Writing is a skill that improves with practice. But there are many things we can learn from experts to improve our writing. These lectures give advice culled from many practitioners.

Preparatory reading: Chapters 2, 3, and 8 of Writing for Computer Science.

Videos of the 2012 lectures

You can view the 2012 versions of the lectures on the University of Cambridge streaming media service:

Who are you writing for? Writing style. (40 minutes).

Finishing the discussion in the previous video, then looking at how to avoid over-qualification, over-emphasis, pretension, pomposity, and obfuscation (20 minutes).

Two ways to write the first draft of a document. Advice on editing and advice on getting other people to comment on your document. (12 minutes).

Professor Simon Peyton Jones, Microsoft Research, gives a guest lecture on writing (35 minutes). Seven simple suggestions: don't wait - write, identify your key idea, tell a story, nail your contributions, put related work at the end, put your readers first, listen to your readers.

Authorship (and acknowledgements) (6 minutes). Who should be an author on your paper?

Writing the First Draft & Editing

  • 1984: look at the opening paragraph of the first draft of George Orwell's 1984. Consider how many changes Orwell made to that draft. Here is an analysis of the changes Orwell made to the first page of the book, between that first draft and the final, published version.
  • John Wyndham didn't get Day of the Triffids' opening right at first. Compare the original manuscript (right) with the published version. What is different? What has been removed, added, and moved? Why is the published version better?

Image of manuscript page taken at the Out of this World exhibition at the British Library.

  • For the 2009 version of the course, I wrote an example (88kB PDF) that demonstrates Exercise 5. This shows repeated editing, cutting the number of words down by 30 each time. I have used Microsoft Word's reviewing facility to show you exactly which words have been removed and which added on each iteration; you do not need to do this for your submission. 


These resources give five views on the writing process. They are the preparatory reading for this lecture.