Independent Project Write-Ups
Your paper consists of the following sections:
1. Descriptive title
4. Methods and Materials
1. Title: (1 line) is the first thing a reader encounters. Put effort into writing a descriptive
2. Abstract: (1 paragraph) An abstract is a succinct (one paragraph) summary of the
entire paper. The abstract should briefly describe the hypothesis tested, the methods used
to answer this question the results obtained, and the conclusions. It should be possible to
determine the major points of a paper by reading the abstract. Although it is located at the
beginning of the paper, it is easiest to write the abstract after the paper is completed.
3. Introduction: (2-3 paragraphs) The introduction should explain the general area
being investigated, past research results, the study system and the hypothesis tested.
This section is between 2-5 paragraphs long. As in all paragraphs, each should begin
with a topic sentence.
4. Materials and Methods (3 or more paragraphs) section should succinctly describe
what was actually done. It should include description of the techniques used so someone
could figure out what experiments were done. The details of a published protocol do not
need to be reproduced in the text but an appropriate reference should be cited – e.g.,
simply indicate, ―were done as described by Hughes et al. (2005)‖. Any changes from
the published protocol should be described.
5. Results: (1-4 paragraphs) Any results that include multiple data points that are critical
for the reader to evaluate the experiment should be shown in tables or figures. However,
the results should be summarized in accompanying text. When referring to a particular
table or figure, they should be capitalized (e.g., Table 1, Figure 6, etc.). The text of the
Results section should be succinct but should provide the reader with a summary of the
results of each table or figure. Not all results deserve a separate table or figure. As a rule
of thumb, if there are only a few numerical results or a simple conclusion describe the
results in the text instead of in a table or figure. Your paper should focus on what worked,
not things that did not work (unless they didn’t work for reasons that are interesting and
provide biological insights).
Tables and Figures: (at least one table or figure) All tables and figures should be put into
a contextual framework in the corresponding text. All tables and figures require captions
and reference numbers.
It should be possible to figure out the meaning of a Table or Figure without
referring to the text. Tables and figures should typically summarize results, not present
large amounts of raw data. When possible, the results should provide some way of
evaluating the reproducibility or statistical significance of any numbers presented.
Tables should be sequentially numbered. Each table should have a title (shown above the
table) that describes the point of the table. For example, ―Table 1. Species of lichens on
oaks.‖ If necessary to interpret the table, specific descriptions about what a result
represents or how the results were obtained can be described in a legend below the table.
Figures should be sequentially numbered. Each figure should have a title (shown below
the figure) that describes the point of the figure. For example, ―Figure 1. Stomatal
densities of Norway maple across an elevational gradient.‖ If necessary to interpret the
figure, specific descriptions/statistics about what a result represents or how the results
were obtained can be described immediately following the title.
If Tables and Figures cannot be cleanly inserted into the body of the text, print them on
pages that follow the Reference section.
6. Discussion: (3-6 paragraphs) Do not simply restate the results — explain your
conclusions and interpretations of the Results section. How did your results compare
with the expected results or with previous studies? Did they support the hypotheses?
Why or why not? Give biological interpretations, not apologies that there was not enough
time to collect the data. What further predictions can be gleaned from the results?
7. Reference list and in text citations: (at least 2 from the primary literature; 5 or more
preferred) Use the format found in the journal of Ecology. You have several papers from
this journal. Pay attention to the trivial details of initials, punctuation, and abbreviation.
Don’t trust software programs like Endnote to get the format correct. Check it.
8. Appendix: The raw data collected for your project. The data should be presented in a
tabular form so that the reader can access the raw values without having to paw through
Some General Hints and Tips
1. Do not write your paper until you have made an extensive outline of each
paragraph. The first sentence of each paragraph should be a topic sentence. A lot of
people start writing and add sentences as they go, regardless of whether each new
sentence fits better where they’re currently at or someplace earlier (or later) in the report.
In other words, each paragraph and section should contain logically connected material.
2. Past, present, and future tense. Results described in your paper should be described
in past tense (you’ve done these experiments, but your results are not yet accepted
―facts‖). Results from published papers should be described in the present tense (based
upon the assumption that published results are ―facts‖). Only experiments that you plan to
do in the future should be described in the future tense.
3. Use first person pronouns (―I‖ or ―we‖) and active tense verbs. Writing this way
sounds better and often uses fewer words. Example: Instead of ―The pots were filled until
the dirt was level with the top,‖ write ―We filled the pots until the dirt was level with the
top.‖ The first sentence emphasizes what was being acted upon (the pots), while the
second sentence emphasizes who was doing the action (you).
Don’t use the second person (“YOU”). EVER.
4. Correct spelling is important! Use the spell check function on your word processing
program. Have someone you trust (that is, that can recognize misspelled words) look over
your paper before you turn it in.
5. Correct grammar is important! In particular:
—make sure the subject of the sentence agrees with the verb!
—avoid run-on sentences! (e.g., ―We measured the plants and then recorded the
data in a table which we placed on a computer spreadsheet after which we plotted a graph
and then placed it in the report so that you could see it but it would not print out but we
were trying again when the dragons came before the storm and ate all of our paper so it
did not work.‖) Using commas, semicolons, and periods is welcome and encouraged.
—use complete sentences!
—be sure what you write makes sense! This involves reading over the paper after
you’ve written it to check for nonsensical sentences or parts that don’t seem to have any
6. Avoid empty phrases. Avoid using phrases that do not contribute to understanding.
For example, the following phrases could be shortened (or completely deleted) without
altering the meaning of a sentence:
―the fact that ...‖ (delete);
―In order to ...‖ (shorten to simply ―To ...‖).
The title of a table of results does not benefit from the preface ―Results of ...‖. In short,
don’t use more words than you need to make your point.
7. Avoid double parentheses. For example, ―Three gene products catalyze reactions in
the pathway for proline biosynthesis (Figure 1) (3)‖ could be reworded to say ―Figure 1
shows the three reactions of the pathway for proline biosynthesis (3).‖
8. Write scientific names correctly. The genus is always capitalized and the species is
not. Both genus and species are italicized. Genus species
9. Take pride in your work. Make sure the final, printed document looks professional.
READ THE FINAL COPY being submitted. There’s no excuse for half printed pages,
symbols that did not print correctly,