Confessions of a researchaholic

December 28, 2011

Writing a previous work section

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 2:23 am
Tags: ,

Every research paper has to cite and describe relevant previous works, often in a dedicated previous work section, or sometimes as part of the introduction.
Trying to write a previous work section can be an excellent mirror exercise for reading papers. The quality of the former can be a good indication of how much you really understand from the latter.

First of all, spend enough time reading how other people write previous work sections. Pay particular attention to those you find educational, from which you can actually learn something, as well as those you find unhelpful, from which you feel only confusion and frustration.

A good previous work section contains multiple layers of information with different resolutions of details.

  • At the bottom level (highest resolution), you describe in one or a few sentences about the gist and merits of each paper.

  • At the middle level (medium resolution), you organize related papers into paragraphs, each contains information about the gist and merits of the group.

  • At the top level (lowest resolution), you relate every citation with your paper, in particular, how yours stands on the shoulders of previous giants: commonalities, inheritances, and mostly importantly, innovations.

After you have a draft, show it to your adviser or other experienced researchers, ask for advice, and iteratively improve it. It will be an excellent exercise for both reading and writing papers.

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