The following points apply to all 283 and 286 research reports, as well as Honors theses, unless stated otherwise.
Title page: should include the project title, the student's name, the words "Honors Thesis" or "Research Report", the month and year, the department and university names, and the name of the research advisor. The research advisor is a faculty member; if some other member of the laboratory, such as a research associate, was the effective advisor, he or she should certainly be thanked in an Acknowledgements section, but should not appear on the title page. Example:
The Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectra of Polypeptides in the Helical Configuration
Department of Biological Sciences
Research Advisor: Dr Mary Jones
These are not required, but are often included, and they are certainly a nice idea. If included in a thesis, they should be on a page of their own, after the abstract and before the table of contents. In research reports for 283 and 286, they should be at the end of the main text, before the reference list. Keep them brief and to the point; this gives them more impact. Note that if Mary Jones has a doctorate, she may be referred to as Dr. Mary Jones or as Mary Jones, Ph.D. (or M.D. or D.Phil.), but not as Dr. Mary Jones, Ph.D. Informal acknowledgements (I would like to thank Mary for ..." are also acceptable, if you feel they are appropriate.
Abstract and Table of Contents:
required for theses (abstract must not exceed 100 words); not required for 283 and 286 research reports.
Whatever else it may contain, an introduction should always include three elements:
a general overview of the system or topic under study, in terms that are understandable to a well-read scientist in some field outside that of the thesis
background to the work described in the thesis or report, including its significance; again, the reader is assumed to be from outside the field
a very brief summary of the work described in the thesis or report
A summary of previous work on this project by the student (for example, in a directed or independent research project) and, if relevant, work done by others in the same laboratory, should also be included in the Introduction. Details are not required.
The title page should not be numbered, and the next page (the abstract) should be numbered 2. Ideally, numbers should be centered at the bottom of each page. These are recommendations, not requirements, because I do not want students to waste valuable time trying to change the numbering convention in their word processing programs. The only numbering requirement is that all pages must be numbered.
Fonts and formats:
Use a 12-point serif font such as Times New Roman, Times, New Century Schoolbook, or New York. Times New Roman gives an excellent density of characters on the page. Sans-serif fonts such as Ariel and Helvetica are effective as labels (but not as captions) in figures, but these fonts are difficult to read in the body of the text. If you vary fonts and styles (such as boldface), do so extremely sparingly (but note that italics should be used under certain circumstances, see below). Do not divide ordinary text pages into columns. Use an inch margin on all sides.
Text, including Materials and Methods sections, should be double-spaced. Figure captions and reference lists may be single spaced.
Figures and Tables:
should be numbered and inserted into the text, with their captions. A figure should appear as soon as possible after the first reference to it. They should not be grouped at the end of chapters or at the end of the thesis or report. They may be incorporated in the text pages, or on separate pages. If space allows, each caption should be on the same page as the corresponding figure or table.
If a figure or table is taken from another person's work, it should be acknowledged as the last sentence in the figure caption: "From Smith & Jones, 1998" or "Courtesy of Mary Wang".
Period covered by the report:
For theses, describe the whole Honors project, not just the last semester. If you began the project before your senior year, you should very briefly note in your Introduction how far the project had progressed when you began your formal Honors work. Although you are not normally expected to describe the details of your earlier work, you should not assume that your readers are familiar with those details. If the reader needs to know about the previous work in order to understand the Honors part of the project, a brief explanation is appropriate. For research reports for 283 or 286 in which the work is the continuation of earlier research, summarize the earlier work in the Introduction.
References should be given in the text by author (use the form "et al." for references with more than two authors), and listed alphabetically at the end of the thesis, in the style of Journal of Molecular Biology, Journal of Cell Biology, Evolution, or similar. The title page should not be numbere
The reference list should include all authors (unless there are more than 20, in which case you may use et al. after the first author, even in the reference list), titles, and beginning and ending page numbers.
Some common errors:
The phrase "et al."
as in "followed the procedure described by Smith et al.
(1989)" is not normally followed by a comma, and has a period after al, but not after et. The comma is, however, used in the form "followed an established procedure (Smith et al.
, 1989)", when the whole reference is in parentheses. Like all non-English words inserted into an English sentence, the words should be in italics, or underlined. (Underlining is a recognized equivalent of italics.)
The phrase "Smith et al. (1989)" refers to the people, not the paper. The paper has its own title, not usually quoted in the body of the text. For this reason, it is correct to say "was described by Smith et al. (1989)", but not "was described in Smith et al. (1989)". Perhaps an exception might occur if Smith et al. were forced to eat their words.
Et al. is not normally used without a year. "Smith et al. (1989) showed ..." is correct. "Smith et al. showed ... (1989)" is not. "Smith et al. also found ..." is incorrect; it should be replaced either by "Smith et al. (1989) also found ..." or "Smith and his colleagues also found ...". But beware of this last construction; it is very easy to ascribe the leadership of a group to the wrong person this way!
Note the different meanings of "affect" and "effect".
The word "data" is plural. The singular (almost never required) is "datum". Refer, for example, to "these data", not "this data". The same applies to "media" and "criteria", but in these two cases, the singular forms ("medium" and "criterion") are often required.
Do not use apparently technical terms where plain English is clear and unambiguous. For example, "determined via
SDS-PAGE" should not be used; "determined by SDS-PAGE" is clearer and therefore better. The reader should not have to pause unnecessarily, even for a fraction of a second, to wonder what you are talking about. The reader should never
be expected to pause to admire your command of jargon, Latin, or other superfluous forms of language. Latin words and phrases are often very useful (see "et al."
, above), but should not be used when they do not improve precision or clarity. If jargon is really necessary (which I doubt), its meaning should be defined at its first appearance.
Avoid ambiguities. For example, "was dialyzed against three changes of phosphate buffer, pH 7.0 ...". What is a "change"? Was the solution dialyzed three times agains a given volume of buffer, or was the buffer actually changed three times (for a total of four volumes)? "... for 1 day." Was it dialyzed for 1 day total or for three (or four!) days total?
Distinguish between primes (as in 5') and single quotes (apostrophes). Most word processing applications automatically change primes to quotes ("smart quotes", but not smart enough!), but this change can be undone.
The letter "u" is not an abbreviation for "micro" (as in "um" or "ul"). This is a leftover convention from the days before computers, when Greek letters were difficult to print. Use the Greek letter mu (µ) as in "µm" or "µl".
Results: these are often contained in figures. But remember, figures are often highly technical. Results should be clearly stated in the text (if appropriate, including a reference to figures or tables), and easy for the cursory reader to find.