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Plant Detectives Manual: a research-led approach for teaching plant science

Activity 12: Write-up and symposium

Based on your observations and experiments, and in consultation with the web resources provided, try to determine what mutant you were given. In your write-up, you must present evidence to support your claim. Present your data in figures and tables and include drawings as appropriate. You may be able to find an exact match, or you may be able to identify a few likely suspects. You will be marked on the process that you use to narrow down the options, rather than whether you got the right mutant.


All written work must be your own independent work. We encourage students to work together on data entry, analysis and presentation; however, all written work (including the legends of figures and captions of tables) needs to be done individually. Make sure to acknowledge the contribution of the other group members in your acknowledgements section


Follow the format of an original research paper for the journal Functional Plant Biology to write your report. Your report will include separate sections for the abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion and references. In your report:

  • Do not exceed 4,000 words (approximately ten pages), not including title page, abstract, tables, figures or references.
  • Your manuscript must be double or 1.5-line spaced, single sided, 12-point font with margins of at least 30 millimetres.
  • Pages should be numbered consecutively.


IMPORTANT: we will not mark papers that do not follow this format.

12.1) Sections and format of the manuscript

The following instructions were adapted from the ‘Notice to authors’ contained in Functional Plant Biology. The sections of the manuscript should be as follows:

Title page

Use the keywords to devise a concise and informative title. Additional keywords may also be suggested. If you include a botanical name in the title, omit the authority, but include it in the Abstract and at first mention in the ‘Methods’ section. Please also supply an abridged title, for use as a running head, that does not exceed eight words in length.

Authors and addresses

Please include full first name, initial and surnames for all authors and a current mailing address for each.


Scientific papers begin with an abstract, which is a single paragraph without references that summarises the project including what you did, why you did it, and what you found. The abstract should be brief, but informative, without reference to the text. State the scope of the work and the principal findings in fewer than 200 words. References should be listed in full (authors, journal, and volume and page numbers). Scientific names of plants should be accompanied by their authority.


The introduction must include background information (including references to published papers) to put your work in context. Aims or objectives of the work, and the significance of the work, should be clearly stated. Include your hypotheses or predictions. Your introduction should not include description of techniques, findings or conclusions.


The methods section must be concise, but detailed enough to allow your work to be repeated by others. As a guideline, the Methods section should not be longer than 1000 words.


The logic and order of presentation of text, tables and figures is the most important aspect of the results section. Try to present a coherent story that can be followed by your reader. Do not present the same data in both figure and table form. You must include both graphical results and a written explanation of the results. TIP: it is a good idea to outline the figures first before writing the results text. See Appendix B for many useful tips on what to do with your data and how to present your results.


In your discussion, consider the results in relation to your hypotheses, aims and/or predictions. Place the study in the context of other work (including references to published papers) — and, in doing so, explain any novel contribution that your study might have made.


In the text, cite references chronologically; do not number them. Make sure that all references in the text are listed at the end of the paper and vice versa. At the end of the paper, list references in alphabetical order.


Use ‘and’ to link the names of two co-authors in the text, and use ‘et al.’ where there are more than two. Take special care checking the accuracy of the references. ..


Give titles of books and names of journals in full. Include the title of the paper in all journal references, and provide first and last page numbers for all entries and websites.

Managing your references

For Reference Manager, click here.

For ProCite, click here.

For EndNote, click here.

You will find the style file under the ‘Biosciences’ or ‘Agriculture’ categories, listed as Functional Plant Biology.


Refer to each figure or illustration in the text. Legends to figure axes should state the quantity being measured and be followed by the appropriate SI units in parentheses.


Refer to each table in the text. Number each with an Arabic numeral and supply a heading. Use Table Formatting (i.e., use table cells); do not use tabs, spaces or hard returns when setting up columns.


Avoid long titles by incorporating an explanatory note below the title, which should be started on a new line from the title of the table. Include in the head note, where applicable, the levels of probability attached to statistics in the body of the table, and any other information relevant to the table as a whole.


Avoid footnotes where possible; use them only to refer to specific and single data points in the body of the table. Use A, B, etc for footnotes; use *, **, *** only to define probability levels. Insert horizontal rules above and below the column headings and across the bottom of the table; do not use vertical rules. The first letter only of headings of rows and columns should be capitalised. Include the symbols for the units of measurement in parentheses below the column heading. Use standard SI prefixes with units in the column headings to avoid an excessive number of digits in the body of the table.

Accepted abbreviations

The following terms are accepted abbreviations, and do not require full explanation in text: ABA, ADP, ADPase, ANOVA, ATP, ATPase, bis-Tris, DMSO, DNA, EDTA, GA, Hepes, HPLC, IAA, MES, Mops, NAD or NAD+, NADH, NADP or NADP+, NADPH, NADP+, PAGE, PBS, Pipes, PSI, PSII, RNA, Rubisco, SDS, Tris, UDP, UV.


Use the SI system where appropriate, especially for exact measurement of physical quantities. However, non-SI units such as day and year are acceptable. Give measurements of radiation as irradiance or photon flux density, or both, and specify the waveband of the radiation. Photon flux density units should be used in papers concerned with the quantum efficiency of plant photo processes. Do not use luminous flux density units (e.g., lux). Use the negative index system; e.g., g m–2, kg ha–1, mm–2 s–1.

Statistical evaluation of results

Describe the experimental design and analysis in sufficient detail to allow them to be evaluated, and support this description with references if necessary. State the number of individuals, mean values and measures of variability. State clearly whether you have included the standard deviation or the standard error of the mean.

Mathematical formulae

Adequately space all symbols. Avoid two-line mathematical expressions in the running text. Display each long formula on a separate line with at least two lines of space above and below it.

Acknowledgements (optional)

This section presents an opportunity to express thanks for the technical assistance or other support that you have received. Acknowledge students with whom you collaborated on data analysis.


For formatting instructions, see Notice to Authors’ by clicking here. Except under unusual circumstances, the list of literature cited will not include web references, but only references to peer-reviewed published articles or books. Use Endnote to create the list of literature cited.

12.2) A few additional suggestions for improving scientific writing

  • Species and genus names should always be italicised (or underlined). If you have already given the full species name, you may abbreviate the genus name to the first initial. Do not abbreviate the species name. Do not abbreviate the genus name at the beginning of a sentence. Do not abbreviate the genus name if there is likely to be any confusion (e.g., if your study organisms have the same species names but different genus names, or if you study several different species with genus names all beginning with the same letter).

Yes: Eucalyptus benthami, E. benthami,

No: Euc. ben., Eucalyptus benthami, E. benthami

  • Be careful with the use of the terms variance and significant in scientific writing. These words have specific meanings in statistics, and should only be used in their statistical sense. Don’t use ‘significant’ if you mean ‘a large difference’, unless you can provide a statistical result to support the claim.
  • In an experiment like ours, it is not accurate to say ‘root mass decreases at low light’. It is correct to say ‘root mass was lower at low light’. To say that root mass has decreased implies that root mass at harvest was lower than it was a planting.
  • The following phrases are not necessary and should not be used in scientific writing: ‘It is known that’, ‘It was shown that’, ‘It can be seen that’. Read the sentences below. You will see that these phrases do not change or add to the meaning of the sentences. Scientific writing should be concise — any words that do not add to the meaning of the sentence are left out.

Yes: ‘The species responded differently to the light levels’

No: ‘It was shown that the species responded differently to the light levels’

Yes: ‘Plants grow faster at high light’

No: ‘It is known that plants grow faster at high light’

Yes: ‘Wild type plants responded to the light treatment to a greater extent than the other species’

No: ‘It can be seen that wild type plants responded to the light treatment to a greater extent than the other species’

  • When referring to figures and tables in a scientific write-up, do not write ‘Fig. 1 shows that ...’. Instead, describe the result and refer to the figure or table in parentheses at the end of the sentence. This approach is more concise, and draws the reader’s attention directly to the result you are describing.

Yes: ‘SLA was higher in mutant plants grown under drought (Fig. 1).’

No: ‘Fig. 1 shows that SLA was higher in mutant plants grown under drought.’

No: ‘Fig. 1 shows the result of the comparison of SLA. SLA was higher in mutant plants grown under drought.’

  • References: all sources listed in the reference section should be cited in the text of the paper. Likewise, all sources cited in the text should be listed in the reference section. Be careful to use the correct citation format. In the case of your write-up, apply the format followed by the Functional Plant Biology.

12.3) Symposium

In Week 12 we will meet during the laboratory session to present and discuss your group’s plant detective outcomes. Each group should prepare a 10–15 minute presentation on their results. We recommend you use power point. Divide the responsibility for preparing and delivering between your group.

In your presentation summarise the results of your investigations, highlighting how your mutant differed from the wild type. Tell us what mutant you have concluded it is, and why you reached that conclusion. Describe how the mutation has affected both form and function and what its consequences would be under natural conditions.

The symposium presentation will receive a group mark (5%) and an individual mark (5%).


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