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Laboratory of Computer and Information Science / Neural Networks Research Centre CIS Lab Helsinki University of Technology

Helsinki University of Technology → Faculty of Information and Natural Sciences →
Department of Information and Computer Science → Teaching →
T-61.5010 Information visualization → Writing an essay

Writing an essay

The examination of this course may include several essays. The purpose of this document is to tell about an academic essay, what we expect of you and what are the grading criteria.

The general guidelines for grading apply also for essays; here you can find some additional instructions specific to the essays.

It is important to understand that the essay not only measures the knowledge of relevant facts, but also the understanding the topic as a whole. One of the course objectives is that you are able to present what you have learned in an understandable way; the essay is also a good measure of that.

Quoting from Indiana University essay exam instructions:

Your instructor is not looking for a collection of unrelated pieces of information. Rather, he or she wants to see that you understand the whole picture, i.e., how the generalizations or concepts create the framework for the specific facts, and how the examples or details fill in the gaps. So, when you're studying, try to think about how the information fits together. - -

Again, while you're taking the exam, remember that its not simply what you say or how much you say, but HOW you say it thats important. You want to show your instructor that you have mastered the material.

The problem assignment could be, for example: "Essay: History of data graphics."

An essay should be written in full sentences, and organized in paragraphs. A numbered list or a bullet point list is not an essay.

Figures are acceptable, if they help in understanding your argument, and figures are related to the text and referenced in the text. The essay must be understandable also without the figures.

The essay should be written in fluent and correct Finnish, Swedish or English. The handwriting should be understandable (the essay will be rejected if the examiner and 1-2 randomly selected reviewers can't understand your handwriting).

A typical length of an essay in this course would be 1-2 pages of hand-written text (depending on handwriting etc.). While the length of an essay is not a grading criterion in itself, an unusually short text often indicates insufficient content. Unusually long text sometimes (not always) indicates that the essay also contains material that is irrelevant to the topic, and/or the student has been unable to express the material succinctly in the context of the topic of the essay.

The essay should include sufficient and correct information that is relevant to the topic. You should limit the scope of your essay appropriately: you should not list everything vaguely related to the topic, nor should you mention all insignificant details. Failure to omit unrelated or irrelevant material will decrease your grade.

It is not however enough just to list all relevant facts. You should write down your essay in a way that shows that you understand the relationships between the concepts. That is, in addition to remembering unrelated bits from the lecture material you should have an understanding and intuition of the topic as a whole (which is also needed for example to further process and apply the related skills and knowledge). Failure to present related material in the context of the topic of the essay, or failure tho show the connection of the included material to the topic and/or other parts of your essay, will decrease your grade.

For example, in an essay on Tufte's theory of data graphics it would not be enough just to list and explain concepts like data-ink, but also express how the data-ink principle relates to the objectives of the Tufte's theory, practical graphical designs and so on (you should similarly show the connection of these concepts to the other parts of your essay and/or the topic of the essay).

You should express your ideas in a coherent, understandable and easily readable sequence of paragraphs. Editing should be appropriate for an academic essay: use clear and logical sentences, go to the point, avoid gratuitous abstractions or think-as-you-go flow of ideas. (This is an academic essay, not an exercise in creative literature.) Do not just assert that something is true, substantiate your claims with facts, tests, logical argumentation etc. Make a clear distinction between facts, substantiated claims and opinions.

Your essay should have a clear structure (for example, introduction to the topic, arguments, conclusion).

It may be a good idea to write down keywords and plan the "skeleton" of the essay by sketching the concepts and the structure of the essay on a scratch paper before starting the writing, for example, by using a mind or concept map (do not however submit a mind or concept map as an essay answer!).

You can think that the "intended audience" of your essay is your fellow student (who has not yet taken this course, but would have the necessary prerequisite knowledge to take the course) who has asked you to write short text of the topic of the essay. The essay should be understandable and useful to her. (Would your friend understand the topic and idea of the essay just by reading your text, or would she have to ask you for clarification? Would your friend at some point ask how a specific part of your essay is related to the topic or the other parts of the essay? Would your friend at some point ask "what do you mean by this" or "what is the point of writing this here"? Would your friend have to guess what you really meant? If the essay is, for example, about designing glyphs, would your friend be able to design a glyph just based on your essay?)

Essay is very related to a summary of a scientific article or a text book chapter. One should be able to understand the main ideas of the scientific article or the book chapter by just reading the summary.

You may find the following documents useful:

About grading an essay:

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