Frequently Asked Questions About Term Papers

Q. Why are you allowing us to do a term paper?

A. The purpose of this term paper is to provide you an opportunity to find out more about a park which may be of special interest to you. It also provide me with an opportunity to see how well you can research a park , organize the information gathered, and present it in a clear and efficient style. Lastly, it gives me criteria in addition to exams for determining your grade.

Q. Does the paper have to be typed?

A. Yes, preferably double spaced (although 1.5 spaced is OK), and with a reasonable sized font (e.g. Times, 12 pt or something of comparable size).

Q. How many pages should it be?

A. Long enough to adequately describe the geology of your park, yet short enough for me to read without falling asleep. The length can certainly vary, however most good papers are about 12-20 pages, including figures and references (see below). Less than 10 is unlikely to be long enough to do an adequate job, and more than 25 is probably more detail than I'm interested in. I quit reading at 30 pages.

Q. Do you count off for spelling?

A. I have always been a terrible speller, yet in this day of "spellchecker", few things annoy me more than misspelled words. Approximately 20% of your grade (or two letter grades) will be based on how well the paper is written and put together. This includes spelling, grammar, good organization, adequate figures, etc. Good content can be quickly lost in a sea of poor presentation style. And don't forget, spellchecker may knot recognize where ewe properly smelled the wrong word!!

Q. What makes for a good figure?

A. I believe it is impossible to submit a good paper on the geology of a national park which is not well illustrated with figures, maps, cross sections, and/or tables to supplement the text. A few good figures are truly "worth a thousand words". The be a good figure, it must serve a purpose, even if only to illustrate a type of landform which is a special interest. It should have a proper figure caption, centered beneath the figure, with source, and numbered as referred to in the text, e.g.

Figure 1; Location map of Death Valley (modified from McDougall, 1977).

The figure can be photo-copied from another source, however be sure and crop the figure tightly, enlarge if necessary, and simplify where appropriate. A figure which is too small to read, or with so much extraneous information that its purpose is unclear, is not a good figure. In addition, don't put a half-page figure on a separate page - insert it into the text. Page-sized figures should be inserted as close to where referred to in the text as possible. Also note that although scanned pictures, color images from the internet, and photos taken on your last vacation are nice, but are not necessary to get an A on your paper.

Q. What should the paper contain and how should we organize the paper?

A. You might want to consider the following outline as an example, however don't consider it a mandatory template. As long as the paper is well written, well organized, and includes the content suggested below, the exact format is at your discretion.

I. Introduction: This general introduction to the park should include the geographic location of the park (with a location map!), as well as which physiographic province the park lies. One or two paragraphs on the climate and vegetation would be appropriate here as well (although for some parks, this topic may deserve more expansive coverage). A short paragraph on the history of the park formation can be added if desired.

II. Park Geography: This is where you provide a park map which delineates the major geographic features within the park. Be sure and label all of those places which you will be referring to in subsequent parts of the paper.

III. Park Geology: This is the guts of the paper, and the one perhaps hardest to organize. Any paper should, however, have the following information.

’ΔΆ Regional Geologic Setting: where does the park fit in the big picture. This can come at the beginning, to set the stage, or at the end, to put the park into a regional context.

’ΔΆ Stratigraphic Column, preferably a diagram, showing the sequence, age, and lithology of the rocks exposed in the park.

’ΔΆ Generalized Geologic Map and Cross Section if available. You may use the ones I have provided in class if necessary, although you will get more out of one you have made yourself.

’ΔΆ Description and Origin of the Rocks and Geologic Structures present in the park.

’ΔΆ Development of Landforms and evolution of the landscape of the park.

’ΔΆ Geologic History of the park, i.e. a summary of the depositional, erosional, igneous, metamorphic, and tectonic events which have led to the park as we see it today..

’ΔΆ Places of Geologic Interest within the park, i.e. the "don't miss" places for the visitor with an interest in the geology of the park.

IV. Summary: an option which allows you personal views of the park, important issues affecting the park today or in the future, etc.

Q. Which park should I pick?

A. Any park which interests you, and which I will approve. You must get my approval in order to avoid too many students working on the same report, thus making access to references a problem. In addition, I will not approve a park if I feel there isn't enough relevant geologic material available for the park. In some cases, I may suggest to combine two parks in order to tell a better story. For example, Carlsbad and Guadalupe National Parks makes a good term paper.

Q. Why should I reference?

A. The purpose of referencing material used in a term paper is to indicate where the material was obtained. This not only provides the reader with a way of evaluating the validity of the statements made, but also provides a way of going to those original references to make a more in-depth study, if desired. It also eliminates any question of plagiarism

Q. What do you mean by plagiarism?

A. . As defined in the Student and Faculty Handbooks of the University of Houston, it is "representing as one's own work the work of another without acknowledging the source" (Faculty Handbook, 1998, p. 98). It is a violation of the University's Academic Honesty Policy, and as such, plagiarism could result in a student's receiving a zero for the paper, failing the course, or even being expelled from the University.

Q. How should I reference?

A. I prefer in-text references, as opposed to footnotes. For example, I might write "The Death Valley region has been subjected to several major deformation events, beginning in Proterozoic Y, and continuing intermittently to the present (Mc Dougall, 1977; Jackson and Smith, 1982; Maybry et. al., 1995)" The in-text reference should be of a standard format consistently applied. All references cited in the text should be listed at the end of the paper in a References section, where the references should be listed alphabetically. One format could be as follows:

Jackson, Keith, and Smith, Arthur, 1982, A Geophysical study of Death Valley; U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1244E, Government Printing Office, Washington, 67 pages.

McDougall, John, 1977, Regional Tectonics of the Basin and Range Region; Geological Society of America Bulletin, vol. 79, p. 112-115.

Maybry, W.R., Copeland, C.P., and Butler, J.B., 1995, Geologic History of the Death Valley Region (2nd edition); Pemmican Press, Santa Fe, NM, 147 pages.

Information from the internet should also be referenced and included in the reference list. I don't have a specific format, but it should be similar to those above, and include the web address!

Q. How often should I cite a reference - every sentence, every paragraph, every page?

A. That's a hard question, for which I have only some broad guidelines. The references should be frequent enough for the reader to distinguish between you thoughts and observations and those of someone else. Depending on how you state the reference, the frequency may vary. You might say "Jackson and Smith (1982) provided a detailed description of the Precambrian rocks of the area, which is summarized below" The reader knows that the description to follow was summarized from Jackson and Smith. One the other hand, you might want to say " Estimates of the amount of lateral offset on the Furnace Creek Fault range from as little as 80 km (Mc Dougall, 1977) to as much as 250 km (Maybry et. al., 1995), in which case you may have multiple references in a single sentence.

Q. How do I find relevant references?

A. Begin by looking at the reference list in your text book for the park you have chosen. The go to the library to try and find those books, and then use their reference lists, etc. In addition, use the libraries computers to search for articles and books of interest. Ask the librarian how to use GEOREF. Computer-phobes may want to try the hard-copy bibliographic material such as the "Bibliography and Index of Geology" - ask the librarian for help. Be sure and be broad-minded when you pick your key words. For example, references on Mount Ranier might be found under "Cascades", "volcanoes", "Pacific Northwest", "Washington state", etc. Don't forget to look for articles on the regional geology of an area, as well as books on all of the national parks, which might contain some information about your particular park. You can also use the internet search engines for internet sites, some of which will also have references to print literature.

Q. The library doesn't have what I need! What do I do?

A. Welcome to my world. After year's of budget cuts, of course our library doesn't have all of the references you need! Fortunately, to do an adequate term paper, you probably don't need all of the references that sound interesting. In addition, once you have a list of desired references, you have several potential sources. These include the Rice Library (with which we have a reciprocal agreement), the main Downtown Library, and interlibrary loan (which you do through our library, but which requires time). Lastly, having exhausted those resources, see me. I have some hard to find references which I will loan to students for brief periods, if needed.

Q. How many references do you require?

A. Another hard question. I want your paper to be a synthesis of different resources, not just a rehash of one or two good summaries. I want you to have a least looked at articles in journals, as well as the more traditional "books about the geology of so-and-so park". I would recommend you use at least a dozen references from a variety of sources, although there is no magic number. In fact, an appropriate number of references will depend in part on the park chosen, as the amount of available material varies greatly from park to park!

Q. I'm really busy this semester - may I turn the paper in late?

A. Yes. You may turn the paper in up until the time grades are due, however I count off 5% (half a letter grade) for each day the paper is late. In almost all cases, you are better off to turn it in on time, and avoid the late penalty. DON'T FORGET, THE PAPER IS DUE IN MY OFFICE BY April 29, 2002!