When you start your background research, one of the early steps is finding and reading the scientific literature related to your science project (see the Roadmap: How to Get Started On an Advanced Science Project article for more details on project steps). Mentors are a great resource for recommendations about which scientific papers are critical for you to read and you should definitely ask your mentor, or another expert in the field, for advice. But there’ll also be times when your mentor is busy or isn’t up-to-date on a particular experimental method, in which case, you’ll need to be proactive and hunt for papers on your own. It turns out that just plugging search terms into a regular search engine, like Google, Yahoo, or MSN, isn’t very effective. The pages you get back will be a wide mixture of websites, and very few will be links to peer-reviewed scientific papers. To find scientific literature, the best thing to use is an academic search engine.
Note: The results of academic search engines come in the form of an abstract, which you can read to determine if the paper is relevant to your science project, as well as a full citation (author, journal title, volume, page numbers, year, etc.) so that you can find a physical copy of the paper. Search engines do not necessarily contain the full text of the paper for you to read. A few, like PubMed, do provide links to free online versions of the paper, when one is available. Read on for help finding the full paper.
Once you’ve found the citation for a paper that is relevant to your advanced science project, the next step is actually getting a copy so that you can read it. As mentioned above, some search engines provide links to free online versions of the paper, if one exists. If the search engine doesn’t, or if you got the citation somewhere else, like the bibliography of another science paper you were reading, there are several ways to find copies.
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If you copy text from one of your sources, then place it in quotation marks in addition to following it with a citation. Be sure you understand and avoid plagiarism! Do not copy another person’s work and call it your own. Always give credit where credit is due!
The short answer is that the research paper is a report summarizing the answers to the research questions you generated in your background research plan. It’s a review of the relevant publications (books, magazines, websites) discussing the topic you want to investigate.
Many science experiments can be explained using mathematics. As you write your research paper, you’ll want to make sure that you include as much relevant math as you understand. If a simple equation describes aspects of your science fair project, include it.
Your science fair project question or topic Definitions of all important words, concepts, and equations that describe your experiment The history of similar experiments Answers to your background research questions.
DISCLAIMER: This article is not written by Stanley Milgram, but is intended as an example of a psychology research paper that someone might have written after conducting the first Milgram-study. It’s presented here for educational purposes.
“Behavioral Study of Obedience”
There are few facts about the role of obedience when committing acts against one’s personal conscience (1961). Most theories suggest that only very disturbed people are capable of administering pain to an ordinary citizen if they are ordered to do so. Our experiment tested people’s obedience to authority. The results showed that most obey all orders given by the authority-figure, despite their unwillingness. The conclusion is that, contrary to common belief, personal ethics mean little when pitted against authority.
Participants There were 30 male participants. They were recruited by advertisement in a newspaper and were paid $4.50. Instruments A “shock generator” was used to trick the participants into thinking that they were giving an electric shock to another person in another room. The shock generator had switches labeled with different voltages, starting at 30 volts and increasing in 15-volt increments all the way up to 450 volts. The switches were also labeled with terms which reminded the participant of how dangerous the shocks were. Procedures The participant met another “participant” in the waiting room before the experiment. The other “participant” was an actor. Each participant got the role as a “teacher” who would then deliver a shock to the actor (“learner”) every time an incorrect answer to a question was produced. The participant believed that he was delivering real shocks to the learner. The learner would pretend to be shocked. As the experiment progressed, the teacher would hear the learner plead to be released and complain about a heart condition. Once the 300-volt level had been reached, the learner banged on the wall and demanded to be released. Beyond this point, the learner became completely silent and refused to answer any more questions. The experimenter then instructed the participant to treat this silence as an incorrect response and deliver a further shock. When asking the experimenter if they should stop, they were instructed to continue.