COMP 911 (3 Credits)

Crafting a Research Paper/Talk

Prasun Dewan

Fall '10, MW 2-3:15, SN 155


The design of an effective paper or talk on some artifact (hardware/software/algorithm) is perhaps as difficult as the design of the artifact itself. In the area of software engineering, design principles and patterns capturing arguably good ways to compose objects have been used to structure the software. In this course, we will study and practice analogous principles and patterns for composing research papers and talks. Thus, the emphasis will be on “design in the large” - how to compose the flow of slides and sections - rather than “design in the small” of individual paragraphs and slides. If you wish to gain fluency in writing and speaking in the small, please take an appropriate course in the English/Communication department. The course will assume a certain level of such fluency. Because of the emphasis on design in the large, it will be possible to take an integrated approach to presentation and writing, as the structure of the technical argument is the same in both a paper and a talk. Given the wide variance in the quality of the technical arguments made in different papers and talks, it is likely that most would benefit from such a course.  As the fundamental difference between new products and research is that the latter requires a (new) technical argument, this course will help you understand the nature of research. You will write and present surveys, and possibly fresh ideas, in areas in which you are interested. A side effect of the course will be that you will get a broad perspective of the research done in this department.

You will record your talks using some recording software such as Microsoft Live Meeting or PowerPoint. You will analyze and improve talks and papers of others in addition to crafting your own talks and papers from scratch. There will be no exams. Your grade will be determined mainly on the improvement you show during the course of the semester, though the absolute quality of your talks, papers, and comments will also matter. To get a more detailed understanding of what you can expect in this course, in particular the slides and assignments, have a look at the previous offering of it: 

Target Student

The course should be of particular value to:


1. First year graduate students as the surveys will help you explore your area of interest in depth early in your studies.


2. Second year student as the course should prepare you for the Ph.D. qualifying exam, which requires a written report and a presentation. The course was motivated mainly by this requirement. The idea is to (a) give students concrete specific in-depth guidelines on what makes an effective talk and paper and (b) and to reduce the burden on the advisor of helping with the paper/talk (and increase its quality).


3. Students about to start on writing of the thesis and preparation of the job talk. Writing the thesis will probably be the hardest research activity you will undertake. Moreover, there is nothing more important for your future career than preparing your job talk. Again, the course should reduce the burden on the advisor and help reduce the number of iterations of the thesis and talk (and improve their quality).

Relationship with Departmental Requirements

The paper you write can be the basis for meeting the survey-paper requirement, which all graduate students must fulfill.


As no one seems to have tried to identify design in the large for technical talks and presentations, there is no required text for this class. One interesting book covering both writing and presentation is: Technical Communication: Author: Lannon, John; ISBN10: 0321270762, ISBN13: 9780321270764, Edition: 10TH 06, Publisher: Longman, Inc. A more recent book, is The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional, by Philip Yaffe, available from Amazon (

For more information on this topic trying searching the internet for the following keyword sequences: presenting paper, writing paper, presentation.

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