Computer Laboratory

Course pages 2013–14

Research Skills - exercise downloads

Exercise 1 - review (4%)

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

Assume that this paper has been submitted for publication in the Journal of Mathematics and the Arts and that you have been asked to review it. 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 1 - optional further work

Those who wish more practice in reviewing and summarising papers can try some or all the following three exercises, which are for your own education and should not be submitted.

[A] Summarise the paper from exercise 1, "Generating apparently-random colour patterns". This will give you experience of writing a short explanation, for your own notes, of the most important points of an academic paper. [This exercise is based on exercise 1 in Writing for Computer Science.]

Do this by writing 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.

You should write 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 set of answers must be no more than one side of A4 paper, in total.

[B] Repeat [A] for a paper entirely outside the field of computer science. This will give you experience of summarising something that is well outside your usual domain of expertese. The paper I recommend is this four page paper in experimental psychology: "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.

[C] Repeat both the review and summarisation exercises for the academic paper "Extracting the essence from sets of images" (710kB PDF).

Exercise 2 - edit (4%)

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

This exercise is in two parts. Both parts are in the Exercise 2 handout.

Part 1 (page 1 of the handout, identifying errors in writing): This is a ten sentence summary of the paper in [B] above. 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 2 - optional further work

[D] Find some other short text to edit. One place to look for poorly written text is Wikipedia, where many articles have poor style because they have had multiple authors and many edits. This has made the writing style is inconsistent across the article. Practice on one or two articles. You should not submit this optional further work.

Exercise 3 - reduce (4%)

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

Download the 300 word article in the Exercise 3 handout: PDF or plain text.

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.

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

Decide which is the best version and which is the worst version. It is common for the piece to improve in the early iterations and then to become more cryptic and incomplete in the later iterations.

Submit your seven versions, plus your tweet, plus your assessment of which version is best and which is worst. Submit these to the Graduate Education Office by 4 p.m. on the day of Lecture 8.

Exercise 3 - optional further work

[E] You learn even more if you try to apply this exercise to things that you have written yourself. Try the same exercise on a piece of your own writing, preferably something that you is about 300 words long and that you are proud of writing. You should not submit this optional further work.

Exercise 7 - write (10%)

Remember that exercise 7 (see below) is due in on the day of Lecture 10, one week after exercise 3 and one week before exercise 4.

Exercise 4 - graph (4%)

See the graphing exercise page.

Submit your completed exercise 4 to the Graduate Education Office by 4 p.m. on the day of Lecture 12.

Exercise 5 - analyse (4%)

See the experimental analysis exercise page. You will need your Raven password to access this, because each student is allocated their own set of data, which is associated with their CRSID.

Submit your completed exercise 5 to the Graduate Education Office by 4 p.m. on the day of Lecture 14.

Exercise 6 - present (10%)

You must attend three of the Computer Laboratory's Wednesday seminars and complete a different assessment task for each one.

The seminars that are valid for this exercise are those taking place between Wednesday 6 November and Wednesday 4 December (inclusive).

You may complete the three tasks in any order. You may not complete two or three tasks on the same seminar.

Exercise 6 Task 1 - concentrate on the CONTENT

Submit up to one side of A4 with three single-paragraph answers to the following three questions.

  1. What is the key message that the presenter was trying to convey?
  2. What supporting evidence did the presenter give to validate their key message?
  3. What is your assessment of the presenter's key message?

Exercise 6 Task 2 - concentrate on the POSITIVE

Write up to a page of A4 describing how the presenter's presentation helped or hindered the communication of their message. If possible, concentrate on the things that the presenter did well.

Exercise 6 Task 3 - concentrate on the NEGATIVE

Print out the "seminar bingo" sheet. Play "seminar bingo" during the seminar.

Submit your completed "seminar bingo" sheet and an additional half-side of A4 in which you choose one thing that the presenter did particularly badly, explain why it was bad, and explain how the presenter could have improved it.

Exercise 6 Submission

Submit your completed exercise 6 to the Graduate Education Office by 4 p.m. one week after Lecture 16.

The reason for the late deadline is so that you are able to balance your work on this exercise with all of the other work that will be due in at the end of term. As with any exercise, you may submit earlier if you have finished earlier.

Exercise 7 - write (10%)

Write an article of around 400 words.

Your article will be considered for publication in the Computer Laboratory's alumni magazine, The Ring. It therefore should be suitable for a reader who has an undergraduate degree in computer science, but who is not necessarily familiar with the area of your particular article.

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 a recent research advance in computer science, with which you are familiar.
3. 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 is the problem that needed to be solved?
why is it important?
what was actually achieved?
where does it lead next?

Please notice that it is more difficult to write a good speculative article (option 3) about what you intend to do than it is to write a good article about what has already been achieved (option 1 or 2). Also notice that 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 300 and 500 words.

Submit your article to the Graduate Education Office by 4 p.m. on the day of Lecture 10.

The best articles will be submitted to the Editor of The Ring for her consideration for inclusion in future issues.

Exercise 8 - written test (60%)

The written test will take place in January.

There is an example test (PDF. 700kB) that will give you some idea of the sort of questions to expect.