Writing Assignments in CS 3604

This course has been designated by the department as a "writing intensive" course as part of the University's core requirements to include writing across the curriculum. While we will try not to turn this course into an English course, writing is one of the learning tools which we hope you will use effectively.


One of the assignments in this class also requires you to complete a review of a draft paper by a colleague. Information on how to complete a review is available on-line. On the other hand you should always look at the review questions as part of your own development process to make sure that you have covered all the points whether you intend to have a formal review done by someone else or not. You should also examine the guidelines for writing a summary or a critique that was provided by the Virginia Tech Writing Center.


There will be several writing assignments in this course from short writing exercises in-class, to lengthy reports. Each will be designed to make you more facile in your writing abilities and at the same time will provide a learning element which hopefully will help you assimilate the contents of the course.

The writing exercises in this class are intended to give the student further experience in writing in a technical environment. In most cases, writing in organizations is in response to some requirement set by a manager or group leader and has very specific goals and expectations. Even in writing for publication, such as the ACM Communications, or the IEEE Computer Society Computer, prospective authors are given a set of guidelines that they are expected to follow. It is useful also to be able to get a copy of the questions that are asked of reviewers of potential publications to make sure that the manuscript provides answers to the questions that they are being asked in the process of deciding whether this paper is worthy of publication. In this course we will attempt to provide a set of guidelines in three forms:

  1. The reviewing guidelines,
  2. The requirements of the assignment, and
  3. The grading "schedule".

One of the major guidelines to be followed is that the resulting report or paper should answer the questions posed by the prospective audience that is represented by editorial boards or other administrative organizations. Moreover the reviewer (or grader in our case) should be able to find the answers to their questions easily. Frequent use of subheadings or topical sentences in paragraphs can ease this burden. If the assignment contains a description of the questions to be answered, or the topics to be covered, then use that as the initial outline of the report or paper. Immediately you will have solved two problems:

It is necessary to superimpose on this initial outline the other guidelines of assisting the reviewer and meeting the grading expections.

While you may have been taught in earlier classes to weave your thoughts into a flowing narrative, in the case of technical writing, the major purpose is to provide information clearly and not to impress the reader with your fancy wording and clever constructions.


While NO grade will be assigned to the grammar and spelling elements of a written assignment, we will NOT consider further any assignments which present inadequate grammar and poor spelling. use the spelling and grammar checkers on the text but do not rely on the results. There are three additional steps that you can take:

  1. Carefully proof read your work, and if possible have someone else read it for you. Alternatively, read your report out loud as if giving a lecture; verbalization in this manner will help you recognize your errors.
  2. Since all assignment statements will be delivered to you well in advance of the due date, write your report, put it aside for a few days and then read it again; you will be surprised how different it will look a second time around!
  3. The University Writing Center is available for your use; they can provide you with both assistance in preparing a draft document, and can give you pointers to improve your presentation. When going to the Writing Center, make sure that you impress on them that these are "technical reports" and that we have guidelines for presentation which you are expected to follow. See the lecture notes to the class on "Writing Plans and Skills" for these guidelines.

    If you need assistance on grammar, the university writing center provides a "hotline" to which you can submit questions by e-mail. The e-mail address is grammar.hotline@ebbs.english.vt.edu.

As part of some assignments, we will assist you in two other ways. (1) On one assignment you will be REQUIRED to have had the work reviewed by another member of the class. The peer reviewer should not only mark up suggested changes to the text, but must also provide a critique of the work from both stylistic and content points of view. The marked-up manuscript and the critique must accompany the final report. The peer reviewer will receive a portion of the "participation" grade for this activity. (2) On one assignment you will be required to hand-in a draft for review by us two weeks ahead of the actual due date. The draft will be reviewed for both content and English. No grade will be assigned at that time.


Each assignment will compose an element of a "Portfolio" which you will construct during the course. Thus the portfolio will contain:

  1. A cover page and index,
  2. each writing assignment you handed-in (see the hand-ins list associated with each assignment),
  3. the draft of your individual presentation (together with any figures used in the presentation), and
  4. that portion of the debate (and figures) in which you are involved.
  5. Also include your contributions to the on-line debates (print the appropriate WWW page).
  6. The project pages used in the in-class projects.
The portfolio should be maintained in an "Acco-Press" or similar 3-ring binder for review at any time, and should be turned in completely with the final assignment. It will also include the peer review that you did for one of your fellow classmates, and the journals which accompany each assignment. Very simply - keep the portfolio as a record of everything you do in this class - put every piece of paper in there!


Your journal (a part of each assignment) should consist of two major items:

We suggest that a diary portion of the journal be kept in the form of a 4 column form:

5 July 10 pm At homeRead through assignment and thought about approach I would take - how computers have impacted the environment.
7 July 5 pm Went to LibraryLooking for PC Magazine articles on "Green Machines" Cannot find an index to issues. Started with latest issue and worked backward scanning individual ToC's. PCM ought to publish annual index!! Found reference in March 1993! Has no references of its own! But it does have a definition of a "green machine", will use in report!
8 July 10:15 am Got onto YahooSearched subject index, doesn't appear to be mentioned. Found interesting URL on Aviation photographs!
12 Noon Having LunchJoe Blogs says he found something in IEEE Computer in early 1993. Will go to library again.
2:20 pm In LibraryWould you believe that someone has borrowed Computer for 1993? Put in request for return! Wonder if CS dept. has copies? I think Dr. Ehrich is a member. Will try to see him. Reread the defn. of a "green machine". Looks like it only covers the electrical power usage. Surely ought to include more than that. What about the manufacturing ecological impact?
8 July 5pm Back at homeThink that I have enough material now to start the outline. Put references and annotations into an Access DB.
8 July 8 pm At my deskSorted materials into a "logical order". Can see a chronology that will be useful in presenting the report. Also can see some metaphors that will be useful.
10 July 10 pm In Library againLinked back to my own machine. Downloaded assignment in HTML and extracted questions to make the basic outline. Also looked at Reviewing questions to make sure that I have all those questions covered in outline. So far only 1400 words- need to add another 600. Perhaps can add some figures (they count for 200 words each).
11 July 2 am Out on date with Julie.Asked here to read over my draft to see if it reads OK. Says she knows nothing about the subject, but will try.
11 July 5 pm At deskPrinted copy of report so far. Started off by highlighting the 18 review questions so that I can see that they are covered. (Did first revision!)
  In bathroom (don't want anyone to hear me)Read out loud in bathroom. Found some sentences that did not work. (Corrected)
12 July 10 am In classGave good copy to Dennis to look over for me.
19 July Noon In classGot comments from both Dennis and Julie (she marked up the manuscript with lots of red marks). In a couple of places they obviously did not get the message I was intending, so have to revise those sections a lot. In several places they suggested better explanations - that will help with the word count. Dennis suggested a figure - will have to create with MacDraw.
19 July 7 pm In computer lab.Talking to Joe, realized that I had not put in references. Need to look up format for referencing WWW links.
19 July 10 pm At homeBeginning to look good. Did spelling and grammar checks. Made font changes in subheadings so that you see them more easily.
Midnight  etc. Read it through again and found a couple of places where spelling was right but word was wrong. (Mispelled "there", had "their".)
20 July 9:45 am On way to classChecked assignment grading schedule. Looks like I have covered all the categories. Printed off schedule and added to front of report.

The intermediate headings used above correspond to the stages of development suggested by Jolliffe. Alternatively you may want to use the steps in the Waterfall model as discussed in the notes. Click here to get blank diary form according to Jolliffe; click here for the waterfall version.

The journal which you develop should respond to each of the following questions:

  1. Did you know much about this topic before you wrote this paper? What did you know?
  2. Why did you choose this title for the paper? Did you have other titles that you decided not to use? What were they?
  3. Did your ideas about the topic change while you were working on the paper? If so, how did they change?
  4. Which passage in the paper--it could be a single sentence or as much as a couple of paragraphs--do you think represents your best writing style?
  5. Which passage in the paper--again, it could be a single sentence or as much as a couple of paragraphs--did you have to work on in a concentrated fashion to get the style appropriate and correct?
  6. What are the three most important changes from previous drafts that you made in the revised, polished version? Why did you make those changes?
  7. What one aspect of "housecleaning"--spelling, usage, mechanics, and punctuation--did you really concentrate on perfecting in the revised, polished version? Give a specific example of this aspect.
  8. Choose one person you talked to before or during the writing of the paper. What did you talk about? What effect did your conversations have on your paper?
  9. In the process of writing this paper, did you do anything different from what you have done when writing papers in the past? What was it?
  10. When did you receive the initial assignment that eventually led to this paper? Between the time you received the assignment and the time you handed in the revised, polished version, when did you do the most work on this paper? Where did you work on this paper most of the time? Describe the environment of this space. Estimate the total amount of time you spent working on this paper, including planning, drafting, discussing, revising, editing, and typing.
  11. If you could spend another half hour on this paper, what would you do?

For ease of submission a formatted version of these questions is provided for you to print off.


See Jolliffe, David A. Writing, Teaching, and Learning: Incorporating Writing Throughout the Curriculum, HarperCollins College Publishers, 1994, pp. 6-19.

Tichy, H.J., Effective Writing for Engineers, Managers, and Scientists, 2nd edition, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1988, pp. 580+xix.

A listing of do's and don'ts of writing (primarily don'ts) is to be found here.

Try this page from Carnegie-Mellon University for help also.

You may also be able to get help on-line at the University of Missouri! Also if you extra proud of your work you can submit it for publication on the WWW at the same location. If you do this, then also please let us have a copy!

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., published originally in 1918, is a classic book on writing style -- and is now on-line.

Closer to home you may want to try out the Virginia Tech Writing Center's OWL project!


One of the most appreciated helps you can get in learning almost anything is to see what your peers have accomplished. Two sources exist today that you may wish to examine:

A set of papers from a course at MIT that covered topics similar to those in this course, and
a paper by Lee Angelelli, a student in CS 3604 in Fall 1994, was incorporated into an on-line biography of Steve Jobs.
You may also want to look at the papers written by students like you that appear in the ACM Student Newsletter.

Last updated 99/08/07
© J.A.N. Lee, 1995, 1997, 1999.