After all the hard work you've put into researching and writing, spending extra time formatting your paper might not seem all that necessary. Things like citations, margins, and spacing don't seem nearly that important compared to what's actually in your paper, and sorting through the dozens of citations styles and formatting rules can be an irritating task. But as annoying as they may be, those formatting guidelines are an important part of turning in a complete research paper: your professor will notice if you've paid attention to the details, and if you plan to publish in the future than these rules are a must.
Council of Science Editors (CSE)/Council of Biology Editors (CBE)
The Council for Science Editors (CSE) is a trade organization for editorial professionals working in the sciences. They publish Scientific Style and Format: The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers which is the style guide used by many working in biology. (The organization was started in 1957 as the Council of Biological Editors, CBE, which is why the style is sometimes referred to as CBE.) There are a number of other styles used in the natural sciences, particularly in medicine, so if you're working on a paper for one of these classes make sure to check with your teacher about which style guide to use.
Here are the basics you need to know for formatting your paper:
Margins. Use 1" margins on all four sides of the page.
Indentation. Indent the start of a paragraph 1/2 inch from the left margin; indent block quotations 1/2 inch as well. The reference page should use a hanging indent, meaning all lines of a bibliographic entry after the first are indented 1/2 inch.
Font. The CSE style manual does not require any specific font, but in general it's a good idea to use an easily readable font like 12-point Times New Roman or Arial.
Page numbers. Number pages consecutively in the upper right-hand corner starting with the number two on the page immediately following the title page.
Spacing. Double space the entire paper including the References page and block quotes.
Title page. The title page should include the title of paper centered on the page, your name centered three quarters of the way down the page, and the class, professor's name, and date centered at the bottom. The title page should not include a header or page number.
Running heads. A shortened version of the title should be included in the header immediately before the page number in the upper right corner starting on the page after the title page (which should be numbered as page 2).
Common Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation Issues
In general, numerals should be used for all numbers except zero and one, which should be spelled out. Words should only be used for:
numbers that start a sentence ("Eighty-six students participated in the study.")
fractions less than one (two-thirds, three-quarters)
single-digit ordinal (seventh, third).
Main headings (abstract, introduction, methods, etc.) should be centered and in all caps. Headings should be double-spaced with the rest of the paper. The CSE manual encourages the use of subheadings to separate ideas within sections. Subheadings should be centered, in italics, and in sentence case (meaning only the first letter of the subheading is capitalized).
The CSE manual requires the use of the serial comma (the comma that comes before the conjunction in a series, for example "We need to buy bread, milk, and butter.").
Foreign words that are not commonly used in English should be italicized.
Research papers formatting using the CSE manual should include sections with the following titles: Abstract, Introduction, Methods (or Materials and Methods), Results, Discussion, References (or Cited References). The paper can have subheadings within each of these sections, but these six should be the only main headings. There's no standardized headings for papers that are not presenting the results of original research.
Tables and Figures
Tables and figures should be placed either at the top or bottom of the page as close as possible to where they are mentioned in the text. They should be labeled in sequentially in two separate groups (meaning the first table is labeled Table 1, the second Table 2, etc. and the first figure is labeled Figure 1, the second Figure 2, etc.). References to figures should be in parenthesis, and the word figures can be listed whole or abbreviated as fig (e.g., see Figure 1; Fig. 4). The sources for figures should be given in the figure description and not as a citation. Tables should be given a short title, with the number and title listed above the table. Figures should include a description given below the figure.
The CSE manual lets you choose between two different citation styles: citation-sequence and name-year.
When using the citation-sequence style, sources are cited by including a number either in superscript or parenthesis after the cited material. Numbers should be listed in order starting with one, with each number referring to the corresponding entry on the References page.
A paragraph in the citation-sequence style would look like this:
Several species have been found to rely on S. alternaflora for food, including Snow Geese1 and several kinds of snails.2,3S. alternaflora is also important for building a strong marsh ecosystem. It traps sediment and debris, gradually building embankments where other species, such as mussels, will settle.4 In hybridized form, S. alternaflora can become invasive.3
Note that more than one reference can be included together, and that when a work is referred to after it's already been cited, it should be cited with the same number as was listed earlier.
The References page will list all the bibliographic information for your sources. Entries should be numbered to correspond with the numbers cited in the text. Examples of entries from several common types of sources are below. When the source is quoted directly in the text, the page number is added to the end of the entry.
Book with one author
1. Lopez, AC. Plants of the northern shore. New York (NY): Random House; 1956.
*Note: Only the first word of book and article titles should be capitalized.
Book with two authors
2. Walken, SK, Underwood, JP. American songbirds. New York (NY): Nature Publishers; 1997.
Chapter in a book
3. Xee, QI. The history of wetland rehabilitation. In: Reckets, JA, Erond, ST, editors. How to rebuild a wetland. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press; 2005.
Book read online/ebook
4. Walken, SK, Underwood, JP. American songbirds. [Internet]. New York: Nature Publishers; 1997. [cited 2013 Jan 25]. Available from: http://naturepublishers.com/americansongbirds.
5. Wojnick, BL, Appleshaw, KR. Effect of industrial pollution on wetlands. Ecol Envir. 2001;16(2): 135-147.
*Note: Journal titles in CSE citations are abbreviated. You can look here for a list of journal title abbreviations.
6. Common Songbirds [Internet]. Boston: Songbird Society of New England, 16 June 2006 [cited 2011 Aug 6]. Available from http://SSNE.org/commonsongbirds.
The CSE manual also allows you to cite sources using the authors name and the publication year in parenthesis, a style similar to that used in other formatting guides like MLA and APA.
A paragraph with in-text citations that uses the name-year system would look like this:
Several species have been found to rely on S. alternaflora for food, including Snow Geese and several kinds of snails (Walken 1996; Alwood 1998). S. alternaflora is also important for building a strong marsh ecosystem. It traps sediment and debris, gradually building embankments where other species, such as mussels, will settle (Weston, 2006). Walken (1996) also showed that in hybridized form, S. alternaflora can become invasive.
When a source is quoted directly, the page number should be included in the parenthesis, for example (Alwood 1998, p 127).
All cited sources should be collected as an alphabetical (by author's late name) list under the heading Cited References. Examples of entries for common types of sources are below. Note that the entries are the same as those for the citation-sequence style, except for the date, which has been moved to directly follow the author's name. Also note that the references in the author-year system are not numbered.
Book with one author
Lopez, AC. 1956. Plants of the northern shore. New York (NY): Random House.
Book with two authors
Walken, SK, Underwood, JP. 1997. American songbirds. New York (NY): Nature Publishers.
Chapter in a book
Xee, QI. 2005. The history of wetland rehabilitation. In: Reckets, JA, Erond, ST, editors. How to rebuild a wetland. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press.
Book read online/ebook
Walken, SK, Underwood, JP. 1997. American songbirds. [Internet]. New York: Nature Publishers. [cited 2013 Jan 25]. Available from: http://naturepublishers.com/americansongbirds.
Wojnick, BL, Appleshaw, KR. 2001. Effect of industrial pollution on wetlands. Ecol Envir. 16(2): 135-147.
Common Songbirds [Internet]. 2006. Boston: Songbird Society of New England. [cited 2011 Aug 6]. Available from http://SSNE.org/commonsongbirds.
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