Hints, tips and tricks

Types of Assignments

The group assignments take the form of a research report. This means that you do not hand in a document that simply states the answers/responses to the assignment questions/tasks, but you write a document that also makes sense to someone who does not have access to the Assignment web page. Your report starts with a title, your names, an introduction of what the reader can expect to find in the document and the content presented in a clear, and structured manner. Figures and tables are referred to and explained in running text. Unlike a mini-research paper, you will not need to cite related work or present conclusions, unless the assignment states so.

Do not exceed the page limit, points will be deducted if you do so. This forces you to formulate your ideas in a concise manner.

On Writing

For your assignments and research proposal, we expect a formal writing style, very much like the writing styles in the papers you had to read for this course and in the papers you had to write yourself. This means no abbreviations (instead of “it’s”, write “it is” and instead of “can’t”, write “can not” etc.) and references where appropriate. Academic documents are not the place for first names and titles such as “mister” and “miss”. If you need to mention the lecturer by name for example, just stick to his/her last name, the same goes for references to literature citations. Also, try to make your text coherent, and re-read it for clarity before you submit. One example I came across in previous years was the following (I added the boldface):

“However, there are some problems when students use these tools for e-learning. For example; when using Google for information finding the students will find many resources on one particular subject. The student now has the problem of which resources are trustworthy and which ones are not. Vocabulary can also be a problem, when the student is looking for a particular subject and does not know the full vocabulary to describe this subject, this could lead to an incomplete overview or understanding of the problemFinally I want to address the issue of relations among concepts and domains. In order for students to fully understand the problem and the complexity of a problem they have to be able to place the problem into context and understand the relations among con- cepts and domains. The problem however with most informal e-learning tools is that they do not address all of the above mentioned problems. That is why the creators of e-learning tools have to take this into consideration when developing an informal e-learning tool.
Another problem is the one of the teachers. According to the discussion after the lecture, the biggest problem is not the one of the technology but in fact the teachers.”

Here, the author wants to make the reader aware of some problems in e-learning, but it is quite a burden on the reader to figure out how many problems there really are. In such cases, it helps to be specific, you can for example state in the first line “there are four main problems”. Then, number your problems, so it is clear where the discussion of one problem ends and another one starts. Halfway, the author starts talking about “issues”, is this yet another problem, or something of a different category? The use of the term “Finally” here is a bit confusing too, as a few lines on, yet another problem is presented.

Try to make it as easy as possible for your reader to understand your text and check whether paragraphs follow each other in a logical sense.

For all sorts of detailed tips, such as when to use commas, it may be useful to look at a reference guide such as:

  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. & How To Speak And Write Correctly, by Joseph Devlin (2006), BN Publishing, ISBN 956-291-263-9

or:

  • New Hart’s Rules: The handbook of style for writers and editors. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-19-861041-6.

I’m a bigger fan of the latter than the former, because it is more elaborate and I found it an indispensable companion when writing my thesis. The university library has copies of both, so you can have a look at them and see which suits your needs best.

The VU is also offering scientific writing courses. In period 4, 5 and 6 you could for example do X_400592 Scientific Writing in Englishthis is a 3 ECTS course. Last year one of the students whose thesis project I was supervising handed in the chapters he was writing for his thesis as assignments for the writing course, which really benefited his writing skills. So if you’re smart about it, you can make optimal use of this combination as you can basically have your initial texts checked by an expert on writing so your thesis supervisor can focus on the content.

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3 Responses to Hints, tips and tricks

  1. Thijs Kloosterman says:

    Thank you for bringing up the Scientific Writing course! Looks interesting and useful, I will definitely consider following it!

  2. Julien L. says:

    “Do not exceed the page limit, points will be deducted if you do so. This forces you to formulate your ideas in a concise manner.”

    How do we have to take images into account?

    I mean for the second assignment of my team, we have a limit of three pages but the document contains three figures: an annotated hierarchy, a new hierarchy and a backbone. The PDF used to be 3 pages long, but the insertion of the figures made it 4 pages long. Is that fine?

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