Ecology 8000 Synthesis/Review paper assignment

(largely stolen from the UF Biology/Zoology Department IP program)


Over the course of the semester you will develop and write a review/synthesis paper in the format of a TREE paper, and you will participate in the peer review of other students' papers. This is intended to:

  1. encourage you to explore and synthesize the literature most relevant to your research interests
  2. aid you in developing ideas for future research projects
  3. introduce you to the review process, as both an author and a reviewer
  4. help you develop scientific writing skills

Reading: Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

Paper assignment

Each student will write a short "synthesis" paper, which will be submitted to the course coordinator, who will act as the editor of a journal that specializes in publishing relatively short papers, modeled on Trends in Ecology and Evolution, that provide thought-provoking synthesis and review of intriguing questions in ecology. These papers should emphasize synthesis and/or the development of new approaches, rather than exhaustive summaries of past research. To the extent possible, aim for an integrative approach to the problem (rather than a more conventional focus). We encourage you to select a topic that you expect to pursue for your graduate studies. We are hopeful that this exercise will benefit the development of your research ideas and grant proposals. Because the process of publication is not a private one, and papers benefit from critical feedback and reviews, preparation of a manuscript is greatly facilitated by discussions with colleagues, and friendly peer review prior to submission. We encourage you to discuss your ideas and your manuscript with your advisor and others as you select a topic and begin to develop your outline. If at any time during the project you need advice or assistance, feel free to contact the course instructors or other members (faculty and students) of the school -- many of whom have experience as authors, reviewers, and editors.  This "pre-submission" process is lengthy -- allow time for the development of your ideas, writing of a draft, feedback from others, and revision (perhaps followed by more feedback and more revision)...all before the final version must be submitted, which includes a cover letter and response to reviewer comments.

Paper format

A PDF of the paper should be submitted along with a PDF of a cover letter addressed to the Editor-in-Chief (i.e., the lead instructor via e-mail) stating the title and nature of the paper, and the number of tables and figures (ask graduate students and faculty for examples of cover letters). You should also indicate if any of this material has been submitted or published elsewhere (journals frown on "double" publication). It should represent original work. You should also feel free to suggest possible reviewers and to indicate persons who you feel might have a conflict of interest, which might prevent them from providing a fair review.

The submitted papers are not drafts, but complete, polished versions of the manuscript. All manuscripts should be spell- and grammar-checked (not just by your computer software) and proofread.

Peer Review & Revision

The papers will be peer-reviewed by students in the course and by faculty and graduate students in the Odum School of Ecology (and possibly in related departments at UGA). Reviews will provide the basis for the editorial decision. A decision letter and the reviews will be provided to the authors (and reviewers). Editorial review will determine if the papers are ready for publication or require further revision (you should anticipate the latter; it is extremely rare for a paper to be accepted "as is", and this has never happened with this particular journal). Review (constructive criticism from one's scientific peers) and revision (in light of that criticism) are the components of the publication process that maintain high standards of quality and significance in the scientific literature.

Author guidelines for TREE offer a general template for the structure of the review. However, we will devote class time to a discussion of the mechanics of manuscript preparation and revision, as well as the review process. It is hoped that by participating in this process in the course of writing your papers, you will develop greater insight into the nature of scientific publication, both from the viewpoint of a producer and a consumer of that literature.


Check out the following example of a review and response to reviewers:

Manuscript review example

Due Dates

Assignment due

Sept 8

Topic and outline of review paper due at 5 pm

Oct 13

First draft due at 5 pm

Nov 11

First submission (including cover letter) due by 5:00 PM

Nov 27

Peer reviews due by 5pm

Dec 17

Final drafts (including the response to reviewer comments) due by 5pm