The goal here is to summarize write your report in the form of a scientific article.
Submit your report as a PDF document (via email (email@example.com).
Use your name as the file name. Use “Brazil Group Project Report” as the email title.
Please avoid plagiarism.
Page limit: 12 pages double-spaced for undergrads and 20 pages double-spaced for grads (excluding the Literature cited). Note that this is a maximum and the quality of a report is not correlated to its length.
- Font size 12
- Double spaced
Here is a marking RUBRIC that will provide you some insights as to what we are looking for.
TITLE AND ABSTRACT
The title is the selling point of your paper. It needs to be short and direct. Many journals encourage titles describing the main finding of the study (e.g. Habitat distribution influences dispersal and fine-scale genetic population structure of eastern foxsnakes (Pantherophis gloydi) across a fragmented landscape) or the main study question itself (e.g. Are skewed fledgling sex ratios in sexually dimorphic birds adaptive?).
The abstract summarizes the focal question, the main results, and the key discussion points. The abstract needs to be crystal clear because it is the only part that most people will read (I will read everything). You can briefly report major results quantitatively but statistics are typically not reported in an abstract. I find it is easier to leave the title and abstract for the end but some people find that writing the abstract first helps them organize their thoughts.
In general, a reader should be able to answer the following questions after reading an introduction.
1. What is the broad topic of your study?
2. Why is this broad topic relevant, interesting or important?
3. What is known about this topic?
4. What is unknown about it?
5. What are the specific research questions?
6. How answering these questions will shed some light on the unknown aspects of the general topic?
Answering these questions sets the stage for the rest of the papers so it is important to do it well. Before writing anything down, you should have a clear idea of what your research questions are and why you are asking them (i.e. what are you trying to learn). When you have a clear outline of your introduction, the rest of paper is much easier to write (especially the discussion). We strongly recommend making a conceptual diagram of the logical structure of your introduction before starting to write.
Another important goal of your introduction is to spark the interest of the reader for your study. The most interesting studies are those that can shed light on broad issues or generally applicable phenomena by answering smaller, more specific questions. You should thus start your introduction by making a statement that is of broad interest. For instance, take a look at first two sentences in Row et al. (2010) who investigated dispersal in fox snake:
“Both evolutionary theory (e.g. Wright 1948; Slatkin 1987) and empirical data (e.g. Postma & van Noordwijk 2005) show that dispersal has large impacts on how genetic variation is distributed among populations. Indeed, estimating dispersal and gene flow is key to understanding local adaptation (Postma & van Noordwijk 2005), population genetic models of diversification (Slatkin 1987), population connectivity and persistence for species of conservation concern (e.g. Cegelski et al. 2003).”
This introductory paragraph clearly explains why dispersal is important for ecologists and conservation practitioners. Note that the introduction does not begin by talking about fox snakes but focuses on dispersal. Dispersal is a topic of interest for all ecologists, evolutionary biologists, and conservation biologists. Fox snake are great but only interesting for snake geeks like ourselves. Thus the study is attempting contribute to our understanding of dispersal in general by studying fox, rather than just documenting how fox snakes move.
An introduction also needs to provide sufficient background regarding the current wisdom on the topic of interest. What is known about it? What is unknown about it? You need to refer to other studies or reviews here but keep in mind that an introduction is not an exhaustive literature review. Think of the cited references as the blocks building the logical path leading to your research questions or hypothesis.
Your introduction MUST include an explicit statement of your research questions or hypotheses. For instance, Row et al. (2010) state their questions as follow:
“Specifically, we combine the results of habitat suitability modelling and genetic patterns inferred using assignment tests with spatial interpolation, IBD (with IBR and LCP models) and spatial autocorrelation analysis to address the following questions: 1. Do the number and extent of genetic populations identified using Bayesian assignment methods correlate with current habitat distribution patterns and landscape features (e.g. road and urban barriers; lake barriers)? 2. Does the predictive ability of isolation models and spatial autocorrelation analysis significantly improve when using landscape resistance values derived from habitat suitability modelling?”
Finally, an introduction should briefly explain how answering the specific research questions contributes to the understanding of the broader topic.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
The goal of the material and methods section is to allow other researchers to replicate the experiment and data collection and to critically assess the methodology used. This section should only include the information that could influence the outcome of the study. You do not need to describe the measurements that were taken but not used unless taking them can have an influence on other measured variables. However, if some data or samples were omitted from the analyses, you must explain why.
A brief section describing the study system (e.g. species, population, communities, study sites) is often useful but it should be limited to the information that may affect the understanding of the design and/or the interpretation of the results. For instance, if you studied the calling behavior of gray tree frog, it is nor relevant to give a detailed account of its diet or habitat preference in the summer.
A single study often attempts to answer several questions, each requiring different methods. In such cases, the methods for each questions should be described separately.
The results for each of the specific research questions must be described. Keep the same order as in your introduction and material and methods.
Figures are useful to show trends and relationships and are often efficient when there are several variables involved. Tables are not very efficient but may be useful to summarize the results for more elaborate tests.
Tables with raw data should not be included (or only as appendices if relevant). Figures and tables including their captions should make sense on their own (i.e. without the text).
Karban and Huntzinger (2006) recommend following these two steps when reporting results:
- Show the data with an appropriate figure.
- Report the effect size (see below) as well as the results of the associated statistical test in the text.
Use biological speak rather than statistical speak. For instance, it is better to say “males were on average 10% heavier than females (include statistical test result in parenthesis)” than “We found a significant difference in average size between males and females”.
Always report your effect size. The effect size is the extent to which the biological phenomenon is present in your data. In other words; the biological significance of your results. For instance, if you compared body size between male and females and found that males weight on average 10 g and females on average 15 g, the effect size is the difference in average mass (5 g) between the sexes. In this case you should report the average values for each sex or simply say that males are 66% lighter than females or that females are 1.5 times heavier than males.
The primary goal of the discussion is to make biological sense of your findings. Explain if and how your results answer your research questions. If non-significant results were found but a trend is clearly present you can still explain the biological significance of the trend. If there is not trend at all, it could mean that your hypothesis is not valid or that you made certain assumptions that were flawed. Think beyond the sample size. If the study design is good, sample size should not be the main reason why you failed to found a statistically significant result.
The discussion should refer to other studies. What did they find? Are their results concordant with yours? Is there anything about their study system that may explain why you obtained different results? Can you generate new hypotheses explaining your results? As pointed out by Karban and Huntzinger (2006), expected results are not very exciting. Most discoveries are surprises. Finally, you must stick to your questions and your data in your discussion. Don’t wander in all directions!
Your conclusion highlights the meaning of the key results with regards to the broader topic of your introduction. What has been learned from this study? The conclusion does not need to be a separate section. You can leave the last paragraph of your discussion for your conclusion.
Finding and citing papers is easy. Anybody capable of using google can do it. Knowing when and where to use citations and finding the appropriate citation requires more thoughts. Citations are references to peer-reviewed and published studies. In scientific writing we use citations to support our statements of facts and opinions. Of course, not all statements of facts require citations. Facts that are broadly accepted do not require citations. For instance, you do not need a reference to support the statement that frogs are amphibians. However, if you claim that females are attracted to males with higher call frequency, you would need to cite a source documenting these such relationship.
Citations are concentrated in the introduction and discussion sections but the methods section can also include references specific to some techniques. The abstract and results sections only rarely include citations.
- All figures and tables should be cited in the text
- Figures and tables should be added at the end of the manuscript. One figure/table per page with the caption. Please do not embed figures in the text.
- References should follow the following guidelines from the Canadian Journal of Zoology: http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/page/cjz/authors. Refer to section on references.
A FEW TIPS ON GETTING THE JOB DONE
Writing a good paper takes time and some planning. Give yourself enough time and work in steps. Doing so make the experience less stressful, more profitable for you, and you will be more likely to get a better grade than if you left it to the last minute. I recommend following these four steps when writing a report:
- Do some background research to get an idea of how other studies addressing the same topic are approaching it.
- Organize your thoughts. Use bullet form statements or a conceptual diagram to lay down the logical structure of your paper. This is especially useful for your introduction.
- Put down the words. Do not spend too much time on style at this point. This is your first draft.
- Make sure each sentence is straightforward, clear and concise. Avoid long and heavily punctuated sentences. If you have doubt about the clarity of a sentence, read it out. If it does not sound good, it does not read well.
- Make sure each sentence reflects your thought. Are you using each technical term correctly? Terminology is very important in science. Using the inappropriate terminology can lead to misinterpretations and can affect your credibility as a scientist.
- Make sure each sentence contributes to the general idea you are trying to communicate. The sentence in a paragraph should built on each other to construct an explanation, idea or an argument.
- Verify the logical structure of each paragraph. Is the logic easy to follow? Are there any missing logical steps?
- Make sure the references, figures, and tables are properly cited.
- Karban R & M Huntzinger. 2006. How to do ecology: a concise handbook. Princeton University Press. 145 pp.
- Row et al. 2010. Habitat distribution influences dispersal and fine-scale genetic population structure of eastern foxsnakes (Mintonius gloydi) across a fragmented landscape. Molecular Ecology 19: 5157-5171.