Writing in Computer Science

Frankly, how do you do it? In particular, how do you do it well? So much writing in CS is obscure and difficult, if not poorly edited, I’m not sure where to look.

What are some examples of good writing in computer science research? Functional pearls tend to be well written, but I’m more interested in research writing. I’m looking for papers that not only introduce a new idea, but do so clearly and effectively. Bonus points if it’s a good idea, but I’d just like to see something worth emulating.

Examples are clearly a starting point, but it seems to me that the only way to improve is practicing with aware, concerted effort.

5 Comments

  1. http://gigamonkeys.com/book/ is very well written in my opinion.

    I think the key is to know your audience. You have to speak the same language as people. Even among “computer programmers” there are a huge variety of people immersed in a huge variety of different languages and different types of programming. No one book will ever be good for everyone.

  2. @Ben:

    That riddle is a little bit basic — you should watch Douglas Crockford’s “Advanced JavaScript” series. (I can’t find them, though, since Yahoo seems to have taken them down.) Check out my old post on closures over this for something even weirder.

    @Brian:

    Thanks for the link; I’ve heard about the book, so I’ll check it out. You’re definitely right about knowing the audience. Nevertheless, the general CS audience has very low standards, particularly when it comes to conference papers. I’m not looking merely for success (getting an article published), but I want to be proud of the quality of the final artifact: idea and paper (and, if I’m feeling plucky, software).

  3. Hey Mike. I just found your blog.

    Benjamin ran an informal writing seminar a while back. (Did you hear about it?) It didn’t last long, but we read a few chapters from “Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace” by Joseph M. Williams. That is really an incredible book. It breaks down and explains the principles of what makes good phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. We looked at papers by Phil Wadler and Simon Peyton-Jones to see examples of computer science writing done well.

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