AGRON 406 Standards for written reports
What and when to submit
Do you want a higher grade?
Your paper should be of a standard appropriate for a junior-senior level course in a science department at a major university. Your grade will depend both on content and on the effectiveness with which you communicate your material.
Description of a typical paper at each 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, with no errors in grammar or spelling. Explanations are supported by clear and readable maps or charts where necessary (and only where necessary). References are properly cited. Material is well 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. One image may be fuzzy or unclear. There may be a few errors in grammar or spelling. 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 or presentation. Some examples are arguments that are not well supported with references, or 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. The paper includes 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 reasons:
- The paper is submitted late, regardless of the reason (yes, this includes illness or other emergency).
- Poor quality of material and presentation. The paper is a recitation of facts with no synthesis or interpretation. May include a large amount of material having no obvious relation to climate. 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.
- 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 regarding plagiarism, I will be glad to discuss it with you. Do this before you submit your material!
Begin with an abstract, on a page of its own (separate from the title page and the body of the text). 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.
The maximum length is 15 pages of double-spaced text, not including references and figures. This limit applies to each person's paper (i.e., it is not the total page limit for all team members).
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 you may not be able to avoid using 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 the evaluation form (linked from the class Blackboard page) and include it with both the printed and electronic versions of your report.
- You're not in middle school 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 don't use 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.
- Every 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 and when to submit
- By the start of class on the due date (i.e., 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, April 14), submit the following:
- a printed copy of your report at the start of class; and
- an electronic copy to email@example.com. The electronic copy must be submitted as a single Adobe PDF file. Other formats, or papers made of multiple files, are not acceptable.
- Late reports will not be accepted under any circumstances. Yes, this includes emergencies! 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. It is best to submit your paper at least one day ahead of the deadline.
- 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...").
- 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. Unnecessary verbiage and figures will lower your grade! If you don't have much material just use what you have.
- Last and most important - your first draft should not be your final copy! Proofread your paper carefully so you can improve organization, spelling, grammar, readability of figures, and other points that will raise your grade.