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WRITING A TERM PAPER SAMI ASSAF Abstract. This document contains guidelines for writing a term paper and tips for writing it well. Deadlines: Tues 11/02: Topic must be selected and approved. After this date, the topic cannot be changed, so choose wisely. Thur 11/18: First draft due. Ideally, this will be a complete draft. The minimum requirement is to have a detailed outline of the sections of the paper, including precise statements of theorems, supporting lemmas and relevant definitions, and indications for where to put examples. A list of references must also be included at this point. The minimum length for this (formatted according to the guidelines below) is 5 pages. Tues 11/30: Second draft due. This is due if and only if you did not submit a complete draft on 11/18. This must be a complete draft meeting all the formatting guidelines below and should already contain any content you intend to include in the final version. The only thing that can be missing from this draft is the introduction. Thur 12/09: Final draft due. No extensions. No exceptions. No penalty for being early. Formatting Guidelines: Length: The term paper should be approximately 10 pages. It can be no fewer than 8 pages and no more than 12, including figures and references. Margins: All margins (top, bottom, left, right) should be between 1 inch and 1.5 inches. Font: Use a font size between 10 and 12 points (11pts preferred). Use a neutral font, such as times (preferred) or sans serif. Spacing: The paper should be single spaced. Equations may be in-line or separated out, as appropriate. Either indent the first line of each paragraph or skip a line between paragraphs (but not both). Typesetting: You must typeset the paper (LATEXpreferred, though not required) and all equations. Figures may be hand drawn with care. References: You must include at least 2 references. Wikipedia is not a valid reference under any circumstances. Please follow the Academic Code of Conduct when using/citing materials. Any MLS approved format for citations is acceptable. Submitting drafts: Only hard copy drafts will be accepted. Do not e-mail drafts. Print them out (double sided saves trees). Using the clean side of scratch paper is perfectly acceptable for all but the final draft, but the paper must be white(ish). Tips for Writing Math Papers: • Plan a bullet point outline of the paper before you start writing anything. • Plan and write from the theorems out. This means write down the theorems you plan to prove, then list what supporting lemmas you will need to make the proof easier, then list what definitions you need. • Add examples or illustrations whenever you can. A paper littered with examples is often easier to read. Make sure the examples illustrate as many of the subtleties of the definition or theorem as possible. Non-examples are sometimes just as useful (e.g. a planar graph K4 and the non-planar graph K5 ). • The introduction should be the last thing that you write. It should not contain much notation or terminology. It should read like a high level overview of the topic, explaining why it is interesting and/or important. The end of the introduction may contain an outline of the rest of the paper: “In section 2 we give basic definitions... The main theorem is presented in Section 3... We conclude in Section 4 with an application...” • Be precise. Statements of definitions, propositions, lemmas and theorems should all be clear and correct. You may use looser language when motivating a definition or result, but statements and proofs must be mathematically precise. • Have a classmate or someone else read over your draft, checking for grammatical errors, convoluted sentences, confusing explanations, etc. Ask them to point out the parts they like as well so that those don’t get lost in subsequent drafts. • The best way to learn to write a good paper is to read lots of other papers. In our case, read at least one (the paper you will/did present in class). As you read it, make notes about what works well and what doesn’t work so well. Try to implement the former and avoid the latter. • Use a spell checker before you print. Watch out for homonyms (e.g. to, too, two). Avoid split infinitives (e.g. to go boldly, not to boldly go). Figure out the difference between less and fewer and use them correctly (hint: it comes down to continuous versus discrete quantities). • Terry Tao’s blog post on Writing Mathematics Papers: http://terrytao.wordpress.com/advice-on-writing-papers/ 2