Week 4: Anatomy of a Science Paper (Part 1)

Most science papers share a core structure, and include certain components that are necessary to communicate a scientific story. This week, we’re going to look at those components, and break down how to effectively craft each part into a cohesive whole. Good writing habits will be a focus of this topic.

Lecture Topics

  • Establishing good writing habits
  • The core sections of nearly every science paper
    • Title
    • Abstract
    • Methods
    • Results
    • Discussion
    • Acknowledgments and References
    • Figures and Tables

In-class Activities

  • Peer review of proposals
  • Power 1/4 Hour
  • Activating a writing team
  • Identifying verb tense and active vs. passive voice


Required: Pauly, Daniel and Dirk Zeller (2016). “Catch reconstructions reveal that global marine fisheries catches are higher than reported and declining”. In: Nature Communications 10244. DOI:10.1038/ncomms10244. https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms10244.

Recommended: Chapters 4-5, and 8-15 of Heard, Stephen B. (2016). The Scientist’s Guide to Writing: How to Write More Easily and Effectively throughout Your Scientific Career. Princeton University Press. 255 pp.

Details - Week 3

Writing group

Students break into teams of three. These will be ‘writing teams,’ and their job will be to encourage and support each other in moving forward throughout the semester - both inside and outside the course.

Each week, time will be allocated for students to assemble with their writing group, and take a few minute to discuss:

  • What were your goals for last week?
  • Did you accomplish them? What worked and what didn’t work?
  • What did you write last week?
  • What are my goals for this coming week?

Students will write down these points every week, in a paper or electronic journal. At the end of semester, they will receive a completion mark. 100% = did this every week.

Time = 15 min first week, 6-10 min each week thereafter, depending on group size

A writing group template is available here

Identifying verb tense and active vs. passive voice

I carved out the methods section from today’s paper and put it on Google Docs.

Highlight verb tenses:

  • Past tense: Green
  • Present tense: Blue
  • Future tense: Orange

Underline active voice. italicize passive voice.

Discuss with a partner. How much of each tense was used? To what extent were the authors consistent in active vs. passive voice?

Time = 15 minutes + 5 minutes for discussion

Lecture slides

Slides available via speakerdeck