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some hints to improve writing of technical papers

Introduction
The introduction must convince the reader that the paper is worth reading, e.g., it
addresses an important problem and provides an exciting, solid solution. It is usually
structured as follows: context of the paper, precise problem de nition, limitations of
existing, state-of-the-art solutions (if any), goal of the paper, key ideas, and a short
outline.
Context of the paper. In this paper, I am primarily interested in papers in computer science, in
particular, the area of information and database systems, because it is an important aspect of our
professional life. Not only must we do excellent research, we must also be able to communicate well
our results to the professional community. This essentially means writing high-quality technical
papers.
Problem de nition. Given a good research result, the problem is to come up with a quality
technical paper that best presents it. The most common measure for assessing the quality of a
technical paper today is its suitability for publication in the best journals or conferences in its area.
The intense competition in computer science, as led by the USA, has set high-quality standards that
This paper appeared as Correspondance in Engineering of Information Systems, Hermes, Vol. 2, No. 3, 1994.
1I use bold font when talking about a paper in general, i.e., at a meta-level, and standard font for this paper.
1
we must follow. But there are several diculties that hamper the production of such high-quality
papers by junior researchers and Ph. D. students: poor English skills, lack of proper training, and
lack of method. There is not much I can do about the two former problems except advising for
personal investment (e.g., join a good English class!). This paper addresses the latter problem.
Limitations of existing solutions. The most practical solution is that you 2 produce a rst draft
and enlist a researcher with good writing skills to improve or entirely rewrite the paper, sometimes
even without your own contribution. Although the end result can be an excellent paper that you
may not recognize, the main problem is that you will not learn how to produce the paper yourself.
Some dedicated researchers may consider the activity of producing a paper as a training job, which
essentially means explaining again and again how to transform an unreadable draft into a good
paper until you can do it yourself. Although I have always favored the latter solution, I now feel
that writing down a number of hints to avoid the most common mistakes should be useful to a
larger number of students. A more mundane reason is that it should save us much time and pain.
Goal of the paper. In this paper, my main goal is to provide a number of hints and a simple
method for improving the quality of technical papers. This is meant as a guide to get started and
I do not claim to be complete or to solve all technical writing problems. I distinguish between the
content and the presentation aspects of a paper for which I give hints in terms of numbered rules.
These rules are the basis for the method.
Outline of the paper. This paper is organized as follows. Section 2 addresses the content aspects
of a paper. Section 3 addresses the presentation aspects. Section 4 tells how to get started with a
simple method. Section 5 concludes.


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