Why Writing Works

Disciplinary Approaches to Composing Texts

Research in Environmental Science

by Dr. Emily Deaver

Students should be familiar with and able to apply the “CRAAP test” to determine if a source is credible. This ‘test’ includes a series of questions that are answered relative to Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. Answers are scored 1 to 10 and added up to determine the reliability of the source. This worksheet is an excellent tool to help students understand what to look for when examining resources.

Primary scholarly journals

Most scientific organizations publish one or more professional journals. There are thousands of scholarly journals related to Environmental Science. Science magazine and Nature are the top two peer-reviewed international journals in the scientific field, publishing information on a wide range of science topics including biological, chemical, physical and earth science areas. These are extremely prestigious journals and publish the most cutting-edge and significant scientific research. They each have a large staff of international scientists who review the articles (peer-review) prior to publication. Many of the articles, however, are very technical and difficult for most students to read and understand. Students can read publications such as Science News Magazine, a bi-weekly publication that describes the current research in all fields of science but in a much less technical format (and is not a peer-reviewed publication). This would be a starting point to find out about current research areas. The student can then follow up on a particular topic by going to the peer-reviewed journals for that specific area of research. For example, an article in Science News magazine titled “It’s an herbivore-kill-herbivore world” in the April 16, 2016 edition (vol. 189, No. 8, April 16, 2016, p. 14) is a story about the evolutionary adaptation of one species of prairie dog killing another. If interested in this topic, the student should then read the original research article “Prairie dogs increase fitness by killing interspecific competitors” published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Hoogland, John L. and Charles R. Brown. 2016. Prairie dogs increase fitness by killing interspecific competitors, Proceedings of the Royal Society B Vol 283, issue 1827, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0144). It is critical that students understand the difference between peer-reviewed publications versus magazines. The original peer-reviewed publication should always be used as the primary source when researching and writing papers, and not the magazine article.  

Trade publications

Again, because Environmental Science is such a broad field there are numerous trade publications. Some examples would be Environmental Science & Engineering Magazine; Pollution Equipment News Magazine; and Petroleum Review. These are not peer-reviewed publications but they do publish information on advances and trends in particular fields, as well as information about changes or updates to regulations. They also publish information about upcoming trade shows and scientific conventions, as well as advertising for products and services in the field. These magazines are useful for understanding the application of scientific information, and particularly relative to regulatory issues in the environmental field.   

Open Internet resources

In general, blogs and advocacy websites are used sparingly and need to be evaluated on a case by case basis. In general, blogs and advocacy websites are used sparingly and need to be evaluated on a case by case basis. It is important to be able to distinguish data driven information from emotional positions. Environmental advocacy is about presenting information on environmental issues with a specific opinion or point of view that encourages readers to adopt particular attitudes. Some environmental writers believe in strictly reporting environmental news in an objective way. Other writers, like Dr. Michael Frome, believe it is important for environmental journalists to be passionate about stating their own position on a topic, but in doing so should be clear in presenting facts and opinions on all sides of an issue (Frome, Michael. 1998. Green Ink: An Introduction to Environmental Journalism, University of Utah Press, 222 pages). 

However, there are numerous high quality websites that are important and used frequently. Most of these sites are created and maintained by government agencies like the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), US Geological Survey (USGS) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). These agencies have extensive websites with research reports, regulatory updates, information on popular topics and news releases. These sites are useful to students because they can gather information as well as gain an understanding of the scope of responsibility of reach of these agencies. The sites are useful for researchers because they also contain reports of research projects conducted by these agencies that may not be available elsewhere. 

There are a variety of environmental news sources available on the web. Some examples include Greenwire, a daily electronic newsletter that covers environmental and energy policy, politics and markets; and ClimateWire, which covers climate policy and its effects on business, the environment and society. Other sites like Huffington Post Green includes both news, opinions and featured blog posts on current environmental topics.

Government agencies

There are many federal and state agencies that are very important in contributing research to the environmental field.  Some of the important federal agencies that conduct and publish research include: US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), US Geological Survey (USGS) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), US Department of Agriculture (USDA), US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFS) and the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE). Individual states also have agencies doing environmental research as well. Examples in Minnesota would be the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) to mention a few. Government agencies are particularly important in the environmental field by contributing research, but also in interpreting and enforcing environmental regulations.

Statement of ethics and research

The National Association of Environmental Professionals has the following Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, copied from their website (

Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice for Environmental Professionals

The objectives of Environmental Professionals are to conduct their personal and professional lives and activities in an ethical manner.  Honesty, justice and courtesy form moral philosophy which, associated with a mutual interest among people, constitute the foundation of ethics. Environmental Professionals should recognize such a standard, not in passive observance, but as a set of dynamic principles guiding their conduct and way of life. It is their duty to practice their profession according to this Code of Ethics.

As the keystone of professional conduct is integrity, Environmental Professionals will discharge their duties with fidelity to the public, their employers, clients, with fairness and impartiality to all. It is their duty to interest themselves in public welfare, and to be ready to apply their special knowledge for the benefit of mankind and their environment.


The objectives of an Environmental Professional are:

1. To recognize and attempt to reconcile societal and individual human needs with responsibility for physical, natural, and cultural systems.

2. To promote and develop policies, plans, activities and projects that achieve complementary and mutual support between natural and man-made, and present and future components of the physical, natural and cultural environment.


As an Environmental Professional I will:

1. Be personally responsible for the validity of all data collected, analyses performed, or plans developed by me or under my direction.  I will be responsible and ethical in my professional activities.

2. Encourage research, planning, design, management and review of activities in a scientifically and technically objective manner.  I will incorporate the best principles of the environmental sciences for the mitigation of environmental harm and enhancement of environmental quality.

3. Not condone misrepresentation of work I have performed or that was performed under my direction.

4.  Examine all of my relationships or actions, which could be legitimately interpreted as a conflict of interest by clients, officials, the public or peers.  In any instance where I have financial or personal interest in the activities with which they are directly or indirectly involved, I will make a full disclosure of that interest to my employer, client, or other affected parties.

5. Not engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation or discrimination.

6. Not accept fees wholly or partially contingent on the client’s desired result where that desired result conflicts with my professional judgment.

Environmental Science: Disciplinary Perspective
Writing in Environmental Science
Documentation in Environmental Science
Reading in Environmental Science