CS 87100, Scientific Writing and Presentation

Coordinates F 11:45-1:15pm, Room 4419; 1 credit seminar
Instructor Prof. Liang Huang (huang @ cs.qc)
Prerequisites Students should have written at least one paper (preferably two) before taking this class; you wouldn't learn much from it without extensive prior (painful) experience in writing and presentation.
Students need to bring a writing sample to the first class.
  • SCI: G. Gopen and J. Swan (1990). The Science of Scientific Writing. American Scientist 78:550-558.
  • HOW: Simon Peyton Jones (1993--2006). The "How-to" series: How to write a research paper, How to give a research talk, and How to write a research proposal.
  • STY: J. Williams and G. Colomb (2010, 10th edi.). Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace. University of Chicago Press.
  • ELE: W. Strunk and E. White (1999, 4th edi). The Elements of Style. Longman.
Grading Regular attendance is mandatory. Classes start with a discussion on some aspect of writing or presentation style. They end with students receiving detailed feedback on their rough drafts or slides. Part of the final grade depends on the student's relative improvement in writing and presentation over the course of the semester.

Believe it or not, scientific communication is the single most important part of the PhD training. Think about the following:

Have reviewers of your papers ever misunderstood your main arguments or contributions (which possibly resulted in rejections)? Do you sometimes struggle to put your ideas into writing? On the other hand, when reading a paper, do you ever wish it were written (a lot) more clearly? In a conference or seminar talk, do you ever get lost due to the bad quality of presentation and/or slides?

The fact is, scientific communication is hard (almost equally hard for native and non-native speakers), and the standards are generally very low. However, with proper training, everybody is expected to improve significantly in both writing and presentation skills.

This course develops writing and presentation skills for students in all areas of computer science and closely related fields (Math, [E]CE, Linguistics, etc.). The course is aimed specifically at (senior) Ph.D. students who are writing up projects for publication, preparing their conference talks, or preparing their research exam. We will devote roughly 60% of the class to paper writing and 30% to presentation in various settings (conference, seminar, and interview/job talks). The remaining 10% will briefly cover other forms of technical communication (classroom teaching, elevator pitch, and proposal writing).

Tentative Schedule

1Aug 30* students submit 2-page writing samples
* student intros, round 1: writing and presentation background.
* motivation and overview of writing
* student intros, round 2: elevator pitch: 2 min. about your work
* overview of presentation
Unit 1: Writing I: Fundamentals
4Sep 20 * audience-centric communication; writing for the readers
* the "vibrant" style; an example from Simon Peyton Jones
* discussions of SCI (first half)
* global structure of a conference paper
my annotated version of Simon Peyton Jones's "how-to" slides
(includes many of my own suggestions)
5Sep 27* how to write the abstract and intro section
* some examples from award-winning papers
* students break into groups, revising abstract/intro
* students submit 10-page sample slides
Unit 2: Writing II: Basic Styles
6Oct 4* actions
* students break into groups, revising for actions
STY, Chaps. 1-3

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Last modified: Wed May 22 01:17:59 EDT 2013