How to Approach Technical Writing• You can’t throw all your time into a paper at the last minute and expect a good result
Gray’s 12-step program• Foundation: write for 15 to 30 minutes every day.• Supportive Recommendations – make notes about the points to be covered in your new writing, doing this a day or week beforehand. – close or remove all books, articles and other polished text. – close the door, turning off the telephone, closing email and web applications and generally removing all distractions.• begin each 15–30 minute session by writing new words, for 5 to 20 minutes, and only doing other writing activities, such as taking notes or editing previous text, after the new words have been produced.• motto: “Write before you’re ready!”
Technical writing must be clear and concise• Bad: “Problem X is clearly a critical area that impacts our research agenda and hypothesis. Our ideas about problem X are embryonic and still evolving, and doubtless our ongoing work in this area will quickly yield fruitful results.”• Better: “We recognize that problem X is central to our agenda, but we have only begun to investigate it.”• Omit needless words• make clear precisely what your new contributions are, and how they are different/better than existing approaches to this or similar problems?• Are you able to capture the non-experts in the audience with the opening of your paper, and impress the experts in the body of the paper?
Technical writing must be clear and concise• your paper will make only a small number of discrete points–say 2 to 4.• Each important point should appear 3 times: once in the abstract/introduction, once in the body of the paper (where it is explained in detail), and once in the conclusions (where you derive some implications of this point for the future of systems research, or whatever).
Start from Outline!!• Start with a short 5-10 minute talk to your colleagues before starting to write• Make the outline reflect the level of subsections: for each subsection, write no more than two lines describing the purpose/goal of that subsection.• for each subsection, map out specific paragraphs: for each paragraph, write one sentence that explains the topic or main goal of just that paragraph• Do not get caught up in detail bullets and incomplete sentences are ok. You will fill them in later• Read through everything you have written and see if it has a logical flow, ie if you believe it represents your work adequately• Give what you have written to a technical colleague,• As you write your section organization will change, it means you’re understanding what presentation order works best
Components of a Technical Paper • Title • Abstract • Introduction • Main Body • Conclusions • Acknowledgements • Citation/References
Paper Title• Titles can be long and descriptive: or short and sweet• Don’t even try to write the title or abstract until after the whole rest of the paper is written
Abstract– State the purpose/problem, your approach and solution (a brief description of the work), and the main contributions of the paper (primary results and conclusion).– essentially the “selling point” for the paper– stand-alone mini-summary of the paper– clear and concise, a single paragraph, typically 200 words maximum– Can you read only the abstract and conclusions and be able to give someone else a 30-second digest of what the paper claims it says?
Introduction• typical Introduction includes four paragraphs 1. giving the reasons for and importance of the work, and why someone would want to read the paper 2. second and third paragraphs contain a brief description of the background to the problem and the connection of the present work to the background 3. One error that is frequently found in paper submittals is that little, if any, research was done by the authors to determine that the work is indeed new and original. This is a comprehensive review of related work. 4. final paragraph includes a clear statement of the purpose or goal of the work; it is an expansion from the Abstract. A statement of the hypothesis (question being addressed)
Main Body• The Main Body – includes the work done which consists of; methods, results, analysis, and discussion sections. The exact layout and section titles will vary depending on the topic. – description of the methods used is important for repetition and comparison to other work. Methods typically include field sampling techniques, laboratory methods, data analysis methods; i.e. how the work was performed – results should be given and analyzed. The results section is sometimes separated from the discussion section, but usually they are combined – Tables, graphs, and diagrams should be used to help visualize and explain the results and analysis. Each table and figure needs a written explanation determine which graphs that will convey the results you think are important – Discussing the results is also important, but leave the conclusions for the Conclusion section
Conclusion– No new information is presented– How did the work support the purpose or validate your research hypothesis?– make the original claims more concrete, e.g., by referring to quantitative performance results– Bulleted conclusions can help– Can you read only the abstract and conclusions and be able to give someone else a 30-second digest of what the paper claims it says?– Future work some times part of conclusion • how the work sets new research directions.
Acknowledgements• important if funding has been received from a special source for the work and research that was performed.• Co-workers who assisted in the work but were not involved in the final writing may also be listed here.
Citations/References• All references in text must be in reference list• No references in the list that are not cited in the text• Identify the format used by the organization and follow it explicitly.• Cite, cite, cite! Give due credit to those whose efforts you build on, as well as pointing out how your approach is different from (and better than) previous ones
Peer Review• Have you had it read by at least one person familiar with each of the areas the paper impinges on?• Walk away from your writing for a day or two then give it a full top-to-bottom reading to evaluate its coherence and flow of ideas.• Global Science Share (add web site and show in class) – http://globalscienceshare.org/
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