Standards for Written Project Reports
Your paper should be of a standard appropriate for a junior-senior level course in a science department at a major university.
This means your grade will depend both on content and on the effectiveness with which you communicate your material. The descriptions below indicate what is expected for each grade level.
Grade Description of a typical paper at this grade level A A thorough and well-supported synthesis of your chosen aspect of the region's climate. The paper is clearly written and effectively organized. Explanations are supported by clear and readable maps or charts where necessary (and only where necessary). References are properly cited. Material is thorougly supported by references to high-quality sources such as peer-reviewed journal articles with no citations from encyclopedias or anonymous web pages. A paper at this level may contain an element of originality. B Similar to an A paper but lacking in some way. The topic is clearly discussed. References are from high-quality sources such as peer-reviewed journal articles with no citations from encyclopedias or anonymous web pages. Often papers at this level are thorough but not clearly presented; for example, they may be too wordy or not well organized. C Includes a reasonable treatment of the topic but with notable deficiencies in coverage and presentation. For example, arguments may not be well supported, or there may be discussions of human activities or natural features that do not clearly explain how they are related to climate. The paper may not be clearly organized, or may contain excessive errors in spelling, grammar and usage. Graphs and charts typically are copied and pasted from other sources with little attention to clarity or legibility. Uses inappropriate references such as encyclopedias or anonymous web pages. References may not be properly cited. Papers at this level often contain large stretches of material based on only one or two references. D Typical of a paper done at the last minute. The paper attempts to include most of the information in A, B or C papers but is put together haphazardly. For example, graphs may be included but not discussed in the text, or a list of references may be given without proper literature citations. There is little or no attempt to integrate the material into a coherent whole. A paper at this level usually includes "padding" that attempts to hide a lack of content. F A paper will receive an F grade for any of the following three reasons:(1) The paper is submitted late, regardless of the reason (yes, this includes illness or other emergency).
(2) Poor quality of material and presentation. The paper is a recitation of facts with no synthesis or interpretation. Attempted explanations — if any — show no real understanding of concepts developed in the course. Poorly written: rambling and discursive, or with so many errors that comprehension is impaired.
(3) Plagiarism. Any plagiarized material will result in a grade of zero for the entire regional climate report (not just the written submission). As required by university policy, the matter will be referred to the Dean of Students. Most of you are juniors or seniors and should know what plagiarism is by now. If you have the slightest doubt whatsoever regarding plagiarism, I will be glad to discuss it with you. Do this before you submit your material!
- Begin with an abstract. The abstract is a brief but complete summary of your paper. It should be possible for the reader to know your main findings simply by reading the abstract. The abstract must be no more than one double-spaced page. Some good advice on writing an abstract is given here (you can ignore the part about keywords).
- The maximum length is 15 pages of double-spaced text, not including references and figures.
- There is no required minimum length for your paper, although you probably will find it difficult to present a thorough review of your topic in less than 10 pages or so.
- Use the best quality source material you can find. References should be from established authorities with a reputation for accuracy and fact checking. Some examples include articles in peer-reviewed professional journals and reports from academic institutions or government agencies.
- In some cases it may be necessary to supplement your better references with lower-quality material such as web pages or general-interest publications. Some of this material is useful and accurate; some is dangerous and fraudulent. You are responsible for judging the suitability of your sources. For each such resource that you use fill in this evaluation form and include it with both the printed and electronic versions of your report.
- You're not in junior high any more, so don't use encyclopedias (including Wikipedia) as references. The highest possible grade for a paper that includes any references to an encyclopedia is C+ (see the section on "Expectations," above).
- Avoid using introductory textbooks as references. These often contain errors and may be written by professional textbook writers who lack specific expertise in their field. It is better to use advanced textbooks whose authors have a solid track record of expertise. If you're unsure, check the author's publication record as given in the Thompson-Reuters Web of Science (or in a pinch, Google Scholar).
- Reference citations in the text must match your list of references. Every reference cited in the text must appear in your list of references, and every reference in your list must be cited in the text.
- Reference format for citations and bibliographic entries must follow the format specified by the American Geophysical Union. Other formats are not acceptable. The AGU format provides little information for web citations, so if you cannot avoid using web pages as references use this citation format instead.
- Figures must be clear. Figures that you make yourself (or that you retouch using a drawing program) are almost always clearer than ones scanned or copied from another source. Each and every curve, label and legend must be easily readable. If a figure isn't important enough to be completely legible then delete it!
- Figures must be numbered consecutively (Figure 1, Figure 2, etc.) in the order in which you first mention them. Refer to figures solely by their number, not by "the figure below" or the like. You may include figures either at the end of your paper or at appropriate places within the body. Never use figures that are not discussed in your text.
- Each figure must have a caption that fully explains the meaning of lines, symbols, etc. so that the reader can understand the figure without referring to the text. Do not repeat this material in the body of your paper.
- Support your figure with literature citations just as with any other data or concept that you obtain from another source. For example, you could say something like "Figure adapted from Smith and Jones " or "Plotted data are from Lennon and McCartney ." (Put these citations in the figure caption, not in the body text.)
What to submit
- Late reports will not be accepted under any circumstances. If you wait until the last minute and your computer crashes, your printer runs out of toner, you come down with bubonic plague, or you get attacked by a herd of rogue squirrels, you're out of luck. Therefore you are strongly encouraged to submit your paper at least one day ahead of the deadline.
- By the start of class on the due date (i.e., 10:00 a.m. on Monday, November 18), submit the following:
- a printed copy of your report at the start of class; and
- an electronic copy to firstname.lastname@example.org. The electronic copy must be submitted as a single Adobe PDF file. Other formats, or papers made of multiple files, are not acceptable.
- Papers must be double-spaced and in 12-point type.
- All pages must be numbered.
- Staple all materials securely in the upper-left corner. Do not use covers or bindings.
Do you want a higher grade?
These points often make the difference between an "A" paper and a "B" paper (or between a "C" and "D" paper, but let's not go there):
- Use a concise, formal writing style. This does not mean that your writing has to be dull, but focus on informing the reader. Avoid these common errors:
- Obvious statements that contain no meaningful information (e.g., "The atmosphere is complex" or "This region's climate affects its agriculture")
- Opinions not supportable by fact ("This region has one of the most fascinating climates in the world")
- Excessively informal language ("The temps and precip around here are pretty interesting...").
- Prolix, flowery language ("The great wonder and fascination of the atmosphere...").
- Clearly explain the arguments you are trying to make. This can be a delicate balance - you don't want to insult the reader's intelligence, but something that is obvious to you may not be so obvious to the reader. A good rule of thumb is to be about twice as explicit as you think you need to be.
- Make your writing "flow" naturally from one section to the next. Use headings and sub-headings to help guide the reader. As well as the usual section headings, topical sub-headings alert the reader to a change of focus.
- Ask other people to proofread your paper. Even a friend or family member who is unfamiliar with your field can help find errors in grammar, style or organization.
- Do not add "padding" to lengthen your paper. Unneccessary verbiage and figures will lower your grade! If you don't have much material just use what you have.
- Check out the Resources for better writing linked to the class web page.
- Last and most important - your first draft should not be your final copy!