GEL 190/290: Seminar in Geology

Every Wednesday from 4:00 - 5:00 pm in 55 Roessler Hall, UC Davis

Requirements | Writing Advice | Editing Symbols 


Seminars are scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at 4:00 PM. Additional optional seminars that may be included as part of the Geology 190 series may be scheduled at other times. Announcements of such seminars will be posted in the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department and on the department events calendar.

Course requirements may vary from quarter to quarter. Please contact your current GEL 190 instructor for updates.

The course is graded Pass/No Pass, and there are only a few requirements, to wit:

How To Get a 'Pass'

You must satisfy the following three conditions:

1. Attendance: You must attend all the regularly scheduled seminars.
Attendance will be taken at the seminars. It is your responsibility to sign the attendance sheet. 

2. Reading assignments: Material contained in the advice page. 
You may also find the following references useful as a means of improving your writing 

  • G.D. Gopen and J.A. Swan, 1990. The science of scientific writing. American Scientist, 78: 550-558.This article is not long, and we think you will find it a great help in writing these abstracts and in writing scientific papers in general.
  • Bates, R.L. 1988. Writing in Earth Science. American Geological Institute, Alexandria, VA., 50p.
  • Strunk and White, The Elements of Style, Macmillan.
  • Williams, J. M., Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, Harper-Collins, 1994.

3. Abstracts

  • You must write three abstracts of acceptable or better quality on three different talks to pass the course.
  • Abstracts must be based on the regularly scheduled or approved optional seminars (Do not abstract faculty introductions).
  • The abstracts should be no more than 250 words (about one double-spaced page).
  • e-mail your abstract (plain text only) to the instructor by the due dates posted on the GEL190 Smartsite course page.
  • Abstracts will be graded with equal emphasis on 
    • The information content: how well did you cover the important information in the talk, and
    • Your writing style, including the organization and structure of the abstract, paragraphs, and sentences
  • Each abstract will be graded Acceptable or Rewrite. Abstracts must be rewritten until they are acceptable. There is no guarantee that a rewritten abstract will be acceptable.
  • Rewritten abstracts must be resubmitted within 1 week of their return.

How To Get a 'NoPass'

Any one of the following conditions will result in a 'NoPass' grade.

  • Failing to attend each seminar and to sign the attendance sheet
  • Writing fewer than 3 acceptable abstracts
  • Missing the due dates

10 Steps to a Good Abstract

by Professor Emeritus R.J. Twiss

Employers tell us again and again that one of the most important qualities they look for when they hire someone is an ability to write well. The chances are you will spend a major portion of your working life writing reports, proposals, etc.. You will be wasting your company's time and money if you write so badly that what you write must be sent back to you for one or more rewrites, and that will not help your chances for advancement. Take some time now to hone your writing skills. You will not regret it! Abstracts are attached to some of the research displays around the Department and are part of every paper published in the usual research journals. Read them over: usually they are packed tightly with a lot of information, and there are no spare words. This is the point of an abstract: to convey as much information as possible in a very few words. It's wonderful practice in writing clear, crisp English.Some journals (e.g. Journal of Geophysical Research) do not allow paragraphs in abstracts, others (e.g. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull., Jour. Struc. Geol.) do allow them. For this course you should use paragraphs in your abstracts.

1. Take careful notes as you follow the seminar. Look carefully over the notes you made, and follow in your mind the sequence that the speaker followed in the seminar.

When you begin to write your abstract:

2. Write down the one or two general ideas that describe the focus of the entire talk. This will define your introductory paragraph for the abstract.

3. From your lecture notes, jot down lists of facts, assumptions, hypotheses, etc. that were presented in the talk and that you think important enough to cover in the abstract.

4. Group related items in your list together into separate topics. These topics will define the paragraphs in your abstract. Keep facts or data separate from assumptions and hypotheses and from interpretations.

5. Organize the topics in a logical progression. If the talk was well organized, the speaker's organization can be used; otherwise you may have to reorganize the material. A variety of organizing principles can be imagined, e.g. general to specific information, observations to assumptions to hypotheses to tests, chronologic organization, geographic organization, etc.

6. Write your abstract using each topic in 2 and 5 above as a paragraph. Apply the principles of good writing as set out in G.D. Gopen and J.A. Swan, 1990 (see reading assignment above). Each paragraph should make a single point or be concerned with a single concept. Be clear about the function of the paragraph before you write it. That point or concept should be stated in the first sentence of the paragraph (the topic sentence). Each succeeding sentence should contribute to the single point or concept of that paragraph and should be part of a logically connected development through the paragraph.

7. Read over your abstract: does it make sense? Examine your abstract with the following questions in mind:

  • Does the first sentence or two inform the reader about the subject of the abstract? 
  • Does each paragraph address a specific issue and only that issue? 
  • Are the paragraphs arranged to provide a logical development through the abstract? Would it read more logically if you changed the order of presentation? 
  • Does each paragraph have a topic sentence at the beginning stating the theme of the paragraph? 
  • Does each sentence contribute directly to the point of each paragraph? 
  • Are the sentences arranged to provide a logical development through the paragraph? 

Remember, you have to express the important points of the presentation as clearly, succinctly, and logically as you can.

8. Revise and edit your first draft thoroughly. Improve your sentences, clarify your ideas, check for any improper grammar, and check for misspellings (with spell checkers on computers, there is very little excuse for spelling errors).

9. Allow a reliable friend or classmate to read your revised draft (you can probably get a more objective evaluation from someone who has not heard the talk). Does it make sense to another person? Listen carefully to the comments and response of your editor; do not be defensive-he or she is trying to help you. It never hurts to get a second opinion, too.

10. Correct or revise your abstract accordingly and prepare a neat, clean draft to turn in. Proofread and make sure you have no typos or misspellings. Prune out wordy garbage and replace it with clean, straightforward English. Have you expressed all the main ideas in the 250 words you are allowed? If you've missed out something important, you have to make room for it by compressing your words elsewhere.

Ten Principles of Well-Structured Writing (Plus Three Principles of Style)

by Professor Emeritus R.J. Twiss*

  1. Every unit of discourse (whether a sentence, a paragraph, a section, a paper or chapter, a book) no matter what the size, should serve a single function or make a single point. 
  2. BASIC PRINCIPAL OF GOOD WRITING: Readers use the structure of a sentence to evaluate what relative emphases should be placed on what information. Thus the writer must construct sentences so that the intended relative emphases coincide with the readers' expectations. (see 3-8 below). 
  3. In general, provide context for your reader before asking that reader to consider anything new. 
  4. Place in the topic position of the sentence or clause (i.e. at or near the beginning) the person or thing whose 'story' a sentence is telling. 
  5. Place in the topic position of the sentence or clause appropriate 'old information' (material already introduced in the discourse) for linkage backward and contextualization forward. 
  6. Follow the grammatical subject of a sentence or clause as closely as possible with its verb. 
  7. Articulate the action of every clause or sentence in its verb. 
  8. Place in the stress position of the sentence or clause (i.e. at or near the end) the 'new information' you want the reader to emphasize. 
  9. Begin each paragraph with one or a couple of topic sentences that state the focus of the paragraph and its relation to preceding material. 
  10. Ensure that the sentences in each paragraph follow from one another in a logical sequence. To this end, make the topic position of each sentence back-linking, and the stress position forward progressing. 
  11. Information content: Make sure your sentence has something definite to say. 
  12. Make sure the structure and grammar of your sentence conveys the meaning you intend. 
  13. Prune your prose. Eliminate repetition and verbosity. 

*Notes based on G.D. Gopen and J.A. Swan, 1990. The science of scientific writing. American Scientist, 78: 550-558. See also Strunk and White, The Elements of Style. Macmillan


  • G.D. Gopen and J.A. Swan, 1990. The science of scientific writing. American Scientist, 78: 550-558.
  • Bates, R.L. 1988. Writing in Earth Science. American Geological Institute, Alexandria, VA., 50p. 
  • Landes, K.K., 1951, A scrutiny of the abstract, AAPG Bulletin, v.35, p.1660. 
  • Strunk and White, The Elements of Style, Macmillan.
  • Weil, B.H., 1970, Standards for writing abstracts, Journal of the American Society for Information Science, p. 351-357.

Editing Symbols

There are a number of very common problems that we run across in grading writing. In order to save time in writing comments, we frequently use the abbreviations below. This list provides a translation of these error codes.

  • ANT Pronoun has no clear antecedent to which it refers.
  • AWK Awkward sentence construction
  • CW Incorrect or inappropriate choice of word.
  • GR Incorrect grammar, such as subject verb agreement, etc.
  • LIC Sentence with low information content
  • LL Unexplained logical leap. The logical connection between the indicated sentence, part of a sentence, or group of sentences and the preceding sentence, part of a sentence, or group of sentences is not evident.
  • NC Meaning is not clear
  • NP Non-parallel sentence construction. Grammatically equivalent parts of a sentence have grammatically different structures.
  • NS Not a complete sentence
  • RO Run-on sentence
  • ROP Run-on paragraph. The paragraph is not focused on a single idea.
  • Sp Incorrect spelling
  • SWYM Say what you mean. Generally used when the subject, verb, and object of a sentence, or an adjective and the noun it modifies, do not make sense together.


Exit Talk: noon Thu in 1316 Earth & Phy. Sci.

Thu, August 23, 2018: “Kinematics and timing of shear zones in the Sierra de Maz, northwestern Argentina: Implications for the Paleozoic western margin of Gondwana” – by Emily Houlihan

[ more Events ⇒ ]