Everything in your paper that does not support your main point distracts from it. Write for the readers, rather than writing for yourself. In particular, think about what matters to the intended audience, and focus on that. It is not necessarily what you personally find most intriguing. A common mistake is to focus on what you spent the most time on. Do not write your paper as a chronological narrative of all the things that you tried, and do not devote space in the paper proportionately to the amount of time you spent on each task.
Most work that you do will never show up in any paper; the purpose of infrastructure-building and exploration of blind alleys is to enable you to do the small amount of work that is worth writing about. Another way of stating this is that the purpose of the paper is not to describe what you have done, but to inform readers of the successful outcome or significant results, and to convince readers of the validity of those conclusions. Likewise, do not dwell on details of the implementation or the experiments except insofar as they contribute to your main point.
This is a particularly important piece of advice for software documentation, where you need to focus on the software's benefits to the user, and how to use it, rather than how you implemented it. However, it holds for technical papers as well — and remember that readers expect different things from the two types of writing! The audience is interested in what worked, and why, so start with that. If you discuss approaches that were not successful, do so briefly, and typically only after you have discussed the successful approach.
Furthermore, the discussion should focus on differences from the successful technique, and if at all possible should provide general rules or lessons learned that will yield insight and help others to avoid such blind alleys in the future.
Whenever you introduce a strawman or an inferior approach, say so upfront. A reader will and should assume that whatever you write in a paper is something you believe or advocate, unless very clearly marked otherwise. A paper should never first detail a technique, then without forewarning indicate that the technique is flawed and proceed to discuss another technique.
Such surprises confuse and irritate readers. When there are multiple possible approaches to a problem, it is preferable to give the best or successful one first.
Oftentimes it is not even necessary to discuss the alternatives. If you do, they should generally come after, not before, the successful one. Your paper should give the most important details first, and the less important ones afterward. Its main line of argument should flow coherently rather than being interrupted.
It can be acceptable to state an imperfect solution first with a clear indication that it is imperfect if it is a simpler version of the full solution, and the full solution is a direct modification of the simpler one. Less commonly, it can be acceptable to state an imperfect solution first if it is an obvious solution that every reader will assume is adequate; but use care with this rationalization, since you are usually wrong that every reader will jump to the given conclusion.
Make the organization and results clear A paper should communicate the main ideas of your research such as the techniques and results early and clearly. Then, the body of the paper can expand on these points; a reader who understands the structure and big ideas can better appreciate the details.
Another way of saying this is that you should give away the punchline. A technical paper is not a joke or a mystery novel. The reader should not encounter any surprises, only deeper explanations of ideas that have already been introduced. It is a bad approach to start with a mass of details and only at the end tell the reader what the main point was or how the details related to one another. Instead, state the point first and then support it. The reader is more likely to appreciate which evidence is important and why, and is less likely to become confused or frustrated.
For each section of the paper, consider writing a mini-introduction that says what its organization is, what is in each subpart, and how the parts relate to one another. For the whole paper, this is probably a paragraph. For a section or sub-section, it can be as short as a sentence. This may feel redundant to you the author , but readers haven't spent as much time with the paper's structure as you have, so they will truly appreciate these signposts that orient them within your text.
Some people like to write the abstract, and often also the introduction, last. Doing so makes them easier to write, because the rest of the paper is already complete and can just be described. However, I prefer to write these sections early in the process and then revise them as needed , because they frame the paper.
If you know the paper's organization and outlook, then writing the front matter will take little effort. If you don't, then it is an excellent use of your time to determine that information by writing the front matter. To write the body of the paper without knowing its broad outlines will take more time in the long run. Another way of putting this is that writing the paper first will make writing the abstract faster, and writing the abstract first will make writing the paper faster.
There is a lot more paper than abstract, so it makes sense to start with that and to clarify the point of the paper early on. It is a very common error to dive into the technical approach or the implementation details without first appropriately framing the problem and providing motivation and background. Readers need to understand what the task is before they are convinced that they should pay attention to what you are saying about it.
You should first say what the problem or goal is, and — even when presenting an algorithm — first state what the output is and probably the key idea, before discussing steps. It just distracts from the important content. Getting started: overcoming writer's block and procrastination Some writers are overwhelmed by the emptiness of a blank page or editor buffer, and they have trouble getting started with their writing. Don't worry!
Here are some tricks to help you get started. Once you have begun, you will find it relatively easier to revise your notes or first draft. The key idea is to write something, and you can improve it later. Start verbally. Explain what the paper needs to say to another person. After the conversation is over, write down what you just said, focusing on the main points rather than every word you spoke.
Many people find it easier to speak than to write. Furthermore, getting feedback and giving clarifications will help you discover problems with your argument, explanation, or word choice. You may not be ready to write full English paragraphs, but you can decide which sections your paper will have and give them descriptive titles.
Once you have decided on the section structure, you can write a little outline of each section, which indicates the subsection titles. Now, expand that into a topic sentence for each paragraph.
At this point, since you know the exact topic of each paragraph, you will find the paragraph easy to write. Stream-of-consciousness notes. Write down everything that you know, in no particular order and with no particular formatting. Afterward, organize what you wrote thematically, bringing related points together. Eventually, convert it into an outline and proceed as above. The phrases are quicker to write and less likely to derail your brainstorming; they are easier to organize; and you will feel less attached to them and more willing to delete them.
Divide and conquer. Rather than trying to write your entire document, choose some specific part, and write just that part. Then, move on to another part. Find other text that you have written on the topic and start from that.
An excellent source is your progress reports — you are writing them, aren't you? This can remind you what was hard or interesting, or of points that you might otherwise forget to make. You will rarely want to re-use text verbatim, both because you can probably convey the point better now, and also because writing for different audiences or in different contexts requires a different argument or phrasing.
For example, a technical paper and a technical talk have similar aims but rather different forms. If you wrote something once, you can write it again probably better! Early on, the point is to organize your ideas, not to create finished sentences. Brevity Be brief.
Make every word count. If a word does not support your point, cut it out, because excess verbiage and fluff only make it harder for the reader to appreciate your message. Use shorter and more direct phrases wherever possible. Make your writing crisp and to the point. Eliminate any text that does not support your point.
Here is one way you might go about this; it is time-consuming but extremely effective. First, examine each section of the paper in turn and ask what role it serves and whether it contributes to the paper's main point. If not, delete it. Next, within each section, examine each paragraph.
Ask whether that paragraph has a single point. If not, rewrite the paragraph. Also ask whether that point contributes to the goals of the section. If not, then delete the paragraph. Next, within each paragraph, examine each sentence. If it does not make a single, clear point that strengthens the paragraph, delete or rewrite it. Finally, within each sentence, examine each word, and delete or replace those that do not strengthen their point.
You will need to repeat this entire process multiple times, keeping a fresh perspective on the paper. Writing style Passive voice has no place in technical writing. It obscures who the actor was, what caused it, and when it happened.
Use active voice and simple, clear, direct phrasing. First person is rarely appropriate in technical writing. Never use first person to describe the operation of a program or system. It is only appropriate when discussing something that the author of the paper did manually. And recall that your paper should not be couched as a narrative. As a related point, do not anthropomorphize computers: they hate it.
Avoid puffery, self-congratulation, and value judgments: give the facts and let the reader judge. And if the point is not obvious to readers who are not intimately familiar with the subject matter the way you are, then you are offending readers by insulting their intelligence, and you are demonstrating your own inability to communicate the intuition.
Prefer singular to plural number. When describing an experiment or some other event or action that occurred in the past, use past tense. When describing the paper itself, use present tense. The reason for this is that the reader is experiencing the paper in real time; the paper is like a conversation between the authors and the reader.
In a list with 3 or more elements list, put a serial comma between each of the items including the last two. I've seen real examples that were even more confusing than these. In English, compound adjectives are hyphenated but compound nouns are not.
Some of the suggestions in this document are about good writing, and that might seem secondary to the research. But writing more clearly will help you think more clearly and often reveals flaws or ideas! Furthermore, if your writing is not good, then either readers will not be able to comprehend your good ideas, or readers will be rightly suspicious of your technical work.
If you do not or cannot write well, why should readers believe you were any more careful in the research itself? The writing reflects on you, so make it reflect well. Figures Use figures! Different people learn in different ways, so you should complement a textual or mathematical presentation with a graphical one. Even for people whose primary learning modality is textual, another presentation of the ideas can clarify, fill gaps, or enable the reader to verify his or her understanding.
Figures can also help to illustrate concepts, draw a skimming reader into the text or at least communicate a key idea to that reader , and make the paper more visually appealing. It is extremely helpful to give an example to clarify your ideas: this can make concrete in the reader's mind what your technique does and why it is hard or interesting. A running example used throughout the paper is also helpful in illustrating how your algorithm works, and a single example permits you to amortize the time and space spent explaining the example and the reader's time in appreciating it.
It's harder to find or create a single example that you re-use throughout the paper, but it is worth it. A figure should stand on its own, containing all the information that is necessary to understand it.
Good captions contain multiple sentences; the caption provides context and explanation. For examples, see magazines such as Scientific American and American Scientist. The caption may also need to explain the meaning of columns in a table or of symbols in a figure. However, it's even better to put that information in the figure proper; for example, use labels or a legend. When the body of your paper contains information that belongs in a caption, there are several negative effects.
The reader is forced to hunt all over the paper in order to understand the figure. The flow of the writing is interrupted with details that are relevant only when one is looking at the figure. The figures become ineffective at drawing in a reader who is scanning the paper — an important constituency that you should cater to!
As with naming , use pictorial elements consistently. Only use two different types of arrows or boxes, shading, etc. Almost any diagram with multiple types of elements requires a legend either explicitly in the diagram, or in the caption to explain what each one means; and so do many diagrams with just one type of element, to explain what it means.
You should simply call them all figures and number them sequentially. The body of each figure might be a table, a graph, a diagram, a screenshot, or any other content. Put figures at the top of the page, not in the middle or bottom. If a numbered, captioned figure appears in the middle or at the bottom of a page, it is harder for readers to find the next paragraph of text while reading, and harder to find the figure from a reference to it.
Avoid bitmaps, which are hard to read. Export figures from your drawing program in a vector graphics format. If you must use a bitmap which is only appropriate for screenshots of a tool , then produce them at very high resolution. Use the biggest-resolution screen you can, and magnify the partion you will copture.
Computer program source code Your code examples should either be real code, or should be close to real code. Never use synthetic examples such as procedures or variables named foo or bar. Made-up examples are much harder for readers to understand and to build intuition regarding.
Furthermore, they give the reader the impression that your technique is not applicable in practice — you couldn't find any real examples to illustrate it, so you had to make something up. Any boldface or other highlighting should be used to indicate the most important parts of a text.
Even if your IDE happens to do that, it isn't appropriate for a paper. For example, it would be acceptable to use boldface to indicate the names of procedures helping the reader find them , but not their return types. Naming Give each concept in your paper a descriptive name to make it more memorable to readers. If you can't think of a good name, then quite likely you don't really understand the concept. Think harder about it to determine its most important or salient features.
It is better to name a technique or a paper section, etc. Use terms consistently and precisely. While elegant variation may be appropriate in poems, novels, and some essays, it is not acceptable in technical writing, where you should clearly define terms when they are first introduced, then use them consistently. If you switch wording gratuitously, you will confuse the reader and muddle your point; the reader of a technical paper expects that use of a different term flags a different meaning, and will wonder what subtle difference you are trying to highlight.
Choose the best word for the concept, and stick with it. Do not use a single term to refer to multiple concepts. This is a place that use of synonyms to distinguish concepts that are unrelated from the point of view of your paper is acceptable. When you present a list, be consistent in how you introduce each element, and either use special formatting to make them stand out or else state the size of the list. I am intelligent. Second, I am bright. Also, I am clever. Finally, I am brilliant.
First, I am intelligent. Third, I am clever. Fourth, I am brilliant. Some people worry that such consistency and repetition is pedantic or stilted, or it makes the writing hard to follow.
There is no need for such concerns: none of these is the case. Choose good names not only for the concepts that you present in your paper, but for the document source file. This will make the tone of your essay stronger. Ensure your language is concise. Avoid transition words that don't add anything to the sentence and unnecessary wordiness that detracts from your argument. Use the right vocabulary. Know what the words you are using actually mean. How you use language is important, especially in academic essay writing.
When writing an academic essay, remember that you are trying to persuade others that you are an expert who can make an intelligent argument. Using big words just to sound smart often results in the opposite effect—it is easy to detect when someone is overcompensating in their writing.
If you aren't sure of the exact meaning of a word, you risk using it incorrectly. Using obscure language can also take away from the clarity of your argument—you should consider this before you pull out that thesaurus to change that perfectly good word to something completely different. Understand the argument and critically analyze the evidence.
In the process of writing an academic essay, you should always have your main argument in mind. While it might be tempting to go off on a tangent about some interesting side note to your topic, doing so can make your writing less concise. Always question any evidence you include in your essay; ask yourself, "Does this directly support my thesis? When you are evaluating evidence, be critical and thorough. You want to use the strongest research to back up your thesis.
Everything you include should have a clear connection to your topic and your argument. Know how to write a proper conclusion that supports your research. One of the most overlooked areas of academic essay writing is the conclusion. Your conclusion is what ties all your research together to prove your thesis.Figures can also skill to illustrate concepts, draw a skimming reader into the text or at least communicate a key idea to that readerand make the paper more visually appealing. It should not be a restatement of your introduction or a copy-and-paste of your thesis itself. After the conversation is writing, write down what you just said, focusing on the technical points rather than.
Finish your paper well in advance, so that you can improve the writing. You may not be ready to write full English paragraphs, but you can decide which sections your paper will have and give them descriptive titles.
First, I am intelligent. Which details to include Your purpose is to communicate specific ideas, and everything about your paper should contribute to this goal. Getting started: overcoming writer's block and procrastination Some writers are overwhelmed by the emptiness of a blank page or editor buffer, and they have trouble getting started with their writing.
As a related point, do not anthropomorphize computers: they hate it. Divide and conquer. Rather than asking 3 people to read the same version of your paper, ask one person to read the paper, then make corrections before asking the next person to read it, and so on.
When expressing this, it may be helpful to explain why no one else thought of your approach before, and also to keep in mind how you expect the behavior of readers to change once they appreciate your contributions. Using big words just to sound smart often results in the opposite effect—it is easy to detect when someone is overcompensating in their writing.
Prefer singular to plural number. And recall that your paper should not be couched as a narrative. You will rarely want to re-use text verbatim, both because you can probably convey the point better now, and also because writing for different audiences or in different contexts requires a different argument or phrasing. A proper conclusion quickly outlines the key evidence discussed in the body of an essay and directly ties it to the thesis to show how this evidence proves or disproves the main argument of one's research. In each of these cases, it is necessary to run some external command to create some of the content or to create the final PDF. First, examine each section of the paper in turn and ask what role it serves and whether it contributes to the paper's main point.
When there are multiple possible approaches to a problem, it is preferable to give the best or successful one first. Only ask someone to read a part of your paper when you think you will learn something new, because you are not aware of serious problems. Computer program source code Your code examples should either be real code, or should be close to real code.
Choose good names not only for the concepts that you present in your paper, but for the document source file. Its main line of argument should flow coherently rather than being interrupted. Remember that just as it is hard to convey technical ideas in your paper and if you are getting a rejection, that is evidence that you did not succeed! Likewise, do not dwell on details of the implementation or the experiments except insofar as they contribute to your main point. You should be straightforward and honest about the limitations, of course do mention them early on, even if you don't detail them then , but don't destroy the coherence of your narrative or sour the reader on your technique. Using big words just to sound smart often results in the opposite effect—it is easy to detect when someone is overcompensating in their writing.
Before writing an essay, make sure you have a solid understanding of basic grammar. If not, then delete the paragraph. Start with what, but don't omit why.
An excellent source is your progress reports — you are writing them, aren't you? Before you even start writing an essay, it is important to know what you want to say. Don't worry about the size or quality of your output; instead, reward yourself for the consistency and regularity of your input.
It is a very common error to dive into the technical approach or the implementation details without first appropriately framing the problem and providing motivation and background. One of the most overlooked areas of academic essay writing is the conclusion. I am intelligent. Getting started: overcoming writer's block and procrastination Some writers are overwhelmed by the emptiness of a blank page or editor buffer, and they have trouble getting started with their writing. When describing an experiment or some other event or action that occurred in the past, use past tense. Use a consistent number of digits of precision.