Cover Letter (send by e-mail)
Submitted to Editor of Journal of Ecological Research: Dr. Douglas S. Glazier, Department of Biology, Juniata College, Huntingdon, PA 16652 (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Format and Method of Submission of Manuscript
- Send by Microsoft Word attachment in your cover letter e-mail message
- Use "Times New Roman" font throughout.
- Title of paper should be in 16 font and in bold capital letters. It should be centered at top of first page.
- After a triple space give authors' names (e.g., James H. Econut, Mary L. Nature and Theodore Treehugger) in size 12 font and in normal letters. Center the names together.
- After a triple space begin text of paper. Titles of each section (i.e., INTRODUCTION, METHODS AND MATERIALS, RESULTS, etc.) should be size 12 font, capitalized throughout and centered. Text within sections should be size10 font and single-spaced. Sections should be separated by double-spaces.
- Use digits for numbers (e.g., 7 and 45) unless the number is the first word of a sentence, where it is spelled out. Use symbols or abbreviations (e.g., % and kg) for measurement units that follow a number unless the number is indefinite (thousands of hectares), is a "0" (zero) standing alone, or is the first word. In such cases spell out the number and unit name or recast the sentence. Spell out numbers used as pronouns (i.e. one) or adverbs and ordinal numbers (e.g., first and second). Do not use naked decimals (i.e., use 0.05, not .05).
- Do not underline or italicize numbers, Greek letters, names of trigonometric and transcendental functions, or certain statistical terms (e.g., ln, e, exp, max, min, lim, SD, SE, CV, and df).
- Do not capitalize common names of species except words that are proper names (e.g., Canada goose [Branta canadensis], Swainson's hawk [Buteo swainsoni], versus white-tailed deer [Odocoileus virginianus]).
- When citing literature write the name and then the year without a comma: (Rotella
1992). Place comas between articles cited in conjunction or between years indicating
different articles of the same author: (Barr 1986, Heinz 1976, 1979, Scheuhammer and
Blancher 1994, Tejning 1967). List articles alphabetically in this instance.
ABSTRACT (size 11 font, double indented)
A terse summary of your results and their implications. Identify the problem or hypothesis and explain why it was important. The abstract should be centered in block print with margins one inch wider than the rest of the document on either side.
Space one line between the abstract and the keywords. Provide a list of up to five keywords. These words could be common/scientific names of the organisms or ecosystems you studied, or specific things (e.g., populations, vernal ponds, body size, etc.), processes (e.g., succession, pollution, competition, etc.) or concepts examined (e.g., Bergmann's Rule, Competitive Exclusion Principle, etc.) in your paper. They should be listed alphabetically and within the same margins as the abstract. After this section space one line and then type a solid line from the left to right full margins. Begin the text with full margins below this line.
What is the question(s) you are asking? What hypotheses are being tested? Why is it worthwhile to test these hypotheses? What organism or system are you studying? Give appropriate background information (i.e., what is already known about the subject?). Best way to organize this section is to proceed from the "general" to "specific". Your job here is to orient the reader to what your paper is about and to explain why it is interesting.
This section is sometimes included in ecological papers. Briefly describe the environment of your study site. Include physical, chemical, and biotic aspects. It may be included in the Methods and Materials section.
METHODS AND MATERIALS
Describe the methods and materials you used to obtain your results (test your hypotheses) in sufficient detail that someone else could repeat your research. Be sure to describe sampling (experimental) design and statistical procedures used. Use the past tense throughout.
What did you find? Illustrate with figures and/or tables (include titles for tables
and legends for figures: see following example from the journal Ecology). Insert tables and figures in text. Be sure to describe all tables and figures verbally
in the text. Be sure to give units of measurement, sample sizes, and the results of
your statistical tests (e.g., for t-tests include the t value and its probability; for correlation tests include r value and its probability; etc.). In this section you should only describe your findings without explanation or interpretation.
Both Tables and Figures should be numbered independently (i.e. your paper will have
both a Table1. and a Fig. 1.). Tables are labeled above and figures below. Labels
should be able to describe the table or figure in such a way that you can understand
the table without having to read any of the paper. Include year of data collection
and general location (i.e., Pennsylvania). Construct tables for column-width printing;
do not exceed the normal margins of the paper.
What do your results mean? What do you conclude from your results? Did anything unexpected happen. Explain why. What further research could be done to clarify your findings? Compare your results with those in the literature.
Acknowledge anyone outside of your group who helped you with your project.
All published work cited in your paper. Follow the format of Ecology. Examples follow:
For a book-
Niklas, K.J. 1994. Plant allometry. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
For a journal article-
Bowers, M.A. and J.H. Brown. 1992. Body size and co-existence in desert rodents: chance or community structure. Ecology 63: 391-400.
For a book chapter-
Lawton, J.H. 1987. Are there assembly rules for successional communities? Pages 225-244 in A.J. Gray, M.J. Crawley and P.J. Edwards, editors. Colonization, succession and stability. Blackwell Scientific, Oxford, England.
Be sure to double-space between references. It is important that you follow the above
format exactly. Editors of scientific journals expect that submitted papers follow
precisely the guidelines of the journal. This ensures consistency and high quality
of all papers published in the journal.
Some additional hints on how to write an effective research paper
- Write like "real scientists", not like students doing a laboratory exercise.
- Write in the first person, not passive third person. You avoid a lot of awkward sentences this way.
- Each section of your paper (especially the Abstract, Introduction and Discussion) should begin by giving the reader perspective on what major subject area(s) you will be covering. A good rule to follow is "to go from the general to the specific." This is especially appropriate for the Introduction. First tell the reader what major topic you will be writing about. The first few lines of your paper should be orientational: give background on the nature of the phenomenon you are investigation and what is already known about it. Then explain to the reader the purpose of your study and why you feel it is needed. In other words, "why should the reader bother to read your paper?" Then explain to the reader the specifics of what you were trying to find out. What specific hypotheses did you test? Why did you use the specific organism or field sites you did to test these hypotheses? Were the especially advantageous for examining the question you posed?
- Writing a good introduction is live giving a person effective directions in finding a place. First it is best to tell a person generally where they will be going (like what country or state) before telling them specifically where they will be going (like what street signs and house numbers to look for.
- Make sure your Abstract and Discussion sections end with some general conclusions. What is the take-home message(s) of your paper?
- When describing the results of your statistical tests be sure to say which results are significant (P<0.05) or not. "To be significant or not to be significant," that is the question!
- Don't say you have "proved" or not proved something. It is impossible to prove anything in science. Scientists are limited to making probabilistic statements. This is why statistics is so important in science. This is why a probability value is attached to scientific tests.
- In the text of you paper cite references as Author (year); e.g., Darwin (1859).
A final note: learning to write is like learning to drive a car. You have to do it and then get feedback from the results (the consequences of your actions) or from your instructor. Eventually you develop an internal compass that allows you to judge accurately whether you are writing well or not.