How to Write a Research Paper

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H ow to write a
g reat research paper
Simon Peyton Jones
Microsoft Research, Cambridge

W hy
b other?
Fallacy
w e write papers and give
talks mainly to impress
others, gain recognition, and
g et promoted

Good papers and
talks are a
fundamental part of
research excellence

P apers communicate ideas




Your goal: to infect the mind of your reader with
your idea , like a virus
Papers are far more durable than programs (think
M ozart)

The greatest ideas are (literally) worthless if
you keep them to yourself

W riting papers: model 1
Idea

Do
r esearch

W rite paper

W riting papers: model 2
Idea




W rite paper

Idea


Do
r esearch

W rite paper

Do research

Forces us to be clear, focused
Crystallises what we don’t understand
Opens the way to dialogue with others: reality check,
critique, and collaboration

D o not be intimidated
Fallacy

You need to have a fantastic idea before you can
w rite a paper or give a talk. (Everyone else seems
to.)

Write a paper,
and give a talk, about

any idea,
n o matter how weedy and insignificant it may seem
t o you

D o not be intimidated
Write a paper, and give a talk, about any idea, no
m atter how insignificant it may seem to you





Writing the paper is how you develop the idea in the
first place
It usually turns out to be more interesting and challenging
t hat it seemed at first

T he purpose of your paper

T he purpose of your paper is...

To convey
your idea
...from your head to your reader’s head
Everything serves this single goal

T he purpose of your paper is not...

To describe the
W izWoz system
 Your reader does not have a WizWoz
 She is primarily interested in re-usable brain-stuff, not executable artefacts

C onveying the idea







I wish I knew
h ow to solve
that!

Here is a problem
It’s an interesting problem
I see how
It’s an unsolved problem
that works.
Ingenious!
Here is my idea
My idea works (details, data)
Here’s how my idea compares to other people’s
approaches

Structure








Abstract (4 sentences)
Introduction (1 page)
The problem (1 page)
My idea (2 pages)
The details (5 pages)
Related work (1-2 pages)
Conclusions and further work (0.5 pages)

T he abstract
I usually write the abstract last
Used by program committee members to decide
w hich papers to read
Four sentences [Kent Beck]





1.
2.
3.
4.

State the problem
Say why it’s an interesting problem
Say what your solution achieves
Say what follows from your solution

E xample
1.

2.

3.

4.

Many papers are badly written and hard to
u nderstand
This is a pity, because their good ideas may go
u nappreciated
Following simple guidelines can dramatically
improve the quality of your papers
Your work will be used more, and the feedback
you get from others will in turn improve your
research

Structure








Abstract (4 sentences)
Introduction (1 page)
The problem (1 page)
My idea (2 pages)
The details (5 pages)
Related work (1-2 pages)
Conclusions and further work (0.5 pages)

T he introduction (1 page)
Describe the problem
2.
State your contributions
...and that is all
1.

D escribe the problem
Use an
example to
introduce
t he problem

S tate your contributions





Write the list of contributions first
The list of contributions drives the entire paper:
the paper substantiates the claims you have made
Reader thinks “gosh, if they can really deliver this,
that’s be exciting; I’d better read on”

State your contributions
Bulleted list of
contributions

Do not leave the reader to
g uess what your contributions
a re!

C ontributions should be refutable
We describe the WizWoz system.
It is really cool.

We give the syntax and semantics of a language
t hat supports concurrent processes (Section 3).
Its innovative features...
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