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PhD Seminar Hints on Writing (C) Common Mistakes From My Graduate Students Jeff Offutt

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1 PhD Seminar Hints on Writing (C) Common Mistakes From My Graduate Students Jeff Offutt

2 © Jeff Offutt2 I. Semantic Notes Lack of precise definitions … assuming the reader already understands the subject Undefined terms – Define terms, don’t just describe them. Subjective and imprecise evaluations –(“A is worse than B”, rather than “A is slower than B”) Discussing solutions without mentioning problems Mismatched 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” ?

3 © Jeff Offutt3 I. Semantic Notes (2) Objectives are verbs, not nouns –“Objective is a test document”... “Objective is to generate a test document” Conclusions that just summarize, no tying together Literary style in technical paper –“fall at the side of the road”, “arcane commands” Useless adjectives “Utilize” means “to use profitably” Guesswork based on personal experience – opinions versus facts and measurements –In large classes, students think they learn less – standardized tests indicate class size makes no difference –Differences ? Speed of grading Amount of feedback Popularity is not important in scientific research

4 © Jeff Offutt4 I. Semantic Notes (3) Comparative adjectives with only one subject : –“higher” – than what? –“less” – than what? –“more” – than what? –“better” – than what? Comparing nouns and verbs: –“between the interface and... what they do...” –Compare nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs Value judgments –(good, bad,...) Why good or bad? Emotional phrases –exploded (increased) –embrace (use)

5 © Jeff Offutt5 II. Grammatical Notes Mentioning one item and calling it several –“A is limited by X... we need to break away from these constraints” Plurality mismatch –“basics of X is described”, “advances... has been” Plurality mismatch to avoid gender –“...the user where they are...” –“...the users where they are...” Random use of commas –Too many commas No spell checking

6 © Jeff Offutt6 II. Grammatical Notes (2) et al. – “et. al.” or putting et al. in the references –“et al.” abbreviates “et ali,” which is Latin for “and others” “i.e.” – “e.g.” : “i.e.” is “id est”, or “that is”, “e.g.” is “exampli gratia”, or “for example” –“for e.g.” sounds like a stuttering problem “ensure” – “insure” –insure is to procure insurance, ensure is to make sure it happens article misuse : “the” – “an” –“the object” means there is only one, “an object” means one of many

7 © Jeff Offutt7 III. Citation Notes Citations are needed on specific or quantifiable points –Otherwise they becomes opinions, which are irrelevant Using citations as nouns Missing page numbers in references Inconsistently putting periods before and after citations Incomplete references

8 © Jeff Offutt8 IV. Stylistic Notes Inconsistent italics / bolding Embedded lists (in paragraphs instead of separated) –Do three things: (1) make your point, (2) support your point, (3) stop. Noise words and phrases just slow us down –“Means by which” – “way” –“The method by which” – “how” Too many “ing” words are weak –“Make an attempt at increasing...” – “Make an attempt to increase...” Contractions—do not contract in a technical paper Weak sentence beginnings are passive –“There are three ways to do it, …” – “Three ways to do it are …” Single dash for separator—use long or double dash Run-on sentences—break up into multiple sentences “viz”– few people know what that means

9 © Jeff Offutt9 IV. Stylistic Notes (2) Do not use unnecessary colons Do not Capitalize all Important Words Do not use binders : This makes it difficult to make comments, especially in drafts –Unless a (probably inexperienced) professor explicitly requires one Omit first names and titles in the text Use sections, not chapters

10 © Jeff Offutt10 V. Organizational Notes Do not use internal, incomplete references... saying that something is discussed elsewhere in the paper, but not saying where Place figures properly … immediately following discussion, preferably on the same page –Never before Always discuss and explain a figure Introduce and provide a roadmap for each section Never follow a section heading with a subsection heading without intervening text

11 Summary Create your own “oops list” As you get feedback from friends and professors, add to your oops list When you conquer a problem, and the correct way becomes a habit, remove it from your oops list © Jeff Offutt11


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