THE BEST METHOD FOR PRESENTATION
The major goal of this paper is to serve as a guideline for organization of research presentations in oral or written form. Another important goal of this paper is to convince the researchers to use the author's semantics-based layout strategy for transparencies. The major purpose of the entire effort is to make the research presentations as easy to comprehend as absolutely possible. Proper usage of the guidelines and strategies defined in this paper is a conditiosine qua non for those graduate students who have chosen that the author of this paper be their major professor. The same structure is being used for thesis work, as well as for conference and journal publications, or technical reports to research sponsors, both by graduate students and professional engineers.
This paper focuses on a method for presentation of research results (in written and/or oral form) and focuses on the following issues:
(a) Selection of the title;
(b) Structure of the abstract;
(c) Structure of the figures and/or tables and their captions
(d) Syntax of references;
(e) Structure of the written paper and the corresponding oral presentation using transparencies;
(f) Semantics-based layout of transparencies for an oral presentation.
Intentionally, the entire text to follow has been made relatively short, so more people decide to read it. This paper represents the decades-long research experience of the author, and summarizes the mandatory requirements that he places before his graduate students.
The motivation to publish this paper (which is in use at the University of Belgrade for about half decade now) came after the repeated pattern at international conferences where lots of good research was presented in such a way that research results are obscured by poor presentation. It was not possible to understand quickly, either the essence of the contribution, or the most important research details.
At a recent major set of computer science/engineering conferences, no single presentation was following either the guidelines presented below, or the semantics-based layout of transparencies to be defined below.
2. Selection of the Title
The selection of title should be both didactic and lapidaric.
In this context, didactic means creating a title which enables an expert to figure out the essence of the basic idea and the main contribution, even without reading the paper; lapidaric means creating a title which induces the reader to think deeply over the "philosophy" of the contribution described in the paper.
A relatively good example of a didactic and lapidaric title is:
APPLYING ENTRY AND LAZY RELEASE SELECTIVELY:
TEMPORAL VERSUS SPATIAL DATA
This title is didactic since it is immediately obvious that the main idea is to apply the entry consistency model to temporal data and the lazy release consistency model to spatial data, for the performance which is better than applying only one of the two models to all data.
This title is also lapidaric, since one immediately starts thinking about how the selective application of two different consistency models was really implemented.
An alternative (bad) title would be:
IN MEMORY CONSISTENCY MODELING
People would tend to stay away from a paper with such a title, since that kind of title might be viewed as an introduction into a contents-free paper, unless it comes form a well known expert who has a reputation of knowing what he/she is doing. Consequently, a good idea may not be noticed by the research community, and those who reinvent it at a later time will get the credit instead of the initial inventor.
Wherever possible, the abstract of a research paper should include the following five elements:
(a) Problem statement of the research under consideration;
(b) A short list of existing solutions and what is their drawback, from the point of view of the above defined problem statement;
(c) Essence of the proposed solution, and why it is expected to be better under the same conditions;
(d) What type of analysis was done to show that the proposed solution is really better than any of the existing ones, from both the performance and the complexity points of view (if one is an engineer, then both performance and complexity are equally important);
(e) What are the major numerical highlights of the analysis (if one is an engineer, numbers are the "name of the game").
If a 50-word abstract is required, then each part above should be about one sentence long; if a 500-word abstract is required, then each part above should be about 10 sentences long, etc. Of course, the language should be simple and concise, with declarative sentence structure, written primarily in the present tense.
3. Structure of the Figures and/or Tables and the Related Captions
Figures and tables should include only language-independent mnemonics (derived from English language), which is especially important for non-English-speaking researchers, and for those writing for many languages, so it is easier to switch back and forth between languages.
All details must be clearly visible, even after the same figure is ported to a transparency for an oral presentation.
Captions deserve a special attention, which is neglected in a typical written presentation. The main issue is that reading only the figure captions of the paper can substitute the first rough reading of the entire paper. This goal is achieved more successfully if the caption includes the following five elements:
(a) Title with the main highlight, i.e. the main issue to be demonstrated by the corresponding figure/table;
(b) Legend, to explain all language-independent mnemonics inside the figure/table;
(c) Description, of one or more phenomena which deserve attention (e.g., curves A and B cross each other at X=16);
(d) Explanation, of the essential reason for such a behavior (e.g., the curves cross each other because for higher values of X, the following happens ...);
(e) Implication, or what is to be kept in mind when designing/engineering a system to exploit the above noticed phenomenon (e.g., increasing the size of register file helps until the number of registers reaches a critical value; after that ...).
A book which insists on this type of reasoning is; however, the approach has not been formalized, and this type of reasoning can not be found in figure/table captions. Writing a good caption of this type is extremely difficult for the one who writes the paper (and graduate students often show resistance to such an approach), but extremely useful for the one who reads the paper (and readers/reviewers often show appreciation for such an approach).
Also, this type of caption may become relatively long, and one might think that the limited paper space is not used rationally; however, the captions should include only the facts which are "local" to the figure/table, and these facts should never be repeated again in the main body of the paper. The main body of the paper should include only the "global" facts (e.g., comparing the findings from different figures, and similar).
A similar approach can be found in the famous books of Hennessy and Patterson (alphabetical order), except that their captions do not always have all five elements, and if they do include all five elements, these elements are not formally separated, which is a requirement of the methodology presented here.
All figure and figure captions should be completed before the actual writing of the paper starts.
4. Syntax of References
This is another item to be completed before the writing of the paper starts. As far as the syntax of references, it is most natural that one follows the syntax used by the most prestigious scientific journal in the field (e.g., IEEE Transactions on ...).
If an alternative approach seems to be better, this methodology suggests that one waits until the major journal accepts it.
As far as the method of pointing to a reference, the mnemonical approach with the entire name of the first author and the year is preferred (so the reader knows immediately what research group the paper comes from). Often, the name of the last author conveys that information more clearly, but it is not practical to use it, when pointing to a reference. Of course, if so required, the above method can be easily converted into the numeric form, mandatory in some journals.
An important reason for doing references before the actual writing starts is that one makes sure that no important reference is omitted; a task more difficult to do after the entire paper is completed.
5. Structure of the Written Paper and the Corresponding Oral Presentation
In the case of a research paper, whenever possible, one should first develop the skeleton of the paper/presentation, to include the following first level titles:
(a) Introduction, to include the basic facts needed to tune the reader to the paper and/or presentation;
(b) Problem statement, to define precisely the problem being attacked by the research under consideration, and why is that problem important;
(c) Existing solutions and their criticism, to survey briefly the major existing solutions form the open literature and to underline their deficiencies from the point of view of interest for this research, which is defined in the above mentioned problem statement section;
(d) Proposed solution and why it is expected to be better, to give the essence of the proposed solution (i.e., the essence of the idea which is to be introduced), followed by a logical and/or philosophical discussion about the expected benefits stemming from the idea;
(e) Conditions and assumptions of the research to follow, to summarize the environment of interest. The term conditions refers to the specifiers of the real environment, and the term assumptions refers to the simplifications which simplify the analysis without any negative impacts on the validity and representativeness of the final results. It is useful for the reader if conditions and assumptions are itemized (e.g., application-, system-software,- architecture-, organization-, design-, and technology-related);
(f) Analytical analysis, to show one or more of the following:
(f1) proof of validity of the major idea of the paper/presentation;
(f2) calculation of initial values for simulation analysis to follow;
(f3) rough estimation of the performance;
(f4) rough estimation of the complexity;
(f5) something else which is relevant;
Analytical analysis will not give the final answers; however, it will help understanding the concept (it will be helpful both to the researcher and the reader);
(g) Simulational analysis, to show performance (this should be the major and the longest part of the paper);
(h) Implementational analysis, to show complexity (for some types of research, this one could be
the major and the longest part of the paper);
(i) Conclusion, with the following three major elements:
(i1) revisiting the major contribution
from the performance/complexity point of view; (i2) stating who will benefit
from the presented results;
(i3) what are the newly open problems and research avenues.
One should keep in mind
that some people read only the abstract and the conclusion;
(j) References, as described above.
After the skeleton on the first level of titles is defined, one should develop the skeleton on the paragraph level; this means defining all subtitles on lower levels and the contents of all paragraphs under each lowest-level sub-title. Finally, the last thing to do is to specify the first sentence of each paragraph, which is the major one; other sentences of each paragraph are just to explain and/or justify the statement conveyed by the first sentence.
It is not before now that the writing can start, and it will be easy to do it; also, this approach enables that, after the complete skeleton is developed by a senior person (e.g., a major professor), the writing can be done by a junior person (e.g., a graduate student); any errors in writing will be localized at the paragraph level, and, as such, easy to fix.
The above applies to research papers. An important prerequisite for a good research paper is that a good survey paper is prepared first, to demonstrate that major solutions for the problem of interest are known.
In the case of a survey paper, the major requirement is to have a concepts part (to define the major issues), and the systems part (to define various algorithms and/or implementations, etc.). The concepts part should be preceded by a classification of concepts. The systems part should be preceded by a classification of systems. Each system in the systems part should be
described/explained using the same template (e.g., origin, environment, essence, advantages, drawbacks, relevant details, performance consideration, complexity consideration, conclusion, trends, etc.). The choice of elements for the template is flexible. What is not flexible is that the same elements must be used in each template.
6. Semantics-Based Layout of Transparencies
Major rules for doing the transparencies can be found in numerous books. Consequently, the stress here is on an issue which is extremely important, yet not mentioned in any of the books known to this author - the rule about the semantics-based layout of transparencies. This rule reads as follows.
If a semantic entity must be spread over several lines, the breakdown of lines should be done in a semantic way. In other words, if a "bullet" is to be spread over more than one line (often times, three is the maximum which makes a good choice), each line should represent a separate thought.
As an illustration, two examples are shown next, one without and one with semantic splitting.
In other words, do not let the word-processor split the lines for you. Instead, do it by yourself, the right way! Semantic splitting is extremely useful for the audience, and its fast comprehension of the material. An experiment was performed by the author to prove that fact. In this experiment, the same subject was taught to two different groups of students, using two sets of transparencies, one with and one without semantic splitting of lines. A test would be given after the subject is completed. The experiment was repeated enough times, and the test results were considerably different, in favor of the transparencies based on semantic splitting.
As a consequence of this experiment, the author of this paper insisted that transparencies for his university courses and pre-conference tutorials are based on semantic splitting .
Sometimes, semantic splitting seems impossible to do; however, in each such case, it turns out that an alternative way of expressing the thoughts is both easy to split and sounds much better.
This paper sets a standard for organization of research presentations, and defines the semantics-based layout of presentation transparencies. So far, almost without exception, others would start using the views expressed here (especially the semantics-based splitting for transparencies), as soon as they learn about them, which was a great source of pleasure and satisfaction for the author.
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This text describes how to write research papers or research Ms. or Ph.D. theses. Most of the instructions are also applicable for preparing transparencies (because of some differences, transparency preparation is explained in a separate document, written by Veljko Milutinovic, copied also on my web page in parallel to this document). If this method is not suitable for your article, chances are that you are not doing research but rather development, implementation or other type of work.
The main key to the successful presentation is to repeat your ‘story’ four times: in the title, abstract, introduction (or chapter 1) and in the text. That is, make readable and as complete as possible versions of your work using the order of 10, 100, 1000 and 10.000 words. Why? Because you have four different types of readers. Among those who will ever notice your work, I estimate that 80% will see only title, 15% will read the abstract, 4% will read also introduction, and the surviving 1% will read the whole paper. This is assuming you did your job properly, otherwise you will have 0% in the last group. If you do not believe this, just make your own statistics on things you read, and time you have (or time you want to spend) for reading other people’s work.
Choose a title that enables the expert to figure out the essence of the basic idea(s) and the main contribution(s).
Wrong title may bring you wrong referees or examiners, and may not attract busy colleagues to your work when seeing it on your web page or on a search engine that may not even catch your work (which decreases your visibility). If you are solving problem X using method Y, you have probably searched Internet for both X and Y. Others do the same, so let your work be observed easily.
State clearly what problem has been studied and/or what is the goal of the thesis/paper. Give a brief statement on existing solutions and their drawbacks. List major contributions of the thesis. State briefly assumptions and limitations. The abstract should also include major idea(s), the type (e.g. performance, complexity) and result of analysis done.
The abstract is written for researchers that are familiar with the research area, and can grasp your contribution easily. Most of them have worked on the same or related problem. Clear abstract is the key to having your work properly credited in other people’s work, since again colleagues may be too busy to figure it themselves, and are more likely to ignore it then to spend time doing the work you were supposed to do. Examiners will also have a friendly start with your text. Misleading abstracts are unfortunately quite common practice in the research literature. Avoid excessive explanations that should be part of introduction. First answer above questions, then see whether you have space to say anything else.
This structure is also suitable for performance evaluation type of articles. In a performance evaluation article, the problem is to determine the best protocol under various conditions. Existing performance evaluations are existing solutions etc. Survey type of articles have different presentation style. A survey should describe all relevant solutions, classify them according to assumptions made and some properties (that is, present a taxonomy), and draw some conclusions.
The introduction of the paper, or Chapter 1 of the thesis, should give the summary of the article. It should contain separate sections on the following items:
i) Introduction (basic facts needed to tune the reader to the thesis or paper);
ii) Problem statement (precise definition and importance); avoid very technical definitions and statements (present them in later text) and instead give good intuition for your involved definitions or facts.
iii) Existing solutions and their criticism (limit only to those directly relevant to the contribution of the thesis; give a motivation for doing research on the topic);
iv) Contributions (proposed solutions; why they are expected to be better; essence of the idea(s) used in proposed solutions);
v) Conditions, assumptions and limitations of the research done;
vi) Analysis (theoretical, experimental, simulations, implementations,…) done in thesis; under what conditions and scenarios is your solution best?
In case iii, iv, vi, give only the highlights, with pointers to later sections and chapters that provide details. The introduction should attempt therefore to present full version of your article in readable and intuitively clear form. Many of your reviewers, and, with significant probability even examiners, will stop reading your article unless you fully convinced them in introduction (or Chapter 1) about your contribution. Life is demanding, and they have other tasks to do. Readers and especially followers of your research direction will appreciate such style and will prefer mentioning your work rather than the work of someone else who remained unclear in introduction and the article was never read due to the lack of time.
Chapter or section 2 should give a full literature review. It should collect all known results relevant to the problem stated, whether or not they are used in proposed contributions. No additional literature review shall be added in later chapters. In later chapters, you may only refer to well known results (e.g. those covered in undergraduate computer science program such as Dijkstra's shortest path algorithm, sorting algorithms etc.). Discuss advantages and drawbacks of known solutions that are relevant to your problem, and also discuss the relevance of each reviewed item to your topic and your solutions.
It is very easy for a reviewer or even examiner to save his time by observing a missing important reference, and claiming that that reference may solve your problem in a better way. That may or may not be true, but you can loose even if your solution is better, since decisions made are in most cases final, and your publication or even defense can be prolonged with or without good reasons.
For every discussed reference, it is very important to relate them to your problem and contribution in one of several ways: it does not exactly solve the same problem, it solves the same problem but makes different assumptions about the system, it has some limitations that you do not have, it makes the same assumptions but does not work well under certain conditions and scenarios for which you have better solutions, or, if none of these is true, you are considering it as valid competitor, and will try to defeat it in your analytical or experimental comparisons. If you are not able to defeat it (under some assumptions and/or scenarios), I would advice you not to go public with your research and earn undesirable reputation.
The remaining chapters (sections)
The remaining chapters should present your contributions (including conditions, assumptions, and limitations, where appropriate), and their analysis. That is, very same items listed above shall be presented in full, preferably in the same order.
Many problems have complex formulation or are based on terms that a reader is supposed to be already familiar with. You need to make sure that the audience is as wide as possible, given the space you have to express yourself. If the problem formulation is somewhat complex, make sure you give an illustration about the problem. Draw a figure if appropriate, clearly state what is the input in that figure, what is the expected output in that case. If you use some terms specific to an area, try to enlarge audience by defining them. Few extra sentences might be needed by a reader (examiner) generally working in the area, but not particularly doing research on similar problems. Make sure your article is readable with ordinary efforts; otherwise it may not be read at all.
Your proposed solution may also need to be nicely illustrated. First give (or repeat, if already done in introductory parts) the intuitive solution. Then go into details of your solution, step by step. A figure is worth a thousands words. Is your solution always working? Can you prove it? How does it work? Is your analysis about worst case or average case? What kind of theoretical and analytical support can you give for your proposed scheme/solution?
One of the most frequent mistakes made by authors is to ignore the limitations, assumptions made (compared to assumptions made in other relevant papers), and scenarios for which their solution is clear winner. You shall not be overly optimistic about your solution(s) and make unfounded claims. Smaller but justified claim is better than large unfounded claim. Your referees may turn easily down your paper because of unsupported large claim, but can also easily accept your even minor contribution if it is well documented and proven. Include all the possible criticism of your own contribution directly in your article. It is much better that you criticize yourself than to leave such ‘pleasure’ to examiners and referees. Show that you are in full control of the problem and solutions.
The performance of your solution can be compared with existing solutions, if any exists under same or similar assumptions, analytically and/or by doing a simulation. In case of a simulation/experiments, make sure you give sufficient information to the reader so that anyone wishing to repeat the experiments will be able to do so and obtain similar experimental results. Make sure you selected the best independent variables and measured the performance by key indicators. Select key diagrams or tables to present. Too many diagrams may show that you are lost yourself in your simulation rather than showing really important information. Many less important tables/diagrams can be replaced by few sentences giving the key derived information from the experiments. Give some explanation for the obtained results. The reader needs some assurance that your program did not have bugs. The best way is to explain why such kind of data are obtained.
What did you achieve with this research? What are the drawbacks of your solution(s)? What kind of future work can be done? Do you have some ideas that you intend to study further? The ownership of some other possible solutions, not fully explored, or subject of your forthcoming different article, can be protected by outlining them briefly in the conclusion section, sometimes with reference to upcoming article.
To conclude this advise, try to follow a +-+ pattern in introduction and main text. That is, start with positive enthusiastic comments about your work and contribution, then become realistic and list all the drawbacks and limitations, but then finish on a positive note, with a clear winner statement about the value of your contribution. It is important that the reader stops reading your article with positive impression. He might be writing his report afterwards.
Finally, it is very important to use proper English grammar and sentence structure. Ask for help if your English is not up to the required standard. You must be very careful with misprints. Do read your article carefully one more time, after some time delay, and check for possible misprints. The referees and examiners expect you to be very professional. They are not robots, they are human, and their opinion is partially subjective. Try to make positive value for the subjective part in overall evaluation by showing that you take care of your writing.