Writing Tips

These are some guidelines that I compiled, mostly lifted from Tom Cormen’s Technical Writing in CS class and compiled from mistakes that I previously made.

General writing tips

  • The first sentence in a paragraph should tell me what that paragraph is about.
  • Use verbs instead of gerunds when possible (the inclusion of -> including).
  • Use active voice.
  • New information should come later in the sentence (or table).
  • Feel free to be creative, even in academic writing (my own opinion).
  • The worst place to use however is at the beginning of a sentence. -Tom Cormen
  • Don’t use while when you mean although or whereas.
  • Use compute instead of calculate.
  • You can use the word shall to sound fancy.
  • Consider replacing so with and so. -Tom Cormen

General paper tips

  • Take elements from top conference papers that you like and try to incorporate them into your own paper, if applicable.
  • Absolutely do not overstate the novelty of your paper. Good reviewers will notice.
  • Try a creative title. I should not get tired when I read it. Tom Cormen suggests titles like ‘Algol 68 with Fewer Tears’, ‘ViC*: Running out-of-memory instead of running out of memory”, ‘50 shades of grey codes’.
  • Your literature review be comprehensive and include all relevant papers and well-known papers in the area. Don’t get rejected because you were too lazy to do a good literature review.
  • Include math if relevant.
  • Make sure your paper is exactly the page limit and not a single line less. Some tricks for saving space: delete spacing between figures and their captions, make the font and cell padding in tables smaller.
  • If your paper isn’t at the page limit, this could be an indicator that you should do more experiments.
  • You should make your code and data available, if possible.
  • All your references should have links. (Otherwise, how am I supposed to find it? -Tom Cormen)
  • After you finish your first draft, go through the entire paper and delete any unncessary words. Also check all the prepositions to make sure they’re correct.
  • I suggest listing your specific contribution(s) in the introduction of the paper. It doesn’t seem like a big deal when it is there, but if a reviewer has a hard time following your paper and figuring out what the main contribution is, that’s a big problem.

Figures and tables

  • Include a pull figure on the first page to give the reader an idea of what the paper will be about.
  • Your font is too small.
  • Your tables should not have more lines (e.g., borders), than necessary.
  • Should some tables be represented as graphs?
  • For a multivariate function z = f(x, y), consider using a heatmap. They look colorful.

Jason’s list of nicely used words

  • I had used all the tricks in my “how to look like an adult” arsenal. -My brother
  • That is not a surrogate to the wise use of government resources.
  • One can easily be seduced into thinking that CGT can immediately deliver similar breakthroughs. -George Cybenko
  • Augmented examples dominate the training distribution. -Me
  • Accepting that original and augmented distributions might differ liberates us to apply stronger levels of data augmentation. -Me
  • Mindful of accusations that I planned to use the crisis as an excuse for an orgy of liberal boondoggles -Barack Obama
  • From Sam Harris:
    • He could not marshall any evidence to support his argument. -Sam Harris
    • Nobody has a monopoly on self-deception. -Sam Harris
    • I took it as an interesting diagnosis of the problem. –Sam Harris
  • From A Tale of a Probe and a Parser
    • This begs the question:
    • It has nothing to do with model complexity and appears orthogonal to the goal of a probe.
    • We contend that…, we advocate for the position that
    • Justifying metric choice is of central importance for probing, lest we muddy the waters with a preponderance of ill-understood metrics.
    • This process ought not to be conflated with the analysis of a particular model.
    • The line between what constitues a probe or a model is awfully thin.

Tips specific to applied ML/DL papers in medical journals

  • It is good to have baseline approaches for comparison, even if the point of your paper isn’t the methods. This came up a lot in reviewer comments for me when I didn’t include it.
  • For methods papers, you should have a table comparing your results with other those from papers for a given benchmark task. You should also validate on multiple datasets.
  • If your test set is small, are you overfitting?
  • If you’re presenting a new application of deep learning, do some error analysis. What is your model doing well and what isn’t it?
  • What’s the training time and runtime of your model?
  • Can you do a cute visualization like t-SNE?
  • It’s often nice to have a table that summarizes the dataset(s) you are using. This is a must if you’re using a novel dataset. Maybe try a violin plot.
  • For vision applications, it’s nice to have some LIME/CAM visualization to see what your model is looking at.
  • You can display a confusion matrix as a heatmap.
  • For multi-class precision/recall/f1 tables, try a plot like in Figure 3B here.
  • Include ROC and AUC if applicable, and show the point on the curve that the model is performing at.
  • Some reviewers will suggest rejection if there is no methodological innovation.

Well-written papers

Need more inspiration?

  • Tom Cormen’s usage rules.
  • Andrej Karpathy’s post on PhD tips.
  • Read Jason Yosinki.
  • Read Steven King in your free time. (He uses the em-dash often. In my opinion, too often.)