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PhD -- Hints on Writing

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PhD Seminar
Hints onWriting (C)Common Mistakes From MyGraduate Students
Jeff Offutthttp://www.cs.gmu.edu/~offutt/
© Jeff Offutt
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I. Semantic Notes
Lack ofprecise definitions… assuming the reader already understands the subjectUndefinedtermsDefineterms, don’t justdescribethem.Subjective and impreciseevaluations(“A isworsethan B”, rather than “A isslowerthan B”)Discussingsolutionswithout mentioningproblemsMismatched phrases“Although this freedom is expected to be a benefit because it mimics the way humans process information ...” – How does “freedom” mimic “processing”?“Inconsistencies detected require expedient resolution and implementation ...” – Do we really want to “implement” the “inconsistencies” ?
© Jeff Offutt
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I. Semantic Notes (2)
Objectivesare verbs, not nouns“Objective is a test document” ... “Objective is to generate a test document”Conclusionsthat just summarize, no tying togetherLiterary stylein technical paper“fall at the side of the road”, “arcane commands”Uselessadjectives“Utilize” means “to use profitably”Guesswork based onpersonal experience– opinions versus facts and measurementsIn large classes, studentsthinkthey learn less – standardized tests indicate class size makes no differenceDifferences?Speed of gradingAmount of feedbackPopularityis not important in scientific research
© Jeff Offutt
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I. Semantic Notes (3)
Comparative adjectiveswith only one subject :“higher” – than what?“less” – than what?“more” – than what?“better” – than what?Comparingnouns and verbs:“between theinterfaceand ... what theydo...”Compare nouns with nouns, verbs with verbsValuejudgments(good, bad, ...) Why good or bad?Emotionalphrasesexploded (increased)embrace (use)
© Jeff Offutt
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II. Grammatical Notes
Mentioningone itemand calling itseveral“A is limited byX... we need to break away fromtheseconstraints”Pluralitymismatch“basicsof Xisdescribed”, “advances...hasbeen”Plurality mismatch to avoidgender“...theuserwheretheyare...”“...theuserswheretheyare...”Random use ofcommasToo many commasNospell checking
© Jeff Offutt
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II. Grammatical Notes (2)
et al.– “et. al.” or putting et al. in the references“et al.” abbreviates “etali,” which isLatinfor “and others”“i.e.” – “e.g.” : “i.e.” is “idest”, or “that is”, “e.g.” is “exampligratia”, or “for example”“for e.g.” sounds like a stuttering problem“ensure” – “insure”insure is to procure insurance, ensure is to make sure it happensarticle misuse : “the” – “an”“the object” means there is only one, “an object” means one of many
© Jeff Offutt
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III. Citation Notes
Citations are needed onspecificorquantifiablepointsOtherwise they becomes opinions, which are irrelevantUsing citations asnounsMissingpage numbersin referencesInconsistently puttingperiodsbefore and after citationsIncompletereferences
© Jeff Offutt
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IV. Stylistic Notes
Inconsistentitalics / boldingEmbedded lists(in paragraphs instead of separated)Do three things: (1) make your point, (2) support your point, (3) stop.Noisewords and phrases just slow us down“Meansby which”–“way”“Themethodby which”– “how”Too many “ing” words are weak“Make an attempt at increasing ...” – “Make an attempt to increase ...”Contractions—do not contractin a technical paperWeaksentence beginnings are passive“There arethree ways to do it, …” – “Three ways to do it are …”Single dash forseparator—use long or double dashRun-onsentences—break up into multiple sentences“viz”– few people know what that means
© Jeff Offutt
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IV. Stylistic Notes (2)
Do not use unnecessarycolonsDo notCapitalize allImportantWordsDo not usebinders: This makes it difficult to make comments, especially in draftsUnless a (probably inexperienced) professor explicitly requires oneOmitfirst names and titles in the textUsesections, notchapters
© Jeff Offutt
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V. Organizational Notes
Do not useinternal, incomplete references... saying that something is discussed elsewhere in the paper, but not saying wherePlacefiguresproperly … immediately following discussion, preferably on the same pageNever beforeAlwaysdiscussandexplaina figureIntroduce and provide aroadmapfor each sectionNever follow a section heading with a subsection headingwithout intervening text
Summary
Create your own “oops list”As you get feedback from friends and professors,addto your oops listWhen you conquer a problem, and the correct way becomes a habit,removeit from your oops list
© Jeff Offutt
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PhD -- Hints on Writing