About Academic Skills


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This web-page is maintained by Toto van Inge, Faculty of Science, University of Amsterdam

(this is a "Basic Skills Trainer")


Academic skills topics are treated here, e.g.: writing (proposal, logbook, article, report, ...), group behaviour, presenting, planning, etc. You will find the information in the form of remarks, documents, and links.

As a starter you can read parts of "How to be a Programmer ..." The article's focus is indeed programming. However, by generalizing the message, it holds some nice and interesting "How to's".
Read for instance: 2.11, 2.12, the whole of chapter 3 with emphasis on 3.1 - 3.5, 3.9 - 3.11. For a little self-exploration: 4.1 - 4.3, 4.6. If you want to be a full-blown team member, then read chapter 5 and 9. In addition, for planning read 8.1.
pdf icon "How to be a programmer: A Short, Comprehensive, and Personal Summary"

Planning & Time Management

clock There is one major hurdle to take in composing a plan; it is to overcome the ... "chicken or the egg dilemma". Therefore, it seems that only in the case one did a comparable task before it is possible to compose a proper plan based on historical knowledge and tuned by new information. However, in this setting everything is and should be new for you.
So, how do you tackle this dilemma? How can you, estimate time, workload, resources if you do not have any clue to what to expect of it in the future. The answer is quite simple. Just start with rough estimates of what you think is a proper plan based on what you know now. Probably not all estimates are wild guesses and you will know to a certain degree of accuracy the:

  • number of active people
  • gross amount of time you may spend on it
  • deadline
  • the deliverables
  • et cetera

These "known" facts will lead to an acceptable plan. That sounds straightforward. However, there is catch to it. In most cases, plans contain dependences. If they are not recognized it will frustrate time management; certainly in case if it is a group activity. Therefore, a plan needs a "well-specified" description and time allocation of each person's expected activity and deliverables. That includes:

  • number of active people
  • gross amount of time you may spend on it
  • deadline
  • the deliverables
  • et cetera

Well-specified is placed between quotes, just because of the chicken-egg dilemma. Well-specified in this case means: just write down your best estimates and that is the best you can convey. This plan will be your project performance reference.
Moreover, a planning is composed in such a manner that your "personal activity log" should seamlessly fit to it. That means that a log is also written in a specific manner. (see next section)
During the fulfilment of the project, you will notice that discrepancies will arise between the initial planning and the real activities. You will never change the initial plan itself. In case the discrepancies induce you to make corrections to the plan make a plan "old_version_number += 1". The discrepancies will surface from your personal logs.

Personal Activity Log

activity-log There are all sorts of logs: from the ones generated by programs to the ones that are handwritten. Also in the handwritten ones, there are differences. However, for now the focus is on logs who relate to planned activities. Therefore, if there is a plan, made by you or by a group, a log will help you to analyse how you actually spend your time. Thus, the major entries of a an activity log are:

  • Start date and time of an activity
  • Duration
  • Activity description
  • Value (e.g. high, medium, or low; as a measure of your efficiency; e.g. on a scale from 0 to 10)

To make discrepancies to the planned activities visible in an early stage one need objective logging. So, be honest about what you write down in your log to prevent you from unwanted miss scheduling effects and guard a balanced and fair working load among the group members.

See also the remark in Reflection.

Article or Paper writing

rejected The content gathering (literature, experiments, equipment, etc.) for an article is not a sequential process. So, the writing of an article is most of the time not a sequential process too (there is also no necessity to read an article from top to bottom in a sequential manner). In the early stage of realizing an article one must gather essential information. This gathering can be streamlined by writing down what the essential parts should be in your article. It is obvious that the project planning and your personal log will contain information that can be used in the early stages of writing (remark: an article is not a chronological description of your activities, findings, conclusions, etc.). To have more guidance in the realization of your article try as soon as possible to construct an outline of chapters and paragraphs. Keep in mind that you will also prepare a presentation. A good outline of your article is valuable input for your presentation (see: Presentation). Where possible fill parts of the outline with the gathered information, results and thoughts. If a paragraph is becoming to long decide if it needs a new heading to extend your outline.

If you produced a number of pages and you can't help the feeling that your text should be a little more elaborate, "Inquiry Based Learning" can offer a helping hand. Go through all the boxes in the "Inquiry Process" and you may stumble on forgotten points that still needs to be treated thoroughly. inquiry_based_learning

Source: The YouthLearn Initiative

From the enquiry steps it is clear that, already in the early stages, one should find literature and reference it to prohibit you to write an ill-founded article. Moreover, the fourth column is not only usable for producing readable text, but also for the transition of your article text to your verbal presentation. (See: Presentation)

CCC model

To guide oneself in this construction process, do read about the "CCC model for text evaluation" in this snippet [1]. The "response letter" is used in this text as a working example. However, it is transposable to any other type of text.

[1] "Undercover research into text quality as a tool for communication management", Jan Renkema, Chapter 3.3 of " Reading and Writing Public Documents" Edited by Daniel Janssen and Rob Neutelings.




Presenting your material to others is sometimes a tough job. However, if properly performed, it can be a rewarding job. One of the first things to decide on is the nature of the presentation:

  • a live verbal narrative that is supported by a possible mix of:
    • Posters
    • Flyers
    • Slides
    • Videos
  • or a non-live presentation, for instance a video (with sometimes a voice-over).

In a verbal presentation, it is important to understand what is the effect of a speaker on the audience. The video of Patsy Rodenburg - The Second Circle can can clarify that.



The following link points to a guide for citations:

and a IEEE Citation Style Guide:



What is plagiarism: copy



By coincidence it can happen that reflection like texts end-up in an activity log, in the conclusion of a paper or some other mistaken location. However, if there is a need to express for instance your experiences, feelings, opinions, judgements about your personal performance it should not appear anywhere else than in a preface or foreword (or perhaps in a separate document).


Writing in English

To appreciate the English spelling take notice of (Chaos starts on page 4): The Chaos. If you want to know how it is pronounced you can choose from:

Latex related