Skills Earth Sciences


Incorporating a consistent layout in your scientific text will help make your audience focus on the message you want to bring across. Your layout needs to be clean (not too many embellishments), and clear (your chapter headings and paragraph-separations need to stand out). Additionally, your figures should be incorporated into your text in an organized manner. Some tips and tricks:

Read your writing assignment: Is a certain layout required? Do you need to use a certain line spacing or font and font size, for example? Is there a maximum word count you need to adhere to?

  • Include page numbers when you first start working in a text document. A common placement is at the bottom of the page. You may choose to do so in the middle, on the right, or on alternating sides on odd and even pages.
  • Use Arabic numerals for your main body of text. It is common to use a different number format, often Roman numerals, on pages prior to the main body of text (abstract, table of contents etc.) or in the Appendix
  • Do not number your cover page unless it contains the abstract.
  • Use preset (modified to your taste) styles to format the different types of text (headings, body text, figure, and table captions, etc.)
  • Use a clear font and font size. If not indicated in the assignment, use a serif font (e.g. with decorative strokes, e.g., Times New Roman, Garamond) for printed text, and sans serif font (e.g. Calibri, Segoe UI) for digital text.
  • If you are using a coded writing program like LaTEX, the document class “article” regulates fonts and font sizes for you and keeps the format consistent. When working with Word or comparable apps, check that all of these features are the same throughout your document.
  • It is recommended to make an automated table of contents in MS Word (or LaTEX if you prefer), specifically for larger reports and theses. You can find the “Table of Contents” function under “References”. For more information and a tutorial, see this
  • Remember to update your entire table of contents at the end of the writing process.
  • The table of contents should contain a title (“Table of Contents” or “Contents”), clear headings, and the page numbers where the respective chapters and subchapters can be found11.
  • Include all level one (g.3. Methods) and two (“e.g., 3.1 Age model”) headings. Level three headings (e.g., 3.1.1 …) are optional11.
  • Include all appendices11.
  • Do not include the table of contents itself11.
  • It is common to start each new chapter on a new page. If you print your document double-sided, new chapters should start on a right page (odd page number). If necessary, add a blank page (even page number).
  • Chapters and sections reflect the global structure of a text. They often have a standard title such as “Introduction” or “Methods”, which allow readers to find information readily and quickly. All titles should have the same logical hierarchy. For example, if you describe the geological formations found in your study area, name the consecutive sections accordingly. Keep an eye out for mixing geological formations with chronostratigraphic units or geomorphologic units either in the titles or text. For example, if all chapter headings list ages of geological units, use Late Cretaceous, not Upper Cretaceous, which defines a stratigraphic position! Double check if necessary.
  • The titles at the same hierarchical level should be formatted in the same manner (font type and size). These styles can be defined in your word processor (for example, in Word: in the Style ribbon in the Home tab, such as ‘Heading1’, ‘Heading2’, ‘Heading3’), which results in a consistent numbering and lay-out.
  • Titles do not end with a full stop.
  • Chapters, sections, and subsections should be numbered using Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, etc.).
  • In Word, link your numbering to the styles you assigned to each heading. For more information, see:
  • Numbering of subsections with more than three numerals (e.g. section is unclear and should be avoided. Alternatively, use font effects such as italics for subsection titles to further structure your text. Non-numbered subsections should not appear in the table of contents.
  • The preface, summary, and list of references are not numbered
  • To start a new paragraph, indent the first line of a paragraph by about 1 cm (and do not leave a blank line between the paragraphs), but do not do this to the first line of a chapter, section, or subsection. This method is common in most British-English texts. Alternatively, you could start a new paragraph by leaving a blank line between the paragraphs.
  • If you opt for blank lines between paragraphs, beware that Word settings may comprise a large line spacing. Because of this, single line breaks may look like a blank line, but they are not and, when opened in another text editor, multiple paragraphs may be interpreted as a single paragraph, which reduces readability. Unless stated otherwise, use single spaced lines and set a small line spacing to avoid too much unused space in your documents.
  • All tables, figures, photographs, and maps should be numbered consecutively in the order as they appear and referred to in your report or paper. In papers and short reports, number them sequentially. In longer reports, include the chapter number in the table/figure number (e.g. Table 4-1, Table 4-2, Table 6-1; Figure 1.1, Figure 1.2, Figure 3. 1, etc.).
  • Provide a caption to your table or figure. This caption should be sufficiently informative to understand the table or figure without reading the main text.
  • Place the table caption above the table and the figure caption below the figure.
  • Each table and figure should be referred to in the text. Refer explicitly to the table/figure number. In word processors, it is advised to insert cross references, which update the table or figure numbers automatically when a new table/figure is inserted, moved, or deleted. This tool is also useful for automatically generating lists of tables and figures.
  • Place the table or figure closely and preferably after the reference to it.
  • Explain the symbols used in the table/figure caption or figure legend.
  • Give units to the symbols (in the caption, in the row and column headers of tables, in the figure legend, or in the axis titles of graphs).
  • In tables, use the symbol ‘-’ or “n/a” (not applicable) when a parameter was not determined
  • If a table or figure is borrowed from the literature, provide appropriate references. For official publications, you may need permission from the publisher of the original table or figure.
  • In tables, use only horizontal lines between the rows; do not use vertical lines to separate columns.
  • In tables, align text and numbers to the right.
  • Provide a scale bar and orientation to maps, cross sections, and field sketches.
  • When you hand in your report digitally, make sure you save it as a PDF file, unless stated otherwise in the assignment. This way, your figures, captions, and tables will remain in the style you envisioned for them.