A research essay is a paper in which you review the knowledge in a particular subject area. It is not a
laboratory report write-up. The professional, scientific equivalent of the lab reports that you write are “journal
papers”. Scientists publish their results in journal papers which are refereed by their peers. A journal paper
describes the results of one study, and while the discussion puts it into some kind of context, it is not an
exhaustive review of the literature.
In a “review”, a scientist will read all of the relevant literature (journal papers, book chapters etc) and
summarize it, while at the same time trying to determine the value of the research to date and how much
progress has been made in answering the important questions in a particular field. The best known source of
review papers in ecology is the Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics (formerly Annual Review of
Ecology and Systematics). It comes out every year as a volume with many reviews by different authors. You
should look at the reviews in it to give you a model for your research essay.
Once you have decided what subject you are covering, you should develop this into a review topic. For
example, if you are interested in coral reefs, you may wish to write an essay on some aspect of the ecology of
coral reefs (e.g., coral bleaching). If your interest has been loss of rainforests, you could write about the
biodiversity of rainforests. We are interested here in the science, not the politics of the issues, and whether
the claims made about the subject can be substantiated with good data and experiments.
In your research essay, you should address the following:
1. One of the major relevant ecological theories in the subject area. This is likely to be theory around
predation, competition, resource availability etc. Your textbook will be helpful here.
2. Next, you need to research some of the scientific literature to find out what ecologists have been doing
in your topic area and what progress has been made. You need to go to Web of Science and other
reference sources in Steacie and carry out searches with relevant key words. These will lead you to
journal articles — you should hunt up the papers and not rely on the abstracts alone to tell you what’s in
them. Sometimes you cannot access the relevant journal, and you should indicate whether you are only
referring to an abstract. If this is the case, then you will need to find more than 10 journal papers (see
3. A key part of your research essay is your reference list which is your list of information sources. For
this research essay, you should have a reference list of at least 10 papers and this should include at
least five 2013-2018 references and one pre-1975 paper. Also, you should try VERY hard to include a
paper from the journals Nature or Science. The way to cite papers in the reference list at the end of
the essay, is alphabetically. Whenever you refer to information from a particular paper, the name of the
author and year of publication should be included in parentheses (brackets) in the text, immediately
following. If you find a book that is relevant to your topic, you should include this, but be aware that it
may not have been refereed and you will still need to find relevant journal papers (check the reference
lists in the chapters for these).
4. Papers and chapters used should be cited in the text by giving the last name of the author and the year
of publication. For example, a paper with one author would be cited as (Smith, 2007). A paper with two
authors would be cited as (Smith and Harry, 2007). For more than two authors, list the first author
only, followed by “et al.” e.g (Smith et al., 2007) (the full list of authors should be included in the
references section of the essay). If there are two or more papers with the same author and year, cite
them as “a”, “b”, etc.: e.g. (Smith and Harry, 2007a), (Smith et al., 2007a.), etc.
In the references section of your essay, list references alphabetically by first author using the
Smith, D. R. 2007. The effects of eating too much candy on quiz performance. Journal of Irreproducible
Results. 12:1-15. (12 is the volume and 1-15 give the page numbers of the article).
For books (monographs) with one author, cite them as:
Smith, D. R. and Harry, T. D. 2007a. Too much candy: bad for your teeth and your test. Blackwell
Scientific Publications, Oxford, UK. (after the title, cite the publisher and their location — get this info
from the title page of the book)
For edited books with chapters having different authors, cite them as:
Smith, D. R. and Harry, T.D. 2007b. Gums, germs and candied orange peel. pp. 1-12 in Jones, G. D. and
harry, T. D. (eds.) Factors affecting quiz performance. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford, UK.
(pp. indicates the pages that the chapter takes up in the book, and the italics indicate the book title,
which is different from the chapter title).
The only acceptable website information (other than online peer-reviewed journals) will be from
government or university web pages. These will count as half a reference — unless they are actual
journal articles or reports that have been uploaded onto a web site. Please give the name of the author,
report title etc. as well as the web site address. Web sites must be able to be attributable to a
specific author or group of scientists to be acceptable.
5. Essays should be a minimum of 1,750 words (7 double-spaced printed pages) and a maximum of 2,250
words (9 pages) in length. This does not include the reference list and tables or diagrams. You should
use headings for different sections — look at the reviews in Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and
Systematics. You should have an introduction stating the key findings in the subject area and the major
questions, issues and problems that ecologists are facing. This should probably be followed by some kind
of description of the applicable theory/models that are aimed at giving some understanding of the
issues, and then a review of the research that either supports or rejects the ideas. Don’t forget to
include a summary/conclusion. Graphs and tables from papers and book chapters will be helpful, but
remember to cite them properly. Obviously, your research essay is not going to be an exhaustive review
of the subject — review papers usually cite from 50-100 papers!! However, you should be able to scratch
below the surface into the ecology and science of a topic.
6. Due date: Fri. Nov. 9 (to be handed in in class)
7. Marking scheme:
Organization: 5 marks for structure (subheadings are essential)
Content: 25 marks for scientific content, analysis and discussion as well as use of tables and graphs
to illustrate points
Writing style/grammar: 10 marks
Reference list: 10 marks for doing a wide and in-depth literature search and listing the articles,
papers and books used, correctly. To get the full 10 marks, you will need to have the 10 refereed
journal papers and have cited them in the text.
Total is 50 marks
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