Writing up a report


Whether your paper is

the proper format for the paper is as follows :

  1. The Summary or Abstract should be brief enough for adoption by an abstracting journal (such as GeoAbstracts). It should answer two questions - what was done and what was discovered. The latter should preferably be stated numerically. The Summary should not repeat the title. It must not include specialist terms, nor require explanation.
  2. The Introduction defines the terms used, explains the problem to be solved and why it is worth solving, and outlines the scope of what is to follow. The problem should preferably be expressed in the form of a question, with a question mark. (The answer is in the Conclusions).
  3. The Previous Work section consists of a literature review to ascertain the extent to which the question has been answered already. This defines the gaps still to be filled. References shouldn't be introduced in any later section of the report.
  4. The Theory section is the place for conjecture about the possible answer to the question, based on Previous Work and creative insight. The hypothesis to be tested is stated here.
  5. The Method section should give enough detail to allow anyone else to confirm the results by repeating the measurements. Any special circumstances or materials should be described
  6. Results consist of measured values in tables, graphs and equations, with just enough comment to highlight the main features.
  7. In the Discussion is a consideration of the implications of the results, especially in terms of answering the initial question. Comparisons with Previous Work mentioned already and any inadequacies of the measurements would be considered. Also, fresh questions that arise from the results. Most Discussions are too long and verbose.
  8. The Conclusions must be separate and brief, consisting chiefly of a bald answer to the initial question. It is amazing how many papers are published without separate, brief Conclusions. The Conclusions should be entirely factual, stating only what new information has been discovered. Where possible, they should be quantitative rather than adjectival. The starkness of the Conclusions contrasts with the discursiveness of the preceding free-ranging Discussion. The difference is the reason they should not be mixed together, as is often done, regrettably.
  9. The References are most conveniently given in terms of the Harvard system, ie author's name and the year of publication. However, it needs more space than a serial numbering of the references, and therefore is more costly to print and declining in use. A system gaining ascendancy has references given in the text by the sequential number of the reference in an alphabetical series at the end. Unfortunately, it is easy to create mistakes of referencing that way, and the numbers in the text are less helpful to the reader than authors' names and dates. The system used in this book is a compromise.


Ambiguous terminology


The following are quoted from climatology papers by respected authors. The reader is invited to try to guess the various meanings each quotation might have -

- `annual hourly wind velocity'

- `two-year average mean monthly daily maxima'

- `mean minimum of the coldest month'

- `mean monthly maximum' temperature

- `annual daily maximum rainfall'

- `annual mean maximum' temperature

- `mean maximum temperature'

- `mean weekly maximum screen'

Difficulty of interpretation arises because, for example, `mean monthly maximum temperature' is not the same as `maximum monthly mean temperature'. The order of the words in each case implies the procedure for deriving the value.

If no period is stated before `mean', `average', `maximum' etc, the word `long-term' is implied (e.g. over 30 years or so), as in `mean temperature'. So `mean monthly temperature' makes no sense, because `monthly temperature' has no significance. Likewise, `maximum mean monthly temperature' should be expressed more clearly as `monthly mean daily maximum temperature', if that is what is intended.

The rule is as follows: each statistical word such as `mean', `maximum', `total', must be immediately preceded by specification of the period or area of application. For instance:


























Model answers

Here are some model answers to the following kind of examination question:

Explain the definition, cause and consequences of i) the troposphere, ii) the Coriolis effect, iii) the Hadley cell.



defined as the lowest layer of the atmosphere (typically 10-15 km deep), within which temperature falls with height at about 6K/km.

caused by radiative transfer and dry or moist adiabatic vertical air motions.

consequences include i) the formation of clouds (and hence rain), ii) wet climates where the air tends to rise, and deserts where it subsides, iii) preference for airplanes to fly higher to minimize turbulence.



defined as the apparent turning of straight-line motion across the Earth’s surface, associated with the actual turning of the observer, to an extent depending on the hemisphere and latitude.

caused by the fact that the observer is aware only of earth-relative motion, always attributing perceived motion to the perceived object, rather than the observer’s motion. (Thus we talk of the Sun rising and sinking.)

consequences are many, e.g. i) air drawn into a low pressure is swirled around the low, rotating clockwise in the southern hemisphere, ii) upwelling off the coasts of Peru or northern California, iii) tropical cyclones cannot form on the equator, where the effect is zero.



defined as the zonally-symmetric vertical circulation of air in each hemisphere: air rises at the InterTropical Convergence Zone, diverges poleward in the upper troposphere, subsides in the belt of high-pressure regions around the Tropics, and then returns towards the ITCZ as the easterly Trade winds.

caused by the buoyancy of air near the ITCZ, due to the net radiation surplus there, as well as evaporation from the oceans into the Trade winds.

consequences include i) the deserts near the Tropics, ii) the poleward transfer of sensible heat, iii) wet conditions near the ITCZ.