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A new publication by PhD student Nicolas Jaccard
Writing Guidelines for Summer Projects
Students must submit a report on the work undertaken for their project by 5pm, 21st August 2014. Students should upload their project to Moodle before this deadline and in addition submit 3 complete paper copies to the CoMPLEX administrators and electronic copies by email to the course directors and the CoMPLEX administrators. In the latter case, the electronic version must include all of the material in the paper copy, preferably in a single file. If the file is larger than 5MB, please discuss this with us first.
The regulations state that the maximum length of the report is 30,000 words. This is understood to be the upper limit, and reports significantly shorter than this can still achieve maximum marks. The word count does not include figures, tables, displayed equations or references, nor supplementary material in appendices. Students are encouraged to ensure that the main body of the report is clearly focused and that detailed material that would distract from this (e.g. technical mathematical derivations, computer program listings, DNA sequences etc) is placed in an appendix. Computer animations, or other types of media, can be included as part of the report, as long as satisfactory arrangements can be made for the board of examiners to view such material. In case of uncertainty, the advice of supervisors and/or course directors should be sought.
The report should refer back to the project proposal and indicate to what extent the original goals have been met. However, it is accepted that in any kind of research project, the outcomes cannot be predicted in advance. It is therefore, in principle, possible to envisage a project that attains none of its original goals but still achieves maximum marks (though this should not be seen as an excuse to set unrealistic goals). In such a case it is imperative that the student clearly indicates why it was not possible to attain particular goals and how the project was modified in light of this.
Finally, students should note that all essays will be subjected to plagiarism checks via Turnitin. Plagiarism and all other forms of research misconduct will not be tolerated in any form and all students must abide by the UCL Graduate School code of conduct available at:http://www.grad.ucl.ac.uk/codes/CoP_Research_11.pdf
Practical tips and style guidelines
Level and clarity
As a rule of thumb, you should write your report as if it were designed for your fellow students. You should not make too many assumptions about what aspects of the modelling/physical sciences (or life sciences) can be taken for granted, i.e. you need to explain terms that others (not having researched the field) may not know the meaning of. It is often helpful to consult your supervisors for advice.
Clarity of expression is always very important. To help with this it is often a good idea to get a friend to read any sections you are concerned about – they can soon tell you if it conveys the right message in a simple fashion.
An abstract should give the reader a clear idea of the contents of the report. In other words, the reader should become aware of what they will get out of reading the project (and hence, whether or not it contains the information they are interested in).
It is a common mistake to try to include too much information in an introduction. An introduction is not meant to provide a comprehensive review of the literature. Instead, an introduction is designed to set the study in context i.e. it is designed to “introduce‟ the work that you have done over the summer. This means it should provide the background necessary for the reader to be able to understand clearly why you undertook this work. Often the introduction will also clarify why a particular method/approach was taken in trying to solve the problem, although sometimes it is more appropriate to put this later.
Depending on the nature of your project you may need a separate section for methods and in some cases this section will need to be quite extensive. Generally speaking the idea of writing a methods section is two-fold. First, given your methods it should be possible for you, or anyone else, to exactly reproduce your work (and hopefully your results), at a later date. Second, an accurate methods section allows a critique of your approach. This is important because if another group or individual suggests a different answer (as often happens in science) then people comparing both sets of evidence can look at the methods to see if the different results can be accounted for by limitations of the techniques used or perhaps the assumptions/approximations involved.
When you present your findings you should „talk‟ the reader through them (i.e., explain the information you are showing). Mistakes in this category often occur with figures. For example, it is a common mistake is to include a figure in the report that is not referred to in the text or to have a figure legend that doesn‟t sufficiently explain the image.
Discussion and Conclusions
This section is designed to highlight the main points of your findings, draw any conclusions and put your results into context. For example, is the model unique in its ability to describe the data? How can the model be tested adequately? How do the results add to, or change, our understanding of the topic? At this point it is often appropriate to discuss your findings in the context of ideas raised in the introduction.
There are basically three uses for references. First, they can (and often should) be used to support a particular fact or argument, e.g. “single ion channel mechanisms can be understood in terms of stochastic processes (Colquhoun and Hawkes, 1981)”. Second, they can be used to refer the interested reader to a source of more information on a particular topic, e.g. “For a more detailed discussion of single channel modelling see Colquhoun and Hawkes (1981)”. Finally, they should be used whenever figures or text are taken from the literature, e.g., “Figure taken from Colquhoun and Hawkes (1981)”. In all cases you need to incorporate the references into your text at the appropriate point and you then need to give a complete citation in the references section of your report. You can look at any scientific paper to see the style(s) used but the following example should give you the idea:
In the text: “Some of the most important ideas in modern neuroscience stem from work on the neuromuscular junction carried out at UCL (e.g. Fatt and Katz, 1952).”
Then in your references section:
Fatt, P. and Katz, B. (1952). Spontaneous subthreshold activity at motor nerve endings. J. Physiol., Vol., 117(1), 109-128.
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