! Grantsmanship is the 'art'
of getting financial support for your research.
Some possible sources of funding for Master's students:
Before preparing and submitting a proposal to a particular funding
source, be sure you know the answers to these questions:
1 - Do they fund research in my area?
2 - If so, what is the duration of funding and how much will they provide?
3 - Who can apply (i.e., are you eligible?)
4 - What is the deadline for receipt of proposals?
5 - What is the required format? (Formats do vary among funding sources.)
Factors important in writing a quality proposal:
From NIH guidelines - " . . . applications with typos & grammatical
errors create a negative impression of the author's competence & attention
Is it an original idea? Would it cause a reviewer to say to themselves
'Why didn't I think of that?'
Does the author demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the field?
Is the study well-designed with appropriate methodologies?
Does the description of Methods demonstrate the technical competence needed
to successfully carry out the project?
Is the proposal well-written? Does it look good?
Who reviews proposals?
What's included in a typical proposal? This varies among agencies but proposals
must often include:
Varies among granting agencies but always involves peer review.
Proposals are often sent out for review to experts in the field (but may
undergo initial review by 'generalists' before going to experts).
Some agencies (e.g., NSF) use panels of experts that collectively evaluate
proposals (although grants may be reviewed before going to the panel).
abstract or summary
table of contents
body of proposal (introduction & methods)
complete budget (&, sometimes, budget detail sheets)
biographical information about investigator
approval form or letter from an institution's animal care committee
Is a proposal's
The BODY (Introduction & Methods) of the proposal remains
For example - PROJECT DESCRIPTION from NSF Grant Proposal Guide (1995):
Explain the background & rationale for the project by surveying
the literature, summarizing the current state of the field's knowledge
on the topic, & showing how the proposed work will further that
Explain the purpose, significance, & specific objectives of the proposed
Describe, in detail, the methodology to be used and, if necessary,
explain the rationale behind these methodological choices
"The main body of the proposal should be a clear statement of the work
to to undertaken and should include: objectives for the period of the proposed
work and expected significance; relation to longer-term goals of the primary
investigator's (PI) project; and relation to the present state of knowledge
in the field, to work in progress by the PI under other support and to
work in progress elsewhere. The statement should outline the general plan
of work, including the broad design of activities to be undertaken, an
adequate description of experimental methods and procedures and, if appropriate,
plans for preservation, documentation, and sharing of data, samples, physical
collections and other related research products."
Sigma Xi - "Good proposals address an explicit research hypothesis set
in the context of a larger theory or model; proposed research methods;
the relationship of hypothesis with data to be gathered; and previous work
on the topic."
Introducing the research problem & objectives
A proposal's introduction will be similar in structure & content
to the introduction of a research papers, i.e.:
1) Summarize the current state of knowledge
However, a proposal generally provides a more detailed introduction
to the topic because:
The primary goal of a proposal is to convince readers of the significance
of the proposed work; it's not enough to assert that a problem exists or
that a question has not been answered. What is "significant?"
2) Identify gap, question, or problem that motivates study
3) Provide objective(s) of study
depends on goals & priorities of funding source
depends on individual reviewers
Specific Aims: All other things being equal, a
proposal that is hypothesis-driven is likely to be more favorably received
one that is not. "Fishing expeditions" and primarily "descriptive" proposals
are unlikely to be funded. A proposal whose primary aim is to develop a
new method will probably not be funded unless subsequent aims within the
proposal involve using the method once it is developed. Be sure that you
understand--and delineate for the reviewer--the difference
between broad, long-term objectives and specific aims.
Providing background information in the Introduction
is important in:
For example, here is some advice for those submitting to proposals to NIH:
letting readers know how familiar you are with current literature
letting readers know how well you understand issues & constraints involved
in conducting research in this area
"Refer to the literature thoroughly and thoughtfully. Explain what
gaps in the literature would be filled by your project. In the past, research
proposals have not been funded when applicants seemed to be unaware of
relevant published work or when the proposed research or study design had
already been tried and judged inadequate."
Keep in mind that you are reviewing research to introduce your study &
how it will further the field's knowledge (and, perhaps, the funding agency's
Background and Significance: In addition to describing
the background for the proposal, you must critically evaluate the existing
knowledge in the field. To justify the need for the proposed research,
you should identify the specific gaps the project is intended to
fill and state the importance of the research by relating the specific
aims to the broad, long-term objectives. Make it clear which previous work
was done by others and which by you, the principal investigator. The citations
you choose to include in this section will give the reviewer a sense of
your knowledge of the field.
Describing proposed methods
Compared to a journal article, the methods section of a proposal may
include fewer details but more explanation of rationale (that is,
why this approach, & not others, was chosen).
As a result, the methods section of a proposal should be well-documented
(i.e., use references where possible to lend support to your choices).
Explaining your methods helps 'generalist' readers understand what's needed
to accomplish the project & helps 'specialists' determine whether you
understand what's needed to carry out the project.
NIH (1993) guidelines:
"While you may safely assume the reviewers are experts in the field
and familiar with current methodology, they will not make the same assumption
about you . . . Since the reviewers are experienced research scientists,
they will undoubtedly be aware of possible problem areas, even if you don't
include them in your research plan. But they have no way of knowing that
you too have considered these problem areas unless you fully discuss any
potential pitfalls and alternative approaches."
Writing hints for the Methods section of a proposal:
Describe methods in future tense not past tense
Use subheadings as needed to help readers keep track of the basic components
of your methods
While a proposal may not require as much detail as the Methods section
of a thesis or other publication (i.e., sufficient detail to permit replication
of the study), you must, as noted above, make sure that reviewers will
understand that you understand what's needed to carry out the study.
So, at minimum, provide:
taxonomic information (e.g., subspecies or strains) about organism(s) used
information about equipment used
dates & location(s) of study (&, perhaps, why these dates and locations
duration & timing (e.g., morning or evening) of observation periods
how animals will be captured & marked
how focal animals will be selected
sample size(s) (& why that, or those, sample size(s))
information about statistical analyses to be used when analyzing results
When in doubt about what to include in the Methods section of
your proposal, it's almost certainly better to provide 'too much' detail
than 'too little.'
The Research Proposal Abstract or Summary
Not always required; needed for longer proposals (e.g., to NSF & NIH)
When included, serves a number of possible purposes:
may be used at start of review process in making decisions about possible
will be used by reviewers as an introduction to your proposal (& will
give them their first impression of your efforts!)
may be used to publicize an agency's funding decisions. NSF guidelines
concerning proposal summaries:
"It should not be an abstract of the proposal, but rather a self-contained
description of the activity that would result if the proposal were funded.
The summary should be written in the third person and include a statement
of objectives, methods to be employed and the significance of the proposed
activity to the advancement of knowledge. It should be informative to other
persons working in the same or related fields and, insofar as possible,
understandable to a scientifically or technically literate lay reader."
What about the budget?
(Also: see AOU
Research Award budget guidelines & Sigma
How are proposals evaluated?
The proposal review process exerts substantial influence on the 'direction'
of research. For example:
Requests for Proposals (RFP) - funding agencies encourage research in some
areas & not others
Proposal guidelines ensure that researchers address an agency's goals &
Selection of reviewers (with their biases & ideas about research priorities)
may further direct research into certain areas
Possible concerns about the review process for proposals:
1- Possible favoritism
In sum, the proposal review process is imperfect, but continues
to be evaluated.
2 - May discourage research that's out of the 'mainstream' (or, for
national funding agencies like NIH & NSF, research that may be considered
unpopular with, or even ridiculed by, members of Congress or their staffs
or by the media, e.g., 'Golden
3 - Possible misappropriation of ideas
4 - Possible loss of confidentiality
Proposal guidelines may include a list of criteria to be used by reviewers:
1) NSF - Merit
What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?
How important is the proposed activity to advancing knowledge and understanding
own field or across different fields? How well qualified is the proposer
(individual or team) to
conduct the project? (If appropriate, the reviewer will comment on the
quality of prior work.) To
what extent does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative and
How well conceived and organized is the proposed activity? Is there sufficient
What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?
How well does the activity advance discovery and understanding while promoting
training, and learning? How well does the proposed activity broaden the
underrepresented groups (e.g., gender, ethnicity, disability, geographic,
etc.)? To what extent
will it enhance the infrastructure for research and education, such as
networks, and partnerships? Will the results be disseminated broadly to
enhance scientific and
technological understanding? What may be the benefits of the proposed activity
2) Sigma Xi
- notes what a "good proposal" addresses
3) Many small grants - no specific guidelines presented
In general, the most important criteria include:
1) scientific merit of proposed work
2) professional competence of researcher(s)
3) relevance of the work to agency's goals
Top reasons why
proposals are not funded (from a survey of NIH reviewers):
Lack of new or original ideas
Unfocused research plan
Insufficient knowledge of relevant, published work
Lack of experience in essential methodology
Questionable reasoning in experimental approach
Unrealistically large amount of work
Lack of sufficient experimental detail
NIH reviewers must officially assign a score to each of
five criteria (Significance, Approach, Innovation, Investigator, and Environment)
before coming to a decision on an overall score.
The hard part may be trying to balance feasibility with innovation,
says Gerald Greenhouse, scientific review administrator for NIH's Cell
Biology and Physiology. His advice? "Try to submit an application that
includes both solid science and more risky stuff."
Significance: Will the study move the field forward?
Approach: Are the experiments you propose sound and technically
Innovation: Are your ideas creative? Is your approach novel?
Investigator and Environment: Can you accomplish your aims,
given your training and the resources and collaborations you describe?
to Write a Losing Proposal &
Proposals are Rejected
for Writing a Funding Proposal
Writing: Internet Resources
Accessing the Biological Literature - Traditional
Start by consulting general references:
1) Current textbooks in area of interest
The literature cited sections of these sources will provide you with additional
2) Current books in area of interest
3) Review papers
Use Biological Abstracts & the Zoological Record:
published since 1926
provides nearly 400,000 references to the biological & medical literature
covers nearly 6,500 journals
abstracts journal articles, notes & short communications, reviews,
& meeting reports (but not meeting proceedings)
one issue every 2 weeks (12 issues, published over 6 months, consitute
Cumulative index published each 6 months
Biological Abstracts Coverage:
1) Traditional biology, e.g., botany, ecology, & zoology
2) Interdisciplinary areas, e.g., biochemistry, clinical medicine &
3) Related areas, e.g., instrumentation & methodologies
references arranged by MAJOR CONCEPT HEADINGS & SUBHEADINGS
each issue also contains AUTHOR, BIOSYSTEMATIC, GENERIC, & SUBJECT
Five steps for efficient use of Biological Abstracts:
1) Pose the question
2) Identify the Main Subjects & determine the number of years the
search should cover
3) Look Up Terms in Appropriate Index(es) (i.e., Author, Biosystematic,
Generic, or Subject) & note reference numbers
4) Compare results of individual indexes - e.g., compare reference numbers
from subject index with those in generic index
Author Index - alphabetical list of all authors in an issue
Biosystematic Index - list of broad taxonomic groups of organisms
Generic Index - alphabetical list of specific organisms (genus, species,
Subject Index - alphabetic list of keywords placed in context with subject
5) Look up references in reference section
Founded in 1864; oldest & most comprehensive bibliography of the world's
Covers traditional areas of zoology: ecology, physiology, taxonomy, evolution,
life history, morphology, & nomenclature
One volume published every year (July to July)
Each volume comprises several separately issued sections (most deal with
different animal groups, one with general zoological literature, &
one lists the new generic & subgeneric names indexed in other sections)
Available at EKU library - bound volumes for those published prior
to 1993 & available on-line for volumes published from 1993 - present.
Zoological Record - Coverage:
natural biology of animals, excluding humans
Some primary subjects include
About 6,500 serials & several hundred books, monographs, & selected
dissertations from over 100 countries
About 75,000 citations added to database/year
Zoological Record - Search Guide
Each section - 5 indexes: Author, Subject, Geographical, Paleontological,
AUTHOR INDEX - alphabetical order & assigned sequential citation numbers
entries listed under headings that most specifically reflects concepts
in citation (citations may be listed under more than one heading)
subjects listed by "CONTROLLED TERM" (Listed in a separate SEARCH GUIDE)
GEOGRAPHIC INDEX - information on distribution & biology of animals
when discussed in a particular geographical location
PALAEONTOLOGICAL INDEX - lists entries under the heading Geological Time
Periods (e.g., Caenozoic, Mesozoic, Palaeozoic, & Precambrian)
SYSTEMATIC INDEX - entries appear under appropriate taxonomic headings,
arranged in hierarchical sequence
OTHER USEFUL SOURCES:
ABSEARCH (available in SLRC)
STATE ACADEMIES OF SCIENCE ABSTRACTS ON CD-ROM (available in SLRC)
attend professional meetings
join professional organizations & read their journals
scan & read current journals in your area of interest
Writing a Scientific Paper
IMRAD - two sections in which the study is described (Methods & Results),
framed by two sections that place the work within the context of previous
knowledge (Introduction & Discussion):
most common medium used by scientists to communicate findings to the research
tell others what an investigator has done &, sometimes, persuade them
that the work is valid & useful
common format is referred to as IMRAD (Introduction, Methods, Results,
Introduction - describes state of knowledge that gave rise to hypothesis
being tested (or question being asked) and states hypothesis (or question).
Methods - describes research design, the methods & materials used,
& how findings were analyzed.
Results - provide data & results of analyses. Tables & figures
are often used.
brief summary of decisive findings & tentative conclusions
examination of other evidence supporting or contradicting the tentative
consideration of how general your conclusions are
implications for further research.
Literature Cited - references cited
may be the most important phrase of a paper; identifies what's important
about your paper
vague or inaccurate titles can waste a reader's time by wrongly suggesting
that a paper contains certain information
many writers compose the title last; you may have a better understanding
of the purpose & scope of paper after it's written (it's OK to have
a working title; it can be revised later)
Composing a title:
Make title informative & specific (i.e., not vague)
Title should indicate major focus of study; organize title around important,
or key, words.
Be concise & make every word count.
Omit unnecessary words, e.g., "Studies on . . .",
"Observations of . . .", "Investigations of . . .", or "Preliminary Studies
on . . .". Words like 'a', 'the', & 'an' are often unnecessary.
Include appropriate taxonomic information.
If your work focuses on a particular species or larger
taxonomic group, specify this clearly in the title.
NOT Effect of Vitamin B on Gametophyte Development in a Moss
BUT Effect of Vitamin B on Gametophyte Development in the Moss, Pylaisiella
The abstract is a concise summary of
a paper's most important points, and must be able to stand alone (e.g.,
abstracting services may only provide the title and the abstract). Abstracts
must be brief (typically no more than about 5% of the length of the entire
paper or, in other words, usually no more than about 250 words). A good
State main objectives. (What did you investigate? Why?)
Describe methods. (What did you do?)
Summarize the most important results. (What did you find out?)
State major conclusions and significance. (What do your results mean? So
NOT include references or refer to figures or tables.
Components of a typical introduction:
Places your work in context & gives readers enough information to appreciate
your objectives. A good introduction 'hooks' readers; they become interested
in the study & its potential significance.
May be easier to write after drafting Methods, Results, & Discussion
(because you may have clearer understanding of what you are introducing)
1 - Summarize previous knowledge & research
2- Prepare for present research by indicating a gap in previous research
or by raising a question about previous research
3- Introduce the present research by stating the objective(s)
These components are sometimes in a different order, one or more
may be only implied, some may be made more than once, & some may overlap
(e.g., authors may cite previous research while announcing the topic).
Despite variation in length & organization, effective Introductions
share the same goal:
Authors want to convince readers that the topic is important &
that their work on the topic will advance the field's knowledge.
So, the Introduction serves several functions:
1) orients reader to the research topic
2) reviews pertinent literature (which helps establish the author's
3) sets up argument for significance that is a goal of the discussion
section (i.e., creates a 'desire' for a solution!)
Information is usually presented in past tense, either active voice
(I observed focal animals daily . . .) or passive (Focal animals were observed
daily . . .). Passive writing has traditionally been used in scientific
writing, but active writing is now preferred by many editors.
Check "Instructions to Authors" to determine if active writing is recommended
in a particular journal.
When writing with an active voice, avoid using 'I' or 'we' too often.
Methods sections use both active and passive writing.
Include enough information so that the study could be repeated:
If information about any materials (e.g., the 'recipe' for one of your
solutions) has been provided in previous publications, refer readers to
that source (as long as it's a readily available source) to save space.
Methodology provides context for evaluating your data
Credibility of your 'argument' depends, in part, on how clearly & precisely
you describe your methods.
Detailed Methods may be useful to others in your field attempting to repeat
your study or conduct similar studies.
What information should be included?
1 - Materials:
Complete taxonomic information (e.g., subspecies or strains), on organism(s)
used, if relevant, PLUS how, where, & when organisms were obtained.
If relevant, also note the following about your organism(s): sex, age,
size, physiological state, or rearing conditions.
Equipment used. Generally refrain from using brand names. If equipment
is unusual or not commonly used, it's appropriate to provide name &
address of supplier/manufacturer.
Composition, source, & quantities of chemicals, media, & solutions.
Again, if not commonly used, provide name & address of supplier.
2 - Methods - describe procedures in detail.
Make sure information is presented in an organized, logical manner:
For field studies: dates of study, duration & timing (e.g., morning
or evening) of observation periods, how animals were captured &, if
relevant, marked, how focal animals were selected, etc.
For lab studies: temperature conditions, photoperiod, pH, criteria used
to make measurements, etc.
When using a method already described in a journal article, you can just
cite the reference. If you alter the published methods in any way, changes
need to be described in detail.
Specify where the study was conducted (especially for field studies).
For field studies, describe features of the study site relevant to your
research. This may or may not include information about vegetation, proximity
to bodies of water, altitude, climate (or weather), and so on.
Indicate the statistical procedures used &, if less common procedures
are used, provide some explanation & provide references. It is also
appropriate to indicate which statistical software (e.g., SAS) was used.
Order in which information is presented varies. Review lots of Methods
sections in journals in your area of study to get a feel for typical format.
If the Methods section is long & covers different topics, it would
probably be wise to use subheadings that clearly break the text into several
Use past tense!
Evidence is presented to address the gap or question noted in the Introduction.
Summarize data & generalize from data! Generalize with explanatory
details, statistics, tables, & figures. Point out trends in the data
so the readers will see why you drew the conclusions that you did. Relationships
between data & generalizations are apparent by observing how tables
& figures are referred to:
Tables & figures are important tools for reporting results, but
tables & figures only present data; generalizations needed to interpret
those data need to be provided in the text. For example, refer readers
to a table or figure, then tell readers what patterns to notice.
Do not interpret the data or draw conclusions in the Results.
Integrating quantitative data with the text:
1 - Mean values presented in text should be accompanied by standard
deviation or standard error; range may also be presented, if relevant.
Singing rates varied among breeding stages (F3, 14
= 21.6, P = 0.001).
2 - When reporting results of statistical analyses, provide the test
statistic (e.g., F value, z value, t value, or chi square value), degrees
of freedom, and probability level.
3 - Use accepted abbreviations & symbols. These may vary somewhat
4 - Do not begin sentences with numbers. Either write out the number
or, better, revise the sentence.
5 - Use the word significant only when reporting statistical
significance. Use the word correlated only when two variables are
statistically correlated. When results are statistically significant, it
is not necessary to use the word significant. And, when not significant,
it is not necessary to say results were not significant or did not differ
significantly. For example:
Singing rates did not vary among breeding stages (F3,
14 = 1.1, P = 0.35).
Tables & figures - Which should be used to present data?
Tables - used when exact values are important or when no clear patterns
would be apparent in a figure
Specific guidelines for tables & figures can be found in Instructions
for Authors of each journal.
Figures (graphs) - highlight trends & patterns. Of course, not all
figures are graphs. Other types of figures include diagrams, cross-sections,
maps, photographs, & flow charts.
General guidelines include:
Each table or figure must be independent (self-explanatory). Readers should
be able to understand the information presented without having to refer
to the text.
Table titles & figure captions should be as concise & informative
as possible (which helps make them independent).
Tables & figures must, of course, be referred to in the text and must
also be integrated with the text. Do not repeat in the text what is
already apparent in a Table or Figure. But, also, do not simply
refer to a table or figure without some explanatory text (e.g., Results
are shown in Figure 2).
Check Tables & Figures for agreement with the rest of the paper.
As a rule, don't use Tables unless absolutely necessary. Editors frequently
note the high cost of publishing Tables in journals.
See Chapter 13 of your text for examples of unneeded Tables.
Constructing a table:
1 - Like elements read down, not across.
2 - Words in a column are lined up on the left; numbers on the right
(or on the decimal point).
3 - Horizontal lines may (should) be used but rarely are vertical lines
4 - Column headings must be brief and precise.
5 - Footnotes may be used for clarification, but should not unnecessarily
repeat details provided in Methods section. Tables must be self-explanatory,
but need not present details needed to repeat experiment(s).
Constructing a figure:
If the data show pronounced trends & promote understanding of the results,
and if exact numbers need not be presented & the information cannot
easily be presented in the text, use a figure.
A graph generally is not needed when trends or relationships are not statistically
Most commonly used figures are bar graphs & plotted points (& lines
or curves). When plotting points, be careful about extrapolating!
Legends should be specific and informative. Do not simply repeat the labels
of the two axes as the legend (e.g., Variation in singing rates versus
time). Be more descriptive (e.g., Variation in singing rates of male American
Robins during the breeding season).
Make sure lettering & numbers are large enough for photographic reduction
(figures submitted for publication are always reduced; sometimes substantially)
Do not extend axes beyond what the figure requires. To save space, remember
that axes need not start at 0 & it's alright to put breaks in axes.
Be sure axes are labeled.
Be sure patterns (for bar graphs) or symbols (for points) or connecting
lines (between points) exhibit sufficient contrast.
Do not put too much information in one figure. There are no specific rules,
but, in general, you should probably try to avoid more than about four
different symbols, lines, or bars.
When plotting means, indicate variability in data by providing standard
errors or standard means.
Authors submitting manscripts to journals type the figure legends on separate
pages, not on the figures themselves.
The purposes of the Introduction & Discussion are inversely related.
An Introduction introduces the research question & reviews state of
knowledge in the field that motivated the question, while the Discussion
explains how the question has been answered (at least in part) by the new
research & shows how the field's knowledge is changed with the addition
of this new knowledge. Interpret your results, & support conclusions
with evidence. Tell the readers what your findings mean. Do
the data support the original hypothesis? Why or why not? Refer to your
data, citing tables or figures where necessary (BUT do not repeat the data!).
Discuss the work of other investigators. Are your findings consistent with
theirs? How do your results fit into the bigger picture?
Do not present every conceivable explanation. Too much speculation weakens
a discussion. Based on your data, pick & support the most plausible
Recognize the importance of negative results. Negative results require
an explanation, & may provide new insight!
Proceed from the specific to the general (but not too general).
Start by pointing out your major finding(s) (without excessively repeating
results). Focus the reader's attention on the most important findings,
patterns, or trends.
If there are conflicting or unexpected results, suggest explanations.
Compare your findings with the work of other investigators. Are your
results similar? Supplement your own evidence with relevant material from
other studies. If other investigators obtained results different from yours,
suggest possible explanations for the differences.
End with more general interpretations & conclusions. Can you generalize
from your findings to other situations? How does your work contribute to
an understanding of the broader topic? Try to end the Discussion with a
strong concluding statement.
How do scientists phrase their claims & conclusions in a Discussion?
To illustrate, fill in an appropriate word or phrase:
1. Eleven of the trials have shown the treatments to be ineffective,
yielding an overall response rate of 4/278 (1.4%). These data ________
that the minimal response rate of interest should be 0.15.
2. These observations ________ that (1) fertilized soils tend to attain
apparent equilibrium with orthophosphate solid phases and (2) soils with
moderate to high P-fixing capacity tend to have limited movement of P when
fertilized with inorganic P sources.
3. Statistical analysis ________ that corn yields were not influenced
by the rate of application of nitrogen fertilizer in 1990, but were in
1991 (Table 1). The lack of influence of fertilizer in 1990 was attributed
to high levels of native nitrogen in the soil and climatic conditions unconducive
to high corn yields (Fig. 2).
4. More recent studies of modern thickly sedimented convergent margins
_________ that the Washington margin is anomalous. For example, the Makran
(Platt et al. 1985) and Barbados (Westbrook 1982) convergent margins are
thickly sedimented and have convergent rates similar to the Washington
margin (about 5 cm/yr). However, only the Washington margin is dominated
by landward-verging structures.
5. Results of this study __________ that significant genetic divergence
has occurred among geographically separated groups of raccoons. The average
differentiation among the 14 localities examined (37.4%) is similar to
the value obtained among populations of pocket gophers (41.0%; Patton and
As the above examples probably illustrate, the verbs suggest, indicate,
show, & demonstrate are commonly used in scientific writing to
make claims and draw conclusions. Such terms carry particular, agreed-upon
meanings among scientists, i.e., that an investigator is drawing a conclusion
or interpretation of the facts but that the conclusion is not a fact.
Scientists also use other 'qualifiers' to convey the interpretative
nature of their claims. For example, adverbs & adverbial phrases are
often used to note limitations or special conditions, e.g., possibly, probably,
necessarily, presumably, maybe, & as far as we can determine. Such
qualifiers indicate the strength or extent of the claim being made. Verbs
like may, might, would, could, should, must, & can are also used to
indicate qualifying conditions.
Qualifying verbs & adverbs can be used anywhere in the text of a
paper where an author needs to qualify or limit their claims. Scientists
use them to acknowledge the limitations of their work & to anticipate
and head off questions & counterarguments that readers might pose.
A short acknowledgments section usually comes between the Discussion
& the Literature Cited sections. In this section, the author(s) thank(s)
anyone or any agency that assisted with the research or writing.
List all references cited in the paper.
Citing sources in the text:
Acknowledge the source of all material that is not your own.
The most widely used format is the 'Name-Year System.' A major advantage
of this system is that it is more informative; knowing the author and date
of publication may be of interest to readers.
How to cite:
Farrar (1997) suggested that George W. may be lacking some important
House sparrows were first observed in Madison County in 1905 (Farrar
Some journals require a comma between the author and date (Farrar, 1906),
but most do not.
Cupp and Farrar (1994) proposed that Mitch McConnell evolved from salamanders.
Snow geese consumed all corn east of the Mississippi River during the
winter of 1995 (Frederick and Hill 1996).
Three or more authors, e.g.:
Calie et al. (1994) suggested that the University of Florida rarely
plays football as well as the University of Michigan.
Crayfish were largely consumed by rednecks (Homo kentuckiensis)
during the period from March - June (Farrar et al. 1997).
Two or more papers by same author, e.g.:
Cupp (1990, 1992) indicated that green salamanders lead pretty boring
The intellectual capacity of salamanders and George W. is similar (Kennedy
Two or more papers by same author in the same year, e.g.:
McConnell (1999a, b) suggested that liberals have little or no cerebral
Global warming will be beneficial because heating bills will be lower
every winter (Limbaugh 1999a, b).
Two or more papers by different authors, e.g.:
Little is known about the effects of ozone on roadside vegetation (Jones
1997, Creek 1998).
When two or more papers by different authors are cited at the same time,
list the references in chronological order with the earliest first.
Farrar (1995:126) confessed that ". . . structural biology is of limited
importance compared to ornithology."
Papers that you have not read directly. In general, avoid referring to
sources you have not read. If, however, an important source is simply not
available, specify where you acquired your information about the source,
Most Republicans from Texas care little about protecting the environment
(Bush 1999, cited in Cheney 2002).
When citing in the text, put references where they make the most
sense. Put each citation close to the information you wish to acknowledge.
Do not always include citations at the end of sentences, e.g.:
The vocal behavior of Northern Cardinals has been studied both in the
lab (Pressman 1986) and the field (McElroy 1996).
Don't overuse citations. Citing a large number of papers may be
more confusing than enlightening. Decide which references are most important
& use them.
Use correct format in Literature Cited section. Check the Instructions
for Authors because different journals use different formats in their Literature
Always check & double-check the Literature Cited section for
accuracy, completeness, and consistency!!
Check that every reference you cite in the text is listed in the Literature
Check that no reference appears in the Literature Cited section that is
not cited in the text.
Make sure dates in text match dates in Literature Cited.
Check all punctuation marks, abbreviations, spacing, & spelling.
Writing: Internet Resources
Usage In Scientific Writing
Exercises for Engineers and Scientists
Resources on the World Wide Web
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