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Term Paper Directions

This assignment is designed to supplement the topics covered in class, by letting you study and present material related to a topic of your own choosing. This exercise will also give you some instruction and practice in scientific writing, and hopefully, will help you to improve your writing skills.

Due Dates for Spring 2014:

Feb 24: Sign up for your topic and oral presentation date.

March 10: The first draft of the term paper will be due by 3:35 p.m. There will be no credit for late papers.

April 14: Presentations/final paper start. Final papers due by 3:35 p.m. to your TA. There is a 10% per day penalty for late papers.

Getting Started:
Critical reading. Learning scientific writing begins with reading scientific papers. The papers in the readling list are good examples of well-written manuscripts. The first paper is a review article (Holt and Corey 2000); others are long or short research reports (e.g., Linkenhoker and Knudsen 2002). Notice the structure of each type of paper. As you read the papers, look closely at the abstract. The best abstracts start with a broad general statement, then say what was done (and why), and end with the result and conclusion.

Searching for more information. The path to more information on a particular topic often begins with a single recent paper. Focus on the Introduction and Discussion and then Xerox and read the key papers in the reference list. These key papers will lead you to more papers and, there you go...

You might want to look through recent issues of J. Neurosci. for that first paper.

Alternatively, if you know the topic or an author you can start with a general Medline search.

Even if you start by following a trail of references from a single paper, you will probably want to search narrowly-defined aspects of your topic, in order to make sure you have not missed anything important.

Abstract. All term papers should start with an Abstract or Summary. If you have "writer's block", you can get yourself going by using this simple recipe:

1. Say something general like: "Everybody knows that toads have warts."

2. Say why this is an issue: "However, no one knows how these warts develop."

3. Say what is to be done about this: "Wart binding assays assessed applicable antibodies."

4. State the result, conclusion and further implication: "It was observed that warts are ugly, even under florescence."

Introduction. The introduction section can also follow a formula (if you are stuck) or it can be more original. Paragraph 1 usually says something general. Paragraph 2 says what has been done in the past, or lists the established facts on this issue. Paragraph 3 is your problem statement: What is the main issue to be resolved by the research? It is crucial to have a clear and concise problem statement. The final paragraph of the Introduction often previews the results of a research report, or forecasts the organization of a review article.

You may choose to write your term paper in the form of A) a research report, or B) a review article. In either case you will find plenty of examples to follow in the reading list.

Plan A: research report. Sections following the Abstract and Introduction are Methods, Results, and Discussion. Whereas most research reports describe only one study, in your term paper, you should combine and synthesize the methods and results of several previous studies in each of these sections.

Plan B: review article. Sections following the Abstract and Introduction are on particular topics and are given short descriptive subtitles (e.g.Toads with Big Warts; Toads with Blue Warts, etc.). The paper must conclude with a section entitled Conclusions, Future Directions, Implications, or something else intended to bring the issues together.

References. All term papers must end with a reference list. Use J. Neurosci. format. The reference list need not be exhaustive; 3-13 papers seems about right. You should read every paper that you list. Each of these papers should be cited in the text of your term paper. It is essential that all work and ideas mentioned in your term paper, be clearly credited to the source. Again, use J. Neurosci. format for citing previous publications in the body of your term paper.

Plagiarism. It is essential that all work and ideas mentioned in your term paper be clearly credited to the source. If you explain another author's work or ideas in your own words, you must cite the author and publication year (usually in parentheses at the end of your sentence). If you use more than 3-4 consecutive words from another author's paper, these words must be placed in quotation marks, and credited to the author. Any term paper that violates these rules will receive the score of zero (0 points). For questions about plagiarism and plagiarism policies, the University's Center for Writing has set up a web site.

Figures. You can reproduce Figures from the papers on your reference list, as long as they are clearly identified as such. Include a Figure Legend of your own stating the main point and the source of each Figure (you may or may not wish to also include the authors' legend). One to five Figures would be appropriate. It might be nice to come up with an original chart, table or diagram, to help synthesize what you have learned.

Length Requirements:

Oral presentation. To accommodate all students and leave time for discussion we will set a limit of 10 minutes. Most students use an overhead projector to present the main point of their paper. It would be appropriate to present just the Abstract and a few Figures reproduced from your main References.

First draft. The first draft should contain all of the major sections of the paper and at least half of the Figures and References. It should be at least 4-6 pages, double-spaced, in 12 pt. font (not counting the Figures or References).

Final term paper. This must be at least 10 pages long, double-spaced, in 12 pt. font (not counting the Figures or References). It is expected that the final product will be "polished", i.e., devoid of flaws in grammar and logic.

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