TIPS FOR WRITING
in MATHEMATICS/STATISTICS CLASS
© 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Dr. Larry Lesser

REQUIREMENTS FOR PAPERS

• Typed double-spaced, 12-point font (if your machine cannot handle a formula, symbol, accent mark or diacritical, it may be carefully written in)
• Complete citations (sufficient for me to track down the specific reference) given for any books, articles, Internet sites(date, author and complete address of the site), people, etc. used or referred to
• Article critiques/reviews should include complete citation of the article (see above), a summary of the main points in your own words, and then your own constructive critique in which you describe what you consider the article's strengths and weaknesses and interesting issues raised, making specific connections to your own learning or experiences as appropriate.
• Good diction, spelling, grammar, using first-person active voice when describing your actions
• Writing style appropriate for target audience
• Self-contained format (not just list of answers), with clearly identified sections: appropriate title, introduction, definition of variables and their context, description of procedures used and discussion of their underlying assumptions, reporting/summarizing of analysis with appropriate diagrams, tables, charts included
• Graphical displays should be appropriately and meaningfully titled, sized, scaled and labelled, with no one figure split over more than one page without a compelling reason.  If you use visual aids such as bar charts, make sure they are proportional in both height and area to the numbers they are to represent.  Make sure quantitative axes start at 0 if at all reasonably possible, and have appropriate zig-zag mark if a portion of the axis is omitted (or has a different scale).  Click HERE for more information about statistical pitfalls.
RESOURCES
SOME PITFALLS
• Fractions:  A horizontal fraction bar ("vinculum") is less potentially confusing than a diagonal bar ("solidus").  If you cannot get your word processor (Microsoft Word has "Equation Editor") to do a vinculum, at least put in enough parentheses that there is no possibility of confusing quantities such as 3 2/7 or 3 + 2/7.
• Decimal Fractions:  APA style tells us to place the decimal point on the line and to use a zero before the decimal point (i.e., 0.23) when numbers are less than 1 (unless the number can never be greater than 1).  When writing out a number in words, use "and" only for a decimal point.
• Percentages: If you give a percentage, make sure the reader knows what the percentage base is. When no number is given, use the word percentage, not percent and not the symbol %. Don't confuse 60% with .60% (60% = 6/10, but .60% = 6/1000).  (subtle distinctions from Milo Schield: "percentage indicates a part-whole ratio. Percents are the units of the ratio. Percents are to percentage as volts are to voltage." and note that if interest rates go from 5% to 7%, the increase can be described either as 40% or as 2 percentage points; also make sure your writing makes clear what is the part and what is the whole -- "the percentage of men who smoke is different from the percentage of men among smokers")
• Working with Numbers: Avoid beginning a sentence with a number, especially a number that is not written out (i.e., Don't write "8% of the group exceeded expectations"). For readability, you may spell out one group of numbers in a sentence with two groups of numbers, such as "On the test, eighty students made no errors, forty-five made 1-3 errors, and twenty made 4-10 errors."  When giving measurements, you may use numerals (whether or not the number is smaller than 100) and abbreviations (no periods needed) for the measurement units, such as: 110 oz, 127 cm, 98.6 degrees F, 9454 ft.  (To look up any common unit of measurement , see http://www.unc.edu/~rowlett/units/).  Symbols of measurement units do not need to be "made plural", but to form plurals of numbers themselves, add s or es without using an apostrophe.  APA style tells us to put commas between groups of three digits (to the left of a decimal point) in most figures of 1,000 or more, except for situations such as page numbers, temperatures, acoustic frequencies, and serial numbers.  Distinguish appropriately between numbers and numerals.
• Rounding:  When you are choosing between two possibilities, you are rounding, for example, to the nearer (not nearest) hundredths place.  When doing rounding, a good rule of thumb is to wait until the final step of the computation to do any needed rounding, so that the final answer is reported to the same precision as the least precise data value.
• When describing arithmetic operations:   you can say words such as "exchange", "regroup", and "fair trade", but NOT words such as "borrow" or "carry";    you can say "simplify" or "write in simplest form", but NOT "reduce to lowest terms";   use correct specific terminology such as multiplier, multiplicand, minuend, subtrahend, addend, divisor, dividend, remainder, quotient, factor, multiple, least common multiple, greatest common factor, etc., especially when definitions or conceptual representation is the focus
• Use correct subject/verb agreement.  Complete the blank in this example with is or are (hint: the subject is "fraction"):  "What fraction of the apples ____  green?"  Complete the blank in this example with is or are (hint: the subject is "vote"):  "A two-thirds vote ____ needed."
• Do not be vague in your terminology.  For example, when you want to say that a figure "has symmetry" you must specify which of the many kinds of symmetry (e.g., line, rotational, translational, with further distinctions desirable:  e.g., 180-degree rotational symmetry).  Also, in your mind and in your writing, distinguish between mathematical/statistical meanings and everyday "lay" meanings of words such as: population, average, random, independent, significance, bias.

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• Proofread!  Going back and looking over your work (not during the same sitting you wrote it) will often catch major errors (e.g., not noticing that the printer cut off or smeared together some of the words or graphs!) as well as more subtle ones. Click HERE for proofreading tips.
• Spell checkers WON'T catch certain errors (such as it's/its, their/they're/there, you're/your, than/then) so make sure you can distinguish these and also these pairs of words common in mathematics/statistics writeups:
discreet/discrete, principal/principle, effect/affect, likely/liable, causal/casual, infer/imply,
number/amount, less/fewer, accept/except, farther/further, ensure/insure, complement/compliment

(For some finer points on diction, think about why you should say "a variable denoted by x",  "Bayes' theorem",  "data are"  and  "chi-squared test", NOT  "a variable denoted x",  "Bayes theorem",  "data is"  and  "chi-square test",  respectively.)

• As one writer JOKES: "Don't, overuse, commas.  It is best to never ever split an infinitive.  A preposition is not a good word to end a sentence with.  It's trivially clear that you shouldn't overuse words like 'obviously'. Every sentence must a verb.  The passive voice is to be avoided. Exaggeration is a trillion times worse than understatement. No sentence fragment.  Run-on sentences are bad they make it hard on the readers.  Avoid cliches like the plague -- they're old hat. Don't be redundant; don't use more words than is necessary; it's highly superfluous. Don't be overly sesquipedalian. Having learned about dangling modifiers, your paper will be error-free!"