Kill "Summary Paragraphs" in Academic Papers

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[ 2012-March-25 15:39 ]

Many academic papers make the mistake of including a "summary paragraph" at the end of the introduction, containing an outline of the structure of the paper. I'm talking about the paragraphs that state "In the next section, we describe , then we talk about , and finally we conclude." These paragraphs contain absolutely no information. Please just delete them, and similar information-free "connecting" sentences (In the next section, we discuss ) from your papers. This will give you more precious space to actually talk about your work. I was happy to discover I'm not the only one who just skips these paragraphs. Margo Seltzer, professor of Computer Science at Harvard, skips them as well: "True confessions here: I never read the [summary] paragraph in most papers."

I recommend reading all of Margo's advice on writing a thesis if you are a graduate student. I also like Matt Welsh's advice on how to get your papers accepted. In particular, his sixth point, "get to the point," is relevant to this subject.

(Yes, I know I'm guilty of including these paragraphs in some of my own papers. I have become enlightened since then. Don't make the same mistakes I did.)