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A Guide for preparing Papers and research reports

This is a guide for term papers, research reports, and other scientific and technical writing assignments. Why not print it out now for future reference?  NOTE: While it should be acceptable for most purposes, your instructor may have specific requirements for a given assignment, and those requirements will always take preference over the this guide. 

STRUCTURE OF THE PAPER........mosquito200.gif (6838 bytes)

A well-written paper will present your argument clearly and accurately.

The introduction will indicate what you intend to present and why, and will include a review of the literature to date. This literature review should NOT be a series of single paragraphs, each summarizing one previous work. Instead, it should demonstrate to the reader the current state of knowledge about the topic. (Note that you must have done your homework in order to write the review!) You need to identify and compare opposing schools of thought, discuss the development of knowledge and arguments, and especially identify the weaknesses and uncertainties. The natural "conclusion" of the literature review is your research question (RQ), sometimes expressed as an hypothesis.  The entire paper should address the RQ as proposed, and will thereby contribute to the current understanding of the subject.  

The "Methods" section should contain all the technical, procedural, and analytical details needed for another researcher to replicate your study.

The "Results" are often presented separately from the "Discussion" section, although in some cases, for instance in an epidemiological survey, a combined "Results and Discussion" section is clearer for the reader. Note that 'raw' data (such as original observations) rarely belong in a "Results" section; some degree of analysis should normally have taken place to clarify and consolidate. If you think the reader might benefit from a table of raw data, consider including it as an appendix. The "Discussion" should examine and interpret the results in the light of the original study question, and these results should also be compared with the findings of previous papers which should have been introduced in the literature review. Do not hesitate to discuss weaknesses in your paper - whether procedural, analytical, a design flaw, or unforeseen limitations with access to data. Be self-critical. Most readers are generally willing to accept such admissions on face value;  few readers, however, will tolerate any suspicion of cover-up, falsification, or deliberate omission of important results.   At the very least, the reader and the world want to be aware of potential pitfalls, and to be cautioned about interpreting results.

Write the "Abstract" after the paper is complete (in draft form). It should summarize what appears in the text, and should be helpful in allowing the reader to gain a good image of the research question, the process, and the results. Avoid abstracts which tease the reader into having to read the full paper to find the results.

ORGANISATION OF THE PAPER .......... Carefully labelled sections, chapters, headings and sub-headings will benefit both the reader and the writer of the paper.  As the very first step, try setting out what the "contents page" of the final paper will look like. Show the hierarchy of all proposed headings and sub-headings. When you are satisfied that all relevant parts of the subject are reflected and in the right sequence, avoiding extraneous material and repetition, you will have the skeleton for the developing paper.  
PRESENTATION........  Unless your instructor requires the work to be presented in a particular way, use the following as an always-acceptable guide: Paper should be standard letter sized, white bond, with vertical configuration (except for necessary maps, charts, or tables). Bind using a single staple at the top left corner or use a 19-hole punch with plastic comb binding ONLY. Avoid card or plastic covers, 3-ring binders, Duo-Tang, or any other device likely to impede access and annoy the instructor. Font should be 12-point, with Times Roman or Arial/Univers preferred. Avoid using decorative or display fonts for other than the title and main section headings. One-inch (2.5cm) margins, and no more than 1.5 line spacing to keep the text together.

Number the pages right from the first draft. That way the reader (including you) will be able to refer to specific places in the text that need changing.   In academic work, the front pages (the abstract, contents, all the lists and acknowledgements) are often in Roman numerals (i), (ii), etc., while the "Arabic" numerals (1,2,3 etc.) begin on page 1.

REFERENCING . . .     You need to document any fact, idea, conclusion, opinion, data, or other information arising directly from the work of an individual or organization so that any reader can retrieve and verify that information. 

Direct word-for-word quotes must be shown in quotation marks, with the source given, and if the quote is more than three lines or so, you should indent that passage, and single-space the lines. Italics are generally required for direct quotes. 

Facts, ideas, principles, and findings must also be attributed to their author or source, even if paraphrased (not in the original words). Do NOT use quotation marks for this, but show the source either following the mention in the text, or if the whole paragraph is considering it, show the source immediately following that paragraph.  This applies to charts, photographs, tables, diagrams and other illustrations, and also to information that you have taken from spoken or broadcast sources.

You do NOT need to document opinions which are clearly your own, or common knowledge, with which your readers should already be familiar. For example, the assertion that . . . large cities have been subject to air pollution since the industrial revolution . . . Is considered common knowledge, and would not require a specific reference.

The failure to attribute material to its correct source (plagiarism) is very serious, and carries severe penalties. Plagiarism can apply to a sentence as well as to the entire work.

Each discipline has traditionally claimed its preferred style of referencing. The in-text style recommended here is author-year, in which the author=s surname (without initials, Dr., Prof., or other forms of address) and the year of publication, are shown in parentheses at the appropriate place in the text. The following are specific cases and examples of in-text citation using author-year style....


In-Text citation: examples.............

Single author:  When the author is named in the text, the year can be shown separately. Otherwise the name and year are shown together:

. . . Pogson=s (1990) principle has now been challenged (Davis 2005) . . .

Single author with more than one publication in the same year:     Show the separate publications by means of a,b, etc. after the year:

. . . The first reference to this effect was made by Philips (1998a:137), and within six months several others followed (Philips, 1998b:43; Jones, 1998:212)

Multiple Authors:  When a work has two or three authors, mention all the names. For a citation with more than three names, mention the first, followed by A et al.@ (in italics and without a period after A et@ , but with a period after al.)

. . . This work (Zahorsky et al., 1996) confirmed an earlier finding (Fuehauf, Zamm, & Friml, 1972) . . .

Two or more works by different authors:   List in alphabetical order, together with the years of publication, and separated by semi-colons:

. . . Attempts were made to    isolate the organism (Todd, 1993; Wylie, 1987; Ziltch, 1992)...

Several references to the same work        These can be distinguished by adding the page numbers following the year and a colon:

. . . which the author described as a 27 nm particle (Wilm, 1980:342) . . .

A work authored by an agency or institution:   A first citation would read:

Subsequent references may use the abbreviation provided that the reader is not left in doubt:


(Medical Research Council [MRC]. 1992) .


. . . Plans to replicate the controversial study have been announced (MRC, 1999).

Anonymous works

Show the word 'anonymous' and the year (to appear under 'A' in the reference list):


. . . In a guide to water safety (Anonymous 1991) . . .

Statutes and other legal materials

These are treated as references to works without authors. Cite the first few words of the reference and the year. Note that court cases cited in the text are underscored.

. . . provision for this has been made elsewhere (Ontario Regulation 243/84) . . .

. . . (Libis v. Hrycyna, 1988)

Personal communication

Information conveyed through conversations, letters, memos, etc, does not represent data, and should not be included in your reference list. It can be included in the text showing the communicator's name and date when the communication took place, OR as an explanatory footnote:

. . . the information had been received two days before (K Pivnic, personal communication, April 10, 1998) . . .

Footnotes     Footnotes represent a valuable opportunity to provide further depth or to discuss other relevant points. Try to keep them always on the same page that carries the topic.

Bibliography     In addition to the reference list, some publications in the social sciences or humanities contain a separate bibliography of publications having relevance to the topic but not necessarily the source of specific references. A separate bibliography is not generally found or encouraged in science, health science, or technology papers.

Reference list    The complete list of references should be shown at the end of the paper, arranged in alphabetical order.  The following are examples of references modelled after the Vancouver Style, a format agreed upon by a number of biomedical journals at a conference in Vancouver in 1978.   Note that the title of the book or periodical is shown in italics (previously underscored), while the chapter name or the title of the paper within a journal is not.   Note also the punctuation and sequence of information. 

At the back of the paper in the Reference list - examples...........

Books with one or several authors:


Pogson TF. Demography in Health Planning. London. Oxford Univ. Press. 1985;223.


Fruehauf ED, Friml P, & Schmidt W. Culture and Disease. Toronto, McGraw-Hill, 1970; 152-154

Organization as an author:

Medical Research Council (Canada). Investigating Outbreaks.

Ottawa, Flegon Press, 1992; 25-31

Edited book:

Friedman RJ, & Katz MM, (Eds.). The Psychology of Depression:

Contemporary Theory and Practice. New York. Wiley, 1984;34.


Watson SW, Crum Q, & Spigot H. Orthogonal polynomial regression

models applied to urinary incontinence. J Environmental Health, 1990;31(3):101-115.

Anonymous author:

Anonymous. Well Disinfection. Toronto, Selby Publications, 1997.

Editorial. New Scientist, 2000; 42(9):6

Statutes, etc.:

Ontario Regulation 243/94. Toronto, Queens Printer for Ontario, 1988; s.12


Schrader-Freschette K. CBC Television program The Nature of Things.

Broadcast 2 Oct. 1997. Toronto

A second publication by the author in the same year

Murray PG. Omphaloscepsis. Toronto. Oxford Univ Press. 1998a; 151.

Murray PG. Omphaloscepsis revisited. Toronto. Oxford Univ. Press. 1998b; 64.

A paper cited within another publication

Farnsworth M. The biology of the flea. London. Plenum Press. 1954:124; cited

by Cooper T. Parasitology. New York. Howlett Press. 1997; 202.

A paper included in a collection or as a chapter in a book:


Swift G. Blood lead levels in Toronto children. 1997. In: Chester D, & Löffler A. Children=s

Health in Ontario: A Review. Toronto. McGraw Hill Press. 1999; 122-45.

Referencing sources from the World Wide Web.     As a rule, use www sources of the same type and credibility that you would use in printed references. The most desirable would be refereed works, or information from recognized institutions.  At all costs avoid using unknown personal opinions, or Akitchen-table@ sites, unless it is your purpose to demonstrate this material

A uniform resource locator (URL), by itself, is not acceptable as an entry in a reference list. The reference should begin with the author, institution, date, place, etc. The URL then becomes simply the electronic address of this source. Always record the date you found the source.  e.g.:

Silverman FW, Harvard Dental Review, 1997. <> Accessed 1998 Jun 18



Periods indicating initials and abbreviated credentials are no longer required.

op.cit, loc.cit, ibid. These are Latin abbreviations indicating, respectively, Awork already cited@, Alocation already cited@, and Athe last work cited@. They are now rarely used.

The page number is included for all book references unless the reference is made to the entire work, not to a specific passage or item. For journal articles or short pamphlets, the range of pages is sufficient. The abbreviations p, pp, and pg are no longer required.