CSE 290 - Spring 2019
Scientific Writing

Prof. Lawrence Saul

Do you ever struggle to put your ideas into writing? Does your advisor feel the need to edit your text? Have anonymous reviewers ever misunderstood your main arguments? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are likely to benefit from this course.

This course develops writing skills for students in all areas of computer science. The course is aimed specifically at Ph.D. students who have passed or completed a first draft of their research exam.

Classes meet once per week; attendance is mandatory. Classes will start with a presentation on some aspect of writing style. However, the main portion of each class (beginning in the second week) will be devoted to workshop critiques of student manuscripts. Students will receive group feedback on their writing, as well as individual feedback from the instructor.

Students must provide a writing sample (e.g., a draft of the research exam, or equivalent) to enroll in the class. Each section of the class will be limited to nine students.

Grading (S/U) is based on class participation; there will be no writing assignments during the quarter itself. Though good writing requires practice, this course is based on another time-tested method: the diligent and mindful critique of others' work can help us see what is lacking in our own.


  • Professor: Lawrence Saul
  • Meetings: Tue or Thu 12:30-1:50 pm, EBU3B 3109.
  • Grading (S/U): 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration.
  • Units: 2


[SciWri] G. Gopen and J. Swan (1990). The Science of Scientific Writing. American Scientist 78:550-558.
[Style] J. Williams and J. Bizup (2016). Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace. University of Chicago Press. Chicago, IL.


All readings after the first week are in Style.

Week 1Course goals and expectations.
Writing for the reader.
Week 2Actions.Ch 3.
Week 3Characters.Ch 4.
Week 4Cohesion and coherence.Ch 5.
Week 5Emphasis.Ch 6.
Week 6Motivation.Ch 7.
Week 7Global coherence.Ch 8.
Week 8Concision.Ch 9.
Week 9Shape.Ch 10.
Week 10Elegance.Ch 11.