Term Projects: General Guidelines

  1. General Guidelines
  2. Work Plan
  3. More about overview text
  4. More on convenient, credible, up-to-date...
  5. More on selection of Topics (Fall 2002/2002)

2. General Guidelines

The goal of the Term project is to provide a convenient, credible, up-to-date, interesting, original and properly credited overview of a selected topic and a gateway to finding further information.

The page should be prepared for and useful to, visitors with a university education or equivalent (or in progress, like yourselves), but who are not experts in the topic you presenting.

Each group prepares a Home Page which introduces all of the Individual Topics for the group.

Each individual prepares a page or set of pages that provides:
    • an introduction/overview of the subtopic
    • a glossary
    • a section with useful links (Web sites and pages)
    • a section with useful scientific literature
    • a section with cited literature and links
    • some images, provided either to illustrate specific examples or to make pages interesting and esthetically appealing

Consult the Term Project Technical Guidelines for details of HTML code, how to cite references etc.

3. Work Plan

  1. Come up with a tentative topic for your Individual Page

  2. Consider who would make use of the site, what function is it fulfilling?

    Conduct a websearch to make sure there is not an existing site which covers the same topic/theme in the same way that you are considering. If that is the case, modify what your contribution to the topic would be or select another topic.

    Also you want to be sure that there is enough material available to develop your selected topic. Is there a good lead for starting the work? You could make use of a term paper prepared for another class as a starting point. If you are thinking of that, let me have a look at it and discuss it with the group. (We would need to ensure the site is not limited to a rehash of the paper).

    The class is over at the end of term, and thus no commitment can be made to maintaining a site which is normally a major consideration. However, your page should be designed with the assumption that it would be maintained, and it should be complete when it is posted, i.e. you are not creating a model for a site, but rather the total initial site. Alternatively, it could be viewed as a one-time, up-to-date-at-that-time information/explanatory site (group of pages) about a particular topic. The important point: don't design a page or site that you cannot finish.

    (One possibility for making use of the site subsequently could be to offer it to an organization that might be interested in maintaining it or adapting it within their site.)

  3. Each person places their page or pages in a directory called termproject which is placed under the zsurname directory. (At the second draft stage, the directory name could be changed to one that is related specifically to the topic, e.g. birdsofprey).

  4. The initial focus of the work should be on overall ORGANIZATION & CONTENT rather than on Page Design.

  5. Begin to think about your PAGE DESIGN (layout, colors etc.) after your 1st draft, which focusses on content, has become due. Discuss your ideas and draft designs with colleagues; ask for honest feedback!

4. More about overview text

The page provides an introduction to a topic and is conceptually oriented. Some factual details should be included to illustrate particular points or concepts, but you are not providing a detailed, comprehensive review. The emphasis throughout is on quality rather than quantity of what's written. I am not looking for a lot of writing, but what's there should all be well thought out and pertinent, and it should be up-to-date.

Suggestions about researching your topic

The way you go about researching your topic will be different from that involved in traditional review papers. In our case, you want to provide an overview or introduction to a topic and a gateway to finding further information. Recent review papers and the introductory sections of recent primary research papers are good places to search initially to acquaint yourself with a field.

Probably you will be discovering some new concepts, perspectives and facts for the first time. Draft some text, then evaluate it by conducting some further research. Were your initial concepts biased by the papers that you first read? Revise the text and repeat this process. Once some basics have gelled, organize the material according to the requested sections, and do the initial formatting so you can view it from the Web. Critique it yourself, modify it and then request feedback from other members of your group.

While I am looking for an overview, you should still provide some specific examples or summary data to illustrate points made in your overview. I suggest flagging possible examples or good summary data when you encounter them; make a final selection after you have a good first draft of the overview without the examples or summary data.

After you have a such a draft, do more research on   recent literature to test the validity of the concepts that have presented, and to find good examples to illustrate them. If your concepts are holding up, then you have likely done sufficient literature research. If they don't, more research is still required. Alternatively, if the task of achieving what had originally envisaged now seems to be far too large a task, consider narrowing the scope of your site.

If you are not experienced in use of electronic resources for literature and database research, it would be worthwhile to make use of the Dal library's Web tutorials. See also Quick Links for ACCESSING JOURNALS AND DATABASES VIA THE WEB

Suggestions about writing the overview, and on how to include details

If you are dividing the overview into distinct subsections, provide a paragraph to introduce the subsections.

Be careful of "fuzzy generalizations". You can make generalizations (or enunciate general principles, patterns) and indeed you should, but illustrate them by more specific examples and numerical data. This is very important when dealing with biological topics. Biological, and especially ecological generalizations are based on or tested against collections of specific examples, and sometimes we need some of those examples to understand the generalization. Imagine yourself to be a visitor to you page: reading the generalizations, would he/she be inclined to say 'I need an example to have a more tangible understanding of that statement' or 'that is a viewpoint but it doesn't tell me much'.? If so, then you need to elaborate on the generalization.

The following is an example. The first two sentences alone tell the whole story in general terms, but the subsequent sentences enhance our understanding of those first two sentences.

An important type of agroforestry is that involved in managing the riparian zone to act as an ecological buffer. Riparian buffer strips are zones of trees or shrubs that are allowed to persist or are planted de nova on or near banks of rivers and streams. Riparian trees are water-loving trees that soak up excess water and nutrients. They reduce flooding and erosion, trap nutrients, store water, and provide a habitat for wildlife (*THE TEMPERATE AGROFORESTRY HOMEPAGE). One or two rows of trees and shrubs can provide substantial protection; commonly a 10-50 m zone is recommended. A riparian buffer strip can remove up to 80% of nitrogen and phosphorus from surface water (*THE TEMPERATE AGROFORESTRY HOMEPAGE), thus riparian forests can play an important role in reducing pollution of our waterways.
Further illustrative details of an even more specific nature might be included under a subsection called Some Facts and Figures, e.g. in relation to the text above, one item or key fact might be
  • A study of constructed riparian zones adjacent to pastures in Upper Hayfield, Nova Scotia, demonstrated alder to be an easily established and effective riparian buffer species: nitrate loading on streams bordered by 10m wide, 5 year old stands of alder and grasses was reduced to 15% of that for streams without a riparian buffer zone (MacSeed,2000).
  • For examples of Facts and Figures presented as subsections see:

    5. More on convenient, credible, up-to-date and interesting, original and properly credited

    • on the Web
    • well written (concise, clear)
    • laid out in a logical/intuitive format ( i.e. one that allows a browser to move through it easily)

    It is important to remove redundancies from material that is to be read on the Web (as opposed to being downloaded and read). It usually takes a little practice to get in the hang of editing this way, and often it is easier to edit someone else's writing than it is your own. Thus I suggest that when you are close to a final copy, ask a colleague to have go at it. See two examples of first draft material from a previous class that were generally well written, but could be cut down significantly. Apply hints given by C. Kilian in Writing for the Web, e.g. setting an arbitrary word limit for chunks of text (p.60).

    • information taken from literature and Web sources is represented in a way that accurately reflects the original material
    • cited properly
    • as appropriate, information cited is critiqued
    • priority is given to sources that can be reliably accessed, and that can be considered authoritative*
    • sufficient literature including recent literature (2000-2002) has been consulted to ensure that statements, facts, concepts are defensible, and reflect a consensus or a recognized position, or approach
    • if you have your own or novel ideas about a concept, include them in a section called "personal perspective"
    • page is free of grammatical and spelling errors (reassuring the visitor that it was well researched, reviewed)
    * "Authoritative sources"

    There are two major reasons for citing sources in these pages: (1) to give credibility to your arguments, facts and figures by reference to some type of authority; (2) to give credit to authors whose work you make use of. In some cases there is a third, which would be to cite sources of data that you are making original use of, e.g. from a database, or to cite some opinions on a topic.

    For authoritative sources, whenever possible you should refer to sources which produced and analyzed the original data, or use reviews that accurately document their sources and that are in regular journals or on professionally maintained, credible sites. In general these will be primary scientific papers in refereed scientific journals, reviews of the literature in refereed journals, disciplinary books and textbooks, or pages on professionally maintained, official sites (such as FAO, Health-Canada).

    You can use advocacy sites (including commercial sites) for news and views, but unless they provide credible sources for statistics, do not use them as the primary reference for facts and figures.

    Some advocacy sites e.g. the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund do provide some really good, scientifically documented statistics, and sometimes primary research, some do not. If you use a scientific review posted on an advocacy site as a primary reference for facts and figures, refer to the specific documents that provide the data (e.g. Wilson, 1999 cited in *WATER QUALITY).

    Do not use informal sites - ones that are NOT maintained professionally and that may be here today and gone tomorrow - as documentation for the credibility of a particular piece of information. An example might be a student paper published on a personal site (regardless of how well it is done). Often you may get some of your ideas and concepts from these types of sites, that is OK, but check them out against credible sources that you can cite or don't make use of them.

    Do not cite specific material from an informal source with the documentation used in the informal source unless you check it out; if you can't check it out, don't use it!

    Current (up-to-date)
    • recent literature (2000-2002) and postings (on the Web) have been reviewed and a selection of them are cited
    It is not expected that this literature has been comprehensively reviewed (meaning that every available paper has been reviewed), but it is expected that it has been well sampled.

    Normally it is expected that at least 1/3 of references to scientific literature are to items published during the last 3 years (2000-2002). Make use of the excellent electronic search resources available through the Dal Library. A page posted on the Agroecosystems site - ACCESSING JOURNALS AND DATABASES VIA THE WEB provides a good starting point.

    • pages are attractive but design features are not distracting,
    • good use made of visual elements (color, bullets, images etc.),
    • creative style of writing, content

    Original and properly credited

    Your writing is expected to be an original synthesis of information drawn from various sources. Giving credit can be complicated given the immense amount of material on the Web and the informal here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of much of it. Often, you will develop your ideas by looking at material on both formal and informal sites; you don't really need to acknowledge the sources unless you make specific use of them. If you are using more than a sentence verbatim from an informal source, put it in quotes and acknowledge the source. However, keep in mind the credibility issue above in deciding whether you want to use it at all.

    Be aware of what constitutes plagiarism; if you are uncertain whether your use of particular material is appropriate, discuss it with dp.

    5. Selection of Topics (Fall 2002/2003)

    Each individual is asked to prepare a Web page or pages on a particular topic in Biology, or providing some service to Biology students or to the Biology Department or to the community. Whatever the topic, it should include some original research of the literature, drawing on electronic and print resources available through the Dal library system and on the Web.

    The class is organized into groups of 5 to 6 persons. Individuals were assigned to groups on the basis of their particular interests within biology. (Group 5 is an exception; it includes all of the graduate students in the class regardless of their particular interests.)

    Each group prepares a Home Page that introduces and links to the members' pages or sites using absolute adresses. The Home Page is called "Topics in XXX", or Issues in XXXX where XXX can be quite broadly defined (e.g Topics in Developmental and Molecular Biology). Group 5's Home Page is called " Web Literacy Graduate Projects."

    A group may decide that it wants to narrow the scope of the topics and produce a focussed Web site but only if all members agree to do so. For example, a focussed site might be on Gene Therapy for Genetic Disorders with each group member being responsible for a particular genetic disorder.

    Subject to approval by and discussion with the Instructor, a term paper written for another, already completed class may be used as a starting point for an individual page or for a focussed group site.

    Web Literacy Class
    Dalhousie University