GEOS 4350: Sedimentation and Stratigraphy

GEOS 4350: Sedimentation and Stratigraphy

GEOS 4350: Sedimentation and Stratigraphy

Writing Assignment 5 (WA5): Research Paper

Due: Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020 (11:59 pm)

50 points


Project Description

You are being asked to write a short research paper. The topic is up to you, but it should focus on some aspect of sedimentary geology. The purpose of this research paper assignment is twofold. First, writing a scientific research paper will give you a chance to explore a specific topic in more depth than we were able to in the course. Secondly, it will offer an opportunity to experience and learn more about the process of technical writing. A research paper typically involves several stages: defining a topic, conducting research on the topic, collecting evidence, analyzing and synthesizing the evidence, building a coherent argument, and communicating your argument for a general audience clearly and concisely. The goal of this paper is to educate me about something that you’ve learned.

A research paper generally aims to answer a research question. Research questions can be fairly broad, such as what is dolomitization? Research question can also be more specific, such as how does temperature impact the rate of dolomitization? The important point here is that your research question should probe some aspect of nature. More specifically, the research paper should explain natural phenomena, i.e. the where, when, why, how or even what/who. Your task in this assignment is to: (i) develop a research question, (ii) search for, and collect, relevant scientific (verifiable) evidence from the scientific literature that can be used to evaluate the research question/hypothesis, and (iii) write a short (4 pages max.) technical research paper that clearly communicates your findings. The aim of your paper is to evaluate the data collected such that you can make a convincing point (i.e. teach the reader something).

So what exactly is a research paper? Well, a research paper can take several different forms, but the common characteristics are the posing and discussing a central question based on “library” research. One type of paper takes a broad look at a particular question, laying out all of the issues related to that question. Another paper might focus on comparing and contrasting specific examples (e.g., case studies) to derive a conclusion about how nature works. Whatever form your term paper takes, it should make a compelling point; it should present a very specific claim that uses scientific evidence to make a convincing conclusion. Regardless of the type of research paper that you chose to write, your primary objective is to inform/educate the reader. Your reader/audience for this particular assignment is your professor. Please don’t assume expert technical knowledge about your specific topic, however. Be prepared to explain your points clearly and logically. Writing that leaves important logical jumps up to the reader to figure out is confusing and frustrating. Don’t leave it up to the reader to connect the dots. This is a dangerous approach in technical writing. Your goal is to clearly communicate to the reader what you learned.

The Writing Process

Through this process you will learn not only from your research and reading, but more importantly from the thinking you do while writing your paper. In my opinion, writing is thinking! It is only through the writing process that you will really develop an understanding about your topic. Perhaps more importantly, what understanding you lack. Your science is only as good as your writing. The process of writing a thoughtful, well-crafted research paper is difficult, but it isn’t impossible. According to Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “If you want to be a good writer, you are not going to become one by always going to the movies and eating bonbons. You have to sit down and write, which can be very frustrating, and yet without that you would not get that good result.”

To find a topic that interests you, I suggest that you open up your textbook, review your class notes, do a few internet searches, and see what you come up with. Find something interesting, and specific enough that it’s manageable, but not so specific that you can’t find enough information and data.

Grading Criteria & Expectations

“Hard writing makes easy reading. Easy writing makes hard reading.”

– William Zinsser (author of “On Writing Well”)

The primary goal of your research paper is to inform an audience about a specific topic. Here are a few other objectives:

Your writing should be organized. Don’t leave it up to the reader to organize your thoughts for you. Lead them through your writing logically by keeping it well organized. Starting with an outline to help organize your paragraphs and sentences is a smart idea. Your goal is to have your paper follow the guidelines for scientific writing. This means that your paper should be organized according to the scientific paper outline. You should have an informative title, an introduction section that introduce key information and states the research question, a results section that presents and objectively describes the observations (data) that you’ve collected, a discussion section that presents your interpretation of the data and their implications, and a conclusion section that summarizes the key data and findings. Please refer to the Scientific Paper document on eLearning.

Your writing should be accurate and thorough. The accuracy and depth of research is the basis for writing a good scientific paper. The quality of data sets the stage for the merit of the argument. In fact, they are really two sides of the same coin. What this means is that it is nearly impossible to write a good paper with a logical and sound argument if the data are unconvincing. In general, I will be looking for a clearly defined hypothesis (claim), identification of the key outcomes raised by this claim (i.e. importance, relevance, and implications), effective use of evidence and examples, and a logical, evidence-based conclusion.

Your writing should be clear and precise. Clarity of the writing deals more with how effectively you present your words, paragraphs, and figures. That is, the clarity of language – your words, how they are used and arranged – is immensely important. Keep it simple! Don’t try to razzle dazzle the reader with long sentences! The most important goal of scientific writing is to inform, not impress. To teach the reader about your topic, you need to keep the writing clear, concise, and simple. Good writing serves the audience, not the writer. Precision of the writing deals with being specific, saying exactly what you mean, and choosing the correct words.

Your writing should make use of illustrations. You know what they say: “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Using illustrations (tables, figures, photos, diagrams, graphs, etc.) is a great way to support your claims. It is equally important that the illustrations are of high quality (avoid poor reproductions) and that the text and illustrations mesh well together. Don’t leave it up to the reader to decode your illustrations. Also, don’t leave them wondering why a particular illustration was included. Make it obvious by citing the figure where needed.

Your writing should make use of citations. Like on all written assignment, I expect you to include appropriate citations, following one of the standard citation formats (mimic what is used in the papers you read). Lots of useful websites are available to help students determine when citations are appropriate and to avoid the accidental plagiarism (for example, this site at UCD: The general rule is that citations should be provided in two cases: 1. for the original sources of information that the reader might want to check or confirm herself (e.g., data, key facts, figures, etc.), and 2. for the original sources of ideas that are not the author’s own. These rules are intended to protect the author from plagiarism and falsification charges but also to ensure that the author’s own ideas are clearly distinguished so that the author receives proper credit and recognition. The importance of using citations (references) cannot be overstated!

Your writing should show me what you’ve learned about scientific writing.  You received a lot of feedback from your instructors on writing, homework, and laboratory assignments this semester. Put these comments to good use to craft a nice research paper. Try to impress me with your writing.

Term Paper Evaluation Rubric