How to write a geological paper
Note that this is not comprehensive, just a set of notes based on errors made in previous papers. For a thorough understanding, you cannot beat reading papers in the literature to internalize the format and style of a geological paper.
- Both style and content are important: In conveying your ideas it is always important to write clearly and concisely paying attention to grammar and spelling. I expect your papers to be well-written. This will require that you proofread your work carefully. Avoid careless mistakes.
- Style must be absorbed; this document can only be of limited length, and all other details must be gleaned from actual science journal articles. You should do your best to make your paper look and sound like a small version of a journal article. The Bressler room has stacks of GSA Bulletins. Pick up any one of those to learn the correct style you should use. The only difference is layout: your Tables and Figures will go at the end, not interspersed with the text. (In fact, real science papers also have them at the end when they are submitted to the journals; there are layout people who place the figures in the correct places on the pages).
- If anybody will be reviewing or correcting your paper, it should be double-spaced, and have margins at least 1-inch on all sides so there is room to write comments.
- A scientific paper should focus on the data, not on your actions. If you find yourself using the word "I", you should question whether you are following this guideline. The paper should not tell the story of how you collected the data and figured out the answer; it should explain the hypothesis, the methods used to test that hypothesis and the results of those tests.
- Many papers you read are written completely in the third person. This often leads to a tendency to use the passive voice ("quartz is formed there by veins"). As in all writing, avoid it where possible in favor of the active voice ("veins form quartz there").
- The style of writing should be serious and matter-of-fact, without much (any) personal opinions (e.g., "I really like this mineral because...") included.
Note that parts of this section are taken from here.
- Word order is important.
- Should be brief, but not so brief that it fails to convey the intended meaning.
- Titles are very important for indexing-you want the paper to be easily found under the correct topic search.
- Should be representative of information presented in the paper.
- Should be very specific.
Abstract - a summary of the paper
- Purpose: Allows the reader to identify the basic content of a paper in order to
- Determine its relevance, and
- Determine if he or she wants to read the rest of the paper.
- Four basic parts of an abstract:
- State the principal objectives and scope of the investigation.
- Describe the methods employed.
- Summarize the results (no numbers unless the important conclusions are themselves numbers, such as the age of a zircon, or peak metamorphic temperature of a rock).
- State the principal conclusions.
- As a general rule, the abstract should be written in the past tense
- Abstracts should range from 100 to 200 words; do not use all 200 words if you don't have to
- Never provide information in the abstract that is not stated in the body of the paper
Introduction - sets the stage and gives the answer
- The main job of the introduction is to present the rationale for the work. First, present the nature and scope of the problem investigated, and its (geological, societal, or other) importance.
- You also want to prepare the reader for the rest of the paper, so you would also include the following:
- Review the pertinent literature to orient the reader.
- State the method of investigation.
- State the principal results of the investigation.
- State the principal conclusions suggested by the results.
- This section may also include the geologic setting of the topic.
- The past tense should be used for the methods section.
- Describe and define the experimental design; provide enough detail for repetition.
- Describe the research materials.
- Do not describe the functioning of analytical instruments.
- If the methods are original, describe all of the steps necessary; otherwise give only a reference to the methods.
- Do not include the results of the investigation.
- Give an overall description of the investigation-a "big picture" view.
- Present the data in the present tense (the facts are still true, right?).
- It is important to present the data with absolute clarity.
- Be sure to separate data from interpretation, but problems with data can be discussed.
- Present the principles, relationships, and generalizations shown by the results; make sure to discuss the results, not restate them.
- Point out exceptions and define points of ambiguity; never try to cover up or change data that does not quite fit.
- Show how the results relate to the hypotheses
- Show how the results and interpretations agree or disagree with previously published work.
- Discuss the theoretical implications of the investigation and possible applications.
- State conclusions very clearly.
- Summarize the evidence for each conclusion.
- The discussion should end with a short summary regarding the significance of the work, and any further work needed on the topic.
- The list of references cited is just that: more complete information about each of the references you cite in your text, tables, and figures. Every reference you cite, and only those you cite, should be in the list.
- Use the style of the Geological Society of America Bulletin for your References Cited. Here are some examples; look at a recent issue of GSA Bulletin for more:
- Journal articles:
Author, date, Title of article: Journal, volume, pages.
Selverstone, J., Axen, G. J., and Bartley, J. M., 1995, Fluid inclusion constraints on the kinematics of footwall uplift beneath the Brenner Line normal fault, Eastern Alps: Tectonics, v. 14, p. 264-278.
Author, Date, Title of Book (edition): Place of publication, Publisher, pages.
Drever, J. I., 1988, The geochemistry of natural waters (second edition): Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Prentice Hall, 437 p.
- Edited Books:
Authors, date, Title of article, in Editors, Title of Edited Book, pages.
Zimmerman, J., Axel, R.S., 1989, Tectonic setting of olistostromal units and associated rocks in the Talladega slate belt, Alabama Appalachinas, in Horton, J. W., and Rast, N., eds., Melanges and olistostromes of the Appalachians: Geological Society of America Special Paper 228, p. 247-269
- Geologic maps:
Author, date, Map name: Place of publication, Publisher, Scale.
Staikopoulos, G. and Efstratiades, G., 1987, Geological map of Greece, Akhladhokhorion sheet: Athens, Institute of Geology and Mineral Exploration, scale 1:50,000.
- All references must be cited, and only cited references should be in the list.
- References cited as sources for figures should be included in the list.
- No references from the Internet are allowed.
- No "pers. comm." citations should be included in the references cited list.
- The list should be in order by last name of the first author.
- Don't use tables if the data can be presented in word form in the text.
- Never present the same data in more than one way (text, table, figure) in the same paper.
- Provide enough information in the caption so the meaning of the data is clear without reference to the text.
- Figures are not for show. You should not include a "pretty picture" on the cover. Every figure should present information that is new and important, and is best served by an image.
- There should always be a reference in the text to each figure, and figures should be included in the order in which their text references occur.
- All drawings, maps, graphs, photos, etc. are "Figures". Numerical or text information in a table is not (it's a Table). Do not write "Graph 1" or "Map 1" or "Chart 1".
- Only use a graph if the trends in the data are not apparent in table form.
- Figures should be referred to sequentially in the text. Examples of figure references:
- "Gold is found in several locations (see Fig. 1)" (bad style)
- "Gold is found in several locations (refer to Fig. 1)" (bad style)
- "Figure 1 shows..." (acceptable style, but not preferred)
- "Gold is found in several locations (Fig. 1)" (preferred style)
- If a sentence has some information from a reference, and related information from that reference is in a figure, how do you cite both? You don't:
- "MORB compositions are generally tholeiitic (Fig. 3)." (and in the figure 3 caption, you would cite the reference)
- If you are referring to more than one, write for example "(Figs. 2 and 3)"
- You should put the figures themselves at the end of the paper (after the References Cited); they do not need to be embedded within the text.
- All figures must have descriptive, useful captions. Indicate briefly what the reader should notice or conclude from the figure.
- Figures adopted from other sources must be referenced, using the same style as described in the Citations section. For example:
- Figure 2. Rhyolite viscosity as a function of temperature. Note the decrease is small relative to the effects of H2O (Smith, 2001). (if the figure is included without substantial alterations)
- Figure 3. T-X(H2O) phase diagram for CMASH system. Only reactions mentioned in the text are shown (after Spear, 2000). (if the figure has been altered)
- Note that the figure captions begin with "Figure 4", not "Fig. 4" like the references do.
- If you incorporate a figure from the literature, you should make your own caption in order to highlight the parts of the figure that are important to your paper. You should number the figure according to your ordering, and cite the original source in the caption (and perhaps in the body) of the figure as: "Smith (1965)" or "from Smith (1965)". If you alter the figure, or re-draft it (perhaps by scanning it into a file and re-drawing over the scan), you should cite it as: "after Smith (1965)."
- In a scientific paper, any fact you write down is assumed to be some fact you discovered unless it is general knowledge (something that would appear in a textbook) or has a citation. If you write down a fact somebody else discovered that is not general knowledge and fail to cite them, your are committing an act of academic dishonesty. This is why citations are so important - in a literature review paper, you must cite every piece of information you look up.
- Be very careful not to plagiarize. Acknowledge all sources of information. When in doubt about how to paraphrase information, ask me for suggestions. Use at least two references if doing your own research and at least 4 references if doing a literature survey and be sure to include them in a list of references cited.
- In most geologic journals, citations are both in-line and end-note, in that there is a list of cited references (sources) at the end of the paper, and in the text, enough information is given to choose the correct reference from that list. The specific style varies among journals - I would like you to use the Geological Society of America Bulletin style.
- All geology lab computers now have EndNote 6 installed, a very useful program that works along with Microsoft Word and which can make citations and reference lists very easy. If you use it, you should still proofread your citations carefully; as in "real life", you alone are responsible for errors in your work.
- Referencing style for citations:
- Do not use footnotes. Instead use in-text citations. Examples:
- Their subsolvus character indicates that they crystallized from relatively water-rich magmas, i.e., under conditions propitious for hydrothermal alterations to develop (Bonin et al., 1978).
- Different possible processes have been proposed for the interaction of slab-derived melts with the overlying mantle wedge, including decompression melting of the mantle resulting in mixing of slab and mantle derived melts (Yogodzinski et al., 1995) and slab-melt/peridotite reaction and hybridization (Keleman 1990, 1995; Kelemen et al, 1993).
- You can also include text along with the citation: "there have been many sets of mineral abbreviations (see, for example, Kretz, 1983)."
- You can use the authors' name(s) in the sentence itself: "Kretz (1983) lists the most recent set of mineral abbreviations."
- Grammar note: if you do this, you may run into needing to use a pronoun to refer to the publication. Some authors would use the personal pronoun, suggesting that it was the person who did the listing. I prefer to use "it" suggesting that the paper itself did the listing. This saves you from having to figure out gender of authors, and makes more sense, because authors may change their positions on topics, but publications never do.
- Grammar note two: you also run into a tense problem. The paper was published in the past, but it can be read in the present. I prefer the present tense. The 1983 Kretz paper will list that set of mineral abbreviations indefinitely into the future, so "lists" is used above, not "listed".
- Frequently we use the abbreviations "e.g." (which means "for example") and "cf." (which means "see also") as pre-citation parenthetical text. You may also cite a specific figure or page, in which case that is included inside the parentheses after the year, as in: (Hirsch, 2000, Fig. 2).
- Citing unread papers:
- You should read everything you cite, and you should cite the original source. If you cannot obtain the original source, you may need to cite something you have not read. For example, if you are reading Hirsch (2000) and you see a fact I obtained from Kretz (1974), but you cannot obtain Lithos, then you would not cite Hirsch (2000) as the source of the data, because I didn't discover the fact, Kretz did. You would cite Kretz (1974) as follows:
- Diffusion control is evident in the three-dimensional distribution of porphyroblasts (Kretz, 1974, cited in Hirsch, 2000).
- and in the reference list, you would cite Hirsch (2000) and you might also cite Kretz (1974) as follows:
- Kretz, R. (1974) Some models for the rate of crystallization of garnet in metamorphic rocks. Lithos, 7, 123-131 (unread, cited in Hirsch, 2000).
- Citations almost never use quotes in science. You just cite the facts from some reference, not the exact words. No exact quotations for class papers.
- Geological maps (as figures) must be cited, topographic maps should not be cited.
- Personal communication
- Only use this citation style if the thing you are told is not published anywhere. If it is, look up the actual reference. So if George Mustoe tells you something about the Chuckanut Formation, look up references about that formation and use those as your source.
- If you must use this citation style, you would write (Smith, pers. comm., 2004). You would not include anything in the References Cited list for this.
Past Student Errors
- "The difference between Forsterite and Fayalite is..."
- Mineral names are not capitalized (unless, of course, they are at the beginning of a sentence).
- "The weight percent of MgO was used to determine..."
- Weight percent is a unit, like "centimeters". You wouldn't say "The centimeters of the specimens were 12-14," now would you? You would say "The length of the specimens was 12-14 cm." Similarly, you should use the term concentration in the above sentence.
- "...analysis showed the composition was (Na.56K.38)(Al1.1Si2.8)O8."
- The chemical formula must use subscripts. Learn how to do this in your word processor - all of them have this capability.
- "Based off of this data..."
- "Based off of" is too slangy. You should say "based upon".
- "data" is plural. You should write "these data".