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Basic guidelines for writing a science research paper

Basic guidelines for writing a science research paper

Author: Phoebe Griffith

Students will learn of some of the potential pitfalls when writing a scientific research paper, as opposed to an essay for Language Arts. Some of the rules are different. This is written with 6th grade students in mind.

Four of the most common errors in writing a research paper for a science subject are covered. These include:

  • Do personal opinions belong?
  • How to type the scientific name of an animal.
  • How and when to abbreviate.
  • How to write numbers.
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Do personal opinions belong in a scientific research paper?

Science is about fact. When writing your research paper, you are reporting on facts that you have carefully researched and verified to be true. Because you have used accredited sources only, these facts have been carefully researched by the scientists themselves, usually by being out in the field and making observations of the animals!

Because of this, your own personal opinions do not belong in the body of a paper like this. If you feel tempted to write, "The coolest adaptation of the Finback whale is that it is the fastest whale on Earth," remember the rule. Try, instead, something like,"The Finback whale is extraordinary because it is the fastest of the great whales." You are still conveying your fascination but are phrasing it with a fact, not your opinion.

The only exception to this rule is in your introductory paragraph, where you may use a bit of personal opinion and first person writing to convey why you think other readers should read on. After all, you do want to grab their attention!

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How to write the scientific name of your creature

There are rules about how to type the scientific names of living things. These rules have been around for a long time and scientists are expected to abide by them.

The first rule is that when typed, the scientific name is always italicized. You will see this in the examples below.

When referring to particular species, the scientific name is given as a two-part name. The genus name goes first and the species name is second. An example is for the Finback whale:

          Balaenoptera physalus

              (genus)       (species)

Another example is the domestic cat:  Felis catus (or sometimes, Felis sylvestris catus) you have probably noticed, sometimes creatures have two species names! You can always tell if this is the case because your source will have both of those names in all lower case letters.

Yet another example, the domestic dog:  Canis lupus familiaris

**Please also note that the first part of the name is always capitalized!

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How and when to abbreviate??

In a science paper, there are lots of terms and a lot of measurements! It can get very tedious to have to keep typing out entire words like "centimeters" and "kilograms." There also can be scientific organizations with long names, such as the "International Union for Conservation of Nature." Don't worry! You are allowed to abbreviate, as long as the abbreviations can be understood.

Here's the rule: 

The first time you use a term or organization name, type out the whole thing, and put the abbreviation in parentheses right after it. Then, forever after in your paper, you may simply type the abbreviation! 


1. Organization names

The Sei whale is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as "Endangered." This means that the IUCN has determined that its global population has gone down by about 80% over the last three generations.

2. Measurement units

Adult male Sei whales grow to about 13.7 meters (m) long and females reach lengths of 15 m.  

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Writing numbers in a scientific paper

If you are in LA class writing an essay, you would normally spell out the words for numbers. For example, you might type, "Last year the students at our school ordered and ate five hundred forty total pizzas." 

However, if you had done a survey for your science class and were reporting on your observations and data, you would type, "Last year the students at our school ordered and ate 540 total pizzas." 

(I have boldfaced the numbers so you can see them more easily)

Another example: The largest male Finback whale ever caught measured 24.4 m long. The largest female Finback whale ever caught measured 22.7 m and weighed 68.4 long tons, equivalent to 69,498 kilograms.

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