10 tips to write a paper (from Jim Kurose)
Posted by Michael Gellman on December 5, 2006
The second event of the CoNEXT 2006 student workshop was a panel discussion entitled “How to write a paper” with Jim Kurose, Christophe Diot and Anja Feldmann. Each speaker offered different advice that is invaluable to anyone interested in writing quality papers.
Jim Kurose started the panel with a great selection of tips and advice on writing a quality paper. He’s posted his slides, and I’ve uploaded an audio recording of his talk, with highlights below. If you would like to post this audio somewhere on the web, you must get Jim’s permission first.
10 tips to write a paper
Every paper tells a story. Know your story.
Look at the story as an “elevator pitch” – it’s a summary that if you got into an elevator with someone, by the time that you got to the top of a 10-story building, you could tell them what your paper is about.A story is not what you did, but it is the new ideas and new insights that you have.
State your broad themes first. Say what you are going to say before you say it.
Introduction: crucial, formulaic
He has a full write-up on his website of the way an introduction should be structured, but it basically boils down to the following 5 paragraphs:
- Motivation: what is the problem, and why is it important?
- Narrow down the scope. Within this broad area, this is what I’m doing.
- This paragraph always starts “In this paper, we …” This is the most important paragraph in the entire paper. You have 10-15 lines of text to summarize your story, and it had better sound exciting.
- How different, better is your work compared to others’ work.
- The remainder of this paper is structured.
Master the basis of organized writing
Know that a paragraph is an ordered set of topically related sentences, and should always starts with a lead sentence. Sentences and paragraphs should flow logically. Don’t mix tenses.
Put yourself in place of reader
Don’t make the reader suffer — it should be a pleasant experience. It is easy to dump lots of thoughts on the page; what’s hard is crafting them into a story. Take the time to write less. Readers will not dig to get a story.
Put yourself in place of reader
Signpost, give a road-map of where you’re going. Think about what the reader knows and doesn’t know; what they need and don’t need. You are writing for the reader, not for yourself.
Try to use white-space, bulettedlists, figures, etc. to make your paper easier to read.
No one (not even your mother) is as interested in this topic as you
State results carefully
Don’t overload the reader with 40 graphs. If you can’t use less than 40 graphs, something is wrong. Leave big proofs for the appendix and put a sketch in the main text.
Try to give enough data for others to repeat your simulations, experiments, etc. Pay attention to the statistical properties of your results. Are they representative, or do they just represent some corner case?
Don’t overstate/understate your results
Be careful to know under what conditions your results hold. If you are trying to draw conclusions about the Internet, do you have a large enough sample, from many different locations?
If you say your results are small, interest will be small. Don’t fail to think about the broader interpretation of your results.
Study the art of writing
Writing well give you an unfair advantage! It matters in getting your work published.Jim recommended 2 texts:
In addition, Jim made an excellent suggestion to pick authors of papers that you like, and study what it is about their writing that makes it so good. He mentioned that he really likes the writing of Scott Shenker.
Good writing takes time
Allow others to review your writing. Find a good editor friend. Don’t start the paper 3 days before the deadline while you are still trying to generate and understand results.
Alert readers will have noticed that 5 & 6 are the same, and there are actually 11 tips; such is the bounty of Jim’s knowledge and experience 🙂
For more resources, check out the writing portion of Jim’s website.
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