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Why Writing Matters

Why Writing Matters in Writing in Mathematics

"Writing is a powerful tool for constructing and altering our knowledge, because with writing we can figure out what we know and rehearse our explanations to ourselves before we present them publicly to others."

~Richard Bullock, The St. Martin's Manual for Writing in the Disciplines

 

Why Writing Matters in Mathematics

Effective writing skills are a characteristic of the educated person. To accomplish the three goals of General Education at SVSU, Mathematics courses MA120A, MA120B, MA125, MA161, MA132A, and MA132B incorporate writing assignments.

Typical Writing Assignments

A. Writing Solutions to Computational Problems or Word Problems
Rationale: The rationale for this type of writing is two-fold. First of all, applications of mathematics are so widespread in our lives that it is becoming increasingly important to be able to provide clear, organized, and systematic explanations to explain your calculations. Secondly, students learn more mathematics when they are required to explain their work in a logical and understandable way. 

B. Writing Solutions to “Explain Why” Problems
Rationale: The rationale for this type of writing is two-fold. First of all, students should be able to explain concepts in a way that demonstrates their understanding of the material. Secondly, students learn more mathematics when they are required to explain their work in a logical and understandable way.

C. Reading, Summarizing, and Evaluating Mathematical Literature (The MA125 Article Summary and Reaction)
Rationale: Math 125 is a survey of various topics in Contemporary Mathematics. It is hoped that at the conclusion of the course, students are able to see that mathematics is more than computations and memorization and that the uses of mathematics are widespread. It is also hoped that this assignment will allow students to be exposed to more applications of mathematics, to practice being able to understand mathematics by reading it, and to practice effectively communicating mathematics.

Math 125 Writing Assignment (14kB)  (A. Hlavacek)

Math 125 Article Summary Rubric (13kB) (A. Hlavacek)

D. Research Projects 
Rationale: The field of mathematics, like other disciplines, grows through the work and writing of researchers.

Math 471 Research Project (18kB)  (A. Hlavacek)


Qualities of Good Writing

The following are general guidelines. Check with your instructor for course-specific guidelines.

A. When writing solutions to computational problems or word problems:

  1. Clearly state what your variables stand for.
  2. Make sure that you use mathematical notation correctly. (See the Example section.)
  3. Make sure you give enough justification for your steps. It should be clear to anyone who reads your solution how you got from one step to the next.
  4. Read your solution to yourself! It should be in complete sentences. (Some of them will be mathematical sentences.) It should make sense to anyone else who reads it.
  5. Make sure your solution answers the problem and that you have clearly labeled your final answer. Include units, if appropriate.

B. When writing solutions to “Explain Why” problems:

  1. Make sure that you use mathematical notation and terminology correctly.
  2. If you are explaining why a certain situation satisfies the conditions of a definition or theorem, you need to state what conditions need to be met and you need to state how your particular situation meets those conditions.
  3. Read your answer to yourself! It should be in complete sentences (some of them will be mathematical sentences), and it should make sense to anyone else who reads it.

C. When reading, summarizing, and evaluating mathematical literature:

  1. Even though this is for a math class, you still need to use correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation! Clear language is important for reader understanding.
  2. You need to include references for your paper, even if you attach the article to your paper!
  3. The instructor is interested in seeing how well you assimilated the mathematical content of the article. You should read the article a few times and make sure you understand it before writing the paper. You should then summarize the paper in your own words, referring to the article only occasionally to check that your details are accurate.
  4. You should NOT try to paraphrase sentences from the article which you do not understand. (This usually makes it obvious to the instructor that you did not understand what you read.)
  5. Some of the articles include interesting historical facts, which you should feel free to include in your summary. However, make sure that you are including these in addition to a summary of the mathematical content of the paper (notinstead of).
  6. You also need to react to the article. Items you may address include: how clearly written and understandable the article is, how useful the results stated in the article are in general, and how the article affected you personally.
  7. The MA125 summary and response should be 1 – 2 pages in length.

Appropriate Types of Evidence & Support

  • Theorems and formulas
  • Previously derived results
  • Definitions

Citation Conventions

In the Math 125 writing assignment, you should include a list of references in an accepted standard format (such as MLA or APA). 

Special Comments

The "equals" sign often gets abused. For example, to simplify 2x+1=7, the steps should be:
2x+1=7
2x=6
x=3

If you write 2x+1=7=2x=6=x=6, you are asserting that 7=6!

References and Resources

Some preferred sources of articles are:

Examples Summary

Click here (19kB)  for an example of a strong MA125 article summary.

Faculty Perspectives 
on Writing:

Amy Hlavacek

Writing for Mathematics

Example Papers

Dalton Allan & Brian Dalke
"A Fractal Image" (1,001kB)