Chapter 12 Paper

Learning outcomes

  1. Produce a clear, succinct summary of research.
  2. Demonstrate mastery of evidence implementation for the environmental sciences.
  3. Appreciate the challenge of effective simplification in the sciences.

Choices redux

  1. Narrative review as a highlight, short commentary, or new idea paper that is a snapshot of the key findings from a field research summarizing the main discoveries and/or listing the most critical research gaps. Papers like these are often called Insights, Forum, or Ignite.

  2. Systematic reviews are similar to narrative reviews, but clear criteria are listed explaining how you selected papers (i.e. these search terms used in the Web of Science, only studies that had these key inclusion attributes, etc.). Systematic are more replicable because others could follow your steps and get the same set of papers and hopefully reach similar conclusions about the corpus of evidence. These reviews also typically provide some simple quantitative data about the set of studies such as number of countries where the research was done, total sample sizes, number of variables examined, or any attributes that describe what the research was for a specific detail. The narrative component is similar to the first option because it can state what we know and what do not but these reviews do so much more precisely. Even a few numbers go a long way to convincing people about the extent that we know or have studied a subject in science. Papers like these are often termed Short Commentary or Mini-Review.

  3. Meta-analyses are systematic reviews plus for each primary study you summarize, you capture the relative efficacy of the treatment tested. Papers like this are often termed Reviews or Meta-analyses but other terms can be used too. Note: in some fields of research the terms ‘systematic review’ and ‘meta-analysis’ are used interchangeably, but in most environmental sciences, meta-analyses always have a measure of the strength of evidence from each studied included in the synthesis whilst systematic reviews typically do not.

synthesis elements benefits limitations
narrative review summary, insights, next steps more opinion, can be shorter, less detailed processing the research literature can be less compelling without some specific evidence listed and is difficult to repeat
systematic review summary, insights, next steps, explanation of how studies were selected in the review, can have counts of ideas tested more specific, can be repeated, and can be more compelling need to keep track of how you selected papers, need to sort through papers in more detail in addition to capturing main ideas
meta-analyses all of above possible but must also include an assessment of the strength of evidence of each study included in the synthesis gold standard, reader can get a sense of how effective a treatment or intervention is relative to another need to extract means or measures of efficacy with sample sizes or variance from each study

Bottom line

Narrative review = Insights, Forum, or Ignite style paper common in current journals.
Max 2000 words (not including lit cited)
10-15 references

Highlight what we know, what we do not or a key gap we need to study (ie insights)

Systematic review = Short Commentary or Mini-review format in journals.
Max 2500 words (not including lit cited)
10 references

A few key quantitative details of the research literature such the frequency a specific concept is studied, total sample sizes or counts of variables measured. This is a comment on what we know with some evidence in numbers.

Meta-analysis = Review or Meta-analysis format paper.
2500 words (not including lit cited)
One figure plotting main finding of mean effects, i.e. a “Forest plot”
15 references

Find 5-10 papers that have the same data reported in each that you can use, get the means, r2, n or whatever is reported similarly, calculate a simple effect size such as ratio of treatment over control or a proportion that an intervention helped, plot this outcome, and write short paper commenting how well an intervention in the environmental sciences works (i.e. adding water to restore deserts or excluding cattle, one direct and simple variable that you care about)

Whatever format you elect to use the goal is to provide a super short & sweet synthesis of the research and clearly demonstrate that you used scientific evidence from papers that critically informs better environmental management choices.


  1. Select your format for paper. Here is an excellent example of guidelines for a world-class journal. ALL are short.

  2. Find a few examples of that type of paper. Read them.

  3. Include your name, surname, and student ID at the top of each page.

  4. Strict adhere to word limits. A total of three short paragraphs, no more.

  5. Write your paper in preferred text editor, print/save to PDF, save and submit to Class ID and key provided in the official course outline.


item concept description value
1 title clear and relevant 2
2 introduction one paragraph, short and direct, states the environmental challenge, why we should care, how to potentially solve it 8
3 main text one paragraph, state main findings for whatever format you selected 10
4 implications final & single paragraph as well, state the meaning of what you found, how it can used, who will benefit, how to use knowledge or gaps thereof 10
5 literature cited 10-15 references depending on type of paper, relevant, useful evidence, mostly recent i.e. last 5 years, clear choices 5
6 transparency clear writing, results, counts, plot or data clear if included, transparency in how evidence was used, balanced yet critical thinking review and synthesis 5
11 total sum of above 40