Technical Papers


Santa Clara Valley Science and Engineering Fair Association

Technical Paper Submissions

The Technical Paper Competition is unique to the Synopsys Championship and is separate from the Project Competition. If you are a high school student in grades 9-12, you may enter a Technical Paper on your project in addition to your individual project. (Technical Papers for team projects are not allowed.)  The paper must cover the same subject matter as your research project.

Technical Papers should represent your own work and should be written by you.

Each Technical Paper must be submitted by a teacher and should include either a copy of Form (1C) (if the research was done at a Registered Research Insititute) or a completed copy of the Technical Paper Form.  Forms are available on this website's FORMS page.

Guide to Writing a Technical Paper

Introduction

Technical Papers that describe your own experimental research are called research papers. Research papers are great for those who enjoy scientific experimentation and written communication. A research paper is how most real scientists present their research findings.

Another kind of paper, called a review paper, is no longer accepted at the Synopsys Championship. The technical paper you enter should describe your own experiment, not someone else's.

Your Technical Paper will be judged primarily based on its content. The words that you write and the figures that you draw tell how well you understand your topic. These words and figures also tell how well you followed the scientific method. This guide lists the sections that your technical paper should contain.

The format of your paper is important, too. Unusual formatting that makes reading difficult may affect judging. Following this guide's checklist will help you avoid a formatting faux pas.

Sections

Your technical paper should contain these items in the following order.

 Blank Page.  

 Title Page. Choose a title that identifies the content of your paper. The title can include the nature of the study, the species used, and the place of field studies. It should reflect the principal objective of the investigation, for instance, "Are tilted sound walls better than vertical sound walls for reducing noise?" In addition to the title, include on your Title Page your name, grade, school, and the date.

 Abstract. The abstract is a single, precise paragraph that summarizes your entire paper, and so you should write it last! State the principal objectives of the investigation, the methodology you used, a summary of the results, and a statement of your principal conclusions. Acknowledge any help that you received with your investigation or experiment.

The abstract should take up about one-third to one- half of the single-spaced typed page. Your paper's title and your name should be included at the top of the page. Your paper's abstract appears on its own page, single-spaced. Write the abstract in the past tense.

 Introduction. Introduce your subject/topic, and provide background information so that your reader knows the context of your study. State the problem being solved. Give a brief summary of the past information bearing on your work. Write this section as if your reader has no idea what you are talking about. Have someone else read your introduction, and ask them to tell you what they think you are trying to say. Be specific. Cite your resources and discuss why you did your research. End with a clear statement of your hypothesis. Be sure to make proper references, citing by author and date (Evashenk, 1997). This is the section where you summarize all of your library investigation.

Start the Introduction on a new page, and double space. The Introduction is not limited to a single page.

 Materials and Methods. State your methods, step-by-step, so that others could repeat your work exactly. Include details. Discuss where, when (in chronological order), and how you did your work, and with what equipment and techniques. Give exact specifications and quantities.

If you used a published method, reference the method, but describe any changes you made to it. If you used experimental organisms, identify them by genus and species (for instance, if you know you used Zea mays, then don't write "corn"), and indicate where you obtained them. Underline or italicize the entire binomial name. If you used a standard instrument, it suffices merely to say so, but if you devised a new or special method, describe it completely. Discuss sampling procedures and statistical methods, but do not include any results (data) in this section.

You don't need to start the Materials and Methods section on a new page; it immediately follows the Introduction. Continue to double space.

 Results. In this section you state concisely what you found in your experiment--but you include just your own observations. Do not discuss the meaning of the observations or the results of other experimenters (leave these for the Discussion).

Graphs, diagrams, simple drawings, short tables, and even your raw data are placed at the end of your paper in the Figures and Tables section. Refer to these items in your text (for instance, as "see Figure 1 on page x"). This section does not contain seemingly endless streams of data, but it can report averages and representative data instead. Report results in the same order in which you described the methods.

You don't need to start the Results section on a new page; it immediately follows the Materials and Methods. Continue to double space.

 Discussion. In this section you compare your work with that of previous experimenters and bring out any speculations about your project. Be sure to distinguish between your speculations and your observations. Restate your hypothesis, and interpret your results in light of the hypothesis. Did your data support or refute your hypothesis? Why?

Refer to figures and tables to make your point. Discuss the meaning of the results. Discuss possible alternative interpretations of your results and give them an unbiased evaluation. Discuss what variables might have been overlooked. Suggest other studies that might be done on the basis of your results. Clearly distinguish between what you now know and what you now think; this may not be as easy as it sounds. Integrate your observations and results into a single meaningful statement of conclusion.

This is the most important part of your paper and should tie together all of the other sections. It may seem repetitive to restate parts of your introduction, procedure, and results, but that is desirable. This is where you wrap up everything and make sense of your experiment for your reader. You may want to cite resources as you did in the introduction to make a point or to compare your results with someone else's.

You don't need to start the Discussion section on a new page; it immediately follows the Results. Continue to double space.

 Acknowledgements. List and thank the persons who provided technical help to you. List the source of special equipment or materials. If financial assistance was provided, list the supporter. Be brief! Place the Acknowledgements section on its own page. Double space.

 Literature Cited. This is a list of references actually quoted or referred to in your paper, arranged alphabetically by author. It is not truly a bibliography. Place the Literature Cited section on its own page. Double space.

 Tables and Figures. In this final section of your paper, place all of the tables followed by all of the figures. Each table or figure is labeled with a title and is followed by a legend (a paragraph) that makes it completely understandable without referring to the text. Remember that tables contain typed information, usually organized in rows and columns, but figures contain information that is drawn or that is photographed.

Place the tables in the same order that they are first referred to in the text. Number them in this order starting with 1. Then follow these tables with the figures, placed in the same order that they are first referred to in the text. Also number figures starting with 1. You will refer to these items in the body of your paper, as in "Table 2. pH data collected on February 4, 1997" or as in "Figure 1. Plot of water pH vs. distance from waste treatment plant."

Format

Follow the rules specified below. Entries that appear to have ignored the required format or that have omitted required sections may not be accepted for judging.

  • Type or print in black only.
  • Double space.
  • Use only one side of 8-1/2" x 11" paper.
  • Use 1-1/2" margins.
  • Number each page.
  • Use metric measurements and scientific names.
  • Be as concise as possible. (Your paper should be no more than 3,000 words.)
  • Fasten all pages in a light folder.

In addition, follow these rules of style and correctness.

  • Write clearly in English with correct grammar.
  • Begin paragraphs with topic sentences that introduce what is to follow.
  • Don't use fancy words when simple ones will do.
  • Be sure that words, especially scientific words, are spelled correctly.
  • Include graphs and figures that support your paper's main points.
  • Most importantly, have someone read your paper! The best way to learn whether you have made your point is to ask someone who has read your paper, "what do you think my paper is about?", and then listen to what they have to say.

Additional Reading

  • coverStrunk, W., Jr., and E. B. White. 2000. The Elements of Style. 4th edition. Allyn & Bacon, Needham Heights, Massachusetts.

    Books that teach clear, concise writing need not be huge. This slim paperback contains some of the most important and most overlooked rules for English writing. It is a classic work that is as important to a college student as a dictionary. If you read any of the books mentioned here, read this one.

  • coverZinsser, William. 1998. On Writing Well. 6th edition. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, New York.

    It's okay to use simple words. (Overly complicated multi-syllablic utterances hinder rather than aid communication.) This classic book teaches eight basic writing principles and then demonstrates them in many kinds of non-fiction writing.

  • coverTurabian, Kate L. 1996. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. 6th edition. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois.

    This is the authoritative work on the format of research papers. It will answer all of your questions on references, footnotes, tables of contents, etc., leaving you time for thinking about what you are going to write.

 

 

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