Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. --- Gene Fowler
A major goal of this course is the development of effective technical writing skills. To help you become an accomplished writer, you will prepare several research papers based upon the studies completed in lab. Our research papers are not typical "lab reports." In a teaching lab a lab report might be nothing more than answers to a set of questions. Such an assignment hardly represents the kind of writing you might be doing in your eventual career.
Written and oral communications skills are probably the most universal qualities sought by graduate and professional schools as well as by employers. You alone are responsible for developing such skills to a high level.
Resources for learning technical writing
Before you begin your first writing assignment, please consult all of the following resources, in order to gain the most benefit from the experience.
•General form of a typical research article
•Specific guidelines (if any) for the assignment – see the writeups on individual lab studies
•McMillan, VE. "Writing Papers in the Biological Sciences, Third Ed." New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001. ISBN 0-312-25857-7 (REQUIRED for Bioc 211, 311, recommended for other science courses that include writing)
•Writing portfolio examples (pdf)
As you polish up your writing skills please make use of the following resources
•Instructor feedback on previous assignments
•Common errors in student research papers
•Selected writing rules (somewhat less serious than the other resources)
For Biosciences majors the general guidelines apply to future course work, as can be seen by examining the guidelines for the advanced experimental sciences research paper (Bioc 311).
General form of a research paper
An objective of organizing a research paper is to allow people to read your work selectively. When I research a topic, I may be interested in just the methods, a specific result, the interpretation, or perhaps I just want to see a summary of the paper to determine if it is relevant to my study. To this end, many journals require the following sections, submitted in the order listed, each section to start on a new page. There are variations of course. Some journals call for a combined results and discussion, for example, or include materials and methods after the body of the paper. The well known journal Science does away with separate sections altogether, except for the abstract.
Your papers are to adhere to the form and style required for the Journal of Biological Chemistry, requirements that are shared by many journals in the life sciences.
Specific editorial requirements for submission of a manuscript will always supercede instructions in these general guidelines.
To make a paper readable
•Print or type using a 12 point standard font, such as Times, Geneva, Bookman, Helvetica, etc.
•Text should be double spaced on 8 1/2" x 11" paper with 1 inch margins, single sided
•Number pages consecutively
•Start each new section on a new page
•Adhere to recommended page limits
Mistakes to avoid
•Placing a heading at the bottom of a page with the following text on the next page (insert a page break!)
•Dividing a table or figure - confine each figure/table to a single page
•Submitting a paper with pages out of order
In all sections of your paper
•Use normal prose including articles ("a", "the," etc.)
•Stay focused on the research topic of the paper
•Use paragraphs to separate each important point (except for the abstract)
•Indent the first line of each paragraph
•Present your points in logical order
•Use present tense to report well accepted facts - for example, 'the grass is green'
•Use past tense to describe specific results - for example, 'When weed killer was applied, the grass was brown'
•Avoid informal wording, don't address