||UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON
Computer Sciences Department
Below are some guidelines for writing papers for this class.
The abstract is a complete summary of the paper.
It should summarize the problem, approaches and solutions, major results,
Abstracts often appear in
separate publications, so must stand completely on their own.
Avoid phrases that start like "This paper describes..."
Do not start your abstract, introductory section, or other sections with
grand generalizations and fluff.
You should start by motivating the problem in a way that carefully
delineates the problem that you will solve.
Avoid using phrases such as "etc." and "and so on". If you were going to
write "We tested the read, write, fork, etc. system calls.", instead write
something like "Some of the systems that we tested included read, write,
Label tables and graphs:
Here are some guidelines for tables and graphs:
- All units should be labeled clearly. They can be labeled in the heading to
a table column, next the legend for a line on a graph, or in the text
below the table or graph.
- Logarithmic scales can helpful in a graph when there is a wide range of
data and there are interesting characteristics in the data for both the
small value and large values. They are also useful when plotting an
intrinsically exponential behavior. However, most of the time log scales
just make the data hard to understand and obscure the magnitude of the
relationships between data values. If log scales are to be used sparingly,
then log-log graphs are to be avoided even more so.
Line up the decimal points in a table column. If the column contains whole
numbers, line up the implied decimal point (i.e., right justify the numbers).
Never center a column of numbers.
Be consistent about the number of decimal places that you present.
Make sure that the number makes sense; do not present more precision
than is warranted.
If you refer to particular table, figure, or section,
that reference is considered
to be a proper noun, and proper nouns must be capitalized. For example,
you would say:
The results in Figure 1 show how intelligence
relates to shoe size.
The results from the trained-monkey experiments appear in
Don't use contractions.
They are informal and more properly used in spoken speech.
Use quotes to quote another source, such as book or person;
do not use quotes to appeal to some fuzzy meaning of a word.
For example, avoid uses such as in this sentence:
The technique that we used was "optimal".
Understand and properly use "that" and "which".
"That" introduces a dependent clause (generally, where there is
no comma), and "which" introduces an independent clause.
Use of the passive voice should be avoided. Or, I should say,
avoid using the passive voice. Passive voice is less
direct and can dilute the impact of your prose. Use it sparingly,
to create interesting contrast in a paragraph.
Male pronouns can be used only when referring to a specific male
If you want to refer to a single person of unspecified gender,
you have several other choices:
(1) use "they", which is a grammatically correct, gender-neutral,
(2) use a phrase with an appropriate noun
instead of a pronoun, such as "the user";
(3) use the stodgy British-stype "one" (I dislike this choice, but it
Avoid use of the word "very".
It rarely adds additional meaning to a sentence.
Avoid unqualified use of the word "this".
In many cases, it is grammatically correct to use "this" without a
noun or phrase following it.
However, in many of these cases the reader must make extra effort
to figure out to what the "this" refers.
This is not a good idea.
A number of:
Avoid the phrase "a number of", as in "The paper contained a number
of awkwardly written sentences."
This phrase is vague as to the quantity, or even magnitude, that is
Instead, you can subtitute words like "a couple", "few", "several",
These words are more precise and give the reader a better intuition about
what you mean.
Unix-style function names:
In the old Unix documentation, written before typesetting was common,
Function names were written with parentheses following the name, for
On old-style printers, with single, fixed-width fonts, the parentheses
help distinguish the function names.
On todays modern printers and word processors, we are not constrained
by fixed-width fonts, so you can write something like fork,
instead of "fork()".
This style is less distracting and avoids the appearance of parentheses
that often run together.
Precision vs. accuracy:
Precision describes how many significant digits you present. Accuracy
describes how close you are to the correct answer. More digits do
not necessarily add more accuracy and more accuracy does not always
require more digits.
Uses of references in the prose:
Avoid using references (citations) as part of your prose.
References of the style "" came about because typewriters could not
easily generate the superscripts that were traditionally used to reference
footnotes. References in the social sciences often appear as footnotes, and
not at the end of the paper or chapter.
In book typography, this 12 would properly be
a superscript. While you might (improperly) see a sentences such as:
The authors in  are blathering idiots.
you would never see
The authors in 12 are blathering idiots.
In general, it is more informative to the reader to avoid the need for
such structures, since it forces the reader to look up the reference to
have any idea of what you mean.
A nice way to rewrite this sentence would be
In the recent study by Moe, Larry, and Curly ,
the authors showed themselves to be blathering idiots.
If you absolutely must cite the reference directly, the IEEE journal style for
this situation is shown below.
The authors in Reference 12 are blathering idiots.
Thu Jan 21 10:52:09 CST 2010