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How to Write
By Catherine Pickering
www.grith ffi .edu.au/environmentalfuturescentreBackground
Griffith University, along with others, is increasingly focusing on publications including by PhD
students. There is lots of research showing that the better your publication record the better your
chance of employment and promotion. There is also research showing that publication workshops
increase publication rates for early career researchers (McGill et al. 2006). Those attending these
types of courses often report feeling empowered and more confident in their abilities after
completing them (Lee and Kamler 2008; McGill et al. 2006). They can also be fun, so do consider
doing one of these courses.
Here are the workshop notes that were used in the Environmental Futures Centre for a course on
writing research papers focusing mainly on ecological papers. Much of the content can also be
applied to other disciplines. They can also save a lot of time for students and supervisors by
covering a lot of general material so that meetings can focus on the content specific issues. If there
is demand, Environment Futures Centre might be producing different versions of these notes to
cover related disciplines such as social science, chemistry etc. The workshop consists of a series of
two hours workshops each focussing on a particular aspect of writing a paper with background
material followed by exercises for students to do.
To make best use of the course, and the notes, students should use a research paper in their own
discipline area as an example. During the course they can then deconstruct (love that language ) the
paper to see how it was structured and to cross check for any discipline differences from these
Topics covered in these notes and in the course include.....
How to choose a journal
Which journal to use and why? – Impact factor, relevance and likely audience
The golden thread
• Working out what is the most important story you can tell with your results –e.g. what is the
aim of the paper and the conclusions?
• How to conceptualise the argument in the paper including using mind mapping software.
• Common structures of research papers and the order in which they are written.
• Series of paragraphs that carefully layout your argument leading to your aims
• How to turn interrelated topics into to a single line of argument.
• Sections: context, study site, social sciences, field or lab work, data analysis
• Methods appear easy to write but actually requires work to make sure it’s clear.
• Tables and figures: They are a lot of work but it’s worth getting them right from the start.
• Structure of the text: what goes in and what stays out and how to present the results clearly.
• How to relate your work back to the literature highlighting its importance.
Conclusions and Acknowledgements
• Conclusions is the main result(s) and why they are important – e.g. the implications
• Keep them short, focused and unemotional.
• Why supervisors and editors get frustrated when there are missing references and they are
not formatted correctly.
• It’s usually the last thing you write and it’s not the aims but a summary of everything.
• It’s the part you might rewrite the most often.
Drafting and redrafting
• What’s the point of each draft and why there can be so many of them?
• First draft – getting ideas down
• Second draft – working out better wording and flow
• Third draft – checking it’s all there
• Drafts for supervisor/co-authors
First/second draft– you want them to assess – does it make sense, is it complete (or too
much), is it logical and well argued, have I pitched it right?
Next draft for co-authors/supervisor – is this better and am I getting there?
• Draft for someone else to read
First draft for others – what do you think as a reader new to my work? – does it make
sense, is it complete (or too much), is it logical and well argued, have I pitched it right?
• Final draft – proof reading the final version so the formatting is correct, references are
complete and there are no typos to annoy the reviewers.
The submission process
• Challenges of online submission
• The third review and the five stages of grieving (denial, anger, bargaining depression and
• Using reviewer’s comments to improve the paper and thesis.
• Responding to reviewers comments.
A starting thought
"Don't get it right, just get it written" (James Thurber, American humourist).
Writing a paper can seem an overwhelming task, particularly at the beginning. One aim of this
document is to break down this process into a series of easier to follow steps. Another is to make
the process more transparent. But remember, the greatest barrier to writing is a blank page. Once
words on the page (or mind-mapped), they can be worked with: re-edited, reordered and reworded.
Words in your head remain there. So get it down on paper, even if the order is wrong, the ideas are
confused, the grammar is awkward and it is repetitive.
There is a wide range of benefits in publishing for students, supervisors, the University and the
Big picture benefits for you include
• increases research opportunities
• improves competitiveness for scholarship
• improves grant success
• garner awards
• secure permanent employment
Immediate benefits for you include
• Sense of achievement during candidature
• Improved motivation
• Turns big thesis into discrete papers/chapters
• Make mistakes on smaller components of research earlier in thesis
• Obtain feedback from different people
• Benchmark the quality of your work
Supervisor benefits as well including
• a better return for effort
• spreading supervision workload
• faster student completion.
As do Universities...
• more publications sooner
• greater return for investment of money, time, and resources in PhD students
But publishing is not a bed of roses
Disadvantages to publishing papers
1. Not all fun. Anxiety including feelings of being judged rejected by reviewers
2. Additional work
3. Long time to publication....months to years
How to choose a journal?
The first step in actually writing a paper is to select the journal. This is often done in conjunction
with working out the Golden Thread (next section).
Some common factors to consider when selecting a journal are (1) what is its standing in the
discipline, (2) is my research relevant to the journal and (3) are the readers of this journal the right
audience for this material?
1. What is the standing of the journal?
There is a range of ways of assessing the standing of a journal. In Australia at the moment they
a. Impact factor. This is the average number of citations of recent (usually last two years) papers
in that journal, averaged for all papers recently published in the journal. Usually it is calculated
over a relatively short period (2 years) so it tends to favour journals with fast turnaround times,
hence journals are increasing publishing articles on line before they are published in hard copy
and many journals are now on-line only. Impact factors can be obtained from the ISI Web of
b. Excellence in Research in Australia (ERA) ratings. This was a method developed by the
Australian Government to use to rank journals across disciplines. It has its own oddities
including ranking journals with very different impact factors as similar. Although it’s talked
about in Universities it’s no longer directly used by the Australian Government. Below are the
details of the ranking system from the Australian Government website.
“Quality of the papers
A = Typically an A journal would be one of the best in its field or subfield in which to
publish and would typically cover the entire field/subfield. Virtually all papers they publish
will be of a very high quality. These are journals where most of the work is important (it will
really shape the field) and where researchers boast about getting accepted. Acceptance rates
would typically be low and the editorial board would be dominated by field leaders, including
many from top institutions.
A = The majority of papers in a Tier A journal will be of very high quality. Publishing in an A
journal would enhance the author’s standing, showing they have real engagement with the
global research community and that they have something to say about problems of some
significance. Typical signs of an A journal are lowish acceptance rates and an editorial
board which includes a reasonable fraction of well known researchers from top institutions.
B= Tier B covers journals with a solid, though not outstanding, reputation. Generally, in a
Tier B journal, one would expect only a few papers of very high quality. They are often
important outlets for the work of PhD students and early career researchers. Typical
examples would be regional journals with high acceptance rates, and editorial boards that
have few leading researchers from top international institutions.
C = Tier C includes quality, peer reviewed, journals that do not meet the criteria of the
c. Attitude of the discipline to journal
In addition to formal ranking systems, people familiar with any given discipline often have their
own impressions/valuing of journals. “
2. Relevance of journal?
A second important consideration is the relevance of the journal to the Golden Thread of the paper.
Questions to consider here are does the journal publish this type of research (topic, location,
quality?). One way of finding out if the topic of your paper is relevant to the journal is to use the
program “Publish or Perish” which summarises information in Google Scholar including about
particular journals. Often there are several different types of journals you could use relating to the
different aspects of the field. For example, if I am publishing on climate change impacts on alpine
plants in Australia I could try sending it to a climate change journal, an alpine journal or a botany
journal. It’s very important in terms of structuring your paper to decide early on one which journal
it’s going too (see the section on the Golden Thread below).
When you think you have identified a suitable journal, it is very important to look at the journal’s
"instructions for authors". There will usually be an explicit statement of the aims and scope of the
journal. Obviously, you should only submit to a journal if your paper is consistent with the aims and
scope. Perhaps a little less obviously, you may want to tailor your paper (particularly the
introduction and discussion) to make it explicitly align with the aims and scope of the selected
The instructions for authors will also describe important features about the structure of the papers
the journal publishes. There will usually be a statement about the word limit, and often a statement
about the number of figures and tables that are able to be included. Instructions will also identify the
sorts of papers the journal publishes: for example "notes", "research papers", "perspectives",
"reviews". You will need to decide which category your paper fits into and then whether it fits the
word limits for a paper of this type.
3. Does it have the right audience?
It’s not only important to select a high ranked journal that is relevant to the topic of your research,
but you also need to select based on where the ‘right’ people, find, read and hopefully cite/use your
research. Citation of an individual paper can be completely unrelated to the quality of the journal.
Citations of a paper as a measure of its quality
We are moving towards a system where what is important is not the journal but how many people
cite your papers. There are some different measures of this including:
Total number of citations. People are now often reporting on how many times their work is cited.
You can get this data using ‘my citations’ in Google Scholar, or in ISI Web of Knowledge.
There is increasing use of measures of impact vs number of papers. One of these that is becoming
more commonly used since is the H-index. It’s a combination of the most cited papers and the
number of citations of that paper. Because of variation in citation rates among disciplines it’s only
relevant within a discipline. Wikipedia has a more detailed explanation of this measure and how it’s
You can use ISI Web of Knowledge to get your citation data but it does not include all types of
Alternatively, you can use “my citations” in Google Scholar. A third way is to use the free program
“Publish or Perish” mentioned above to get your and others’ citation details.
Publish or Perish is a software program that retrieves and analyses academic citations. It uses
Google Scholar to obtain the raw citations, then analyses these and presents the following statistics:
• Total number of papers
• Total number of citations
• Average number of citations per paper
• Average number of citations per author
• Average number of papers per author
• Average number of citations per year
• Hirsch's h-index and related parameters
• Egghe's g-index
• The contemporary h-index
• The age-weighted citation rate
• Two variations of individual h-indices
• An analysis of the number of authors per paper.
There is a range of ways to get your research cited. Most obviously do good work and get it
published where the right people will see it. Additional ways to help people know about your work
are including the pre-publication version of the text and figures of your papers on institution
(University) websites so they are available to a wider audience.
You can also send copies of the paper to other academics in the field or at least the title and abstract
so they know the work has been published. For this you need to check the journal rules to make sure
you are not breaching copyright. The other way of course, is to publish something very
So having worked out what criteria you could use to select a journal how do you then finally
decided on which one is most relevant? Well you need to work out the Golden Thread of the paper
The Golden Thread
Although I have described what sort of criteria you can use to select a journal, I actually
recommend that before you finally decide on the journal, you need to work out the main
thread/plot/point of your paper. An important issue here is that the paper should focus on making a
contribution to one particularly theory or question within the discipline. That is, it should have one
major story line (the Golden Thread). Sometimes papers suffer from being a dataset in search of a
question or hypothesis. These sorts of papers are more difficult to get published than one that has a
single focus with a main aim and subsidiary related aims.
Working out the best Golden Thread for you paper should be done after you have designed the
experiment, done the research, and analysed the results. I say this because often with research you
have one aim in mind when you design and do an experiment, but the results may be surprising.
Therefore it’s important to update your aims/Golden Thread when you have completed the
researcher. Then you need to:
1. Work out what is/are the most important conclusions to your work. What is the most important
thing you found?
2. Carefully think about which is the best audience for this work. Where will it have the greatest
impact, be read by an audience who really wants to know about this work?
3. Then you can start to structure the argument for your paper. Remember you are writing an
argument and it needs to be clear, well structured and lead to the conclusions.
Using a mind mapping process can help. There are a range of programs for this including free
software such as XMind. The University also runs courses on using this type of approach. It is
particularly valuable to work out:
1. the actual structure of the content of the paper
2. how to structure that content in the best way e.g. which ideas go first
3. how long different sections need to be (sometimes we write too much for some parts of a paper
and not enough for others)
4. what you and supervisor/co-author think is the structure of the paper.
A good rule of thumb is that working out what you need to say and then writing it is easier than
working it out as you write. Generally it’s not a good idea to write the paper in the order its finally
appears, but more in the order you do the work. So I recommend the following order for writing....
Table 1. Recommended order for writing sections of an experimental ecology paper.
Sections Order written
Aims (last bit of introduction) 3
Results Tables and Figures 4
Results text 5
Remember to keep checking the Authors Instructions for the journal. This includes the length of the
paper which is often given as the number of words. The length of the paper will affect how much
detail you can include. Also print out and keep checking examples of recent papers in that journal
that are similar to the topic you will be submitting. This helps to check how other authors structured
the different sections of their papers and how much detail they included, and the formatting of
tables, text, figures and references in the journal.
But here I will so though the order slightly differently because I want you to use mind mapping to
work out the structure of the introduction.
Writing the introduction
Before you start your introduction, make sure you remember what it is for. The fundamental
purpose of an introduction is to convince the reader that the question you are addressing is worth
answering. If you don't grab the attention of the reader with the first paragraph of introduction, they
won't read further. If the reader is an editor, they won't send the paper out for review, if the reader is
a reviewer, then he or she will give a cursory and negative review, and if somehow the paper does
get published, if you haven't grabbed the reader's attention your paper won't get read or cited. A
good introduction will convince the reader that the work has general and broad relevance. Rather
than being about your specific ecological context, you need to demonstrate that your work
addresses an important theoretical or practical problem and/or that it is an exemplar that can be
applied to a range of other situations in other places.
Remember that your introduction is a carefully stepped out argument from the most general to the
most detailed – e.g. your aims, and that the aims need to match what you did and found, not the
aims you had in mind when you started the research. The length can vary among papers within a
discipline and among disciplines. Social science papers tend to have longer introductions (including
sometimes a section headed literature review) than those in ecology. Most ecological research
papers I write have introductions that have 3 to 6 paragraphs.
One common problem with writing the introduction is where to start. Most research is conducted in
the overlap among several different related areas (Figure 1). But when you write the introduction
you have to use a linear format for the introduction. So you have to select which area goes first,
second and third till you get to your aims. Generally the one that should go first is the main area of
the journal. Mapping out the related areas and the order you are going to present them helps to
make sure you do not include too much information in the introduction from too many related areas.
Figure 1. Mapping the related areas that your work contributes to.
Here is an example of the introduction from a paper of mine to show how the argument is stepped
out and goes from the most general to the specific aims (Pickering et al. 2011a).
Protected areas are one of the major mechanisms for conservation worldwide (Worboys et al.
2005). Nature-based tourism is not only popular, but it is also one of the few human activities
permitted in many protected areas (Newsome et al. 2000; Worboys et al. 2005). However, a wide
range of negative environmental impacts on soils, vegetation, animals and water from tourism
activities in protected areas has been documented (Liddle 1997; Pickering and Hill 2007a; Monz et
al. 2010). Impacts on plants from common activities such as hiking include the reduced diversity,
cover and biomass of sensitive species and, in some cases, an increase in the diversity and cover of
more tolerant species including weeds (Liddle 1997; Hill and Pickering 2007a; Hill and Pickering
Weeds, here referring to undesirable species that are not native to the region, are a major threat
to biodiversity, including that in protected areas, as they have many impacts, including altering fire
regimes and hydrology, and directly replacing native species (Manchester and Bullock 2000;
Williams and West 2000; Weber 2003). Although the association between tourism infrastructure,
such as roads and tracks, and the presence of weeds is well documented (Spellerberg 1998;
Pickering and Hill 2007b; Pickering et al. 2007) and greater tourism use of a protected area is
associated with greater diversity of weeds (Usher, 1988), there is limited research on the
contribution of tourists to the dispersal of weed seeds into, and within, protected areas (Pickering
and Mount 2010). It is likely that tourists could act as unintentional dispersal agents of weeds.
Certainly, human clothing and transport can act as seed dispersal vectors and seeds from over 750
species has been collected from vectors associated with tourist activity: clothing and equipment
(228 species), horses (fur 42, dung 216 species) and vehicles (505 species) (Pickering and Mount
Despite its importance, and the large number of species which can be transported, there are few
experimental studies of human-mediated seed dispersal (HMD), by tourists or more generally.
There are only three experimental studies of HMD which have examined attachment rates
(Fallinski 1972; Mount and Pickering 2009; Wichmann et al. 2009) and three that examined
dispersal (Bullock and Primack 1977; Lee and Chown 2009; Wichmann et al. 2009) on clothing.
These studies have shown that species differ in their attachment rates, and in plant traits that affect
attachment, such as seed/fruit morphology, seed weight, height of infructescences and the number
of seeds produced. Attachment rates also vary among items of clothing and with type of material,
with some species attaching at higher rates to socks, while others attach at higher rates to trousers
(Mount and Pickering 2009). Seeds were less likely to be dispersed by clothing with Velcro, than
that without (Lee and Chown 2009). Studies of seed detachment from the clothing of walkers found
that seeds can be transported long distances: 2.4km (Bullock and Primack 1977) and 5km
(Wichmann et al. 2009).
Quantifying dispersal of seeds by any vector requires information on attachment, detachment
and the behaviour of the vector (Nathan et al. 2008; Will and Tackenberg 2008). For unintended
HMD on clothing, including that by tourists in protected areas, all these factors can be measured
and hence spatial dispersal patterns can be calculated. Comparison of dispersal patterns for
different plant species on different types of clothing and for different behaviours can indicate the
role of HMD in causing long distance dispersal, including that of invasive species. While there are
many recent examples of modelling and experimental studies of long distance dispersal by wind
(Nathan et al. 2002; Soon and Bullock 2008) and for a limited selection of animal vectors (Mouissie
et al. 2005; Manzano and Malo 2006; Pablos and Peco 2007; Will and Tackenberg 2008), studies
of HMD on clothing are rare.
We used an experimental approach to examine unintended tourist-mediated long distance seed
dispersal on clothing within a protected area in Australia. First we measured detachment rates of
seeds from four non-native weed and one native species on two types of clothing (socks and
trousers) at distances up to 5,000 m. Then using values for attachment rates in the field, and data
on visitor numbers and behaviour, we calculated potential seed dispersal patterns within a specific
landscape, i.e. continental Australia’s highest mountain, Mt Kosciuszko.”
So the argument in the introduction went
Paragraph 1 = Protected areas – conservation, tourism in protected areas, impacts of tourism in
protected areas, examples of impacts including weeds.
Paragraph 2 = Weeds – definition, association with tourism, limited research on dispersal, tourists
can disperse weeds.
Paragraph 3 = Few experimental studies on human mediated seed dispersal – discuss examples,
Paragraph 4 = More background on experimental studies of human mediated seed dispersal, but
concentrating on those directly relevant to this study
Paragraph 5 = Aims.
This introduction provided information on impacts of nature based tourism (one circle/area),
weeds (second circle/area) and dispersal mechanisms for seed (third circle/area), but for the second
and third areas the information was focused on that relating to the aims, not everything on the topic.
e.g. the coloured areas of overlap in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Related areas discussed in the introduction to Pickering et al. (2011a).
Individual work: Now try using the interrelated circles with the paper you have brought
along to use as an example.
Writing the methods section
The method is the first section of a paper that people tend to write. It can be the easiest to write in
that it has an obvious structure and content. However, it can be challenging to get it right e.g. using
as few words as possible to clearly describe what you did. It reflects the classic challenge of writing
instructions for doing up shoelaces. Some of reviewer’s problems with a paper can arise not because
there was a problem with your experiment, but because of how you describe what you did.
The first draft is to put all the information down. Second and subsequent drafts are to work out
more and more effective ways to communicate the information. The methods is often around three
pages of text in word document but around 1-2 pages in the final version of the paper when
formatted for the journal.
Common sections in many Ecological research papers are...
1. Study Site/ Species
2. Sampling Design/Field Work/Laboratory work/survey
3. Data Analysis/Statistical Analysis
The length of each section varies with the amount of detail that needs to be included. Have a look at
your example paper. Below I go through examples of the sections common in ecology papers.
Study Site – for field work papers
This section is often 1-3 paragraphs. Here it is best to go from the most general to the most specific.
Remember that the audience can be anywhere in the world; in Ghana, Japan or Finland and they
have to understand the context of where you did the work. This includes things that may be
different about your location (Australia) compared to ones they are familiar with. Often you are
likely to include a map of your site showing its overall location (e.g. Australia) and then more
detailed information about the actual study site(s) (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Map of study area showing the sites of all snowpatches in February 2004 and three
additional snowpatches occurring in December 2006. Major drainage lines and the 2000 and 2100
m contours are shown. The five water bodies all exist in glacial features. Cirque boundaries are
based on Galloway et al. (1998) and Barrows et al. (2001). From Green and Pickering (2009).
Maps of sites should show general location (say country) and then more detailed location. They
need a scale and to indicate which direction is north. They need a legend either in the figure or as
part of the Title.
This section could be one to two paragraphs. Sometimes instead of, or in addition to the study site
you need to include information about the specific species or vegetation types or guild of birds
assessed. Again you need to make sure that a reader would understand the context of the research
as well as recognise the generality of the results.
Sampling group (social sciences) and method used
If you have used surveys or focus groups or other social science methods, you will need to explain
who was sampled, how they were selected and why. You also need to explain the type of method
you used (Survey, focus groups, in depth interviews etc) and why. For a survey you need explain
the structure of the survey and the aim of the different sections and questions in the survey. Again
see examples in the field.
Sampling design/Field work/Laboratory work
This section can be one to five paragraphs depending on the detail required. It should include
information on the experimental design, on what was measured, when and how. It’s often harder
than you think to get the correct information in the right order so it makes sense to someone who
only has this section to understand what you did. In some cases you may have several separate
experiments so you need to say so up front and then describe each one. Remember this does not
have to be in chronological order, but should be in the best logical order for the reader to be able to
understand the key results.
e.g. ..” Three experiments examining clothing as a seed vector were conducted in the Park between
late January and mid February 2008 when many plant species in the subalpine and alpine zones of
the Park are seeding” From Mount and Pickering (2009).
Note that one sentence can provide several bits of information. This one said how many
experiments, where they were done, when and why at that time Again this is the technique of using
multiple drafts to get every word to count
Data analysis/Statistical analysis
This section should let the reader know about how data were analysed. It’s often one to four
paragraphs depending on the complexity and range of statistical analyses used. Even if it’s just
descriptive results, it is good to say so and which ones.
If the data were statistically analysed you need to explain what statistics were performed on which
dependent variables testing the effect of which independent variables in which computer packages.
You need to state (and do) that you checked the assumptions of the tests, and which/any
transformations you had to use. Some transformations are standard e.g. all percentage data should
be arsine square root transformed prior to analysis.
It’s often good to make clear at the start of a sentence the point of the test e.g.
“ To determine whether there were significant differences among summits and among aspects, a
Two-way Analysis of Similarity (ANOSIM) was performed for the plant and abiotic dissimilarity
matrices.” (Pickering and Green 2009).
“To determine if wearing trousers effects seed collection, the number of seeds and species richness
were compared using paired t-tests between the covered and uncovered legs.” (Mount and
Where people may be less familiar with a particularly type of test you may need to provide more
detail/justification for why it was used and not another type of test.
Individual work: Go through your example paper and see what sections they have, how they
have set out the information and if you can understand what they have done and possibly
Setting out Tables and Figures in the results
Once you have written a first draft of the introduction and methods, the next step is often to produce
the display items (tables and figures). It may take a lot of time to get these right, but finding the
optimal way to communicate your results visually is always worthwhile. Many papers have two or
three paragraphs only of text in the results, with the guts of the results being presented visually,
either in figures or in tables.
Before starting to draft tables and figures you should
1. Work out the most efficient layout for your tables and figures. Keep in mind that journals do
not like white space. It costs them money to produce the journal and they do not want to waste
space on white but rather have content. So keep tables and figures tight and detailed.
2. Check the journal requirements. They often provide specific details in the information for
authors section on how the tables and figures should be formatted including the proportions of
tables and the size of details in figures. Again using an example of a recent paper from the
journal as a model helps.
Tables are relatively easy to layout. First work out how many tables you will need in the paper and
what sort of information needs to go into them. Often you will need tables for the actual values
(means and some measure of variance) and the results of statistical tests. For each table you should
work out what information needs to be included and hence how many columns and rows are
required. It’s often a good idea to use the table function in word to set out tables, but not one of
their preset formats, as they rarely match the journal requirements. Do not use spaces or tabs to set
out tables as different fonts use different amounts of space and it’s very hard to fix up tables set out
Table headings should include enough detail so a reader can work out what the table is about and
what the values are just from the table legend. Again the most important information should go first
in the legends. Table legends go above the table. Remember to make clear what the values are in the
table including the units. Are they in cm or m? are they counts or % etc? Either at the end of the
legend or at the bottom of your table you need to spell out any abbreviations you use.
Columns: The journal wants as little blank space in the table as possible so reduce the number of
columns as much as possible (more important than reducing lines). This particularly applies for
headings that cover several rows of data. Put them as a separate row and indent all the rows below
that are all aspects of that heading rather than have a separate column (e.g. see example below for
Table 2. Species richness per summit and average richness per area). Also only make columns only
as wide as the contents require. You can often abbreviate terms in column headings if they take up
to much space.
Lines: generally the only lines in the table are above and below the column headings and at the
bottom of the table. If using additional lines particularly horizontal ones have a good reason. Again
have a look at examples of tables from papers in the journal.
Accuracy: make sure it’s relevant to the scale at which you measured things, not just the number of
decimal points spat out by computer program for means and standard errors (or other measure of
variance). e.g. did you really measure height to the hundredth of a millimetre?
Below is an example of a table of actual values (Table 2). This table includes some site information
(e.g. methods) as well as values from each site (e.g. results). Other common results tables give you
means ± measures of variance (standard errors or other measures).
Table 2: Location and species richness measures for five GLORIA summits on Mt Clarke, Snowy
Mountains, Australia. from Pickering et al. (2008
CL1 CL2 CL3 CL4 CL5
(m.a.s.l.) 2114 2079 1992 1948 1729
E 148.2875 148.2911148.2961148.3000148.3078
S 36.4328 36.4328 36.4347 36.4356 36.4356
summit 36 39 51 41 53
Total herbs 22 24 12 9 31
graminoids 9 8 9 6 9
Total shrubs 5 7 29 25 13
fern/fern-like 1 1
10cm 2.0 2.8 2.5 2.2
1m 6.2 8.9 9.7 8.6
4 1m 9.5 13.25 14.5 13.5
areas 22 22.75 31.5 28.75 31.5
-5 to -10m
summit areas 21 25.75 30.5 23.5 28.5
endemics 6 5 4 3 4
endemic 17% 13% 8% 7% 7%
Often you will need tables to show the results of statistical tests, particularly if you have many tests.
In the heading put in the type of test and the dependent and independent variables (Table 3, from
Pickering et al. 2011a). It’s good to (well I try to) put in the value for the test as well as the P value.
You can also specify the significance level you used. We often put significant P values in bold so
they standout in tables. Also I do not use and to indicate which ones are significant, that was
something more common when programs did not give you actual P Values. Remember there is no
such significance level as P = 0.000. If the test gives you that it’s actually 0.001. Remember to
give the P values to three decimal points as it can be useful for the reader to know exactly how low
is the probability of assuming there is a difference when there is none.
Table 3. Results from One-Way ANOVA’s (complete randomized block) comparing transects and
treatments (different intensities of bike riding or hiking) for vegetation parameters in subalpine
grassland. From Pickering et al. (2011b).
F P F P
Height 16.718 0.001 0.504 0.771
Compaction 30.450 0.001 1.556 0.198
Two weeks after
Height 16.487 0.001 1.055 0.402
Compaction 14.881 0.001 2.308 0.065
Absolute cover vegetation 13.459 0.001 3.651 0.008
Absolute cover litter 20.392 0.001 3.511 0.010
Overlapping cover herbs 11.479 0.164 0.974
Overlapping cover shrubs 2.945 1.079 0.387
Overlapping cover graminoids 4.284 1.031
Overlapping cover litter 22.018 0.001 0.448 0.812
species per m 4.377 0.001 3.445 0.011
Poa fawcettiae 2.728 0.018 1.215 0.322
Asperula gunnii 6.313 0.001 0.727 0.607
Hovea montana 3.718 0.003 0.181 0.968
Oxylobium ellipticum 0.388 0.921 1.550 0.197
Pimelea alpina 1.962 0.078 0.989 0.437
Figures take a lot of work to get right. They are particularly useful to show trends – e.g. changes in
values against attitude or against time or factors like that. It takes a lot of work to get a figure right,
so that it contains enough information without being overly complex. Never the less, they remain
one of the most effective ways of conveying information as we are often visual/picture focused.
Tables take up less space and are much faster to generate.
Figure legends go at the bottom of the figure. The journal will often want several figures together,
rather than on separate pages so think about this when formatting them. Do not forget to spell out
any abbreviations you use. Again its one of the challenges to get them to all fit neatly together. Do
not forget to label the axes and make sure the scales are clear and the points can be seen clearly
when reproduced. Sometimes the legend can be incorporated into the title, check the journals house
style. Also remember again to use all the space in the figure. Journals do not want lots of white,
they want content.
The general rule is that figure and text legends should be intelligible without reference to the main
text. Conversely, all figures and tables should be referred to in the text, which should explain what
it is the reader should take away from the figure and tables.
Control 25b 75b 200b 200bs 500b 200h 500h
Figure 4. Mean and standard errors of compaction of soil in kg/cm immediately after (clear
squares), and two weeks after (solid squares) mountain biking and hiking treatments in subalpine
grassland in the Australian Alps. White section = control and biking results, stippled section =
hiking results. From Pickering et al. (2011a).
Average compaction of soil (kg/cm )