Science Buddies Research Paper Rubric High School

Key Info

  • As you do your research, follow your background research plan and take notes from your sources of information. These notes will help you write a better summary.

  • The purpose of your research paper is to give you the information to understand why your experiment turns out the way it does. The research paper should include:

    • The history of similar experiments or inventions
    • Definitions of all important words and concepts that describe your experiment
    • Answers to all your background research plan questions
    • Mathematical formulas, if any, that you will need to describe the results of your experiment

  • For every fact or picture in your research paper you should follow it with a citation telling the reader where you found the information. A citation is just the name of the author and the date of the publication placed in parentheses like this: (Author, date). This is called a reference citation when using APA format and parenthetical reference when using the MLA format. Its purpose is to document a source briefly, clearly, and accurately.

  • If you copy text from one of your sources, then place it in quotation marks in addition to following it with a citation. Be sure you understand and avoid plagiarism! Do not copy another person's work and call it your own. Always give credit where credit is due!

  • Most teachers want a research paper to have these sections, in order:

    • Title page (with the title of your project, your name, and the date)
    • Your report
    • Bibliography
    • Check with your teacher for additional requirements such as page numbers and a table of contents


Year after year, students find that the report called the research paper is the part of the science fair project where they learn the most. So, take it from those who preceded you, the research paper you are preparing to write is super valuable.

What Is a Research Paper?

The short answer is that the research paper is a report summarizing the answers to the research questions you generated in your background research plan. It's a review of the relevant publications (books, magazines, websites) discussing the topic you want to investigate.

The long answer is that the research paper summarizes the theory behind your experiment. Science fair judges like to see that you understand why your experiment turns out the way it does. You do library and Internet research so that you can make a prediction of what will occur in your experiment, and then whether that prediction is right or wrong, you will have the knowledge to understand what caused the behavior you observed.

From a practical perspective, the research paper also discusses the techniques and equipment that are appropriate for investigating your topic. Some methods and techniques are more reliable because they have been used many times. Can you use a procedure for your science fair project that is similar to an experiment that has been done before? If you can obtain this information, your project will be more successful. As they say, you don't want to reinvent the wheel!

If these reasons sound to you like the reasons we gave for doing background research, you're right! The research paper is simply the "write-up" of that research.

Special Information to Include in Your Research Paper

Many science experiments can be explained using mathematics. As you write your research paper, you'll want to make sure that you include as much relevant math as you understand. If a simple equation describes aspects of your science fair project, include it.

Writing the Research Paper

Note Taking

As you read the information in your bibliography, you'll want to take notes. Some teachers recommend taking notes on note cards. Each card contains the source at the top, with key points listed or quoted underneath. Others prefer typing notes directly into a word processor. No matter how you take notes, be sure to keep track of the sources for all your key facts.

How to Organize Your Research Paper

The best way to speed your writing is to do a little planning. Before starting to write, think about the best order to discuss the major sections of your report. Generally, you will want to begin with your science fair project question so that the reader will know the purpose of your paper. What should come next? Ask yourself what information the reader needs to learn first in order to understand the rest of the paper. A typical organization might look like this:

  • Your science fair project question or topic
  • Definitions of all important words, concepts, and equations that describe your experiment
  • The history of similar experiments
  • Answers to your background research questions

When and How to Footnote or Reference Sources

When you write your research paper you might want to copy words, pictures, diagrams, or ideas from one of your sources. It is OK to copy such information as long as you reference it with a citation. If the information is a phrase, sentence, or paragraph, then you should also put it in quotation marks. A citation and quotation marks tell the reader who actually wrote the information.

For a science fair project, a reference citation (also known as author-date citation) is an accepted way to reference information you copy. Citation referencing is easy. Simply put the author's last name, the year of publication, and page number (if needed) in parentheses after the information you copy. Place the reference citation at the end of the sentence but before the final period.

Make sure that the source for every citation item copied appears in your bibliography.

Reference Citation Format

Type of Citation Parenthetical Reference
MLA Format (Author - page)
Reference Citation
APA Format (Author - date)*
Work by a single author(Bloggs 37) (Bloggs, 2002)
Direct quote of work by single author (Bloggs 37) (Bloggs, 2002, p. 37)
Work by two authors (Bloggs and Smith 37) (Bloggs & Smith, 2002)
Work by three to five authors
(first time)
(Kernis, Cornell, Sun, Berry, and Harlow 183-185) (Kernis, Cornell, Sun, Berry, & Harlow, 1993)
Work by three to five authors
(subsequent times)
(Kernis et al., 1993)
Work by six or more author (Harris et al. 99) (Harris et al., 2001)
Two or more works by the same author in the same year (use lower-case letters to order the entries in bibliography) (Berndt, 1981a)
(Berndt, 1981b)
Two or more works by the same author (Berndt, Shortened First Book Title 221) then
(Berndt, Shortened 2nd Book Title 68)
Two or more works in the same parentheses (Berndt 221; Harlow 99) (Berndt, 2002; Harlow, 1983)
Authors with same last name (E. Johnson 99) (E. Johnson, 2001; L. Johnson, 1998)
Work does not have an author, cite the source by its title (Book Title 44) or
(Shortened Book Title 44)
(Book Title, 2005) or
("Article Title", 2004)
Work has unknown author and date ("Article Title", n.d.)
* APA Note: If you are directly quoting from a work, you will need to include the author, year of publication, and the page number for the reference (preceded by "p.").

Examples of Reference Citations using APA Format

Below are examples of how reference citations would look in your paper using the APA format.

"If you copy a sentence from a book or magazine article by a single author, the reference will look like this. A comma separates the page number (or numbers) from the year" (Bloggs, 2002, p. 37).

"If you copy a sentence from a book or magazine article by more than one author, the reference will look like this" (Bloggs & Smith, 2002, p. 37).

"Sometimes the author will have two publications in your bibliography for just one year. In that case, the first publication would have an 'a' after the publication year, the second a 'b', and so on. The reference will look like this" (Nguyen, 2000b).

"When the author is unknown, the text reference for such an entry may substitute the title, or a shortened version of the title for the author" (The Chicago Manual, 1993).

"For reference citations, only direct quotes need page numbers" (Han, 1995).

"Some sources will not have dates" (Blecker, n.d.).

Credit Where Credit Is Due!

When you work hard to write something, you don't want your friends to loaf and just copy it. Every author feels the same way.

Plagiarism is when someone copies the words, pictures, diagrams, or ideas of someone else and presents them as his or her own. When you find information in a book, on the Internet, or from some other source, you MUST give the author of that information credit in a citation. If you copy a sentence or paragraph exactly, you should also use quotation marks around the text.

The surprising thing to many students is how easy it is for parents, teachers, and science fair judges to detect and prove plagiarism. So, don't go there, and don't make us try to hunt you down!

Research Paper Checklist

What Makes a Good Research Paper?For a Good Research Paper, You Should Answer "Yes" to Every Question
Have you defined all important terms?Yes / No
Have you clearly answered all your research questions?Yes / No
Does your background research enable you to make a prediction of what will occur in your experiment? Will you have the knowledge to understand what causes the behavior you observe?Yes / No
Have you included all the relevant math that you understand?Yes / No
Have you referenced all information copied from another source and put any phrases, sentences, or paragraphs you copied in quotation marks?Yes / No
If you are doing an engineering or programming project, have you defined your target user and answered questions about user needs, products that meet similar needs, design criteria, and important design tradeoffs?Yes / No

Teacher's Guide to Science Projects

The Teacher's Guide to Science Projects was developed to provide teachers with everything they need to assign, manage, and evaluate a science project program in the classroom, including lots of tips to make a science project a fun educational experience. While this guide was designed for teachers who have never assigned a science project, it also offers a variety of tools and tips that seasoned teachers will find useful. Some of the key elements included in the guide:

  • Benefits of a Science Project: An explanation of the benefits of doing a science project and how they map to the science education standards.
  • Teacher Timeline: Steps to help teachers guide students and plan additional activities.
  • Safety Guidelines: How and when teachers should review student science projects for safety concerns.
  • Student Science Project Schedule: A timeline for students to follow with reading and homework assignments.
  • A Parent Guide to Science Projects: A letter introducing parents to the science project, plus tips on how to effectively help a student on a project.
  • Printable Assignment Worksheets: for key steps of the science project

Download Teacher's Guide to Science Projects (pdf)

Download Science Fair Schedule Worksheet (Word doc): This worksheet is a handy tool to help construct a schedule for science fair assignment due dates. In contrast to the timelines and schedules included in our Teacher's Guide to Science Projects, these worksheets are not tied directly to the resources in our online Science Project Guide and can be helpful for teachers who are planning a science project but might be using materials other than those provided on our website.

Science Fair Project Presentation Tips & Tools

Downloadable display board template lets students plan the layout that best communicates their project results. Downloadable presentation guide gives students 10 tips on how to give a great presentation with ease.

Science Fair Project Grading Rubrics

Grading rubrics are an important component of the science project to ensure that all projects are graded fairly and on the same fundamental concepts. Science Buddies has developed a set of teacher-vetted rubrics in PDF format for each step of the science project as detailed on the Science Buddies website. The rubrics cover:

Draft grading/judging rubric for computer science projects:
Computer science projects are a perfect fit for the interests of many students, but they don't really fit the model of the scientific method. This draft article explains the differences and provides guidelines for computer science projects. Please send us your comments.

NGSS & Science Projects

Learn how Science Buddies resources and hands-on science projects align to the Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core State Standards with Mapping Science Buddies Content to Core Teaching Standards.

Teachers Guide to Student Resources on Science Buddies

Explore the best way to use Science Buddies resources with your students. Our teachers guide helps you map student science experience to Science Buddies resources that will meet their unique needs.

Scientific Method Classroom Poster

Our 36" x 20" classroom poster provides an overview of the six steps of the scientific method, as described on the Science Buddies website. Anyone interested in printing their own copies may download the PDF.

The Scientific Method vs. the Engineering Design Process

View a side-by-side comparison of the engineering design process and the scientific method. We also have a downloadable version that is perfect for an easy reference, classroom poster.

Success Stories from Teachers and Students

We love hearing from teachers who have been using Science Buddies materials in their classrooms. Our collection of Teacher Testimonials is inspiring, as are stories of successful student and teacher projects inspired and assisted by Science Buddies resources and project ideas.

A Guide to Planning a Science Fair

Planning your school's science fair? New to the process or just looking for a more organized approach? We've developed the documents below to help you put on a successful science fair, from start to finish. The documents go hand in hand and offer many options that you can tailor to your school's fair.

  • A Guide to Planning a Science Fair (pdf) This step-by-step guide walks you through every step of planning your school science fair—from setting goals for the fair, to recruiting and training volunteers and judges, to announcing the winners. The companion judging documents are also referenced throughout and are available for download below.
  • Printable Copies of our Science Fair Project Guide Webpages: PDF versions of each of the pages in our Science Fair Project Guide.
  • Judging Guide (pdf) This guide includes an introduction to the teacher, as well as thorough instructions to print out for the judges' training on the day of the fair. Features include grade-level expectations, responsibilities, and scoring guidelines. This guide will also prepare them for using the Judging Scorecards below. After reviewing the descriptions below, select and print the scorecard that you feel is most appropriate for your students.
  • Judging Scorecard (pdf) This scorecard assumes students understand dependent, independent, and controlled variables. If this scorecard is the appropriate target for your fair, please print and hand out copies to the judges on the day of the fair.
  • Judging Scorecard: Engineering (pdf) This scorecard is designed to enable scoring of projects that follow the Engineering Design Process. If this scorecard is the appropriate target for some participants at your fair, please print and hand out copies to the judges on the day of the fair.
  • Judging Scorecard: Basic (pdf) This scorecard assumes students understand the concept of a fair test, but do not have knowledge of dependent, independent, and controlled variables. If this scorecard is the appropriate target for your fair, please print and hand out copies to the judges on the day of the fair.
  • Judging Scorecard: Elementary (pdf) This scorecard makes few assumptions about student knowledge. They should be able to follow the basic steps of an experiment and make observations to answer a question. Advanced students will be able to make measurements. If this scorecard is the appropriate target for your fair, please print and hand out copies to the judges on the day of the fair.
  • Project Tracking Spreadsheet Sample (xls) This spreadsheet includes a sample, as well as a template that can be modified and used to track your students' projects, from registration through the judging process.
  • Science Fair Certificate Sample (Word doc) This is a sample template of a Science Fair award certificate.
  • Best Practices for Growing City or County-level Science Fair Participation

Science Enrichment Tools: Encourage Science

Science Buddies wants you and your students to get the most out of the science fair project experience, and we're confident that these Science Project Enrichment Tools will help. Each tool features grade-level applicability, implementation instructions, and direct benefits for your students. Please visit each link, some of which include supplementary tools for you to download and print for use in your classroom.

  • Kid-Friendly Programming Languages and Resources: Incorporating game-making and/or animation-making in your classroom or as an after-school activity may be a successful way of teaching programming and other STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) content.
  • Family Science Night: Show students and their families that science is fun! By setting up several science activities for everyone in the family, parents will experience the type of hands-on, inquiry-based learning that their children are receiving. This tool also fosters interaction between parents, teachers, and students.
  • Extra Credit: Boost science fair attendance by providing extra credit to students who bring a family member or mentor to the fair.
  • Science Fair Information Night: This tool goes hand in hand with the Science Buddies Teacher's Guide to Science Projects. Hold a Science Fair Information Night for parents at your school and present this dynamic PowerPoint presentation, which explains the process, goals, parent-teacher involvement, and student benefits.
  • In-Class Science Project: Employ scientific inquiry in your classroom by guiding students through a hands-on trial run of a single classroom science project before they tackle their own.
  • Black Box: Give students assignments related to their science projects, grade them according to set rubrics, and then offer students the chance to improve at each step.
  • Science Fair Passports: Organize a passport activity to increase fair attendance and encourage visiting students to enjoy learning from the fair, communicating with fair participants, and being inspired by their peers' projects.
  • Peer Review: Have students interview each other about their science fair projects to help them build confidence, enhance presentation skills, and learn to evaluate and implement feedback.
  • Project Clinic: Level the playing field for students who do not have access to knowledgeable mentors who can assist them in conceptualizing and completing their science projects.
  • More, coming soon!

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