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Department-by-Department Reference Guide

Writing in Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science Courses

A Sampling of Advice from Faculty

Written and oral communications are essential skills in the mathematical sciences. Your written work must be clear and concise in the way it (a) uses non-technical terms to convey your general approach to a problem, and (b) describes technical ideas in detail.

 

1.  What kinds of writing assignments can I expect in MSCS classes?

     Writing assignments are more common in upper division and graduate courses than in lower division courses. The list that follows covers the major categories.

 

Mathematical Proofs

       Learning to write a mathematical proof is the most important goal of many upper division and graduate courses in this department. As you can see from the following list, these proofs are similar to prose essays for any subject.

     Faculty expect

  • A clear statement of what is being shown, often provided by a problem statement (State your goal.)
  • Proper use of definitions and theorems to deduce true consequences of the hypotheses (Provide your evidence.)
  • Proper use of definitions to assure the desired goal has been achieved (Summarize your findings.)

     Similarly, mathematical exposition requires economy of expression. (Remember that repeating a statement can often create confusion.) Here are some guidelines:

  • Write your proofs in complete English sentences, not just phrases thrown together.
  • Present your proofs in a format similar to those in our texts, including a flush left margin, main equations centered and typically numbered, and additional details.
  • Provide clear, logical thought sequences that progress, without the distraction of non-relevant miscellaneous details, to the solution of the problem.

Brief Paragraph Answers to Short Questions

     Many classes, beginning with calculus, expect students to write brief paragraph answers to short questions. We always expect students to explain how they arrived at their answers and conclusions.

 

Reports

     Many upper division and graduate courses require reports on experiments, field experiences, lesson plans, literature summaries, and semester-long projects. Students in several upper division classes are expected to write a draft of a journal manuscript.

 

Program Documentation

     In courses using computers, we expect code to be documented in appropriate, readable English. Many programming assignments also require a written report. Use white space so that code, equations, and paragraphs are easy to read. Make clear points, such as

  • How did you test X?
  • Why did you choose the values of N that you did?
  • What are the advantages or disadvantages of implementation Y compared to Z?

2.  What qualities of writing are especially valued in MSCS classes?

     In all assignments, we expect correct spelling and grammar; papers with too many errors may be returned for revision. We expect technical vocabulary and terms to be used correctly and precisely. Avoid pronouns with vague references. Evaluation is often based on both objective (following directions, stating assumptions, defining variables) and subjective (readability, logical development, clarity, motivation) qualities of the writing.

 

3.  What kinds of evidence/argumentation do you recognize as valid in the work you assign?

  • Logical soundness
  • Precision of language
  • Mastery of mathematical notation

4.  What citation conventions do you require your students to use?

     In general, faculty do not have formal requirements about the style of the citation format. However, on a take-home problem set, for example, if you take a solution out of a text, you must acknowledge the source.

 

5.  Special considerations for writing in MSCS courses:

     Study how mathematical arguments are presented in texts and at the blackboard, and try to mimic that style.

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Page Last Modified: July 7, 2011

  For suggestions and corrections, please email
Dr. Rebecca Nowacek, Associate Professor of English
Director of the Ott Memorial Writing Center, 240 Raynor Library (414.288.5542)
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