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The Craft of Writing a Research Paper


The Craft of Writing a Research Paper Brian A. Malloy Computer Science Department Clemson University What is it? Craft Art Learned skill Papers as patterns Learn the ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Craft of Writing a Research Paper

The Craft of Writing a Research Paper
  • Brian A. Malloy
  • Computer Science Department
  • Clemson University

What is it?
  • Craft
  • Art
  • Learned skill

Papers as patterns
  • Learn the pattern
  • Stay within the pattern
  • Stray outside the pattern
  • Prospectus
  • Documentation
  • In this talk, I describe a pattern for a research

  • What is research
  • Where to send
  • How to organize a paper
  • Sections of a paper
  • Figures tables
  • Ingredients of powerful writing
  • Ingredients of lucid writing

  • Reviewers
  • Colleagues
  • Bugs in Writing by Lyn Dupre

What is research?
  • Identify a problem
  • Find out what others have done
  • Develop a solution
  • Show your solution
  • Works
  • Better
  • Sound complete

Suggested organization of a research paper
  • Intro/motivation
  • Background
  • Overview of my solution
  • My solution
  • Results
  • Related work
  • Concluding remarks

Comparison ofwhat is research? organization
  • identify a problem
  • find out what others have done
  • develop a solution
  • show your solution works/better/sound
  • intro/motivation
  • background
  • overview of my solution
  • my solution
  • results
  • related work
  • concluding remarks

Where to send?
  • Conference
  • Workshop
  • Journal
  • TR

Where to send?
  • Conference
  • 3 kinds
  • accept everything?
  • IEEE (less than 50 accept rate)
  • Less than 20 accept
  • Quick

Where to send?
  • Journal
  • archival
  • respectable
  • experience
  • magazine

Where to send?
  • Workshop
  • IWPC

Where to send?
  • TR
  • Not refereed
  • Large as you like

Where to send?
  • Conference
  • 3 kinds
  • Accept everything?
  • IEEE (accept less than 50)
  • Accept less than 20
  • Quick
  • Workshop
  • IWPC
  • ICSE Workshops
  • Journal
  • Archival
  • Respectable
  • Experience
  • Magazine
  • TR
  • Not refereed
  • Large as you like

The sections of a research paper
Introduction 4 parts
  • Set the scene motivate
  • High level view of what others have done and why
    its inadequate
  • In this paper
  • In the next section

Background vs related work
  • Background is a review of information the reader
    will need to understand your paper
  • Related work is what other researchers have done

Overview of my solution
  • A high level view of the system works best w/ a
  • Show how the bits pieces fit together
  • Can highlight the advantages of your approach

System overview for ISSRE03
System overview for ASE02
Describing my approach
  • Most important thing to remember You know it,
    they dont!
  • Write as if youre writing to your grandmother!
  • Every new word s/b italicized and followed by a
  • Picture is worth 1000 words

  • Experiment
  • Results
  • Case study

  • Describe the platform, processor, OS, language,
    compiler, compiler optimizations
  • Describe the test suite, which s/b legit! You
    cant just make up the test programs!!
  • Use tables describe each row column
  • Sometimes a graph is better than a table

graphs are great!
A picture is worth
(No Transcript)
Impact of Results
  • How many times did you perform each experiment?
  • Validity of results
  • Any weaknesses of the test suite
  • Anything hokey about the approach
  • Threats to generalize
  • Can you really generalize why/why not
  • Is it automatable or automated?!

Most important!
  • Do not claim more than you did
  • Do not generalize from one study or result
  • Do not claim that because it worked well on a few
    test cases that it will work well on all test
    cases, all platforms and for all inputs!

Figures are important!
  • Cannot simply drop them into paper (see Figure
  • Writers are immersed in the subject -- readers
    are not!!
  • When referring to a specific Figure/Section/Table,
    use upper case, otherwise use lower case
  • The overview in Figure 3 is better than the other
  • Should describe each item in a figure The icon
    in the upper left corner of the figure
  • Should motivate the figure This figure provides
    an overview of our system, including input

Figures (cont)
  • If they contain code, number each line
  • Refer to specific lines, or sets of lines, in the
  • s/b either pseudo-code, or language specific
    (tell them what the language is!)
  • All elements of figure/graph s/b marked (key or
  • Each figure should have a tag and a caption

(No Transcript)
Tag caption
tag caption
More powerful writing
  • Use active voice present tense!

You your reader
  • Must remember that youre familiar with the work
    the reader is not!
  • Every term must be defined at its first use
    highlight the definition with italics

UGLY The careful reader may consult the dragon
book for an explanation of control
flow graphs (see 1). We use CFGs
to compute GOOD A control flow graph, CFG, is
a graph whose nodes represent
basic blocks and whose edges represent the flow
of information into and out of the
basic blocks.
Engage the reader
  • Writing has changed in the last 10 or 20 years

UGLY The careful reader will learn the figure
without any explanation on the part
of this author! UGLY The reader will observe a
novel algorithm if she GOOD We suggest here a
novel algorithm for computing data
flow information on a control flow graph, CFG.
You your reader (cont)
  • RULE Speak directly to the reader
  • If single author I or we
  • Coauthors we
  • The reader you

You your reader (cont)
UGLY In this discussion, it is assumed that it
is possible to get a closed form for
at least one of the equations. GOOD We assume
that we can compute a closed form for
at least one of the equations.
structure vs meaning
Avoid passive voice!
  • Can only say that an event took place without
    admitting who or what did it!

UGLY The data sets were lost. The
data sets were lost by the first author. UGLY
The first algorithm fails to compute the result
in a timely manner because a solution
to the traveling salesman problem
is required.
Use active voice
  • Take responsibility for your work!

GOOD We lost the data sets. GOOD Our first
algorithm is too slow because the
computation requires a solution to the traveling
salesman problem.
passive voice is vague
BAD By removing an item from the list during
each iteration, it is guaranteed that
the loop will terminate. The first part of the
sentence suggests that you will reveal who or
what is removing. To what does it refer?
GOOD We remove an item from the list during each
iteration of the loop thus, the
loop is guaranteed to terminate. GOOD In the
algorithm of Figure 3, we remove
Active voice is stronger clearer
UGLY In a queue, insertions are performed at the
rear and deletions are performed at
the front therefore a pointer to
the front and the rear must be maintained. GOOD
We use a queue, a structure that permits
insertions at the rear and
deletions from the front. We maintain
a pointer to the front and rear of the
Use present tense
  • Present tense is stronger than future tense

WEAK In this paper, we will show STRONG In
this paper, we show that
Use present tense
  • Past tense degrades into diary writing

BAD In this work we wanted to GOOD The
goals of our work are to
Dont change tense
BAD In this chapter, we have described what
happens when we do the wrong thing. We
examined the behavior and determine
that they are correct. BAD The analysis
reported in the preceding section will
show that Nick can differentiate shod from shoddy.
More lucid writing
  • Consistency, Symmetry
  • Correctness!

You MUST read each of your sentences for
  • Content/meaning
  • Structure
  • Style

Be consistent call a spade a spade!
  • Cant change terminology, even for a good reason,
    w/out explanation

remote proxy vs proxy data structure vs structure
Use symmetry when structuring sentences,
paragraphs sections
We describe both a stack and a queue a queue is
a FIFO structure and a stack is a LIFO structure.
In this section, we review background information
about program representations and computation of
data flow information using the program
representations. To compute data flow
"overview" is a noun!
Which vs that
  • that identifies the object about which you are
  • which provides further info about the object

GOOD The car that is speeding down the road
is about to crash into a pole. GOOD
The car, which is speeding down the road,
is about to crash into a pole.
Avoid fuzzy words
  • very, easily, actually, truly, in fact, some,
  • etc.

BAD In comparing our algorithm with the
algorithm described in reference 17,
we see that ours is very fast.
BAD In this section, we define the terms node,
tree, graph, etc.
cop out!
  • Connects two sentences that are closely related
    to each other
  • Use a semicolon when what follows constitutes a
    complete sentence
  • When what follows is a fragment, you must use a
    comma or an em dash

CAREFUL Maxs head was throbbing Lyns heart
was sinking. The semicolon implies that there is
a connection between Maxs head throb and Lyns
sinking heart!! BAD Holly wanted to live on a
farm with plenty of chickens and to
have a stellar career as well. GOOD This
machine is difficult to use for example, it
crashes whenever you turn it on.
  • Commas provide guidance to your reader about how
    to parse your sentence!
  • Place them wherever a speaker should pause

UGLY Greg was worried however he remained
calm. GOOD Brendan was hungry however, he
remained calm. OKAY Lyn and Richard were still
puzzled, however many times they reread the
directions for assembling the stepper climber
however, they remained calm.
  • The colon signifies that what follows it expands
    on or explains what precedes it this sentence is
    an example.
  • Frequently a period or an em dash will also work
  • Use at the end of a sentence, followed by a list

Lyn could tell that Red had been out hunting
again There were three mice neatly laid out on
the upstairs rug.
GOOD This talk does not assume that you know the
basics how to form a sentence,
how to use words and how to laugh
at your mistakes.
  • Every claim must be explained and substantiated
  • Everything that you state is a claim
  • Any decent reviewer will assume that if you
    dont state it, you didnt do it and you cant
    handle it!
  • Get a reader to read your paper
  • Writing a well-written paper is a lot of work!