Plate Tectonics Paper Assignment

Due dates:

Submittal: Please submit by the assignment function in Blackboard. Do not submit by email.

Topic: An excellent way to reinforce what you have learned in the course is to choose an area and report on the plate history and processes of that area. That is the assignment.

You will need to pick an area large enough that you can talk about plate processes, such as rifting, subduction, etc.. A state sized area can work. Nebraska would not be the best choice since we are in the middle of the craton, and not much has happened for the last billion years, and the results of the Precambrian plate tectonic activity is buried deep down. It would be advantageous to pick an area where there is a substantial body of reference literature you can draw upon. However, it is also important not to pick such a large area or topic that it is difficult to cover in 10 pages. You should run your idea past me, or if you would like me to suggest an idea let me know.

I am open to alternate type papers/projects but you need to work that out with me first.

Audience: Your audience in this case are your peers in this class, i.e. people with some background in plate tectonics. In other words, your fellow students should be able to learn something new and interesting from your paper. Your audience is not the professor!


Suggestions as to paper organization:

Content, organization, and writing clarity are three critical aspects of a paper. Organization is what people often struggle with the most. An outline can be immensely useful in working out an organization. One approach is to start with a broad outline, then create a more detailed outline, and keep filling in the parts until you have a paper. Use published papers as a guide to organizational approaches you can take. Note they almost always use section headings. These can evolve from your outline and are extremely helpful to the reader. A typical journal article often follows the organizational structure: abstract, introduction, methodology, results, discussion, conclusions, acknowledgements, references. However, since your paper is an overview or review paper and not presenting new research it should have a different structure from a typical journal article.

A zoom in then zoom out approach is a common overall strategy. In this case you start with the general understanding, geologic setting and/or question at hand. In part you are giving the reader the context and providing information they will need to know in order to understand the rest of the paper. You then focus in detail on the specific topic of the paper, first describing data and relationships and then discussing the significance of the data. This will take up the bulk of the paper. Finally, you step back and place the specific material discussed in a broader context and make generalizations from it. Basically, in the final stage you are telling the reader what the significance of the material is in a broader scientific context.

For this specific paper a number of organization structures can be used. A very common one is a historical framework. With this approach you would focus on telling the plate tectonic history from start to finish for your selected area. You could start from the recent and work back in time, but this is rarely done. You might think of why that is. Another approach would be a spatial traverse. For example, you could describe the geology in a traverse across the plate boundary, or along its length, or both. Another approach would be the debate framework, in which the material is discussed in the context of an existing debate as to the history or mechanics of plate motion. Obviously this will only work in specific instances (for example it has been done for the Nares Strait between Greenland and the Canadian Arctic). Another organizational structure would be disciplinary. In this case you would discuss the tectonics from different data perspectives. For example, you might have sections on the geophysical, structural and sedimentologic data that inform our understanding of the plate tectonics of the area. Of course the above approaches can be used in combination. Which one do you use? That is determined by the nature of the information you have and the nature of the area being discussed. Trial and error helps determine which one works best in a given instance. The most critical thing is that you organize your discussion.

Ask questions! Ask questions! Ask questions!


Please use the following format for the references cited section:

When citing references in the text use on of the following formats: (author, year), (first author et. al, year), author (year) or first author et. al (year). The later two are used when directly referring to the author in the sentence. For example, "Smith (1986) states that .....".

Most of your references should be from the scientific literature. If available on the web you can include the URL along with the full citation as described above.

Feedback: For a much better paper get some feedback. This can be as simple as asking a friend or colleague to read it and identify the portions that aren't clear. Your reviewer should be a potential member of the intended audience. If you are writing for children, give it to a child. It is the reviewer's job to be critical (in a constructive fashion) and thus help identify places where revision would be helpful. I will be happy to give feedback on drafts it you give me enough time.

Good luck and don't hesitate to come to me with questions.

Course materials for Plate Tectonics, GEOL 3700, University of Nebraska at Omaha. Instructor: H. D. Maher Jr., copyright. This material may be used for non-profit educational purposes with appropriate attribution of authorship. Otherwise please contact author.