SUGGESTIONS FOR ORGANIZING AND WRITING PAPERS

A successful paper requires knowing how to structure ideas on paper.

  1. ESTABLISH YOUR OBJECTIVE.
  2. What do you want the reader to know when she has finished reading your paper? This objective must be precise and specific. It helps form your research and the subsequent organization of your paper. You should also identify your audience and thus provide the necessary information so that your reader can understand your paper. Both these items will determine the scope of your paper.

  3. ORGANIZATION

Without good organization your reader will not understand your material. If it ends up a jumble of poorly related concepts, it will fail to convey any message. Determine the sequence in which you will present your material for the whole paper as well as for each paragraph. If your sequence is haphazard then the reader's grasp of the material will be similarly disjointed. The sequence chosen depends on the goal of your written material. Whatever you choose the subject must be developed logically from a beginning to a conclusion.

The following are possible ways to organize and present material:

  1. General to specific.
  2. State a general premise then provide facts to support it or build to a conclusion.

  3. Sequential.

Used in providing instructions such as how to write a paper. The steps are organized and presented in order of execution

  1. Chronological. Used if your subject is the historical development of a subject. Subjects are arranged in time sequence
  2. Order of importance

a - Decreasing order of importance.

In presenting justification for a project you may want to list the most important item first

b - Increasing order of importance

Save your most persuasive point to last. Rarely used as your reader may stop reading before getting there.

(5) Analysis

Separate the whole into its component parts and then focus on one at a time. You must determine the parts to be analyzed and the relevant material to be included. The sequence should depend on the relation between the parts and the whole.

(6) Spatial

If your subject best lends itself to organization by geographic occurrence.

(7) Cause and effect

Stresses the connection between the result and the preceding events to explain why something happened (or will happen).

3. OUTLINING

An outline helps you structure your thinking and helps emphasize your key points by putting them in the position of greatest importance.

4.ILLUSTRATIONS

These are a key part of most scientific papers. When used well an illustration can convey an idea that words alone cannot make clear. In other words it is often much easier to show material in an illustration and then refer to the illustration, than to explain the same material in words. A good time to plan illustrations is after completing your outline. At this stage you should know which ideas would benefit from or need graphic support to be clear. Illustrations must include figure captions. They must clearly explain the figure. They should not repeat material that is in the body of the paper, and vice-versa.

Illustrations include: photographs, drawings, graphs, maps and tables.

Guidelines:

1 - Keep the information simple.

2 - Present only one type of information in each illustration.

3 - Include a clear and informative caption. This should not duplicate or be duplicated by information in the text. The caption should include reference to the source of your illustration if borrowed from elsewhere. For tables the information in the caption should be at the head of the table.

4 - Include a legend that identifies all symbols where necessary.

5 - Include a scale in the illustration where appropriate.

6 - Make lettering horizontal for easy reading where possible.

7 - Do not "crowd" items.

8 - Position the illustration as close as possible to the text that refers to it. Never put an illustration before the text that refers to it

9 - Number illustrations consecutively and number tables separately (and consecutively).

You must refer to your illustrations in the text. To do so use the words Figure # or Table #. These may be part of the text as in:

The rocks shown in Figure 6 show…Table 2 summarizes similar data.

Or the references to the illustration may be parenthetical as in:

The six islands of the chain (Fig. 16) are miles from nowhere. Distances to all the islands (Table 3) are longer than you might think.

Note that the reference is placed exactly where you want the reader to turn to the illustration or table. Placing such references at the end of the sentence penalizes the reader who does not realize until too late that the illustration is there to help the explanation or discussion. Omitting a reference means the reader will not see it at all.

Also note that the words Figure and Table are capitalized.

5. WRITING

Divide your outline into appropriate sections. These should include:

1. Introduction.

2 . to N - as many sections as appropriate for your topic.

For example:

2. Previous work

3. field description

4. laboratory data

3. N + 1 Conclusions or Summary. One or both may be appropriate.

The introduction and conclusions are often best written after the rest of the paper. The introduction serves as a frame into which the reader can find the information provided in the body of the paper. The conclusions should clearly state what one can deduce from your data. A summary should clearly and briefly summarize the points you made.

6. ABSTRACT

After the whole paper is completed write an abstract. The purpose is to summarize the important points of the paper in a condensed form so that it can be read rapidly. Abstracts often appear in secondary publications as Georef. Thus the abstract should stand alone to convey all the important points of the paper.

A well-prepared abstract enables readers to identify the basic content of a document quickly and accurately, to determine its relevance to their interests, and thus to decide whether they need to read the document in its entirety. It should not exceed 250 words. Your reader should be able to read your paper in the following order

Abstract

Introduction and Conclusions

Body of the paper

and be fully informed at each step along the way. Many busy people look at papers in this order and may never read more than the abstract or abstract, introduction and summary. Only those most interested in your subject will read the main part of the paper. You must bear this in mind as you write these sections

The Abstract should (i) state the principal objectives and scope of the investigation, (ii) describe the methodology employed, (iii) summarize the results, and (iv) state the principal conclusions. The importance of the conclusions is indicated by the fact that they should be said three times: once in the Abstract, again in the Introduction, and again (in more detail probably) in the Discussion.

Write the abstract in a terse, almost telegraphic style, saving your eloquence for the body of the paper. The abstract is not an introduction to the paper, but a "condensation and concentration of the essential information in the paper".

A final suggestion: pack as much specific information into the abstract as possible --locations, rock names, temperatures, pressures, anomaly values, stratigraphic thicknesses, petrologic systems, and the 1ike

7. CITATIONS

References are used to convey to the reader the source of your information and to signal the reader where to find additional material on the topic. In geology papers references are listed at the end of the paper. Different journals have specific requirements as to reference style that the author must follow. If you are not given a specific format use the one specified by the Geological Society of America and used in GSA Bulletins and Geology. Most journals include in each volume information on where to find their "Guide to Authors" which includes this kind of information.

All references cited in the text and illustrations must be in the list of references (Bibliography). All items in the list of references must be cited either in the text or in the illustration captions.

Reference to sources included in the text may be handled in several ways:

  1. Directly as in:

Since Sorby (1853) first recognized volume loss

Or

The mapping of Sullivan (1991) and Miner (1991) shows…

2. Parenthetically as in:

Two reports (Gratier, 1978; Geiser and Sansone, 1981) emphasize how weird they are.

The dissolved material left the rock (Gray, 1981; Bhagat and others, 1990).

Note that all references are part of the sentence so final periods are placed after references which come at the end of a sentence.

If a reference has more than two authors just list the first one followed by the words "and others" (GSA style or "et al." which means the same in Latin and is the format used in many other journals. NOTE -et al. is an abbreviation for et alia so there is always a period after al. Note also that since these words are in Latin, they are written in italics (if this is possible). If italics are not possible, underline the words to indicate italics.

8. STYLE ,

Common stylistic problems that should be considered as you review the paper prior to submission include:

Unity - all sentences of each paragraph should contribute to the central idea of that paragraph which was introduced in the topic sentence of that paragraph.

Coherence - sentences and paragraphs flow smoothly from one to the next. The relationship of each sentence or paragraph to the one before it is clear.

Clarity - - have you defined terms where necessary?

- eliminate all usage of passive voice.

- replace negative with positive writing (for example, do not use "the rock is not black", rather "the rock is green".

- check verb tenses. Use the present tense for all things that are true now (in the present) or that are permanently true. For example: granite is an igneous rock (always true).

- check that pronouns (such as "it") and demonstrative adjectives (such as "this, that, these, those") and relative adjectives (such as "whose") have clear antecedents. Consider whether it is clearer to replace them with the nouns they refer to.

GENERAL POINTS ON`COMMON FAILINGS

-It is a good rule to use the 's (apostrophe s) form of the possessive case with nouns referring to persons and living things and to use an of phrase for the possessive case of nouns referring to inanimate objects.

The professor's complaints.

The chemistry of the rock.

-Data is a plural noun and takes a plural verb.

-Do not "nounify" adjectives ending in -ic, such as toxic, volcanic, etc. These are adjectives and must be attached to a noun: toxic water, volcanic ejecta.

-If using comparative degree be sure that the elements being compared are clearly stated. It is not enough to say "the liquid flows faster." Faster than what? Similarly if using the superlative be sure the items used in the comparison are clear. "She is the best." Best relative to what? -

-Avoid vague words that convey nothing specific. Example: "The rock was huge and the consequences horrifying." Both huge and horrifying used without context do not communicate much. What is horrifying to me may be routine to you.