Guidelines for writing a report on the time budget exercise

General Zoology Spring 2011 Winslow

This week we will watch fox squirrels (Sciurus niger) on campus to analyze the time budget of this species on an April morning. If squirrels are scarce, we can also watch various species of birds. You will each write a research report to present the findings of this study. The research report is a type of an article with a specific format which scientists use to communicate primary research results. (The word “primary” in this context means the first time the specific results are published.) Each scientific journal that publishes research reports has a very specific set of guidelines for authors. There are attempts to standardize these formats; for instance, the Council of Biology Editors (CBE) publishes a manual on scientific style and format (Council of Biology Editors, 1994).

I am more interested that you learn the general structure of a research report than that you follow the specific format required for a journal. A scientific research report typically includes a title page, an abstract, an introduction, a methods section, a results section, a discussion section, and a reference section. The best way to learn about this structure is to read papers published in peer-reviewed journals. You should read papers relevant to the topic of time budgets for your literature review (see The Introduction below).

Take a look at the website for my class in Research and Technical Writing (look under “previous semesters”). If it is helpful to you, you may want to look at the CBE manual (the 1994 edition is available in the library) or read the instructions to authors for a given journal. (For instance, see for instructions for journals edited by the Ecological Society of America.)

The Title

The title of a scientific paper states the specific question or topic under study. Oftentimes the study addresses the effect of one factor on another. For instance, one paper published several years ago in Conservation Biology is entitled “Effects of forest fragmentation on a dung beetle community in French Guiana” (Feer and Hingrat, 2005). The title may also be phrased as a question. For instance, a recent paper in Biological Conservation is titled “Pleistocene Park: Does re-wilding North America represent sound conservation for the 21st century?” (Rubenstein, et al. 2006).

The Abstract

The abstract concisely summarizes everything in the main body of the paper. It may be easiest to write this section last. You should be able to decompose an abstract to find sentences corresponding to the introduction, methods, results, and discussion sections. You may read many published abstracts in the course of looking for appropriate sources for your paper. Often abstracts are available for free online, but the full-length paper may be more difficult to obtain.

The Introduction

The introduction section gives background information for the topic, citing relevant articles from the peer-reviewed literature. It should also state the objectives for the study and any questions that are being addressed.

Notice how I am citing the paper by Feer and Hingrat (2005) in this document. That is one common format for citation of sources: referring to them by author and date in the text of the paper and listing them in a section titled “Literature cited” or “References” or “Bibliography” at the end. Some journals instead require endnotes in the text, with papers listed by order of citation in the References section. Look at published journal articles to become familiar with this format. Pay particular attention to the information which is included in each listed reference in the bibliography.

In order to find relevant peer-reviewed papers, you can search EBSCO Host from the SGU Library website ( Choose “Academic Search Premier” from “EBSCOHOST” under the “E-Resources” menu. Click “peer-reviewed articles” and type in a keyword such as “time budget”. You can use the Boolean operator “and” by typing in “time budget” and “squirrel” under “advanced search”. If you do this particular search, you will bring up the citations for a couple of relevant articles dealing with other species of squirrels (Hannon, et al. 2006; Koprowski and Corse, 2005). See also the article by McCleery et al. (2007) on the habitat use of fox squirrels.

Try typing in the genus name and specific epithet for a species. For instance, if you type in “Sciurus niger” you will bring up citations of articles that concern fox squirrels. Other animals we may see on campus include the Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata), American Robin (Turdus migratorius), Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottus), and House Sparrow (Passer domesticus).

We do not have direct access to many journals at St. Gregory’s University, but once you have located articles that you need you can request them via interlibrary loan. This requires that you plan ahead!

Please refer to the class syllabus to be sure you understand what plagiarism is. Authors who discuss the findings or ideas of other writers generally summarize or paraphrase rather than quote. Any passage which is identical to that of another author is placed in quotation marks or indented to indicate it is a quote, and the relevant source is cited.

The last paragraph of the introduction should state the objectives of the study. The authors clearly phrase the questions they are attempting to answer. Often they state one or more hypotheses to be tested here, as well as predictions which follow from those hypotheses. The simplest objective that we are addressing with this study is to analyze the morning time budget of animals in early spring in Oklahoma. You might think of more specific questions involving comparisons among different species or among different seasons (relevant data available on the course website).

The Methods section

After the introduction to a scientific paper is a section titled “Methods” or “Methods and Materials”. In this section the investigators describe what they did in sufficient detail that another researcher in the same field could replicate it. They describe where they conducted the study, what they did, and what sort of observations they made. The methods used should be relevant to the questions posed in the Introduction.

With field studies, there is often a map of the study area and study sites included as the first figure. (You might be able to find a map of St. Gregory's University on Google Maps or Google Earth—be sure to cite your source!). Most scientific papers include several figures and tables. The authors refer to these figures and tables by number in the text as the information is discussed. Each figure or table has a caption which describes in a few sentences the information contained. Look at some examples in published papers or in your textbooks to see how this is done. A table will have headings for each column and possibly footnotes.

For the time budget paper, make sure you state the date and time when the observations were made, as well as a description of weather conditions. Include the names or initials of observers.

Often the Methods section includes a subsection describing the statistical approach used in the analysis of data, citing the software used. You probably won’t do a very detailed statistical analysis, although a Mann-Whitney U-test may be helpful in comparing time budgets of different animals.

The Results section

After the Methods section is a section titled “Results”. The text of the Results section describes the findings from the study, often using summary statistics and inferential statistics to analyze the data. The authors describe the patterns seen in the numbers and how they relate to the questions posed in the Introduction. In addition to describing findings in the text of the Results section, data are presented in tables and figures. Most of the figures in a scientific paper tend to be graphs, showing relationships among variables measured.

You should present summary statistics detailing the proportion of time spent in various behaviors by each animal (or group of animals). You can present these data in tables and illustrate the relationships with graphs. A pie chart is a useful type of graph to show the time budget of one individual. A bar graph might help with comparisons among species or seasons.

The Discussion section

The Discussion section ties everything together, answering the questions posed in the Introduction. While the Results section objectively states the facts, the Discussion section uses inference to draw conclusions about the phenomena under study. Oftentimes this involves generalizing from the specific sample studied to a larger population of interest, or from specific mechanisms to more general processes. The Discussion also should consider the limitations of the study in addressing the questions of interest, compare findings with those of other similar studies, and make suggestions for future research directions. The Discussion section is also the appropriate place to make recommendations for policy or wildlife management.

The Reference section

The Reference section includes all references cited in the text and in the captions of tables and figures. No other references are included. A book citation includes the authors or editors, year published, title, publishing company, and the city where it was published. A citation of a journal article includes the authors, year published, title of the paper, title of the journal, volume number, and page numbers. Citations of sources accessed from the internet include the authors, year published, date accessed, title, the name of the institution sponsoring the website, and the web address (uniform resource locator). Look in published papers for examples of how to list other types of documents.


Council of Biology Editors 1994. Scientific style and format: the CBE manual for authors, editors, and publishers, 6th edition. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY.

Feer, François; and Yves Hungrat. 2005. Effects of forest fragmentation on a dung beetle community in French Guiana. Conservation Biology 19:1103-1112.

Hannon, Mitchel J.; Stephen H. Jenkins; Robert L. Crabtree; and Alan K. Swanson. 2006. Visibility and vigilance: behavior and population ecology of Uinta ground squirrels (Spermophilus armatus) in different habitats. Journal of Mammalogy 87:287-295.

Koprowski, John L.; and Michelle C. Corse. 2005. Time budgets, activity periods, and behavior of Mexican fox squirrels. Journal of Mammalogy 86:947-952.

McCleery, Robert A.; Roel R. Lopez; Nova J. Silvy; and Sarah N. Kahlick. 2007. Habitat use of fox squirrels in an urban environment. Journal of Wildlife Management, 71:1149-1157.

Rubenstein, Dustin R.; Daniel I. Rubenstein; Paul W. Sherman; and Thomas A. Gavin. 2006. Pleistocene Park: Does re-wilding North America represent sound conservation for the 21st century? Biological Conservation 132:232-238.