CSE Style Scientific Papers
The title of the study should give enough details so that the reader knows what the paper is about. The title should let the reader know if the paper contains information they are interested in.
- “Worm Lab” – not enough detail
- “A comparative analysis via diversity indices of epigeic, endogeic, and anecic earthworms, with juveniles excluded, from two habitat types, buckthorn and prairie, at the Red River Valley Natural History Area in Crookston, MN” – too long
- "Invertebrates : protozoa to echinodermata" - strong title
Write this last. This is like the resume for your paper; it should include the basic points from each of the other sections. It usually includes: one sentence explaining the background and purpose, one or two sentences on methods, two or three sentences on results, and two or three sentences on conclusions and implications. This section should be as concise as possible.
The introduction should be like a funnel; it should start broad and end with the very specific purpose of your study. Start with some background that gives the reasons this study would be of interest to your reader. Explain your purpose and the questions you want to answer. Conclude with your hypotheses: what you will test in order to answer those questions.
Materials and methods
This section describes the process of performing the experiment. From what you write here, someone else should be able to reliably repeat your procedures. Include important things (we sampled 1m X 1m quadrat) but leave out superfluous details (our quadrats were galvanized steel with welded corners and beveled edges).
Describe what you did to obtain your data (the field and lab methods) and what you did to understand your data (the analysis). You may wish to have subheadings for field and analytical methods. You do not need to explain how your statistical tests work, but you do need to tell your reader what data you used in the analyses (the independent and dependent variables in regressions, the variables in the t tests, the type of test you used). A brief explanation of the diversity indices (including formulas) should appear here.
The methods section should be written in the past tense (“we sampled prairie lots”). It should not be written as a list of instructions. You should mention materials as you mention the procedures that required them; do not give a list of materials. Think of this section as telling the story of your experiment.
The results section includes the results of the analyses and descriptions of trends. Tell your reader what you found but not why you think things turned out the way they did. For example, include things like the R2, the p-values, and what hypotheses were rejected. If you have tables and graphs they should be included here. Point out results that were significant and why they were significant.
The results section is the base upon which the rest of your paper stands. This is where you present the information you have derived from your data. Remember, tables and figures can add to the results section but do not take the place of writing out your results.
This is usually the longest section of the paper. If you have questions about what to include you should look at some examples.
In the conclusion, you explain what you think your results mean. This section should be like a reverse funnel; it starts specific (with your hypotheses and results) and then widen to apply your ideas to a broader scientific field.
First, explain the acceptance or rejection of your hypotheses and how this answers your research questions. Next, explain the science that relates to your results. Finally, tell the reader how the results of your study are of interest.
Students have a tendency to ramble in the conclusions section, but longer does not necessarily mean better if substantive content is lacking.
A few good references will help you make arguments and give you solid background information on which to base your hypotheses.
You need to cite information that is not common knowledge, like the results of other people’s experiments or things you look up in reference books. Internet sources are sometimes acceptable; it depends on the type of information and the source. There are a few different styles that can be used for in-text citations. You should look at a journal from your field for examples.
- Write an outline before you start writing. You can use the following questions to get you started:
We wanted to know how…
We collected data by…
We tested our hypotheses by…
Our tests showed…
I interpret this to mean…
After your paper is written, go through it and determine the purpose of each paragraph. If a paragraph has no purpose (or if it has too many purposes) then it should be rewritten.
If you think that part of your paper stinks, delete that part and rewrite it. You will have already figured out what you want to say and it will flow better. Cutting and pasting too much can leave your writing blocky and difficult to follow.
Have someone proofread your paper. Proofread someone else’s paper and be honest.
Avoid “Yoda-speak.” That is, statements like “to find their density, leaves were weighed.” Instead say “leaves were weighed to find their densities.” A whole lot easier to read, your papers, if you watch this, will be.
Watch dangling modifiers. For example: don’t say “After pouring on the mustard, the worms rose.” This is actually saying that the worms (subject) poured on the mustard. Instead, say “After we poured the mustard solution on the soil, the worms rose” or “After the mustard solution was poured on the soil, the worms rose.”
Write course papers as you would write for a peer-reviewed journal. Do not say “in this lab we did so and so.” Do not say “our class walked around campus to find trees.” Instead say “The purpose of this experiment was to…” or “twelve trees growing in high-light conditions were sampled.” The focus should be on the experiment, not on the course or lab section.
The word “data” is plural. When you use it, switch it with the word “numbers” and see if the sentence sounds right. This is a mistake that is very commonly made by people, especially politicians. (For example, you should say “the data show” rather than “the data shows”).
Latin binomials (scientific names) are written in italics with the genus capitalized: Homo sapiens, Andropogon gerardii, Lynx rufus, Salicornia rubra. The first time you mention a species you should give the Latin binomial. After that, you can use the common name (if it has a generally accepted one). For example: “We looked at the soil under a dense stand of European buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) in the woods near…” Or you can just use the Latin binomial throughout (abbreviated as R. cathartica). To get picky, you should also include the authority for the species (Poa annua L.) or the source of the names you use.
By Rhett Johnson
Last updated October 2016 by Allison Haas