• Lab Advice on Writing Research Papers

    Writing research papers is difficult, but extremely valuable and rewarding. It will really help you structure your ideas and identify gaps and new directions. Below is some advice on structure and below, general tips.


      Start by drafting an outline and discuss with your co-authors before you dive into writing details:

      Paper Outline:

    • 1. Title and co-authors.
      Think carefully about co-authors. Usually the most senior co-author is listed last.
    • 2. Abstract.
      Summarize motivation, what's new, primary results/conclusions. Give the punchline, this is not a movie review! Summarize your contributions with quantitative results.
    • 3. Introduction/Motivation.
      Take 3 steps back and explain why your audience should be interested in this paper. Know who your audience is! Your paper will be very different if you are writing for a general robotics conference vs an automation conference vs an algorithms conference. Give a concrete example where your problem arises and a few interesting applications. Summarize your contributions and why they are significant.
    • 4. Related Work.
      Demonstrate that you have a scholarly grasp of the published literature on your topic. organize papers by area and then chronologically within an area and summarize with emphasis on how your approach differs (** this is very important). One or two sentences for each ref. More for the ones that are very close to your own work. Typically 12-20 references for a conf paper, up to 40 for a journal paper.
    • 5. Problem Statement
      notation (use figures)
      assumptions: (collect and justify all assumptions here)
      parameters: (list values/ranges you'll use and justify)
      metrics: (what you will compare and how you will quantify/evaluate the results)
    • 6. Implementation.
      Details on how your system works, sources of data, etc. Enough info on hardware and software so others can repeat your experiments. See tips below.
    • 7. Results and Analysis.
      The most important section. Think carefully about how to present your results graphically. Be careful about using colors as they don't print in B&W: use dotted and dashed lines to distinguish curves. Also, indicate confidence intervals based on std. dev wherever possible.
    • 8. Discussion and Future Work.
      Summarize again Acknowledge limitations of your paper, suggest open problems for future research. Don't be afraid to admit the limits: It is much better if you do this than others expose them later!
    • 9. Acknowledgements.
      Thank those who contributed ideas, references, proofreaders (see below), also thank sponsors with grant numbers.
    • 10. References.
      Be sure to list authors, title, source, and date of every publication
    • ==========================

      General Tips:

    • Define before use.
      Always make sure you define terms/notation before you use them. Since you are so familiar with your topic and notation, be on guard for this and your ask your proofreaders to help with this.
    • Don't understate.
      Avoid words like "simple", "just", "easy", etc, it's nice to be modest but those words make your contributions sound weak and what is simple to you is not to your reader. better to describe as "efficient, well-known", take the time in your text to explain your decisions and derivations.
    • Quantify and be specific whenever possible.
      Avoid vagueness: watch out for words like "usually, mostly, often, some, many...". Give crisp, refutable hypotheses.
    • Provide intuition.
      At the start of each section, step back and explain your ideas and insights in plain language before you give the technical deatails. use analogies to explain things.
      To test your approach, do experiments to compare it with the best existing method in terms of output, computation time, etc.. No method is perfect. Explain where yours is better and where it is not.
    • Experiments are used to evaluate, never to validate.
      You must be objective and do your best to evaluate your method without bias. When reporting results, give enough data to evaluate the statistical significance of each experiment.
    • Try to construct cases where your method will fail.
      These counterexamples often lead to insights, or to a proof that your method will work in all cases.
    • Illustrate whenever possible.
      Good figures really help clarify a paper. spend time on your illustrations and ask friends for input.
    • Captions.
      Ideally, the caption for each figure should be self-contained and self-explanatory: describe the variables and the intuition behind what is being illustrated. many readers will ONLY look at the figures and captions to get an initial impression of the paper and to decide whether or not to commit time to reading it.
    • Limitations.
      Clearly acknowledge limitations of your approach, and suggest future directions for improvement.
    • Proofread.
      Always use spellcheckers and grammar checkers.
    • Schedule.
      When writing a paper with other co-authors, agree on a schedule as early as possible working backward from the deadline so that everyone gets turns taking the edit token and budgets time accordingly so that there is not a huge rush at the deadline.
    • Cultivate good proofreaders!
      Cultivate 3 or 4 students/friends you respect who will exchange papers with you from proofreading. You'll learn about writing papers from reading their papers, and your papers will really benefit from their input. Make sure you thank them for criticizing your paper because they are saving you from being criticized by less friendly readers later!
    • Ken Goldberg, Oct 2004
      goldberg [at] berkeley [dot] edu