Computer Laboratory

Research Skills

Research Skills - exercise downloads

Exercise 1 - summarise

[this exercise is based on exercise 1 in Writing for Computer Science]

Read the academic paper "The virtues of opaque prose: How lay beliefs about fluency influence perceptions of quality" (see below for details of where to get this).

Write a brief answer to each of the following questions.

  1. What are the researchers trying to find out?
  2. Why is the research important?
  3. What things were measured?
  4. What were the results?
  5. What do the authors conclude and to what factors do they attribute the findings?
  6. Can you accept the findings as true? Discuss any failings or shortcomings of the methods used to support the findings.

I am looking for short, factual answers to the questions. Two to four sentences should be sufficient answer for each of the first five questions. Your answer to the last question may need to be a little longer.

Your whole submission must be no more than one side of A4 paper, in total.

Submit your page of answers to the Graduate Education Office by 4 p.m. on the day of Lecture 2.

The paper to read: "The Virtues of Opaque Prose: How Lay Beliefs About Fluency Influence Perceptions of Quality", J. Galak and L. D. Nelson, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 47(1):250-253, January 2011.
This paper is accessed through the University of Cambridge's subscription to Science Direct. If you are outside the domain you may be unable to access it. Copies will be handed out in Lecture 1.

Exercise 2 - review

Read the academic paper "Generating apparently-random colour patterns" (440kB PDF).

Conduct a review in two parts.

The first part is filling out this Review Form (60kB PNG).

The second part is up to one side of A4 containing free-form text with the following sections:

  • Summary: Please summarize the paper in 2-4 sentences and state what you consider to be the contributions of this paper to the field.
  • Major comments: Discuss the author's assumptions, technical approach, analysis, results, conclusions, reference, etc. Be constructive, if possible, by suggesting improvements.
  • Minor comments: This section (which may be very short) contains comments on style, figures, grammar, typos, etc.

Submit the completed review form (the first part) and the single page of free-form text (the second part) to the Graduate Education Office by 4 p.m. on the day of Lecture 4.

Thanks to John Woodwark for giving permission to use his review form from How to Run a Paper Mill.

Exercise 3 - edit

[this exercise is based on exercise 12 in Writing for Computer Science]

This exercise is in two parts. Both parts are in the Exercise 3 handout.

Part 1 (page 1 of the handout, identifying errors in writing): This is a ten sentence summary of the paper we read for Exercise 1. For each of the ten sentences, explain what is wrong with the writing style. Some sentences have more than one error. Those having difficulty with this exercise should re-read Chapter 3 of Writing for Computer Science.

Part 2 (page 2 of the handout, editing to improve writing): This is a ten sentence extract from a description of the Computer Laboratory. Re-write the extract to improve it. To make this more of a challenge, the flow of ideas in your edited version should be similar to the original. That is, each of the ten sentences in your edited version should have the same approximate meaning as the matching sentence in the original. As a concession on this strict rule, you may split a sentence or combine adjacent sentences where you think this necessary.

Submit your ten short explanations of what is wrong (part 1) and your single page of edited text (part 2) to the Graduate Education Office by 4 p.m. on the day of Lecture 6.

Exercise 4 - write

Write an article of around 300 words. Your article should be a description suitable for publication in a University's internal magazine. That is, the content must be understandable by someone with a general degree-level education but must not depend on specialist computer science knowledge. The subject of the article should be one of the following:
1. A description of a major project that you undertook during your previous degree.
2. A description of the project that you intend to undertake for your MPhil or PhD degree

To help you get started, consider how you would answer the following questions: what was the problem that you set out to solve?, why was it important?, what did you achieve?, where does it lead next? However, an article that explicitly asks those questions then simply answers them will get a low mark: instead you need to structure the article so that it flows well.

Your finished article must be between 285 and 315 words.

Submit your article to the Graduate Education Office by 4 p.m. on the day of Lecture 8.

Exercise 5 - reduce

[this exercise is based on exercise 10 in Writing for Computer Science]

Use your 300 word article from the previous exercise as your starting point. Iteratively reduce the article by 30 words. Iterate seven times, producing seven new versions of the article of length 270, 240, 210, 180, 150, 120, and 90 words. In each case the word count must be within seven words of the target (e.g., between 263 and 277 words for the 270-word version). Your aim, at each step, is to preserve the information content of the piece but not necessarily the original wording. It is common for the piece to improve in the early iterations and then to become more cryptic and incomplete in the later iterations.

Finally, produce a tweet of your article. That is: reduce it to no more than 140 characters.

Submit your eight versions plus your tweet. Remember to include the original article as the first of the eight version, so that the marker can see where you started. Also submit your assessment of which version is best and which is worst. You will receive credit for producing the eight versions but, additionally, the version that you identify as "best" will be assessed for the quality of the writing.

Exercise 6 - analyse

See Prof. Robinson's exercise page.

Submit your article to the Graduate Education Office by 4 p.m. on the day of Lecture 14.

Exercise 7 - graph

See the graphing exercise page.

Submit your article to the Graduate Education Office by 4 p.m. on the day of Lecture 16.

Exercise 8 - present

This exercise will take place in mid-2013. The presentation will be based on the student's project (MPhil Option B, Part III), essay (MPhil Option A), or first year report (CPGS).