Independent Research Project and Scientific Paper

Background Planning:

Biologists, like other scientists, do research and conduct experiments within their areas of interest. The results of these experiments are then published in scientific journals, with the selection of the journal in which to publish being made based on correlation between the subject matter of the experiment and subject matter of the journal. To explore how this whole process works, over the next two quarters, students will design and conduct their own independent research projects and write these up as though seeking publication in a scientific journal. In Biology Lab 2, students will focus on designing the experiment and writing the preliminary sections of the scientific paper, and in Biology Lab 3, students will conduct their independent research projects and write the final paper.

Preliminary Observation and Brainstorming:

The first step in the scientific method is observation of the world around oneself, and in particular, some biological phenomenon that awakens interest or arouses curiosity in the observer. The ideas and suggestions which students have been jotting down in their lab notebooks can serve as valuable resources for research topics, and students would do well to review these now. Students are encouraged to think about the laboratory exercises and experiments we have done in Biology Lab 1 and also to look ahead to the exercises and experiments we will be doing in Biology Lab 2 and Biology Lab 3. Re-use of those protocols as-is does not constitute independent research, but the techniques and methodology learned in those exercises may be adapted to study an unique research problem of one’s own. For example, later this quarter, we will be learning how to determine the vitamin C content of various fruits and vegetables. Past students have used that technique to compare the vitamin C content of foods such as fresh vs. cooked kale or fresh vs frozen orange juice. As another example, in Biology Lab 3, we will be learning how to determine a person’s visual reaction time, and past students have used that technique to determine whether drugs such as NyQuil® affect visual reaction time. Students should consider their chosen major and think about what areas of research might relate to that. For example, a Pre-Pharmacy major might wish to do “something” that relates to drugs, while others might be more interested in genetics, microbiology, or plants.

The first assignment that is due is to do some thinking and brainstorming, and write down some possible, general interests and/or possible directions a person might be interested in pursuing. This assignment will not be graded, but students will receive points just for doing it and turning it in. The instructor will read through each student’s ideas and suggest some possible, more specific ideas that relate to that person’s areas of interest. The instructor may also provide feedback on areas or topics where research would be difficult, given the available time and/or facilities.

Narrowing Down, Question, Hypothesis, Prediction:

Based on these preliminary observations of biology at work in the world, a question would be posed concerning some aspect of the observed biological phenomenon. Then, a one-sentence hypothesis (one possible, tentative answer to the question being posed) that could be tested using the scientific method would be proposed. For example, the question, “Is red light or blue light more effective in stimulating seed germination?” might be answered by the hypothesis, “Because it is know that red light stimulates plant elongation while blue light stimulates foliage production, it is thought that red light will also benefit seed germination more than blue light will.” The question being asked and the hypothesis that is suggested must be experimentally testable, and the hypothesis must be able to be supported or refuted by the data which will be collected. It is important that a hypothesis be narrowed down to a feasible, testable level. For example, “The water in East Fork contains pollution” would be too general, too vague, to be tested by one experiment – pollution can include chemicals of various sorts, raw sewage, old tires, etc.; a list much too long to be tested all at once. If in general the stated hypothesis is “true,” then using deductive reasoning, a prediction can be made regarding what specific, measurable results should be observed as a consequence of testing the hypothesis (for example: if all organisms have cells, and humans are organisms, then humans should have cells). A scientific prediction takes the form of “If [if xxx hypothesis is true], and if [xxx procedure is done], then [xxx results should be observable], or [xxx data should be collected].”

In the second assignment that is due, students are asked to consider their personal interests and the instructor’s feedback, and narrow down their original ideas to one, specific topic of interest. A specific question should be proposed, and a specific hypothesis that answers that question should be developed. Students are, then, also asked to think about how they will go about testing their hypothesis, and to derive an initial, general method that will be used to test their hypothesis. Once again, this assignment will not be graded, but points will be given for doing the work and turning it in. The instructor will check to make sure that the hypothesis really is an answer to the question being asked and that it is feasibly testable, as well as offering suggestions for any refinements or adjustments in methodology that may be needed.

Testing Methodology/Protocol:

Once the possible results have been predicted, a means of obtaining those measurements, an experimental procedure, must be designed (for example, an experimenter could determine test subjects’ visual reaction time prior to and after taking drug xxx.) The experimenter would need to decide exactly what steps will be performed, what equipment and/or other materials will be needed, and what calculations should be made in order to arrive at a final conclusion. A good experiment has a control group which receives "normal" conditions. Only ONE factor should be varied in the experimental group. A well-designed experiment includes several repetitions of the procedure to verify the work and results. After the data are gathered, pertinent statistics should be calculated (mean, standard deviation). A scientist designing an experiment needs to think about all these issues.

In the third assignment that is due, students are asked to think about how they will go about testing their hypothesis. What steps will be taken? What data/measurements will be collected? What equipment and supplies will be needed? How much time, overall, will it take to do the experiment? It is important that students keep in mind that this research will be conducted within the time frame of Spring quarter, and that the final paper will be due a couple weeks prior to the end of Spring quarter. Thus it is important to insure that the actual research can be conducted in about a month or less, but definitely cannot take over 1˝ month. To what conditions will the control group be subjected, and to what conditions will the experimental group(s) be subjected? What will be done to insure that all conditions except the one, chosen variable stay the same? An experimental protocol, timeline, and list of supplies needed should be developed. Once again, this assignment will be ungraded, but points will be awarded for turning it in, and the instructor will provide feedback on the appropriateness and feasibility of the proposed methodology.

This is one step that many students find difficult because they make it more difficult and complex that it should be. A common problem is inclusion of too many variables. For example, past students have suggested growing two groups of plants, one group in a room with 12 hr of blue light and another group in a room with 8 hr of red light. Additionally, it was proposed that some of the plants be exposed to classical music while others were exposed to rock music and fertilizer. With all those variables, if any difference in plant growth would be observed, there would be no way to tell which of those variables contributed to that growth difference. It is important that students keep in mind the season of the year, and thus, for example, growing tomatoes outside in a garden probably would not be feasible in April. As well, it is important to consider the available facilities. Students may choose to do their research at home, or they may use our lab facilities, but either way, there are limitations to what equipment and supplies are available, and those limitations must be taken into account. This is yet another area where the “KISS” principle – Keep It Simple!!! – comes into play.

Preliminary Literature Search:

One of the first steps in any research is a literature review. In biology, if an experiment has already been done and published, someone else cannot publish a paper after doing the same, identical experiment. It is, however, acceptable to explore the “problem” from a slightly different angle. Sometimes, a biologist will read someone else’s work, decide that the first person had faulty experimental procedure leading to erroneous results, and decide to re-do the experiment in a slightly different way. Sometimes, the other person’s procedure is applied to a new situation – maybe it is known that East Fork contains coliform bacteria, but a nearby creek could be tested.

By searching the literature, a researcher may gain valuable background information and assure that no one has already done that experiment. Many online search options are available to UC students through the library’s online databases. In general, most scientific information is available in published journal articles, not in whole books. Clermont’s library does not carry most of these journals, thus if a desired article is not available online or via interlibrary loan, it may be necessary to go to the Clifton Campus Chem-Biol Library, or a similar research library to find suitable journal articles. Students should definitely check first with Clermont’s librarians.

Once the research topic is identified, a student should begin his/her search of the scientific literature to find published research pertinent to his/her research topic, and that search is not just a “one-time” thing, but should be continued throughout the course of the experiment, until shortly before the final paper is due. Students should note that Web pages on “my pet cat” or some science demonstration done by a bunch of grade-school children, found by doing a Google search, are useless in terms of their scientific reliability. Typically, scientists publish their research in scientific journals, so if students are trying to find published research pertinent to their chosen topic, they must go search the research journals, not textbooks, not other secondary- or tertiary-source books, and definitely not unsubstantiated Web pages. Thus, students are encouraged to explore the biological databases available from the Clermont Library Web site, and are further encouraged to contact one of the librarians for instructions on how to navigate those databases. Often, this is a two-step process: first finding potential references (based on what is in the abstract), then obtaining and reading the whole article to determine if it pertinent to the student’s own research. It is entirely possible, and to be expected, that not every lead will turn out to be a useful one. Students are expected to think critically about and evaluate the applicability of other people’s research to their own research.

Here is a list of links to some resources recommended by Katie Foran-Mulcahy, Reference and Instruction Librarian here at our library.

In the fourth assignment (also ungraded) that is due, students are asked to list, preferably in CBE style, the literature sources they have located and read so far. Along with this, a brief summary of what has been learned from reading those sources, and an explanation of how those sources apply to the current research, should be included. While the number of sources will vary depending on the chosen topic, students should find experiment-specific information from a minimum of four outside sources.

Methods and Materials:

The materials needed to perform any given experiment will, of course, vary depending on the experiment. In terms of writing the companion paper, no scientist these days would even think of submitting a paper that wasn’t composed using a computer to create text, graphs, and other figures. Here at Clermont, computers in the open computer lab are available for student use. Students are asked to remember that one of the objectives of this course is learning some of the ways in which biologists out there in the “real world” make use of computers in their daily jobs.

Unlike the lab protocols which students have been receiving, this section should NOT be in list form. Rather, in paragraph form (using complete sentences), experimental procedure, any variations tried, materials and equipment used, etc. should be explained. The materials used should NOT be presented as a list, nor as a list in sentence form as the first paragraph, but rather, should be introduced/mentioned in the text where appropriate to the procedure being discussed. If an unusual or hard-to-find ingredient or piece of equipment is used, the supplier’s name and address are also included. For unusual, “homemade” equipment, a brief explanation, diagram, and/or photograph is needed to clearly, yet briefly describe it.

Also, unlike the lab protocols which students have been using, the Methods and Materials section of the paper (actually, the whole paper) should not be written as though giving orders/instructions to someone else and telling him/her what to do. Rather, this should be an account (in passive voice and past tense) of was done in this particular research.

There should be enough information here so that a reader could perform the experiment. However, scientists publishing in research journals can assume that their readers are scientifically literate and know or can find out how to operate typical lab equipment. For example, general instructions on spectrophotometer use are not appropriate in a discussion of gathering data to construct an absorption spectrum for Chlorophyll A, but if there is some special way in which the spectrophotometer was used (such as the wavelengths at which readings were obtained), that is appropriate and should be included. If a published testing protocol is being followed, it is both permissible and encouraged to not regurgitate that protocol, but rather, to cite that protocol and tell how that protocol was altered in the current experiment. It can be assumed that anyone who is reading this paper would also have access to the books, papers, and Web sites listed in the Bibliography. For example, it would not be necessary to include, in detail, the whole protocol for making EMB agar, but it would be appropriate to state that “xxx” number of EMB agar plates were prepared according to “xxx” protocol, and cite a reference to that protocol.

It is inappropriate to include “common sense” things such as saying the materials were obtained before doing the experiment or cleaned up afterwards or that calculations were done or test tubes were labeled.

Experimental design including control and experimental groups used, test organisms (including taxonomic information), study sites, calculations and statistical analyses, etc. should be described and/or explained. Again, it is appropriate to tell what statistics were calculated, but inappropriate to explain how to calculate common statistical parameters (like an average). If there is some unusual calculation that is pertinent only to this experiment, then it might be of use to concisely describe that calculation. For human subjects, age, sex, etc. should be specified as applicable to the study being done. Avoid using the word “take” unless something really is being taken somewhere.

The fifth assignment that is due is a first rough draft of the actual Methods and Materials section of the final paper. “Rough draft” does not mean scribbled with a pencil, but rather done on a computer and as polished, grammatically correct, and “final” as possible. This assignment will be graded using the following criteria:


Literature Review and Bibliography:

Work by previous researchers leading up to this project should be summarized in one’s own words. It is plagiarism and inappropriate to merely string together quotes from the papers that were read. Rather, the information gained should be analyzed critically, thought about, organized topically, and presented in a natural, logical order, in one’s own words.

It is necessary to cite references. For each statement made, each claim asserted, a reference should be cited to back it up, and especially since this section is a review of the literature, it is expected that all statements made will be backed up by references to sources listed in the Bibliography. Citations consist of author’s names and publication year in parentheses (If the author’s name is included in the text of the sentence, it does not need to appear within the parentheses.). Statements which are made must be backed up by citations, or it will look as though the writer is jumping to illogical conclusions.

A Literature Review is not a book report, nor is it a listing of the articles and/or books that were read. It inappropriate to list and summarize each source. Rather, all the information that has been gathered is to be presented in a logical order, in paragraph form. For example, the textbook used in our Biology lecture course is somewhat akin to a Literature Review. If, for purposes of illustration, the chapter on photosynthesis is considered, either at the end of that chapter or at the end of the book there is probably a Bibliography of other books and articles that the textbook authors read as they prepared that chapter. The chapter, itself, does not merely summarize, article-by-article, what the authors read, but rather all that information is sorted out and reorganized into a cohesive, logical flow of information. That processing and reorganization into a logical flow of information also needs to happen in the Literature Review section of a scientific paper.

Students should think critically and be very selective about the infomation that is included in the Literature Review section of their paper. For example, if someone is conducting research on the effects of blue light on seed germination, a regurgitation of general “textbook” information on photosynthesis is not appropriate. A discussion of prior research on the effects of blue light on other aspects of plant elongation would probably be appropriate, but previous research on the effects of blue light on plant flowering would probably not be appropriate to include. If someone else is comparing the vitamin C content of fresh and frozen orange juice, discussions of the discovery of vitamin C, its chemical properties, and general information on what purposes it serves within the human body are all not pertinent to that topic. However, a summary of any prior research that studied factors which influence the vitamin C content of oranges (or other fruit?) would be appropriate. Once again, remember to check out the resources which are available through our library (see the list of links, above).

Another part of the paper that goes hand-in-hand with the Literature Review is the Bibliography. The standard reference for citing references when writing and publishing papers in biological fields is:

Council of Biology Editors, Committee of Form and Style. 1983. CBE style manual. Fourth edition. Amer. Instit. of Biol. Sci., Washington, D.C.

and that or a more recent edition is available in the library.

Another helpful resource is:

Pechenik, Jan A., 1993. A Short Guide to Writing about Biology. 2nd. Ed. HarperCollins College Publ., New York.

and that or a more recent edition should be available in the bookstore.
Samples of CBE-style citations may also be found on a number of Web sites, including:

These standard guidelines and formats should be followed in writing a biological, scientific paper. Of special note is the format for bibliography citations. Biological journals require these to be done a bit differently from what is taught in many English classes, but that doesn’t make either way right or wrong. There is an old saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans,” which could be re-worded, “When in biology lab, do as the biologists.”

Bibliographic references should be cited in the correct style (using CBE format):

Author, last name first (and junior author, last name last). Year published. Title of article-only proper nouns should be capitalized. Journal - capitalized and accepted abbreviations used. Vol(No):pages.

and listed in alphabetical order by author. Multiple papers by a given author should be listed in chronological order, earliest first. Multiple articles from the same year by the same author should be listed in chronological order as, for example, 1893a, 1893b, etc. Appropriate abbreviations should be used (for example, Biol., Sci., Instit., Entomol.). All scientific names should be italicized. Bibliographic references should not be numbered, and proper bibliographic indentation should be used. Several examples follow:

Paper in Scientific Journal:

Alexander, R. D. 1957. The taxonomy of the field crickets of the eastern United States (Orthoptera: Gryllidae: Acheta). Ann. Entomol. Soc. Amer. 50(6): 584-602.

Paper with Several Authors:

Alexander, R. D., A. E. Pace, and D. Otte. 1972. The singing insects of Michigan. Great Lakes Entomol. 5(2): 33-69.

(Note that this would be alphabetized after all papers by Alexander, alone.)

Whole Book:

Blatchley, W. S. 1920. Orthoptera of Northeastern America. The Nature Publ. Co. Indianapolis. 784 pp., 246 fig.


Helfer, J. R. 1963. How to Know the Grasshoppers, Cockroaches, and their Allies. Wm. C. Brown Co. Dubuque, Iowa. vi + 353 pp., 597 fig.

Two or More Papers with Same Year:

Gurney, A. B. 1960a. Meconema thalassinum, a European katydid new to the United States. Proc. Entomol. Soc. Wash. 62(2): 95-96.

Gurney, A. B. 1960b. Meconema taken in the United States in 1957 (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae). Proc. Entomol. Soc. Wash. 62(4): 279.

(These would be followed, alphabetically, by any papers by Gurney plus other authors - for example, a paper by Gurney and Helfer would follow these two, even if published in 1958.)

The sixth assignment that is due is a first rough draft of the actual Literature Review and Bibliography sections of the final paper. Once again, “Rough draft” does not mean scribbled with a pencil, but rather done on a computer and as polished, grammatically correct, and “final” as possible. This assignment will be graded using the following criteria:



After the initial pages of the paper, which are numberd with Roman numerals, the page numbering here switches to Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.). The reader should be introduced to the subject of the experiment, but it is considered extremely poor writing style to start the Introduction with “In this lab we will. . .” or “The purpose of this experiment was. . .”, etc. The Introduction should not try to be “cute” or contain flowery, verbose prose, but rather should be concise and factual. The question for which an answer is being sought and the hypothesis should be included, but should not be stated as “The hypothesis is. . .” Why should someone care that this research was performed; why was it important that this research be done (“Because I had to,” is NOT a reason.)? What might this research show – what interesting or useful information might be gained/learned? In many research projects, the experimenter probably previously applied for a grant; some organization paid for this research to be done, and those folks are wondering if they got their money’s worth. Part of the job of a good Introduction is to convince them that they did invest wisely, without being egotistical or sarcastic. Upon what good, valid, scientific basis did the experiment proceed? Also, basically, what was it hoped that the research would accomplish; what were the objectives for this experiment? For example, this could be phrased, “No one had done any research in this area since 1907, despite recent discoveries [specify, don’t be vague] in related fields. . . With this in mind, the following objectives were set up [note use of passive voice] for this study: 1) to do. . ., 2) to do. . ., and 3) to do. . .” Some references to the literature may be made if necessary and appropriate: for example, “One must refer to Jones’ tables (1903) in order to . . .,” or “the last work done in this area was over fifty years ago (Smith, 1939). . .” Parentheses are used to enclose citations to references. Citations must correspond to listings in the Bibliography section. It is generally preferred and far more common to use past tense in the Introduction as well as the rest of the paper, since this is being published after the research has been completed.

The Introduction should tell what the experimenter proposes to accomplish (goals). The methodology used should be mentioned, but the details should be saved for the Methods and Materials section. Also, it is neither good logic nor appropriate to attribute unrelated goals, objectives, or outcomes to any experiment. However, the Introduction should tie the experiment in with other, appropriate topics. For example, in the photosynthesis experiment that was performed in Biology Lab 2, no procedures were undertaken to study why humans see certain colors, nor plant development/growth, nor how the various chemical reactions occur in photosynthesis, nor whether photosynthesis is necessary for plant survival, nor how light works in the chloroplast, nor anything dealing with flower pigmentation, nor optimum wavelength for plant growth, nor oxygen consumption in cellular respiration, nor length or temperature of growing season. In that experiment, light energy was related (only) to wavelength (color), not to supposed “usefulness” of the light, and it is not true that the least useful light is or has the least energy. Chlorophyll is not the same thing as carotene, and the mixed pigments which were studied cannot all be called chlorophyll. Photosynthesis doesn't generate energy, it transforms and stores it.

For example, goals for that photosynthesis experiment might include:

* These could only be included if that portion of the lab was performed!

The seventh assignment that is due is a first rough draft of the actual Introduction section of the final paper. Here too, “Rough draft” does not mean scribbled with a pencil, but rather done on a computer and as polished, grammatically correct, and “final” as possible. This assignment will be graded using the following criteria:


Additional Rough Drafts:

In Biology Lab 2 and Lab 3s, students will be given the opportunity to submit revised “rough” drafts of the Methods and Materials, Literature Review, and Introduction sections of the final paper, and these drafts will be graded.


In Spring quarter, when the student is enrolled in Biology Lab 3 lab, the experiment may be performed. Legible and organized recording of the data into the student’s lab notebook is imperative. When the experiment is completed, data can be analyzed and the Data and Conclusion sections of the paper may be written. The literature search should also be continued.

Data and Conclusions:

These two sections of the paper should be written after the research has been completed.

The data (“data” is a plural word, not singular) should be presented in the Data section in their final, analyzed form – raw data do not belong in the paper. In the Data section, it is not appropriate to interpret or draw conclusions from the data. Any statistical analysis such as average number of something should be included in place of raw data. For example, in the Accuracy and Precision experiment from Biology Lab 1, the weight of the flask and the weight of the flask + water are raw data (not to be used here) while the average weight of water for each container, preferably presented in chart, table, or graph form, is final data.

Tables, charts, and/or graphs (see graphing protocol from first quarter) should be included where appropriate, should be properly numbered and titled (Figure 1. Structure of Banana), and should be listed in the “List of . . .” section(s) of the paper. Graphs should be generated from a spreadsheet, then imported into the paper as graphics. Generally, graphs should be done all in black ink. Loose items should not be included by taping them to pages; rather, a good-quality scan or xerox of that page should be used for a professional look. The best way to include good quality black-and-white photos would be to scan them, then insert them as graphics (if color photos are used, convert to grayscale). If a scanner is not available, photographs can be included by mounting on a piece of paper which previously had the title/legend(s) typed on it, then xeroxing to obtain the “final” copy. Illustrations, etc. can optionally be located in the text of the data section or grouped together at the end of the paper as “Plates.” Figures and tables may be cited in the text: for example, “Bananas (Figure 1) are yellow.”

The type of graph used should reflect the type of data being represented. Bar graphs may be used where items on the X-axis are unrelated and distinct (like food color names, soft drink brands, or people’s names). However, where the X-axis represents points that are a sample among a theoretically infinite number of possibilities (like sampling every 25 nm among an infinite possible number of wavelengths or every 1.0 mL among an infinite possible number of milliliters of methylene blue added), then an X-Y graph should be used. However, there are at least two ways to construct an X-Y graph. In the Beer’s Law experiment done in Biology Lab 1, there was a proportional correlation between the volume of methylene blue added and the absorbance reading – the graph should have been a straight line. In that case, the data should be analyzed (using a linear regression formula) to determine the “best-fit,” straight line. In contrast, in the photosynthesis experiment done in Biology Lab 2, it is expected that there is no proportional correlation between the wavelength of light being shown through a specimen and the amount of that color of light that is absorbed – there is, rather, continuous variation. Thus, a graph of wavelength of light vs. absorbance should be plotted as a curve (like doing a “dot-to-dot”).

Also in the narrative, discussion and comments on the data should be included, pointing out noteworthy or unusual results (for example, “Notice that XYZ Pop has 12 tsp. of sugar, higher than any of the other brands tested.”) and summarizing/correlating findings without drawing conclusions. Students should be careful about what claims are made about the data. A researcher cannot make the claim that a difference is “significant” or is “not significant” unless the necessary statistical calculations have been done and are cited to validate that claim. A difference is only “significant” if the means of two data sets are far enough apart and the standard deviations small enough that there is no overlap between the groups. For example, if:

a person cannot claim that the 144 g average for apples and the 112 g average for bananas is a “significant difference.” Since the average for the oranges falls in between those two, that, also, is not “significantly different.”

In the Conclusions section, the data are to be interpreted: what do the data signify? What supported conclusions can be drawn based on the data which were collected? Experimental evidence/results must be cited to support the conclusions which are drawn (for example, “Because of its higher sugar content (Figure 3), XYZ Pop may be more of a health hazard than any other brand tested.”). “Negative” data are important, too – just because a researcher (or a student) gets unexpected data doesn’t mean the experiment was a “failure.” Rather, then the experimenter must figure out what the data really show. He/she must decide if the hypothesis was supported (a hypothesis can never be 100% “proven” – someone may at some future time discover conditions under which things don’t work the same way) or disproved?

Also, if the research consists of several, related experiments, these must be tied together, and the conclusions drawn based on the “whole picture.” For example, in the photosynthesis experiment, if the effects of various colors of food coloring on oxygen evolution by Elodea were studied, then that part needs to be related/tied to the absorption spectra of the various pigments which were tested, and conclusions drawn based on the relationships among all the data collected.

It is important, in interpreting graphs, that the right factors be examined and compared. For example, in comparing absorption spectra for various pigments, the heights of the peaks are concentration-dependent (as illustrated in the Beer’s law lab), but since the concentrations of the various solutions were not standardized, the relative heights of the peaks in, say, two samples of the same pigment is an irrelevant bit of data. However, what is significant is the locations of peaks with respect to the wavelengths of light being tested.

Again, if something didn’t work as expected, the researcher must determine what the obtained results do mean and/or what possible sources of error might account for the results that were obtained? He/she must figure out whether the unexpected results were due to error, or whether that was the way things should have turned out. He/she must also think about what other comments can be made about the experiment, and what problems were encountered and how they were or might be overcome. Hopefully, the experiment has sparked enough interest that he/she has also thought about what further experiments are suggested by the results, and what unanswered questions remain to be investigated in the future (one experiment always suggests more)?

About halfway through the quarter in Biology Lab 3, the first rough draft of the Data and of the Conclusions sections will be due. Once again, it is expected that this draft will be done on a computer and as polished, grammatically correct, and “final” as possible. This assignment will be graded using the following criteria:



When writing a scientific paper, one of the hardest parts to do is the Abstract. Usually, it is the last thing written even though it is placed first in the finished document. The Abstract should be written in accepted scientific format. The first line or two (single spaced rather than double) should include the proper citation of the paper:
Author, last name first. Date. Title of paper
(which should exactly match the title on the title page). If this was a published paper, the journal name, etc. would follow. Then, double-spaced, the text of the abstract should follow. This is a short, concise summary in one paragraph (many journals limit the number of words – aim for 100 words or less) of the experiment. Generally, writing should be done in the past tense (“It was done. . .”) and in the passive voice – avoid use of “I,” “me,” and “you.”"
BAD: “I experimented on rats, and I found. . .”
BETTER: “Experiments on rats showed that. . .”
EVEN BETTER: “Rats were found to...”
An Abstract should be in enough depth so a reader can understand what was done, but without details. Briefly, yet concisely, what was done; what overall experimental procedure was followed (for example, “All volunteers were asked to take two grams of vitamin C and collect hourly urine samples. These samples were analyzed for vitamin C content.”)? A brief summary of the results obtained, pointing out any noteworthy data gathered, and a summary of the conclusions which were drawn, based upon those results, should also be included (for example, “XYZ Pop was found to contain 12 tsp. of sugar per can, the highest of any of the brands tested, indicating that it is the worst choice for diabetics who must restrict their sugar intake.”). This page should also be numbered with Roman numerals.

Here is a sample Abstract. This sample should NOT be directly copied, but students are expected to do their own work:

Carter, J. L. S. 24 October 1994. Accuracy and precision of various glassware.
A 250 mL beaker, 100 mL graduated cylinder, and 100 mL volumetric flask were filled in triplicate with 100 mL of 20° C distilled water. The average weight of the water and mean deviation were calculated for each vessel. The average water weights were 96.75 g for the beaker, 100.85 g for the cylinder, and 99.66 g for the flask (closest to the theoretical value of 99.823 g at 20° C, indicating greatest accuracy). Mean deviations were 0.14 g, 0.02 g, and 0.00 g (indicating greatest precision), respectively. Thus the volumetric flask was found to be both the most accurate and the most precise.

Use of the word “respectively” implies that items are referenced in the same order as previously listed. Thus, the 0.02 g mean deviation was obtained using the graduated cylinder, since both are second in the listings.

About halfway through the quarter in Biology Lab 3, the first rough draft of the Abstract section will be due. This also must be done on a computer and as polished, grammatically correct, and “final” as possible. This assignment will be graded using the following criteria:


Additional Rough Drafts:

In Biology Lab 3, students will be given the opportunity to submit revised “rough” drafts of the Data, Conclusions, and Abstractsections of the final paper, and these drafts will be graded.

Final Paper:

The paper is to be typed using a computer, double spaced, with one inch margins around the page and using black, 10- to 12-point “regular” serif or sans-serif font such as Times New Roman or Arial. Do not try to make scanty text look like more by enlarging the font and do not use “artistic” fonts or colors for a scientific paper. Page numbers can be centered at the top of each page or in the upper right hand corner of each page, and must be computer-generated as a regular part of the document. While pertinent graphics can and should be included, “cute” clipart that is unrelated to the experiment and only serves a “decorative” function should NOT be included in a scientific paper. Since instructors may wish to make a copy of a “good” paper for future students to see, it is requested that, for the final paper, the pages not be stapled together, but that some less permanent means of binding them be used.

A scientific paper should be written in the passive voice. Students should avoid use of “I,” “me,” “my,” “we,” and “you” (even the implied “you” format). Sentences like, “It was done,” should be used rather than “I did it.” Check spelling (one of the advantages of a word processor) and grammar. Check for subject-verb agreement and also verb tense agreement among the sentences (“I am going to the store, and I bought groceries,” is not correct.). The paper should include the following sections, each labeled with a heading, in the following order:

Other than title page, section headings should be centered at the top of the (first) page of that section. Each section should have its own page(s) – each new section should begin on a new page. Grammar and English usage should be carefully checked. Common mistakes among students include forgetting to italicize scientific names and problems dealing with unusual plural words (“spectra” is the plural of “spectrum” and “data” is the plural of “datum”). All graphs, figures, and charts need proper, explanatory titles. If there is absolutely no way a graph can be done on a computer and it is necessary to draw it by hand, then proper graphing protocol must be followed, and the resulting graph must be extremely neatly done.

The Title Page should include the title of the experiment, author, and date (due date). These should be centered on the page. The title should accurately reflect the specific contents/objective(s) of the study and should include important key words. For example, “A Comparison of the Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) Content of Fresh and Frozen Orange (Rutaceae: Citrus aurantium) Juice” would be a much more meaningful and informative title than something like “Vitamin C in Orange Juice.” A title which strives to accurately reflect the experiment being reported is vastly superior to a title that’s “cute” – something like “Orangy-C” or “What’s in Your Juice?” would be totally inappropriate. Abbreviations should not be used in the title. Taxonomic data (scientific names) should be included in a title when applicable.

The Acknowledgements section is an optional page. Typically, someone who played a major role in the publication of a paper may be acknowledged here. Examples might be someone who went “above and beyond the call of duty” to help type the paper or someone who volunteered to serve as a “guinea pig” for the experiment. Page(s) should be numbered with lower case Roman numerals starting with “ii” (the title page is page i, but not labeled).

In a published book, only the first page of each chapter is listed in the Table of Contents. Similarly, here, the initial page of each of the sections (and any major subsections) of the paper and corresponding page numbers should be listed in table form. Only the first page of each section should be listed, not each page in the report. This page(s) should also be numbered with lower case Roman numerals.

Any/all figures which occur within the text of the paper should be listed in the List of Figures, and any/all tables should be included in the List of Tables, and these two lists should be in table form. The “official” title of each figure or table and its page number should be included. Titles of figures and tables included here should exactly match those with which the figures or tables are labeled. Figures located on plates at the end are not included in these lists, but rather, a separate list of plates may also be included if needed (each plate should have a title reflecting the graphics included on that plate). These pages are also numbered with lower case Roman numerals.

If graphics are grouped onto plates, rather than interspersed among the text, the Plates section should follow the Bibliography and should be set off by a page with the word “Plates” centered on it. Any illustrations may optionally be grouped into plates at the end of the paper rather than inserted throughout the text. A list of figures included on each plate (and any necessary explanation) FACES that plate (the sheet goes in “backwards”). It is appropriate to cite these figures in the text when discussing some aspect of the experiment to which they apply: for example, “Bananas (Figure 1) are yellow.”

These sections will need to be incorporated into the final paper in the correct order. The final paper will be graded using the following criteria:


Acknowledgement: Excerpts used in the samples were taken from papers written by students in sections of majors’ Biology Lab I, II, and III. To avoid embarrassing some, all will remain anonymous.

Copyright © 2010 by J. Stein Carter. All rights reserved.
Based on printed protocol Copyright © 1991 J. L. Stein Carter Chickadee photograph Copyright © by David B. Fankhauser
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