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WRITING BIOLOGY

A One Semester, online Course


Maximum Enrolment 40

Brief course description: This course is designed for students who enjoy reading and
writing and who seek to improve their writing skills. Every week during the course, each student
will complete one 10-500 word long essay, one 2000 word essay at the end of the course. . The
course will offer opportunities to receive and to give feedback about writing style and accuracy.
Each essay will focus on a specific topic in biology. Course material is delivered and received
online and through a virtual classroom (Blackboard Collaborate).

Text: Gwynne, N.M. 2012. Gwynne’s grammar. The ultimate introduction to grammar and the
writing of good English. Idler Books, London, England.

Syllabus
The purpose of this course is to provide students in-depth practice in writing about
biology. During one semester, each student will complete 10 written (9 of them 490 to 510
words long) assignments dealing with a range of topics in biology. Students will participate in
reviewing and editing the writing of other students enrolled in the course. This will provide them
direct experience in giving and receiving feedback about their work. We will achieve these goals
through direct and indirect discussion, and interactions with others in the course. For the exit
assignment, students will build three of their essays into one 2000 word essay.

The specific focus will be writing general factual material about biology on topics that
focus on species, people, and specific subjects. To achieve this I will use a combination of
assigned topics (by species, by person, by topic), and topics chosen by students. For essays 2 – 9
inclusive, students must base each essay on two articles published in scientific journals.

To increase contact among students, we will use two scheduled weekly virtual classroom
(Blackboard Collaborate) sessions. The first (11:30 h Monday) is a meeting of the entire class,
the second is a meeting of the members of each group. Everyone must attend and participate in
these sessions (-2 % of final grade for each missed session). In the context of this course
“editing” means using Track Changes to provide detailed, specific suggestions about use of
words and clarity of writing. This will be combined with comments in the margin.

The Essays
In each essay, students should strive to use words to advantage, to write clearly and
accurately without repetition. Every essay must be submitted to me by noon on Thursday,
and simultaneously uploaded to Turnitin. English is the language of instruction.

Essay 1. Students will write about their view of the first year biology course that they
took. What were the best parts of the course? What were the parts of the course that had the most
room for improvement? The purpose of this essay, which needs no citations or references, is to
provide me with an indication of each student’s writing skills. I will edit but not grade this
essay.

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Essays 2 – 9.
In the remaining essays students are expected to correctly present scientific names and
citations for the works that form the basis for the essay. Grades will be based on the writing (the
story line, the choices and uses of words) but only after marks have been deducted for not
following directions (see below).
To streamline the process, each student has been assigned a volume of a journal. Pick
appropriate papers from the volume of your journal whether you are writing about a species, an
author or a topic. The following steps should apply:
a) In the electronic library, go to the journal assigned to you.
b) Now go to the volume assigned to you.
c) Each volume will consist of several “numbers” (issues). Go through the table of contents
of an issue until you find an appropriate paper (about a species, an author you find
interesting or on a topic that interests you. This paper will be your primary source.
d) Read the paper. Use the literature cited in the paper to find another paper on the same
species (by the same author or on the same topic).

No two students have been assigned the same volume of a journal.

Week 2 (16 Sept)– assignment 2 ... by species edited and graded by instructor
Week 3 (23 Sept) – assignment 3 ... by person edited and graded by instructor
Week 4 (30 Sept)– assignment 4 ... by topic edited and graded by instructor
Week 5 (7 Oct)– assignment 5 ... by species edited and graded by select classmates
Week 6 (21 Oct)– assignment 6 ....by person edited and graded by select classmates
Week 7 (4 Nov) – assignment 7 ... by topic edited and graded by select classmates
Week 8 (11 Nov) – assignment 8 ... free choice edited and graded by all
Week 9 (18 Nov) – assignment 9 ... free choice edited and graded by all
Week 10 (25 Nov) – assignment 10 - closing essay: What I learned, what I should have learned.
To achieve this, students will be challenged to merge three of their previously written
essays into one integrated presentation and use this exercise to address the “what I learned” and
“what I should have learned” components.
Week 11(2 Dec) – wrap up

Plagiarism: Students are required to submit (upload) their essays to Turnitin to minimize the
chances of copying the work of others. Turnitin provides a quantitative assessment of the overlap
between one piece of writing and another. In this course, zero overlap is the standard. Be
sure to upload only the text of your essays, not the additional materials which, in the case of
citations to the literature, would automatically appear as overlap.
Please consult UWO’s statement about academic offenses
(http://www.uwo.ca/univsec/handbook/appeals/scholastic_discipline_undergrad.pdf”

Assessing Student Performance (Methods of Evaluation)


The following elements will be assessed to evaluate student performance: story line,
accuracy, effectiveness of word use, grammar, spelling and overall content. Remember, you are
writing about biology based on at least one original paper. One grade will be awarded for these
parts of the essay. This grade will be reduced if students do not follow directions (about word
counts, GFI, scientific names, journal citations, use of Turnitin, etc..

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Grade breakdown: 50% writing; 30% editing/reviewing; 20% participation There is no
examination in this course. Students also will be assessed on their performance as “editors” and
“reviewers” … their work on other students essays.
For essays 2 – 9, I will use each student’s top 6 grades towards their final grade in the
course. However, all students must complete and submit all of the essays.

Learning Outcomes
Learning outcome 1: Writing-practice writing ... content, style, organization
Learning outcome 2: Editing-how to make useful comments
Learning outcome 3: Your role as reviewer-is the information correct?

Specific writing assignments will expand the student’s factual knowledge about biology,
broadly defined. But factual knowledge is not as important as learning about writing, including
giving and receiving assessments of work. Combining three assignments into one longer essay
will further expand the writing experience associated with the course.

Logistics.
We will use Blackboard Collaborate, a virtual classroom, for meetings and discussion.
All of these sessions will be archived, allowing students to review previous sessions.
Students will be required to submit their written submissions by noon on each
Thursday. In the assignments I will return graded and marked up material by 17:00 h on each
Friday. For submissions graded and edited by classmates (essays 4 to 9, inclusive), students
must submit their comments and grades to me by 17:00 h on Friday. I will return the
submissions to authors by 10:00 h on Monday.
On submissions graded and reviewed by classmates, I will review the grading and
comments to assess participation and effectiveness.
You must submit your essays directly to the instructor (bfenton@uwo.ca) and to Turnitin.
Files submitted directly to me (bfenton@uwo.ca) must be .doc or .docx. Please be sure
that the file name begins with your surname, followed by your initials and the topic (e.g.,
FentonMB Essay1.doc). These files should include scientific names and citations (maximum 3) –
as per instructions below. Students must follow instructions exactly, as if submitting a
manuscript to a scientific journal for publication.
All required papers will be subject to submission for textual similarity review to the
commercial plagiarism detection software under licence to the University for the detection of
plagiarism. All papers submitted for checking will be included as source documents for the
reference database for the purpose of detecting plagiarism of papers subsequently submitted to
the system. Use of the service is subject to the licensing agreement, currently between The
University of Western Ontario and Turnitin.com (http;//www.turnitin.com).
Files submitted to Turnitin.com must not include citations.

ESSAY CHECKLIST
body of essay:
double-spaced with margins
word count is provided (must be 490 - 510 words)
__ give value for Gunning Fog Index (GFI)
upload an electronic version of each essay (text only) to Turnitin.com

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document is appropriately named and is in .doc or .docx format
did I follow the guidelines?

Supplementary materials (for essays 2 – 10):


scientific names are correct (italicized); names of families, orders, capitalized but not
italicized
__ two or three citations (there must be at least two cited papers)
__ citations must be correct (as per course outline)
no direct quotations
no footnotes

Sample Essay
Brock Fenton

Number xxy

Finney’s Bat: Flight and Echolocation

Did the ancestors of bats fly before they could echolocate? This remains an intriguing

question for those who study bats. While all known bats, living and fossil, had wings and could

fly, not all bats echolocate. Among living bats, the flying foxes (pteropodids) do not echolocate,

although two or three species, Rousette Bats echolocate using tongue clicks. Most of the ~1260

species of living bats echolocate using signals produced in their voice boxes.

The fossil record reveals that by the Eocene (50 million years ago) there were bats

representing at least 10 different families. Described in 1967, Icarus bat is an exceptionally well

preserved fossil recovered from the Green River shales in Wyoming. Icarus bat was preserved in

enough detail that Jepsen was able to examine the shoulder morphology and confirm that the

animal could fly. Icarus bat differed from most living bats in that it had a small claw on the

second finger. In 2008, Simmons et al. described Finney’s bat from the same deposits where

Icarus bat had been found. Although the two bats were about the same size, Finney’s bat had a

small claw at the end of each finger. The details of the shoulder structure of Finney’s confirmed

that it also could fly. Other well preserved Eocene bats have been described from other parts of

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the world providing a glimpse of the bat fauna of the Eocene. The fossil record still has not

revealed any creatures intermediate between bats and other mammals.

Fossils often do not reveal some basic biological information about basic biology such as

patterns and timing of reproduction. But some Eocene bats from the Messel deposits in Germany

are so well preserved that it is possible to determine what insects they ate. Although it is clear

that all of the well preserved Eocene bats could fly, there are different views about whether or

not they could echolocate. The stylohyal bone connects the hyoid apparatus to the tympanic

bone. Simmons et al. used details of the stylohyal bone and other features to argue that while

Finney’s bat did not echolocate, the other Eocene bats did. The Simmons et al. interpretation

suggests that early bats could fly before they could echolocate.

In 2010, Veselka et al. used microCT scans of fluid-preserved bats to obtain more details

about the stylohyal bone. She and her team reported that in all modern echolocating bats they

examined, the stylohyal bone is connected to, and sometimes fused with the tympanic bone. But

in pteropodids, the stylohyal does not contact the tympanic bone. They argued that the stylohyal

was an echolocation bone. The stylohyal is obvious in both known of specimens of Finney’s bat

but both are pancake (flattened) fossils and the details of the stylohyal-tympanic junction are not

clear.

We still do not know if flight or echolocation appeared first in the evolution of bats.

Perhaps they appeared at the same time. Until more fossils are discovered, this important

question about the evolution of bats will remain unanswerable. (500 words; GFI 11.69)

Supporting Material

Scientific names

Icarus bat = Icaronycteris index

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Finney’s bat = Onychonycteris finneyi

Pteropodids = Old World Fruit Bats (Pteropodidae)

Citations and Abstracts

Jepsen, G.L. 1966. Early Eocene bat from Wyoming. Science, 154:1333-1339.

Abstract. A fossil skeleton of an early Eocene bat, the oldest known flying mammal, was found
in southwest Wyoming. The bat is assigned to the new species Icaronycteris index of the
suborder Microchiroptera. It was apparently of a young male whose body was buried in varved
marls of the Green River Formation, on the bottom of Fossil Lake, about 50 million years ago.
The bones, some as slender as a human hair, show a few "primitive" characteristics such as a
clawed index finger and a complete phalangeal formula, but the bat was fully developed -an
anatomically precocious contemporary of the dog-sized polydactylous horse.

Simmons, N.B., K.L. Seymour, J. Habersetzer and G.F. Gunnell. 2008. Primitive early Eocene
bat from Wyoming and the evolution of flight and echolocation. Nature, 451:818-821.

Abstract: Bats (Chiroptera) represent one of the largest and most diverse radiations of mammals,
accounting for one-fifth of extant species1. Although recent studies unambiguously support bat
monophyly2–4 and consensus is rapidly emerging about evolutionary relationships among extant
lineages5–8, the fossil record of bats extends over 50 million years, and early evolution of the
group remains poorly understood5,7–9. Here we describe a new bat from the Early Eocene
Green River Formation of Wyoming, USA, with features that are more primitive than seen in
any previously known bat. The evolutionary pathways that led to flapping flight and
echolocation in bats have been in dispute7–18, and until now fossils have been of limited use in
documenting transitions involved in this marked change in lifestyle. Phylogenetically informed
comparisons of the new taxon with other bats and non-flying mammals reveal that critical
morphological and functional changes evolved incrementally. Forelimb anatomy indicates that
the new bat was capable of powered flight like other Eocene bats, but ear morphology suggests
that it lacked their echolocation abilities, supporting a ‘flight first’ hypothesis for chiropteran
evolution. The shape of the wings suggests that an undulating gliding–fluttering flight style may
be primitive for bats, and the presence of a long calcar indicates that a broad tail membrane
evolved early in Chiroptera, probably functioning as an additional airfoil rather than as a prey
capture device. Limb proportions and retention of claws on all digits indicate that the new bat
may have been an agile climber that employed quadrupedal locomotion and under-branch
hanging behaviour.

Veselka, N., D.D. McErlain, D.W. Holdsworth, J.L. Eger, R.K. Chhem, M.J. Mason, K.L. Brain, P.A.
Faure and M.B. Fenton. 2010. A bony connection signals laryngeal echolocation in bats. Nature,
doi:10.1038/nature08737.

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Echolocation is an active form of orientation in which animals emit sounds and then listen to
reflected echoes of those sounds to form images of their surroundings in their brains1. Although
echolocation is usually associated with bats, it is not characteristic of all bats2,3. Most
echolocating bats produce signals in the larynx, but within one family of mainly non-
echolocating species (Pteropodidae), a few species use echolocation sounds produced by tongue
clicks4,5. Here we demonstrate, using data obtained from micro-computed tomography scans of
26 species (n = 35 fluid preserved bats), that proximal articulation of the stylohyal bone (part of
the mammalian hyoid apparatus) with the tympanic bone always distinguishes laryngeally
echolocating bats from all other bats (that is, non-echolocating pteropodids and those that
echolocate with tongue clicks). In laryngeally echolocating bats, the proximal end of the
stylohyal bone directly articulates with the tympanic bone and is often fused with it. Previous
research on the morphology of the stylohyal bone in the oldest known fossil bat (Onychonycteris
finneyi) suggested that it did not echolocate6, but our findings suggest that O. finneyi may have
used laryngeal echolocation because its stylohyal bones may have articulated with its tympanic
bones. The present findings reopen basic questions about the timing and the origin of flight and
echolocation in the early evolution of bats. Our data also provide an independent anatomical
character by which to distinguish laryngeally echolocating bats from other bats.

Some Tips About Writing Essays


1. Pick a story line.
How? Each 500 word essay must be based on two scientific papers. The papers you
choose establish your story line. Please remember that your essay tells a story. There has
to be a title, a beginning, a middle and an end. To minimize interruption to the flow of the
essay and to lower the Gunning Fog Index, please put sources for the essay and relevant
scientific names at the bottom (see sample essay). Be sure that the information is
accurate, complete, and correctly presented.

2. Find material.
How? Find two scientific papers on the topic (about the species, the topic or written by
the biologist). Use Google Scholar and the electronic library.
3. Then write.
*Write clearly.
*Choose your words with care. Say what you mean, mean what you say.
*Use the active voice (see below). Make direct statements.
*Avoid repetition.
* Focus on your story line (hence the restriction to writing each essay about two scientific
papers).
* Consult the text about the correct use of words.

4. Then let the first draft sit for a day.

5. Now go back and read the whole draft aloud to yourself. Be sure to speak each word. As you
read check your spelling and grammar. This is a perfect opportunity to get a classmate to read
and comment on your draft and you reciprocate by doing the same for them. Please note that
reading over and commenting on an essay written by a classmate does not constitute plagiarism.

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6. Assess the clarity of your writing by determining the Gunning Fog Index (GFI) of what you
have written. Get your GFI calculated at http://gunning-fog-index.com/. To some people an
"ideal" GFI is 7 or 8, and anything > 12 is considered very hard to read. Plays by William
Shakespeare, books by Mark Twain, and The Bible have GFIs of 6. The sample essay has a
Gunning Fog Index of >10 --- I should have done better than that. Try to make your GFI < 10.
You must provide a GFI for each of your essays.
You will see that using short sentences and "simple" words is the way to a low GFI. If
you have time, experiment with your writing. You can read more about the GFI at
http://www.readabilityformulas.com/gunning-fog-readability-formula.php

At this site there is an option to calculate the GFI for something you have written (copy, paste
and click). Or, you can calculate the GFI by the following steps.
Step 1. sample passage of at least 100 words
Step 2. divide total number of words in the sample by the number of sentences ... to get
average sentence length (ASL)
Step 3. count number of words of > 3 syllables that are NOT i) proper nouns, ii)
combinations of easy words or hyphenated words; or iii) two syllable verbs made
into three by adding -es or -ed to the ends
Step 4. divide the number from step 3 by the number of words in the sample to get PHW,
percent hard words
Step 5. add ASL (step 2) and PHW (step 4) and multiply by 0.4 (fog index =
0.4*(ASL+PHW)).
To appreciate the GFI, use the sample essay. What is the GFI? How could it have been
reduced?).

7. Now submit (upload) it -- do follow the directions about format and submission (to me and to
Turnitin.com).

Here are some of my favourite examples out of Strunk and White.

From page 18 (Active voice)


"4. Use the active voice. The active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive:
"I shall always remember my first visit to Boston." This is much better than "My first
visit to Boston will always be remembered by me." The latter sentence is less direct, less bold,
and less concise. If the writer tries to make it more concise by omitting "by me", my first visit to
Boston will always be remembered, it becomes less definite: is it the writer or some person
undisclosed or the world at large that will always remember the visit?”
This rule does not, of course, mean that the writer should entirely discard the passive
voice, which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary.
The habitual use of the active voice, however, makes for forcible writing. This is true not
only in the narrative concerned principally with action, but in writing of any kind. Many a tame
sentence of description or exposition can be made lively and emphatic by substituting a transitive
in the active voice for some such perfunctory expression.

There were a great number of Dead leaves covered the ground

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dead leaves lying on the ground.

At dawn the crowing of a rooster The cock's crow came with dawn.
could be heard.

The reason he left college was that Failing health compelled him to leave
his health became impaired. college.

It was not long before he was very He soon repented his words.
sorry that he had said what he had.

Note, in the examples above, that when a sentence is made stronger, it usually becomes shorter.
Thus, brevity is a by-product of vigor."

There is no reason to use the passive voice in any of your writing in this course. None.

Use the correct word


From page 53.
Nauseous. Nauseated. The first means "sickening to contemplate"; the second means "sick at
the stomach". Do not, therefore, say "I feel nauseous," unless you are sure that you have that
effect on others.

from page 40.


Among. Between. When more than two things or persons are involved, among is usually called
for: "When, money was divided among the four players." When, however, more than two are
involved but each is considered individually, between is preferred: "agreement between the six
heirs."

Some Relevant Readings.

Brigham, R.M. 2010. Talking the talk: giving oral presentations about mammals for colleaguse
and general audiences. Journal of Mammalogy, 91:285-292.

Chin, B.A. 2004. How to write a great research paper. John Wiley and Sons.

Clark, D. 1993. Is there a science to writing (particularly science writing) and, if not, why not?
The Leading Edge.

Gopen, G.D. and J.A. Swan. 1990. The science of scientific writing. American Scientist.
https://www.e-education.psu.edu/styleforstudents/c10_p1.html.

Gordon, K.E. 1993. The transitive vampire. Times Books.

Gwynne, N.M. 2012. Gwynne’s grammar. The ultimate introduction to grammar and the writing
of good English. Idler Books, London, England.

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Hall, G.M. 2003. How to write a paper. Third Edition. BMJ Books

Nature Physics. 2007. Elements of style. Nature Physics, 4:581.

Olton, D. 1979. Elements of style in science writing.

Pechenik, Jan A. 2013. A short guide to writing about biology (8th edition). Tufts University:
Harper Collins College Publishers.

Rodriguez, A.C. 2012. Teaching peers to talk to peers. Bioessays, 34:918-920.

Shewchuk, J. 1997. Three sins of authors in computer science and math.


http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~jrs/sins.html

Strunk, W. Jr. 1918. The elements of style.

Support Services

(S.12-126)
The Web sites for Registrarial Services (http://www.registrar.uwo.ca), and the same for affiliated
university colleges when appropriate, and any appropriate Student Support Services (including
the services provided by the USC listed here: http://westernusc.ca/services/) and the Student
Development Services, should be provided for easy access.
All course outlines should contain the following statement: “Students who are in
emotional/mental distress should refer to Mental Health@Western
http://www.uwo.ca/uwocom/mentalhealth/ for a complete list of options about how to obtain
help.”
Retention of Electronic Version of Course Outlines (Syllabi)
At the same time that course outlines/syllabi are posted on the appropriate Web site, each
Department must forward an electronic version of items 1-5 of each course outline (syllabus) to
the Office of the Dean of the Faculty or College. By the fourth week after the start of term, the
Dean’s Office will forward all of the collected outlines to Registrarial Services, where they will
be maintained in electronic form in the faculty/staff extranet for a minimum of ten years after the
completion of the course. (Final retention periods and disposition will be determined by the
relevant records retention and disposition schedule approved by the President's Advisory
Committee on University Records and Archives).

Citing Published Works and Web Sites

There is no single accepted format for citing published works. Indeed, journals requiring
the same details of citation are the exception rather than the rule. In this course, you must use the
citation format identified below.
You must cite published material in essays and use the format shown below. The purpose
of citing published works is twofold. First is communication, making it easy for someone else to
find the work(s) that you cite. Second is giving credit where it is due (to the author(s) who
reported the information). In this course, we will follow one common scientific mode of citing

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published works. This model makes it easy for anyone to find the cited material. Remember
there are many styles for citing published works, but please use the one described below for this
course.

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At the end of the paper, present the scientific names as well as the detailed citations in
alphabetical order by surname of first author. Use the following format. Journal papers must be
cited as follows (in each situation, the author(s) and initials are provided along with the date of
publication, the title, the publisher (for books) or journal with volume number and pagination):

Fenton, M.B. 2001. Bats, revised edition. Facts On File Inc., New York.
Frelich, L.E. and P.B. Reich. 1995. Neighborhood effects, disturbance, and succession in forests
of the western Great Lakes Region. Écoscience, 2:148-158.
Syme, D.M., M.B. Fenton, and J. Zigouris. 2001. Roosts and food supplies ameliorate the impact
of a bad summer on reproduction by the bat, Myotis lucifugus LeConte (Chiroptera :
Vespertilionidae). Écoscience, 8:18-25.
Tsoar, H. and J.T. Møller. 1986. The role of vegetation in the formation of linear sand dunes. Pp.
75-95. In W.G. Nickling (editor). Aeolian geomorphology. Allen and Unwin, Boston.

Note the different approaches used to cite single authors, two authors and more than two authors.
By the way, “et al.” should be written just like that. It is an abbreviation for the Latin, et alia
(literally, ‘and others’). Remember that you cannot change the order of authors on a publication
(for example to place the biologist you are writing about as the first author).

Chapters in books must be cited as follows:


Tsoar, H. and J.T. Møller. 1986. The role of vegetation in the formation of linear sand dunes. Pp.
75-95. In W.G. Nickling (editor). Aeolian geomorphology. Allen and Unwin, Boston.

Books must be cited thus:


Fenton, M.B. 2001. Bats, revised edition. Facts On File Inc., New York.

Internet sources (of general information) must be cited so that I can enter the cited information
and access the site.

Never use footnotes.


Never use direct quotations.
Please Follow the Directions
Submitting Material On Time
Material must be submitted on time. In the absence of an appropriate written
explanation (e.g., from a medical doctor), late essays or other material will not be
accepted and will receive a grade of "0".

Specific Details

Please keep the following guidelines in mind as you research and write Penalties
In the body of the essay

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★1) provide a word count for your essay (yes, "a", "the", "and", etc. count
as words). If your essay is outside the 490 to 510 words, you will -3 marks
lose 3 marks for not following the directions.
In the supplementary materials
★2) be sure to present common and scientific names. You must present -5 marks
all scientific names correctly (e.g., Myotis lucifugus). Failure
to follow this guideline will cost you 5 marks (out of 10). The
accepted abbreviation for a scientific name after you have presented
the whole name, is the first letter of the name of the genus capitalized
and followed by a period (e.g., M. lucifugus). Never write a scientific
name as “the Myotis lucifugus” – “the” is unnecessary.
★3) please cite the sources you use in preparing your essay. -5 marks
Provide the full bibliographic citations for them at the end of the
essay (as outlined in the models presented below).
★4) be sure to base your essays (2 – 9) on two papers published in scientific
Journals. No more than 3 citations per essay - 5 marks
★5) no direct quotations -10 marks
★6) no foot notes -10 marks
★7) be sure to upload your essay text to Turnitin.com.
If you do not… -10 marks
★8) calculate and show Gunning Fog Index.
If you do not ... -5 marks
★9) be sure to name your submitted essays so that I can find them. The - 10 marks
File should be called “yoursurnameinitialessayx”

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Related Interests