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FACULTY/STAFF DIRECTORY

 
Writing in Computer Science

By Dr. David Luginbuhl

  • Writing is important in Computer Science no matter what type of writing you are doing. For example, good writing is critical at all levels of software development. At the conceptual level, you have to be able to express your ideas to your customers. You need to be able to justify your approach and design. Also, computer users have to be able to make use of your program, so you need to be clear in your instructions for use and maintenance. Finally, your documentation both inside and outside your program should be easy to understand.

  • Several aspects of writing are quite important in my classes. First: Clarity and organization are vital when you write for a technical field. When you are writing a technical report on a system you have developed, you have to be able to explain how your system is different (or better or otherwise important) when compared to other systems available. You must also explain the significance of what you have accomplished, the details of your accomplishments, and your future work. (In a field as dynamic as Computer Science, there are always avenues for improvement.)

  • Second: In software development, the ability to summarize your work so that your customer or audience can follow your logic is important. Also, programs themselves are logically sequenced to accomplish certain things. If you organize your program poorly, you won’t get the desired results!

  • Third: Mechanics are important as well, particularly when writing a program. For example, while another person may have no trouble understanding you if you have subject-verb disagreement, a compiler (which turns a program into executable code) is not so forgiving. Proper syntax is essential to the creation of a working system.

  • When I review a paper by a student, I’m blown away when he goes beyond simply following the basic instructions of an assignment. I’m impressed when a paper flows well and has excellent grammar, or when a student demonstrates a deeper understanding of the material than what I’ve asked for. These students make As.

  • Students who make Bs might have written papers with minor grammatical errors and small structural flaws, but the work is solid overall.

  • Students who make Cs obviously have not proofread their papers, and their works may have moderate flow problems.

  • Students who make Ds have more serious problems with their writing. Their papers are structurally unsound, have serious grammatical and organizational problems, or reveal a lack of understanding of the material or the assignment.

  • The role of writing in my classrooms depends on the course. In more technical classes, such as our introductory programming courses (CS 150 and 151), writing means programming and the attendant program documentation. In a course like Logic for Computer Science (CS 260), writing serves more as a way to reach the answer to a problem (logic proofs, for example).

  • In software development courses, I try to establish the importance of clear writing when dealing with customers. Overall, writing helps me see that students understand the course material, can integrate sometimes disparate concepts, are able to synthesize information, and understand the role of precision when expressing ideas.

  • All careers in Computer Science require writing. The different types of writing your position might demand is detailed above (program code, documentation, communication with customers, etc.). You must be able to communicate effectively through writing to succeed in this field.
 

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