You are on page 1of 12

How to write a geological paper

Note that this is not comprehensive, just a set of notes based on
errors made in previous papers. For a thorough understanding, you
cannot beat reading papers in the literature to internalize the format
and style of a geological paper.
Overview
Style

 Both style and content are important: In conveying your ideas
it is always important to write clearly and concisely paying
attention to grammar and spelling. I expect your papers to be
well-written. This will require that you proofread your work
carefully. Avoid careless mistakes.
 Style must be absorbed; this document can only be of limited
length, and all other details must be gleaned from actual
science journal articles. You should do your best to make your
paper look and sound like a small version of a journal article.
The Bressler room has stacks of GSA Bulletins. Pick up any one
of those to learn the correct style you should use. The only
difference is layout: your Tables and Figures will go at the end,
not interspersed with the text. (In fact, real science papers also
have them at the end when they are submitted to the journals;
there are layout people who place the figures in the correct
places on the pages).
 If anybody will be reviewing or correcting your paper, it should
be double-spaced, and have margins at least 1-inch on all sides
so there is room to write comments.
Voice

 A scientific paper should focus on the data, not on your
actions. If you find yourself using the word "I", you should
question whether you are following this guideline. The paper
should not tell the story of how you collected the data and
figured out the answer; it should explain the hypothesis, the

 Should be brief.  Titles are very important for indexing-you want the paper to be easily found under the correct topic search. Abstract .methods used to test that hypothesis and the results of those tests.") included. Tone  The style of writing should be serious and matter-of-fact. . Paper organization Note that parts of this section are taken from here..  Should be representative of information presented in the paper.. "I really like this mineral because.  Should be very specific. avoid it where possible in favor of the active voice ("veins form quartz there").  Many papers you read are written completely in the third person.a summary of the paper  Purpose: Allows the reader to identify the basic content of a paper in order to… o Determine its relevance. Title  Word order is important. This often leads to a tendency to use the passive voice ("quartz is formed there by veins").g. As in all writing. and o Determine if he or she wants to read the rest of the paper. without much (any) personal opinions (e.. but not so brief that it fails to convey the intended meaning.

do not use all 200 words if you don't have to o Never provide information in the abstract that is not stated in the body of the paper Introduction . o State the principal conclusions suggested by the results. or peak metamorphic temperature of a rock). . o State the principal results of the investigation. or other) importance. present the nature and scope of the problem investigated.sets the stage and gives the answer  The main job of the introduction is to present the rationale for the work. Four basic parts of an abstract: o State the principal objectives and scope of the investigation. o State the method of investigation. 2. and its (geological. o State the principal conclusions.  You also want to prepare the reader for the rest of the paper. such as the age of a zircon. o Summarize the results (no numbers unless the important conclusions are themselves numbers. societal. First. Style: o As a general rule. so you would also include the following: o Review the pertinent literature to orient the reader. o Describe the methods employed. the abstract should be written in the past tense o Abstracts should range from 100 to 200 words.

describe all of the steps necessary.  If the methods are original. and generalizations shown by the results.  Point out exceptions and define points of ambiguity. relationships.  Do not include the results of the investigation. Discussion  Present the principles.  It is important to present the data with absolute clarity. Methods  The past tense should be used for the methods section. This section may also include the geologic setting of the topic. not restate them. Results  Give an overall description of the investigation-a "big picture" view. right?). otherwise give only a reference to the methods. never try to cover up or change data that does not quite fit.  Show how the results relate to the hypotheses . make sure to discuss the results. provide enough detail for repetition.  Be sure to separate data from interpretation.  Describe the research materials.  Present the data in the present tense (the facts are still true.  Do not describe the functioning of analytical instruments.  Describe and define the experimental design. but problems with data can be discussed.

 Use the style of the Geological Society of America Bulletin for your References Cited. Publisher..  The discussion should end with a short summary regarding the significance of the work. Selverstone. 264-278.  State conclusions very clearly. 14. v.. J. G. 1988. p. pages. Eastern Alps: Tectonics. and figures. volume. New Jersey. J. References Cited  The list of references cited is just that: more complete information about each of the references you cite in your text. J. look at a recent issue of GSA Bulletin for more: o Journal articles: Author. . Fluid inclusion constraints on the kinematics of footwall uplift beneath the Brenner Line normal fault. Date.  Summarize the evidence for each conclusion. 437 p. M. Axen. Here are some examples.. I. Title of article: Journal. Prentice Hall. o Books: Author. The geochemistry of natural waters (second edition): Englewood Cliffs. Show how the results and interpretations agree or disagree with previously published work. and Bartley. should be in the list. date. and only those you cite. Title of Book (edition): Place of publication. Drever. J. and any further work needed on the topic.. Conclusions  Discuss the theoretical implications of the investigation and possible applications. 1995. Every reference you cite. tables. pages.

J." citations should be included in the references cited list. 1989. Geological map of Greece. eds. figure) in the same paper. pages. table. W. J. Institute of Geology and Mineral Exploration. R. Akhladhokhorion sheet: Athens. Melanges and olistostromes of the Appalachians: Geological Society of America Special Paper 228. in Editors. .  No "pers. G. date.  References cited as sources for figures should be included in the list. and only cited references should be in the list.. 1987. Zimmerman. Alabama Appalachinas... and Efstratiades. p.  All references must be cited. comm.000. N. G... Title of Edited Book.  Provide enough information in the caption so the meaning of the data is clear without reference to the text.  Never present the same data in more than one way (text. Axel. date. Title of article. Tectonic setting of olistostromal units and associated rocks in the Talladega slate belt. in Horton. Scale. Publisher.  The list should be in order by last name of the first author.  No references from the Internet are allowed.o Edited Books: Authors..S. scale 1:50. Map name: Place of publication. 247-269 o Geologic maps: Author. Tables  Don't use tables if the data can be presented in word form in the text. Staikopoulos. and Rast.

1)" (preferred style)  If a sentence has some information from a reference. 1)" (bad style) o "Gold is found in several locations (refer to Fig." (acceptable style. Every figure should present information that is new and important.. Numerical or text information in a table is not (it's a Table).Figures  Figures are not for show. and is best served by an image. 3). etc.  All drawings.. you would cite the reference)  If you are referring to more than one. 2 and 3)" . graphs.  There should always be a reference in the text to each figure. write for example "(Figs. Examples of figure references: o "Gold is found in several locations (see Fig. You should not include a "pretty picture" on the cover. and figures should be included in the order in which their text references occur. photos. Do not write "Graph 1" or "Map 1" or "Chart 1".  Figures should be referred to sequentially in the text." (and in the figure 3 caption. and related information from that reference is in a figure.  Only use a graph if the trends in the data are not apparent in table form. maps. 1)" (bad style) o "Figure 1 shows. how do you cite both? You don't: o "MORB compositions are generally tholeiitic (Fig. but not preferred) o "Gold is found in several locations (Fig. are "Figures".

any fact you write down is assumed to be some fact you discovered unless it is general knowledge (something that would appear in a textbook) or has a citation. You should number the figure according to your ordering. (if the figure is included without substantial alterations) o Figure 3. you should make your own caption in order to highlight the parts of the figure that are important to your paper. Rhyolite viscosity as a function of temperature." Citations  In a scientific paper. Note the decrease is small relative to the effects of H2O (Smith. your are committing . and cite the original source in the caption (and perhaps in the body) of the figure as: "Smith (1965)" or "from Smith (1965)". using the same style as described in the Citations section. 2001). not "Fig. useful captions. you should cite it as: "after Smith (1965). For example: o Figure 2. You should put the figures themselves at the end of the paper (after the References Cited). o If you incorporate a figure from the literature.  Figures adopted from other sources must be referenced. If you alter the figure. Only reactions mentioned in the text are shown (after Spear. If you write down a fact somebody else discovered that is not general knowledge and fail to cite them.  All figures must have descriptive. Indicate briefly what the reader should notice or conclude from the figure. 2000). T-X(H2O) phase diagram for CMASH system. 4" like the references do. (if the figure has been altered) o Note that the figure captions begin with "Figure 4". or re-draft it (perhaps by scanning it into a file and re-drawing over the scan). they do not need to be embedded within the text.

. including decompression melting of the mantle resulting in mixing of slab and mantle derived melts (Yogodzinski et al.an act of academic dishonesty..  All geology lab computers now have EndNote 6 installed. 1978).. Examples:  Their subsolvus character indicates that they crystallized from relatively water-rich magmas. under conditions propitious for hydrothermal alterations to develop (Bonin et al.  In most geologic journals. ask me for suggestions. and in the text.e.  Referencing style for citations: o Do not use footnotes. in that there is a list of cited references (sources) at the end of the paper. you should still proofread your citations carefully. 1993). you alone are responsible for errors in your work. a very useful program that works along with Microsoft Word and which can make citations and reference lists very easy. Use at least two references if doing your own research and at least 4 references if doing a literature survey and be sure to include them in a list of references cited.  Be very careful not to plagiarize. i. you must cite every piece of information you look up. citations are both in-line and endnote. enough information is given to choose the correct reference from that list. as in "real life". Acknowledge all sources of information. Instead use in-text citations. The specific style varies among journals .. When in doubt about how to paraphrase information. This is why citations are so important . 1995. If you use it.  Different possible processes have been proposed for the interaction of slab-derived melts with the overlying mantle wedge.in a literature review paper.I would like you to use the Geological Society of America Bulletin style. 1995) and slab-melt/peridotite reaction and hybridization (Keleman 1990. Kelemen et al.

not "listed". but you cannot obtain Lithos. for example. then you would not cite Hirsch (2000) as the source of the data. but publications never do."  Grammar note: if you do this. I prefer the present tense. as in: (Hirsch.o You can also include text along with the citation: "there have been many sets of mineral abbreviations (see. You may also cite a specific figure or page. and you should cite the original source. For example. 2). suggesting that it was the person who did the listing. you may need to cite something you have not read. Kretz. Kretz did. and makes more sense. because authors may change their positions on topics. o Frequently we use the abbreviations "e. This saves you from having to figure out gender of authors.  Citing unread papers: o You should read everything you cite.  Grammar note two: you also run into a tense problem. I prefer to use "it" suggesting that the paper itself did the listing. because I didn't discover the fact. If you cannot obtain the original source. You would cite Kretz (1974) as follows: ." (which means "see also") as precitation parenthetical text." o You can use the authors' name(s) in the sentence itself: "Kretz (1983) lists the most recent set of mineral abbreviations. Some authors would use the personal pronoun." (which means "for example") and "cf. 1983). so "lists" is used above. you may run into needing to use a pronoun to refer to the publication.g. The paper was published in the past. The 1983 Kretz paper will list that set of mineral abbreviations indefinitely into the future. but it can be read in the present. if you are reading Hirsch (2000) and you see a fact I obtained from Kretz (1974). Fig. in which case that is included inside the parentheses after the year. 2000.

123-131 (unread." o Mineral names are not capitalized (unless... No exact quotations for class papers. topographic maps should not be cited. not the exact words. So if George Mustoe tells you something about the Chuckanut Formation. you would cite Hirsch (2000) and you might also cite Kretz (1974) as follows:  Kretz. like "centimeters". cited in Hirsch. o If you must use this citation style. comm.  Citations almost never use quotes in science. If it is. (1974) Some models for the rate of crystallization of garnet in metamorphic rocks. look up references about that formation and use those as your source. 1974.." o Weight percent is a unit.  "The weight percent of MgO was used to determine. 2000). they are at the beginning of a sentence). pers. Diffusion control is evident in the three-dimensional distribution of porphyroblasts (Kretz. Lithos. look up the actual reference. 2000). o and in the reference list. You just cite the facts from some reference. 2004).  Geological maps (as figures) must be cited. R." now . 7.  Personal communication o Only use this citation style if the thing you are told is not published anywhere. you would write (Smith.. You would not include anything in the References Cited list for this. cited in Hirsch.. of course. You wouldn't say "The centimeters of the specimens were 12-14. Past Student Errors  "The difference between Forsterite and Fayalite is.

analysis showed the composition was (Na.  ".56K.1Si2. You should write "these data".." Similarly. o "data" is plural. Learn how to do this in your word processor .. .all of them have this capability.38) (Al1..8)O8.  "Based off of this data. you should use the term concentration in the above sentence.. You should say "based upon"." o "Based off of" is too slangy.would you? You would say "The length of the specimens was 12-14 cm." o The chemical formula must use subscripts.