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					AN OVERVIEW OF WRITING SCIENTIFIC REVIEW PAPERS
By Tom Rogers, with comments by Kerry Foresman, Lacey Greene, and Jessica Rogers

Structuring your paper
Your title should describe your exact thesis topic Don’t say “Reproduction in Grizzly
   Bears.” Instead say “Evaluation of Rules to Distinguish Unique Female Grizzly
   Bears Cubs in Yellowstone.”
State your thesis topic in the first sentence or the first paragraph The rest of the
   paper should give evidence to support that thesis topic. The thesis topic can be in the
   form of a statement as in Woodroffe and Ginsberg (2005): “Through the predation
   pressure they exert, cougars (Puma concolor) influence both the density and the
   behavior of their prey, with profound impacts on the structure of ecological
   communities.” It can also be in the form of questions you hope to answer, such as in
   Maehr et al. (2005): “Does a remnant population of panther affect the spatial patterns
   of white-tailed deer and its close relative, the bobcat?” You can have more than one
   as long are they are related.
Use subject headings Group paragraphs about a particular subject under a subject
   heading. These are usually a few words in bold before a set of paragraphs for the
   purpose of logically grouping ideas. Review papers are grouped by subject: Ex:
   Effective Habitat, Localized Declines, Genetic Diversity Concerns, Reintroduction
   Efforts, Conservation and Management Recommendations, etc.
Don’t write entire pages or paragraphs citing only one source The purpose of
   reviewing literature is to synthesize knowledge, not to paraphrase one paper, then
   paraphrase another, and then another. You are reviewing the literature, not
   summarizing it. For a good example of how this is done, read a peer-reviewed
   published paper.
Pay close attention to the flow of paragraphs Make each sentence logically follow the
   last, and make every paragraph a cohesive statement of ideas. Don't start and stop
   paragraphs randomly and don’t make each paragraph a random collection of facts.
Follow the exact guidelines for writing references When listing references at the end of
   the paper, follow the exact guidelines for the assigned formatting to the exact letter,
   period, and spacing. List all references in alphabetical order, typed in yourself (not
   just copied and pasted), all in the same font.
Check your references Make sure you always check to be sure that all of the references
   you have cited are listed in the back, and that all of the references you have listed in
   the back are cited in your text.
Some Notes on Form
Interpret, don’t summarize It is appropriate and encouraged to give your own
   interpretation of the literature. Include analysis of whether you think the conclusions
   were valid based on the results, if you think their methods were appropriate for
   studying the topic, if they adequately proved or disproved their hypothesis.
Be concise Make your writing clear, to the point, and free of extraneous words,
   information, or clauses. Check every sentence and every paragraph to make sure that
   every word and every sentence is necessary.
Use active voice Instead of “This type of den site is selected by black bears” say “Black
   bears select for this type of den site”
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Avoid the use of colloquial phrases like “this animal ranged on down into Mexico,”
   “Times have changed for the deer mouse,” “Montana is a great place to find moose,”
   “In the red fox’s case, they need…” are not appropriate for scientific writing
Avoid vague, general statements When starting a paragraph or addressing a new topic
   avoid sentences such as “Wolves are a very interesting species,” “I am going to talk
   about Western Big-eared bats,” “It takes a lot of energy to forage.” Put every
   sentence to work for you for the purposes of conveying information to the reader.
Don’t start multiple sentences with “They” Don’t make your writing a simple list of
   facts about a species, with each sentence starting with “They.”
Use the common name When discussing mammals the form is generally to refer to them
   by common name unless you are comparing several species of the same genus. E.g.
   “Sorex cinereus, S. vagrans, S. monticolus are all insectivorous species of shrews
   (Foresman 2001).”
The first time you mention a new species, give the scientific name Do this in italics, in
   parentheses, immediately after the common name. You don’t have to repeat genera.
   E.g. “The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem contains several sympatric large
   carnivores including black bears (Ursus americanus), grizzly bears (U. arctos),
   wolves (Canis lupus), and coyotes (C. latrans).”
Don’t use contractions or informal quotes Contractions such as “can’t,” “won’t,”
   “don’t” are not appropriate for scientific writing, nor are informal quotes to indicate a
   novel phrase you made up, such as “This area acts as a “back up” home range…”
   Remember, you are not Dr. Evil (These “laser beams”…)
Don’t speculate e.g. "Coyotes probably prefer to forage on south facing slopes because
   south facing slopes make the coyote warmer and coyotes might have to forage less
   because they are not putting as much energy into keeping themselves warm." Clearly
   this is not appropriate unless these ideas are supported by the literature and are
   properly cited. Don’t make things up because they may seem intuitive to you.
Don't use "species" or "animals" when you mean "individuals." Don't say: "Among
   grizzly bears in Montana many species (or many animals) prefer denning in caves,
   while some prefer to den under fallen trees." Instead say: "Among grizzly bears in
   Montana many individuals prefer …
Don't use vague descriptive phrases about research, such as "Many studies have been
   done on…." or "Research has been performed looking at cougars." First, every time
   you are referring to any research YOU NEED TO CITE! Second, you should instead
   simply state specific research findings and cite them, unless it there is a particular
   reason to know how much has been published on a particular topic. Ex: “There is
   little published on the life history of the Foresman shrew (Sorex foresmanii) because
   it is a rarely-seen fossorial species (Rogers 1982).”
Avoid the word “significantly” unless you are sure it’s actually significant In science,
   “significant” and “significantly different” usually refers to a p-value under 0.05.
   These phrases are generally to be avoided unless you are actually talking about
   statistical significance. Similarly, avoid the word “conclusive.”
Avoid flighty, grandiose descriptions in formal scientific writing. Bad example: “In
   the bleak, harsh, and unforgiving bitterness of the dead of northern winters, these
   brave, tiny warriors of the north seek survival against the greatest of odds.” Good
   example: “Pika mortality increases during more severe winters.”
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ABOVE ALL: Review papers like the one you are assigned for this class should be a
  structured cohesive synthesis of knowledge gained from an in-depth analysis of
  the available literature. It should not be a random collection of facts about a
  particular topic, or paraphrased copying from a paper or two. Nor should it be
  a general life history of the animal listing body size measurements, dental
  formulas, or things not pertinent to your central thesis topic. For an 8-10 page
  paper such as this you should read and understand roughly 10-15 full peer-
  reviewed publications, although 20-30 would be not unreasonable.
Citing
How to format in-text citations
1) A paper with one author: write only the authors last name with no initials and the year
    the paper was published, with NO comma: (Goyer 1993)
2) A paper with two authors: write the last name of the two authors with “and” in
    between followed by year, again with NO comma: (Dutton and Bolen 2000)
3) A paper with more than two authors: write the first author’s last name with “et al.”
    afterwards, short for the Latin phrase “et alia” which means “and other people”:
    (Burger et al. 1994)
NOTE: Never use first names such as “Kerry Foresman et al. (2005) determined that….”
When to cite references
You should always cite EVERY SENTENCE unless it falls into one of the following
    categories:
1) It directly and clearly refers to the study referenced in the previous sentence in
    that paragraph. If you are talking about a specific study and it is clear that several
    subsequent sentences are referring to that study, it's okay to cite only the first
    sentence. For example: “In a study performed by Rogers (2007) over 700 wolves in
    British Columbia and Alberta were tested for distemper. Of those 700 wolves tested,
    only 18 tested positive for the disease.”
2) It is common scientific knowledge or a synthesis of available research For
    example: "Wildlife managers have invested a tremendous amount of time and money
    in the return of wolves to the Yellowstone ecosystem.”
3) It is research you have done and you are presenting your own data. This would
    not be the case in a review paper similar to the one you are asked to write.
NOTE: If it doesn’t fulfill one of the above three qualifications, PUT A CITATION IN
    EVERY SENTENCE.
How to cite references
Citing one reference in a sentence
You can cite a single reference one of three ways. An example of each:
1) Researcher as subject: “Johnson (2000) detected elevated levels of cortisone in
    stressed individuals.”
2) Presentation of findings: “Stressed individuals are known to have elevated levels of
    cortisone (Johnson 2000).”
3) Allusion to a study: “However, newer research (Johnson 2000) has shown that stressed
    individuals exhibit elevated levels of cortisone.”
NOTE: Do NOT say “In one study, they saw,” or “A study found.” SAY who it was.

				
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posted:11/23/2011
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