Geology 1001 Writing Assignments

Research Paper

A significant portion of your course grade (11%) will be based on a scientific research paper.  This paper will be on a topic of your choosing, from among a list of approved topics from your TA.  It will be 4 pages long, typed, double-spaced, and in 10 or 12 point font with 1" margins.  (The default setting on Microsoft Word is now 1.25" margins, so you will have to change the margins on your document to comply with this requirement.  Use the "help" screen if you do not know how to do this.)  Do not be misled by the brevity of the paper; you will probably find it is quite challenging to explore the important aspects of a scientific topic in only 4 pages.  You will need to use at least three appropriate references; one of these must be from a list of journals that you will receive from your TA.  The other two references should also meet her or his approval; ask your TA if you are uncertain as to what is acceptable.  In particular, because so many Internet sources lack scientific rigor, any Internet source must be pre-approved by your TA.  Encyclopedias, while useful, do not count toward your three sources.

Your research paper will be graded twice; once as a rough draft (4%) and once as a final draft (7%).  (You must turn in two paper copies of each draft as well as a disc copy of your final paper.  The disc copy will not be returned and may be searched as a check against plagiarism.  Your final draft will not be accepted without a working disc copy. Your TA will spend considerable time and energy commenting on your paper.  You are strongly encouraged to research, organize, and proofread carefully.  View it as an opportunity to hone your writing skills, as well as to learn about science.


Additionally, a portion of your grade (4%) for this class will be based on a short essay.  This essay will be on a topic that is introduced by Ice Age module on the course CD-ROM.  Although you may work on the Ice Age module as groups, the essays must be done independently.  Your TA will distribute a list of potential topics later in the semester, such as the effect of ice ages on the distribution of forests in North America, or about the formation of the Great Lakes.  The essay should be 2-3 pages long, so it will almost certainly entail additional research.  You do not have to pre-approve your sources, but be sure to cite your sources and include a bibliography.  See below for guidelines to proper reference citations.  Failure to cite sources will result in a grade of "0" for the assignment.

General Comments

Both content and style are important in your essays.  Complicated or confusing sentences can obscure your meaning, and misspelled words and poor grammar are distracting at best (and misleading at worst).  Scientific writing, in contrast to the writing style you have practiced in composition classes, is an attempt to convey information clearly and efficiently, without dramatizing or anthropomorphizing.  The information itself, rather than the literary style, should capture the readers’ interest.


Please pay attention to the organization of both individual paragraphs and your essay as a whole.  Each paragraph needs a topic sentence to introduce it and tie it all together, and several supporting sentences that relate to your topic sentence.  Your paper, similarly, should begin with an introductory paragraph that states your topic and introduces the aspects of that topic that you will discuss in the following paragraphs.  One way to think of this organization is that your introductory paragraph tells your readers what you're going to say, the paragraphs in the body say it, and your concluding paragraph tells your readers what you said.  However, try to avoid such phrases as "In this paper I will...."  In fact, try to avoid using the word "I" at all.  A good place to get help with writing skills is the walk-in Writing Center, Lind Hall 306B.


Read your paper out loud.  Write simply, as if you were talking.  It doesn't have to be confusing just because it's science.  Ask a friend, classmate, or roommate to review your paper.  If you use the writing center in Lind Hall, room 306B, be sure to provide the staff there with a description of the assignment.
Each of your essays should be a synthesis of information and ideas from your references, along with your own comments or interpretations of that information.  Please remember to use your own words to convey the ideas, unless you are using a direct quote.  Also, direct quotes are quite rare in scientific writing.
While on the subject of quotes....  Citations in scientific writing use a very specific style.  The reference style that you have used for other classes will not do for this paper.  Instead, please refer to the style shown below, both for citations within the paper and for your reference list at the end.  Any information you learned from your research requires a citation, whether you are using a direct quote or putting the idea into your own words.  (A good rule of thumb is that if you didn't know something before you took this class, it needs a citation in your paper.)  If several sentences in a row are about a single idea, from a single source, one citation at the end of that section will suffice.  (Since every new paragraph indicates the beginning of a new idea, each paragraph in your essay requires a minimum of one reference citation.)  Failure to cite sources is called plagiarism, and is a punishable academic offense.

Proper Reference Citations

Plagiarism is the act of presenting someone else's work as if it were your own.  Even when it is unintentional, it is a very serious matter.  Again: any information you learned from your research requires a citation.  Every fact, data, or idea you got from doing the reading for the paper requires a citation.  This means that you will have citations literally throughout your essay, if you cite your sources correctly.  It is not enough to have a bibliography (reference list) at the end of your paper, although a bibliography is required as well.  Your reader should be able determine where you learned every fact included in your paper.  For example, if you wrote "60% of all volcanoes are in the ocean," they should know whether this statistic came from 10-year-old Jennifer's webpage, Scientific American, Time magazine, or whether you actually inventoried the world's volcanoes to determine this fact.  If there is no citation for the statistic in your essay, the implication is that you did indeed survey the world's volcanoes.  The lack of a citation misleads your reader and fails to give credit to the scientist who did survey the world's volcanoes to come up with the information.

Below are examples of the proper use of citations and of improper citation.  Both examples are taken from past Geology 1001 student essays.


"... The buildup of sediment not only renders the dam useless in a short period of time, but it also forces farmers to use artificial fertilizers on the now less-productive soil (Skinner and Porter, 1992, p. 267).  Also, the Nile's discharge level has decreased dramatically, leaving the coastline more susceptible to erosion.  Similar problems affect all man-made and natural dams.  Dams disrupt the entire habitat of a river.  Fluctuations in the current kick up pollution in the sediment and change the river bottom from stone to shifting sand (Parfit, 1993)." (Anonymous 1001 student, 1999).

And in the bibliography:

Parfit, Michael.  1993.  Troubled waters run deep, National Geographic, v. 184, pp. 78-89.

Skinner, Brian J. and Porter, Stephen C.  1992.  The Dynamic Earth: an introduction to physical geology.  New York, John Wiley and Sons, 570 pp.


 "The Dead Sea is a landlocked salty sea in the area of Jordan and Israel.  It is the lowest body of water on Earth, with an average altitude of 400 meters below sea level.  This sea is the lowest part of the East African Rift Valley.  It is a sunken block of land confined by two parallel geographical faults.  When a large block of crust that is bound by normal faults is downdropped, a trench-like structure called a graben is formed.  This appears to be the geologic history of this unusual sea.  The Dead Sea also is located in a desert climate where the rainfall is very unpredictable.  On average the area receives about 60 millimeters per year of precipitation...." (Anonymous 1001 student, 1999).
Lots of information, but the sources are never cited.  This is plagiarism, even if the original wording was changed.

Notice, in the "correct" example, that it is not necessary to have a citation after each and every sentence.  However, there is a citation after each new idea.  If you have any question about whether you need a citation after a particular sentence, err on the safe side and put one in.  Then your reader will know for certain what your source of information was.  If you have any questions about how many citations you need in your essay, and where they need to go, meet with your TA to talk about that.  Essays lacking proper citations will be returned to you, ungraded, for you to fix and re-submit.  Any papers that require this correction will be counted as late.  Papers without proper citations will not receive credit.

Note:  Late papers will be penalized 10% of the grade per day so pay attention to deadlines.