Academic Writing

Brief summary of the course

This short and focused M.Sci level course teaches important and useful competencies that help express your structured thoughts in scientific and technical writing. Domain-wise, the course is focused on Computer Science, and, more particularly, on Data Science. As the course is short, not all of the writing genres are covered (e.g. journal papers). Instead, the course concentrates on offering generic suggestions and ground these on the examples of immediate practical use: technical reports, M.Sci and Ph.D. theses, Ph.D. proposals, short (work in progress) conference papers. The course is useful for M.Sci students in helping them increase their proficiency in writing and presenting.

The course does not cover English writing styles, speaking skills, and rhetoric as those are worth separate courses. Furthermore, it does not teach English as a language but concentrates on professional context. The assumption is that the students are able to read, write, and speak the language correctly and at a sufficient level for professional writing.

Course topics

Topic Dura- tion (hrs)
Part I
1 Topic 1: An Introduction into Academic Writing in CS/DS

This topic is an appetizer for the course. It explains why academic writing is an essential skill for a Computer / Data Scientist. Hence, professing in writing cannot be avoided in your career. The topic starts with explaining the focus, structure, and context of the course. Unlike many traditional writing courses, it does not spend a lot of its time on language and style of writing, but teaches to: (i) express your structured thoughts in a proper way, according to the rules and traditions in your profession; and (ii) convey these thoughts effectively to your readership. This introduction motivates you to understand why you write and what the aspects are that need to be considered while writing. This lecture also informs you about notably good sources for further individual reading and exercise.

2
2 Topic 2: Planning and Structuring Your Manuscript for the Purpose

This topic teaches students how to plan, essentially – structure a manuscript to be written. It starts with an explanation of why it is important to plan your manuscript. It further elaborates by pointing out and discussing different aspects in planning, leading to the understanding that a proper structure is one of the most important aspects. Further, it focuses on the structure of a manuscript and discusses several important structuring facets that form structuring patterns helping a writer to convey his story to a reader. These facets are partitioning, logical structuring, methodological structuring, and intentional structuring. In the subsequent part, the topic applies structuring patterns to different genres of academic writing that are of relevance to M.Sci students. The discussed writing genres are a technical report, coursework report, Ph.D proposal, M.Sci thesis.

2
3 Topic 3:  Working with Literature. A Review of the Related Work.

This topic goes into the details of one important aspect of academic writing – reviewing the related work in the field of your research. The students learn that the review of the related work is one of the core steps in any research or development project. They are also informed about the reasons why such a literature review is an essential component in any genre of academic writing. Further, the topic elaborates on what a related work is, how it is related to the State-of-the-Art in the field of study, and when it has to be reviewed. Several examples of good and bad reviews are shown to the students. They are also asked what was bad and what was good in these examples. The opinions are further discussed and summarized in several recommendations on writing a good review of the related work. Yet further, the topic puts its focus on where and how to seek for the literature sources for a valid and complete review. It also gives advice on how to process the sources.

2
4 Topic 4:  Writing a Technical Report

This topic focuses on a specific genre in academic writing – a technical report. The students learn (if not new before) that a technical report is a primary document presenting any scientific output, that is a deliverable in any R&D project. As an appetizer to the topic, it is discussed what might be the motives to write a technical report. Further, it is explained that a rational advice for structuring and narrating such a document is following the chosen research methodology followed in the project. This methodology is of course a specialization of a scientific method. In the continuation of the initial discussion of this genre in Topic 2, the tips for structuring the sections of a technical report are given. The topic further offers a suggestion on how a technical report might be illustrated to help convey the story to a reader efficiently and effectively. Yet further, it is explained why it is important that the research results are made reproducible and how it is suggested to be done in a technical report. The students are also informed that any research activity today, including report writing, is collaborative. A bunch of tips are given about organizing teamwork in report writing. Finally, it is explained that “what has to be left out?” is perhaps the most difficult part in finalizing their reports. Some general suggestions are offered on that. At the very end, the topic recalls that a technical report has to: (i) present acknowledgements; (ii) properly cite the others’ work; and (iii) inform about its revision history.

2
Part II
5 Topic 5: Writing a Master Thesis

This topic covers the material focused on the methodology, good practice, and suggestions on how to write a good quality M.Sci thesis. The basic premise put forward in this material is that writing a thesis is not only writing. Much more, it is about doing research in a Master Project and documenting this research. The topic elaborates on the whole thesis preparation pipeline, including planning, structuring, writing, and re-writing. It starts with revealing the genre of a thesis as a final and complete M.Sci project report. Based on that, it gives a recommendation about when to start writing. It also provides advice about a proper structure of a thesis, based on the methodological backbone – the Scientific Method. Departing from that, the lecture topic gives recommendations on how to plan a thesis. Typical flaws that higher the risks of failure in a thesis project are outlined and differences to a B.Sci thesis pointed out. The topic puts significant emphasis on the Kick-Start phase of a Master Project, pointing to its significance for the successful accomplishment of the whole routine. A milestone and deliverable at the end of this early project phase is an M.Sci Project Proposal (Exposé). The motivation to provide this deliverable is explained. Methodological recommendations for structuring and writing an Exposé are given.

2
6 Topic 6: Writing and Publishing Papers

Similar to the previous topic, this material explains that writing a research paper is not only writing. The major part of this work is doing and documenting research that leads to a publication. It leaves the research part aside, however, as it has been extensively discussed before. The only substantial mention is the recall of the Scientific Method that influences paper planning, structuring, and finally writing quite heavily. The topic focuses on the pre-writing, writing, and post-writing phases as essential for the final success of a publication. While discussing pre-writing, the topic describes the aspects to be addressed: (i) doing research and getting results; (ii) assessing the publishability of the results; (iii) Choosing the proper venue for submission. Regarding the writing phase, the essential aspects (ingredients) to be addressed in your manuscript are discussed in detail, with examples: Relevance and Readership; Structure and Logic; Background, Approach, and Foreground; Problem setting, Focus, and Contribution; Related Work; Terminology; Rigor, Evidence, and Evaluation; Illustrations; Reproducibility; Look and Fill. As for post-writing, the topic emphasizes the importance of checking if the paper you had written and published has finally happened. It gives advice on how to find this out and, probably, be surprised.

2
7 Topic 7: Talking and Presenting

The objective of this topic is to explain that giving an effective talk to present your thesis or paper is equally important to writing. It begins with motivating to talk and present though many early stage researchers are quite shy to do that. The argumentation is based on pointing out the differences between offering a written (bulky) material and concisely presenting the ‘trailer’ of this material in an efficient and effective manner. The topic further focuses on giving recommendations about how to make a talk effective. Further, it explains that the structuring of a research talk and slide set follows the very same method as doing and documenting research – the Scientific Method. The material is elaborated by giving examples for a few types of talks: a progress report; an exposé presentation; a defense slide set. After that, the recommendations are given on how to plan and develop a good slide set and how to make an effective talk using it. The recommendations are illustrated by the examples of good and bad practice in slide design, regarding: the use of text; readability; use of graphics and animations; images;  slide complexity; templates; making notes and rehearsing. Finally, advice is given about what might be filtered out from the slide set and how to warm-up your audience to ask the questions that you wish to answer.

2
8 Topic 8: Overview and Summary

This final topic summarizes the course by answering the following questions. Is academic writing a scientific methodology, in Computer Science? What does it look like in a summarizing overview, from a project management viewpoint? It starts with outlining the place and role of writing and presenting in an M.Sci research workflow. Again, it is emphasized that the Scientific Method is the backbone of such a workflow and therefore influences writing and presenting substantially. Writing and presenting are explained further as research support sub-processes / activities. The topic offers a project management perspective to assess the performance of writing and presenting as a key integral success indicator. The notion of performance as an intentional action and an integral measure is explained. Further, the workflows for doing research, writing, and talking are presented in detail. The parts that are beyond the control of a master student are outlined and the potential risks and remedial actions are discussed. At the end, a slot for final questions and answers is reserved to help students understand the aspects that were not sufficiently covered in the course, in their opinion.

2
  Total: 16

Prerequisites

The students, before entering the course, should be capable of:

  • Reading and writing in English with sufficient fluency. A good assessment indicator for fluency is that a student is capable of writing or speaking directly in English, without a need to write or pre-formulate in their native language and then translate to English. 
  • Possessing the basic knowledge of the research field chosen for their Master’s project. It might be a plus if a student has already chosen their research topic and has a working contact with their mentor.
  • Programming in Python. This is a soft prerequisite as the course provides a toolset for practical use. Hence, it could be used off-the-shelf, without any programmatic adjustments. However, being proficient in programming may help better understand the inner workings of the method offered for collecting literature sources for course assignments.