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Oceanography Department

Oceanography Department Style Manual

Main Topics

Title Page
Abstract Page
Sections of the Text
References Cited
References Checklist
Figures and Tables
Additional Instructions
Layout Checklist
Sample Layout

Other Topics:

Citations in Text
Hanging Indent
Latin Species Names
Personal Communication

The Oceanography Department Paper Guidelines have been adapted from the "Suggestions to Authors" of the U.S. Geological Survey. For information beyond what is covered in this document, refer to that publication.  Nimitz Library has several copies; with call letters QE/48.85/.S84/1991.  The Geological Survey performs geologic mapping, biological research, hydrological studies, and makes civil maps in the United States.  

Hansen, W.R., 1991, Suggestions to authors of the reports of the United States Geological Survey (7th ed.): U.S. Geological Survey, 289 p.

The following sections are particularly relevant (fairly large PDF files):


The title of the paper must reflect the specific topic investigated. It must be informative and short. The title page is the cover for the paper. Develop the title page as follows, using all capitals for all text on this page :






Word template for the cover page for an independent research course.


Center the title, your name, and the word "abstract" (all capitals) on the top of the page. Double space the text of the abstract. Do not start the paper on this page. The abstract will be page #1.




Prepare an abstract of no more than 200 words (1/2 to 3/4 of a page) on a separate page by itself. An abstract is a miniature scientific paper that allows the reader to get a quick sense of what the longer paper is about. The abstract should not use the first person, and keep the use of the passive voice to the absolute minimum.  The following scientific societies say this about the abstract:

AGU - American Geophysical Union (Journal of Geophysical Research, vol.103, no.B3, 1998)

The abstract should be a single paragraph (xxx words or fewer) stating the nature of the investigation and summarizing its important conclusions. Listing the contents in terms such as "this paper describes" or "the paper presents" should be avoided.  Use of the passive voice often indicates that the author is merely describing the procedure rather than presenting conclusions.  The abstract should be suitable for separate publication and be adequate for indexing.

GSA - Geological Society of America (their WWW site)

The abstract should present information and results in capsule form and should be brief and objective, containing within a xxx word maximum the content and conclusions of the paper. The topic sentence should give the overall scope and should be followed by emphasis on new information. Omit references, criticisms, drawings, and diagrams.

USGS - United States Geological Survey (their Suggestions to Authors)

The abstract is a digest of the report.... The abstract should specify the problem or project and briefly state the conclusions or results. It should be informative rather than descriptive, "*** are discussed", "*** was investigated", "conclusions are given" are inappropriate phrases for an abstract. State what the paper tells, not what it is about. The final abstract can only be written after the manuscript is complete. Production of a good abstract--one which summarizes all the important content of the report and nothing else--deserves more care and more rewriting and polishing than any other part of the author's job.

Poor abstract:

  • A partial biography of the author is given. The inadequate abstract is discussed. What should be covered by an abstract is considered. The importance of the abstract is described. Dictionary definitions of "abstract" are quoted. At the conclusion a revised abstract is presented. (Landes, 1966, in Cochran, W., Fenner, P., and Hill, M., 1979, Geowriting: a guide to writing, editing, and printing in earth science: American Geological Institute, p.35)

Revised abstract

  • The abstract is of utmost importance, for it is read by 10 to 500 times more people than hear or read the entire article. It should not be a mere recital of the subjects covered. Expressions such as "is discussed" and "is described" should never be included! The abstract should be a condensation and concentration of the essential information in the paper. (Cochran, W., Fenner, P., and Hill, M., 1979, Geowriting: a guide to writing, editing, and printing in earth science: American Geological Institute, p.35)

Sections of the Text

1. Center the section title in all capitals. Start the Introduction on a new page, but run the other sections,  except for the references cited, continuously.

2. The number of sections and their titles will vary. Most papers will be summaries of library research, and will attempt to present what we know about some limited topic. You can choose to write either a literature review paper or an experimental paper.

3. While a longer paper might require two levels for section headings, almost all papers in the Oceanography Department will only require one.

A literature review paper will consist of about 4 or 5 sections. These will include:


SECTION TITLE 1 (see below)

SECTION TITLE 2 (see below)



Examples of the sections for typical SO231 papers might include:

  • For a paper on how temperature affects the blue crab: Introduction, Blue Crab Life cycle, Temperature in early life, Temperature and mature crabs, Conclusion
  • For a paper on anoxia: Introduction, Anoxia versus Hypoxia, Physical Causes, Results of Anoxia, Conclusion
  • For a paper on Jellyfish: Introduction, Jellyfish life cycle, Response to Salinity, Effect of Temperature, Conclusion

An experimental paper contains the following seven sections:









Check list for references:

  • References Cited includes the full reference for all sources cited in the text of your paper; only sources cited in the text are included.
  • If there is more than one author, it is important to record all unless there are more than 6.  The order of author's names is important, and you do not change them. The first author is listed first on the paper, and is the one used for alphabetizing the reference list.  In the text citation, multiple authors must be indicated.
  • Citations are listed in the reference list in alphabetical order by first author's last name. If there are multiple papers by the same author, put them in chronological order (oldest first).
  • If the same author(s) has more than one paper in the same year, they are referred to as 1975a and 1975b, both in the references cited and in the text.
  • Do not abbreviate the journal names.
  • Use a hanging indentation for references (the first line extends to the left margin, and all subsequent lines have a 1/2" indentation). The best way to get the hanging indent is to use the Format, Paragraph command in your word processor; this keeps your formatting if you change margins or fonts or have to edit the reference.  The sample references may not show a hanging indent because HTML does not generally support it, which is a peculiarity of the WWW, but they should display correctly if you use Internet Explorer.
  • Start the references on a new page, with the words "REFERENCES CITED" treated like your other section headings.
  • Double space the references.  Do not put an extra blank line between references.

Follow the following format for the reference list:

  1. Author (last name, initials; or corporate author if no individual can be found; or the name of the periodical in no other author is available), followed by a comma; place an "and" before the final author; periods after the initials; 
  2. Year of publication, followed by a comma; if the same author/authors have multiple papers in the same year, they are listed as 1975a, 1975b, etc., both in the references list and the parenthetical citations; 
  3. Title, followed by a colon; only the first word and any proper nouns will be capitalized;
  4. Then.
  • For a book: Place of publication, comma, name of publisher, comma, number of pages for entire book or the chapter/section cited in the title, period.
  • For a journal or other serial: journal title, comma, volume, comma, number, comma, pages.
  • If you have a journal paper with no page numbers (such as recent publications from the American Geophysical Union), use journal title, comma, volume, comma, number, comma, DOI.

There are no underlining, italics, or quotation marks used, except for an in in papers in an edited volume, and if the punctuation occurs in the title of the paper (as for instance in a species name).



Guth, P.L., 1981, Tertiary extension north of the Las Vegas Valley shear zone, Sheep and Desert Ranges, Clark
     County, Nevada: Geological Society of America Bulletin, vol.92, no.10, p.763-771.


(6 or fewer authors, list them all)

Guth, P.L., Hodges, K.V., and Willemin, J.E., 1982, Limitations on the role of pore pressure in gravity gliding:
     Geological Society of America Bulletin, vol.93, no.7, p.606-612.

(more than 6 authors, list the first and the number of others)

Raymond, P.A., and 14 others, 2013, Global carbon dioxide emissions from inland waters: Nature, vol.503,
     no.7476, p.355-359.  


Falorni, G., Teles, V., Vivoni, E.R., Bras, R.L., and Amaratunga , K.S., 2005, Analysis and characterization of the
     vertical accuracy of digital elevation models from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission: Journal of
     Geophysical Research—Earth Surface, vol. 110 (F2) doi:10.1029/2003JF000113.


Folsome, C.E., 1979, The origin of life: San Francisco, W.H. Freeman and Co., 168 p.


Guth, P.L., 1998, Military geology in war and peace: An introduction: in Underwood, J.R., Jr., and Guth, P.L., eds.,
     Military geology in war and peace: Geological Society of America Reviews in Engineering Geology, vol. XIII,


Guth, P.L., 1991, Combining imagery and digital elevation models on a personal computer: in Thematic
     Conference on Geologic Remote Sensing, 8th, Denver, Colorado, 1991, Proceedings: Ann Arbor,
     Mich., Environmental Research Institute of Michigan, vol.2, p.921-929.


Dantzler, H.L., and Scheerer, D.J.,1992,  An oceanographic expert system for tactical oceanography: The Johns
     Hopkins University, Applied Physics Lab., STC-92-152,  38 p.

WWW Pages

Since WWW page address may be case sensitive, copy them exactly from your browser (cut and paste works well).  If you cannot determine the authors of the page, list it as Anonymous and you may need to differentiate them with lower case letters.  WWW pages should not be a major source for your paper unless you have permission from your instructor; there is not necessarily any quality control on WWW publishing, and you can find pages that are deliberately wrong.

Anon., 2010,  Oceanography department paper guidelines:, accessed 5 May 2010.

Guth, P.L., 2010,  Professor Peter L. Guth home page:, accessed 5 May 2010.

U.S. National Oceanographic Data Center, 2010, Global Temperature–Salinity Profile
:, accessed 5 May 2010.


There are two types of references in the text. If Smith (1976) said something, it is a direct reference. If you just assert a fact, then it is an indirect reference (Jones, 1923). Note that when the reference is at the end of a sentence, the period comes after the closing parentheses. If the same author/authors have multiple papers in the same year, they are listed as 1975a, 1975b, etc., both in the references list and the parenthetical citations.  Pages numbers are not necessary if the reference is only a few pages long and there is no direct quotation; if needed, use (Smith, 1972, p. 65). Follow these examples:

  • indirect citation-(Johnson, 1989)
  • multiple citations (direct)- Smith (1991), Jones (1990), and Brown (1989)
  • multiple citations (indirect)-(Smith, 1991; Jones, 1990; and Brown, 1989)
  • two authors (direct)- Jones and Smith (1985)
  • two authors (indirect)-(Jones and Smith, 1985)
  • multiple (more than two) authors (direct)- Jones and others (1985)
  • multiple (more than two) authors (indirect)-(Jones and others, 1985)

Some other formats use the Latin "et al." in place of "and others".  When "et al." is used, there is a period after the "al." because this is an abbreviation of "et alius", which mean "and others".

For an unpublished personal communication, cite it as (H.K. Jones, oral commun., 1985) or (H.K. Jones, written commun., 1985) .  You can include the person's affiliation after their name.  In this case there is nothing in the References Cited section.

For additional guidance see the Suggestions to Authors of the USGS.


Never use footnotes in a scientific paper unless it is absolutely necessary to define or explain. Mostly, the definition and/or the explanation is best placed in the main text prose using citations where necessary. For this paper do not use footnotes without specific permission of your instructor.


Minimize the use of direct quotations. They are rarely used in scientific papers. Paraphrase, and if the quotation is short (a few words) just use it and cite the source.  This will probably be easier since you do not have to figure out how to transition into the quotation.

Figures & Tables

  • Refer to the Figures and Tables in your prose (i.e. Figure 1, Table 1).
  • Place the Figures (graphs, drawings, schematics, photographs) and Tables as close to the textual description as possible.
  • See your word processor manual for how to import Graphics (Figures and Tables) from other computer programs. .
  • If you use copies of published or web illustrations, they must have a citation to your source. The citation is done the same way as any other citation, and there must be a corresponding entry in your references cited.
  • You can scan graphics into your computer and then place it electronically.
  • You can import graphics from the WWW by right clicking on a graphic and saving it to your hard disk.
  • Each Figure and Table must have consecutive numbers (using Arabic, not Roman numbers), and have a clear, concise, and informative caption. With the caption, include a short description of the information presented. This description should stand alone so the reader does not have to search your text for a description.
  • Use a Figure or a Table, but do not present a Figure and then the same data in a Table. Often, a Table is best as a graph.
  • The caption for a table goes above the table, and the caption for a figure goes below the figure.
  • If you have a large quantity of raw data, include the actual raw data as an appendix.


    1. Proofread your paper for grammar and spelling mistakes, and missing words. Do not rely solely on a spell checker.
    2. Do not use personal pronouns.
    3. If comparing data on different figures (graphs) make sure the scales are the same.
    4. Use the metric system. Convert English system units to metric.
    5. Use the active voice; minimize your use of the passive voice.
    6. Latin species names will be italicized, as in Helicoplacus guthi.  The genus name (the first in the pair) is always capitalized; the species name (or trivial name, the second in the pair) is never capitalized.  After the first reference, you can abbreviate the name to H. guthi. The names of higher taxonomic categories (families, orders, classes, etc.) are never written in italics but are capitalized if written in the Latin form.
    7. The common names of animals (like blue crab) or rocks are not capitalized.
    8. Salinity has no units, and you should not include any.  The use of ppt, o/oo, or PSU is no longer standard practice; the use of % was never correct.

    Layout Checklist

    1. Double space everything, including abstract and references cited.
    2. 1" margins on all sides.
    3. #12 font, Times New Roman.
    4. Abstract, introduction, and references cited start on new pages.
    5. Page numbers centered on bottom of every page except title page, starting with the abstract as page 1, and including the references cited..
    6. Title page not numbered.
    7. Title page has TITLE OF THE PAPER, AUTHOR, COURSE NAME, COURSE NUMBER, DATE , or uses the special format for an independent research course.
    8. Abstract page has title, author, "ABSTRACT", and text of the abstract.
    9. Citations in the text use the format "Author (year)" or "(Author, year)", and if they occur at the end of a line, the period comes after the citation.
    10. Hanging indents for reference list.  Use the Format, Paragraph command to get them.
    11. Sections headings centered, all capitals.
    12. Place Figures and Tables close to text explanations. All figures and tables must be referenced in the text. Consecutively number all Figure and Tables. Figures and Tables are numbered separately. Put you own caption on them, and acknowledge your sources. Your caption should stand on its own without reading the text. Caption goes above the table, but below the figure.
    13. In all paragraphs, indent the first line 5 spaces.

Last Revision May 15, 2017 

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