STYLE SUGGESTIONS AND REQUIREMENTS FOR INDEPENDENT STUDY THESES AND OTHER WRITING IN THE COLLEGE OF WOOSTER, DEPARTMENT OF EARTH SCIENCES
Assembled by the Faculty of the Department of Earth Sciences
(Mark A. Wilson, editor. Revised in March 2021)
This online document is designed to acquaint you with the style requirements for an Independent Study thesis in the Department of Earth Sciences and to provide some recommendations to help you construct a clear, concise, informative, and interesting composition. It is also a style guide for all formal writing in the department, including course research papers, depending on your professor’s requirements. Our philosophy is minimalist — earlier incarnations of this “instruction manual” have been so long and convoluted that few students paid attention to them. Most seniors simply found a previous I.S. thesis and followed its format, even to the point of copying critical errors. We want this version of the rules to be short enough so that you will read every word, yet long enough to cover the essential formatting information. By placing this manual online, we can also link you to important resources and ensure that this text is always available to you when you have questions.
The format requirements for a senior I.S. thesis in the Department of Earth Sciences mimic those applied to Master’s theses and doctoral dissertations in graduate schools. These requirements are designed to standardize the documents so that they all follow a similar pattern of providing information to the reader. Your readers will clearly include your I.S. advisor and the dreaded “second reader”, but they will also include future generations of students and faculty, as well as colleagues at other institutions. Your own students may someday read your thesis! A consistent format makes certain that the writer has answered some basic questions common to all scientific reports. You will see later that this writing style is that required by the GSA Reference Guide Examples. We expect you to also learn the style of good scientific writing by reading scientific articles closely. For example, your advisor should not have to explain how a “location” description is written if you have read other such descriptions in published articles. Indeed, by the end of your project you should be able to criticize the shortcomings (and praise the strengths) of writing in the scientific literature. Your Independent Study experience is your first entry into the world of scientific communication, so we take the form almost as seriously as the content. Note that these concepts also apply to the Junior I.S. thesis, but to a degree which will be determined by your advisor. (We have Galen Schwartzberg’s Junior IS thesis online as an example.) All theses are different; we want you to see real documents to use as inspiration. Please also note the online pdfs of course research papers by Andrew Collins, Meredith Sharpe, Dan Buckler, Andrew Retzler, Andrea Freshwater, Becky Alcorn, Annette Hilton, and Alexis Lanier. (Format is sometimes disrupted by the conversion of text and images to pdf documents.)
Writing rules can become problems if they constrain the flow of good writing. Every I.S. project is different, and each merits a different writing style. Please feel free to experiment with format within the simple rules outlined in this document.
For a broader perspective on scientific writing, this article by Kevin Plaxco is excellent.
The Required Writing Format
The Department of Geology has adopted the writing requirements established for the journal Geology by the GSA. We will use all their style requirements except for those items which are specifically intended for publications in Geology only, such as the number of pages (“manuscript sizing”) and the style of the title page. Use the Geology style for referencing, figure captions, headings and subheadings, tables, appendices and so on. The format notes below are designed to assist you in constructing your thesis within these guidelines. Here is an example of a typical paper in Geology to show you the format in action, and to cover any other formatting items not mentioned here.
1. Fonts.–There are hundreds of fonts available for any word-processing system. Fortunately you only need to choose from a few standards. Always pick a font that is compatible with the printer you are using. “Times”, the font you are reading now, is an excellent one, but there are several others. The font you select should look clear whether in plain text, italics, or bold. Remember that various font utilities can show you what combinations of keys make fancy symbols like ü, é, ø, î, å, æ, ÷, ¿, 8°, and so on. Use the underlining, boldfacing and italics options sparingly but effectively. Generic and specific names of organisms (like Homo sapiens) should always be italicized. Subtitles sometimes are clearer if they are boldface, as in this document. Be careful with underlines — sometimes the line interferes with the descending portions of some letters. For example, when glacier is underlined the letter g is obscured.
2. Justification.–The text should be justified on the left margin, but justifying the right margin as well gives it a professional look. “Fill justified” is a term sometimes applied to text that is justified on the right and the left. Whatever method you use, follow it consistently throughout the text. You may also use a two-column format (like many journals) for your final thesis copy.
3. Line spacing.–The final text of your thesis may be double-spaced or single-spaced. You choose what line spacing you think will be most readable and attractive.
4. Page numbering.–All pages except the title page are numbered. Page number 1 is always the Abstract, page number 2 the Acknowledgements, page number 3 the Table of Contents. (See “Order of the Thesis” below.) Page numbers at the bottom of the pages in the center look best with back-to-back printing and copying.
5. Margins.–With the exception of page numbers, all text, all figures, all photographs must fit within margins set at 1.5 inches from the left edge of the page (for binding) and 1 inch from top, bottom and right edges. Page numbers may be centered at the bottom of the page at least 0.5 inches from the edge, or in the top right or lower right corners at least 0.5 inches from the page edges. These dimensions are known as “thesis margins”. If you must use a foldout (and try to avoid them), it must still fit within the margins when it is folded. You should have no problems fitting illustrative material within the margins. (By all means, though, do not reduce illustrations to illegibility!)
6. Order of the Thesis.–The typical order of materials in an I.S. thesis is listed below. The asterisks (*) refer to those items that are required in all theses, but please note that the specific order may differ depending on your project and advisor. We have online Macy Conrad’s IS thesis (2018) as an example.
Abstract* (Here’s an abstract-writing guide)
Table of Contents*
Stratigraphy and/or Geological History
Methods of Investigation
There are many options in thesis organization. You may title the chapters in a variety of ways. Some theses will require extended text on stratigraphic or geochemical problems, others will delve into historical issues in detail. We want you to construct your thesis in the way professional scientists write papers, so look carefully at the articles published on topics similar to your own.
A Junior I.S. thesis will necessarily be shorter and more exploratory. We have Galen Schwartzberg’s Junior IS thesis online as an example.
7. Illustrations.–There are three basic types of illustrations that you will likely use in your I.S. thesis. All must be clear and fit within the thesis margins. They are:
Figures from other sources.–Every thesis includes stratigraphic columns, location maps, graphs or charts from other published papers and books. There is no problem with this as long as a few requirements are met. First, the figure must be thoroughly referenced. If you borrowed a location map from Johnson’s 1989 paper on basalt zeolites, you must cite the paper and the author’s figure number in your caption. For example, at the end of your caption you may write, “Map from Johnson (1989, fig. 23).” If you modified the figure, simply write something like “after Johnson (1989, fig. 23)”. Second, make certain that the figure does not contain any internal references that you do not explain. For example, if Johnson’s map has an outcrop identified as “Location of Vermier (1944)” and you do not cite Vermier, then remove this reference from the figure. Third, always use your own caption and your own figure numbering system. The captions must fit on the same page as the figure and still remain within thesis margins. Fourth, make certain that the figure is completely readable when positioned in your paper. Be sure to cite the journal itself as the source, not the website on which you found the journal.
Figures you draft or draw.–Figures you create should be scanned or uploaded into your document or created within it (using the drawing program of your word processor). When uploading images, make sure they are at a minimum size to look crisp and clear, but not so big as to make your final thesis document inconveniently large.
All illustrations must be given a numbered caption and referred to in the text before they appear. These figures must be referred to in numerical order. Do not, for example, discuss Figure 5 before you have discussed Figures 1, 2, 3 and 4. Figures must also follow in the text soon after they are first mentioned. The style of caption and the manner in which you refer to figures follows the Geology writing format. Here’s an example (note that it is all in boldface) —
Figure 1. Inferred predator drillholes in the colonial metazoan Hederella thedfordensis Bassler, NHM D30066, Middle Devonian (Givetian), Hamilton Group, Arkona, Ontario. A, group of zooids containing numerous patched drillholes. B, patched drillhole crossing the boundary (arrows) between two zooids. C, beveled drillhole positioned slightly off the midline of the zooid. D, patched drillhole showing sloping edges. E, scoop-like incomplete drillholes (arrowed) in two zooids. E, zooids with apertures sealed by diaphragms, that on the right containing a patched drillhole (arrow). Scale bars: A = 1 mm; B-D = 100 µm; E = 200 µm; F = 500 µm.
8. Reference style.–In this department we use the standard scientific referencing style, which is also the Geology format. (See the GSA Reference Guide Examples.) Thoughts, concepts and information not our own or “common knowledge” are referenced with direct or parenthetical citations of author and year of publication. Direct quotations are followed by a parenthetical citation that includes the page number in the original work. For example, here are two paragraphs from a recent GSA paper:
From: Kelley, P.H., Fastovsky, D.E., Wilson, M.A., Laws, R.A., and Raymond, A., 2013, From paleontology to paleobiology: A half-century of progress in understanding life history, in Bickford, M.E., ed., The web of geological sciences: Advances, impacts, and interactions: Geological Society of America Special Paper, v. 500, p. 191–232.
Fifty years ago, paleontology was poised on the edge of a philosophical precipice. For decades, paleontologists had struggled to define their identity (Kelley, 2008; Sepkoski, 2008, 2012). Was paleontology an integral part of geology (Parks, 1928) or simply the handmaid of geology, valued only insofar as it contributed to stratigraphic correlation and environmental reconstruction? Was training paleontologists in geology departments detrimental to the field, as Knight (1947, p. 285) argued, claiming, “the present low estate of invertebrate paleontology in America stems largely from the fact that it is not treated as the biological science that it is”? Regardless of where paleontologists saw their affinities, paleontology was denigrated by colleagues in both geology and biology as a purely descriptive field akin to stamp collecting. Both geology and biology had moved beyond descriptive work to exciting theory-based analysis, geologists with the emerging theory of plate tectonics and biologists with the Neodarwinian synthesis of evolutionary theory. What relevance did paleontology have, with its imperfect and incomplete record of past life, to either field?
A great deal, as it turns out. The past fifty years have seen paleontologists reinvent themselves as paleobiologists in what has been termed the “paleobiological revolution” (Sepkoski and Ruse, 2009; Sepkoski, 2012). These changes provided paleontology with a rich theoretical framework, accompanied by changes in textbooks from systematic summaries (e.g., Moore et al., 1952) to increasingly theoretical volumes (Beerbower, 1960; Raup and Stanley, 1971) and a new journal bearing the name of the nascent field, Paleobiology. Paleontology has also found innovative ways to contribute to geology through advances in such fields as biostratigraphy, paleobiogeography, taphonomy, and paleoclimatology.
Beerbower, J.R., 1960, Search for the past: An introduction to paleontology: Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 562 p.
Kelley, P.H., 2008. The view from the top: A century of PS Presidents’ perspectives on the Paleontological Society and paleontology, in Kelley, P.H., and Bambach, R.K., eds., From evolution to geobiology: Paleontology at the start of a new century: Paleontological Society Papers, v. 14, p. 1-15.
Knight, J.B., 1947, Paleontologist or geologist: Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, v. 58, p. 281-286.
Moore, R.C., Lalicker, C.G., and Fischer, A.G., 1952, Invertebrate fossils: New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 766 p.
Parks, W.A., 1928, Some reflections on paleontology: Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, v. 39, p. 387-402.
Raup, D.M., and Stanley, S.M., 1971, Principles of paleontology: San Francisco, W.H. Freeman, 388 p.
Sepkoski, D., 2008, Evolutionary paleontology and the fossil record: A historical introduction, in Kelley, P.H., and Bambach, R.K., eds., From evolution to geobiology: Paleontology at the start of a new century: Paleontological Society Papers, v. 14, p. 27-39.
Sepkoski, D., 2012, Rereading the fossil record: The growth of paleobiology as an evolutionary discipline: Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 432 p.
Sepkoski, D., and Ruse, M., editors, 2009, The paleobiological revolution: Essays on the growth of modern paleontology: Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 568 p.
Every citation in the text must be included in the References Cited, and every citation listed there must be referred to in the text. Three or more authors are cited in the text as “et al.” following the senior author (for example, Moore et al., 1952), but all of the authors for that article are listed in the reference citation. The style must follow that of Geology, which is carefully outlined in their GSA Reference Guide Examples.
The thesis you create is your own. Your advisor’s role is to help you shape that thesis and challenge you to do your best work, but in the end the thesis is your own responsibility. Completion of this thesis is a special requirement at Wooster, so you have the obligation of being well informed about deadlines and other conditions related to your project. The standard pattern in this department is for each student to meet weekly with his or her advisor for at least an hour of discussion and common work. Each advisor should periodically inform each student whether he or she is making adequate progress toward completion of the project and thesis. In almost every case that progress will be measured by the amount and quality of writing produced. Your thesis should be an example of your best work. It is the culmination of your Wooster education.
A Junior I.S. thesis is similar to the Senior I.S. in format but not in scope. Your advisor will help you establish the level of coverage. Here again is Galen Schwartzberg’s Junior IS thesis as an example. Please note the online pdfs of course research papers by Andrew Collins, Meredith Sharpe, Dan Buckler, Andrew Retzler, Andrea Freshwater, Becky Alcorn, Annette Hilton, and Alexis Lanier. These will show you the style and scope of research papers we expect in our writing courses. (There are some format inconsistencies due to the transfer process to an online document. Please also note that no paper is ever perfect, so there will be minor errors.) Here again is a typical paper in Geology that is in the same required format, except for the columns and other aspects of publication.
For further information, please see the Handbook for Independent Study (a portion of the Faculty Handbook). It covers general policies, requirements, funding possibilities and grading procedures common to all departments in the College. The Earth Sciences Department assessment, evaluation and grading guidelines for Independent Study are also online.