Mathematics is a language, and as such it has standards of writing which should be observed. In a writing class, one must respect the rules of grammar and punctuation, one must write in organized paragraphs built with complete sentences, and the final draft must be a neat paper with a title. Similarly, there are certain standards for mathematics assignments.
Write your name and class number clearly at the top of at least the first page, along with the assignment number, the section number(s), or the page number(s). If you are not stapling or paper-clipping the pages together, then put your name (or at least your initials) on all the pages.
Use standard-sized paper (8.5" × 11" for North Americans; A4 for others), with no "fringe" running down the side as a result of the paper’s having been torn out of a spiral notebook. Do not use sticky-notes, scented stationery, or other nonstandard types of paper.
Use standard-weight paper, not onion skin, construction paper, or otherwise abnormally thin or heavy paper.
Attach your pages with a paper clip or staple. Do not fold, tear, spit on, or otherwise "dog-ear" the pages. It is better that the pages be handed in loose (with your name on each sheet) than that the corners be folded or shredded.
Clearly indicate the number of the exercise you are doing. If you accidentally do a problem out of order, or separate one part of the problem from the rest, then include a note to the grader, directing the grader to the missed problem or work.
Write out the original exercise (except in the case of word problems, which are too long).
Do your work in pencil, with mistakes cleanly erased, not crossed or scratched out. If you work in ink, use "white-out" to correct mistakes.
Write legibly (that is, suitably large and suitably dark); if the grader can't read your answer, it's wrong.
Write neatly across the page, with each succeeding problem below the preceding one, not off to the right. Do not work in multiple columns down the page (like a newspaper); your page should contain only one column.
Keep work within the margins. If you run out of room at the end of a problem, continue onto the next page; do not try to squeeze lines together at the bottom of the sheet. Do not lap over the margins on the left or right; do not wrap writing around the notebook-paper holes.
Do not squeeze the problems together, with one problem running into the next. Use sufficient space for each problem, with at least one blank line between the end of one problem and the beginning of the next.
Do "scratch work," but do it on scratch paper; hand in only the "final draft." Show your steps, but any work that is scribbled in the margins belongs on scratch paper, not on your hand-in homework.
Show your work. This means showing your steps, not just copying the question from the assignment, and then the answer from the back of the book. Show everything in between the question and the answer. Use complete English sentences if the meaning of the mathematical sentences is not otherwise clear. For your work to be complete, you need to explain your reasoning and make your computations clear.
For tables and graphs, use a ruler to draw the straight lines, and clearly label the axes, the scale, and the points of interest. Use a consistent scale on the axes, and do a T-chart, unless instructed otherwise. Also, make your table or graph large enough to be clear. If you can fit more than three or four graphs on one side of a sheet of paper, then you're drawing them too small.
Do not invent your own notation and abbreviations, and then expect the grader to figure out what you meant. For instance, do not use "#" in your sentence if you mean "pounds" or "numbers". Do not use the "equals" sign ("=") to mean "indicates", "stands for", "leads to", "is related to", or anything else in a sentence; use actual words. The equals sign should be used only in equations, and only to mean "is equal to".
Do not do magic. Plus/minus signs ("±"), "= 0", radicals, and denominators should not disappear in the middle of your calculations, only to mysteriously reappear at the end. Each step should be complete.
If the problem is of the "Explain" or "Write in your own words" type, then copying the answer from the back of the book, or the definition from the chapter, is unacceptable. Write the answer in your words, not the text's.
Remember to put your final answer at the end of your work, and mark it clearly by, for example, underlining it or drawing a box around it. Label your answer appropriately; if the question asks for measured units, make sure to put appropriate units on the answer. If the question is a word problem, the answer should be in words.
In general, write your homework as though you're trying to convince someone that you know what you're talking about.
You should use your instructor or grader as a study aid, in addition to the text, study guides, study groups, and tutoring services. Your work is much easier to grade when you have made your work and reasoning clear, and any difficulties you have in completing the assignment can be better explained by the grader. More importantly, however, completely worked and corrected homework exercises make excellent study guides for the Final. Also, if you develop good habits while working on the homework, you will generally perform better on the tests.
In summary, schools today have made the development of essential skills, the provision of significant and meaningful learning experiences, and the development of the workforce some of its primary goals for student success. As such, they want their instructors to guide the students toward a higher level of confidence and competence. In math, that translates into a greater need for clarity in mathematical writing. The intention on these "Homework Guidelines" is that you and your instructor communicate better, and that you succeed both in your present mathematics courses and in future mathematical communication with co-workers and clients.
For further information, review these examples of acceptable and unacceptable solutions, and this sheet showing neat and messy papers.
Instructors: These "Homework Guidelines" are copyrighted by Elizabeth Stapel.
You are welcome to use these "Homework Guidelines," in part or in hole, as an asset in teaching your own classes. The only conditions of use are that distribution, if any, of the Homework Guidelines be made at no cost to the recipient(s), that the original copyright notice be retained on copies of this page, and that the following notice be included on all derivative works:
Based on "Homework Guidelines"
Copyright Elizabeth Stapel
Used By Permission
If you would like an example sheet for your students (displaying the differences between acceptable and unacceptable formatting), try this PDF.
12 February 2014
Doing Your Homework in LaTeX
It is a common occurrence for other students to comment on my homework whenever I turn it in for one of my classes.
The complete LaTeX file (and the pdf output) can be found in my repository, latex-homework-template.
View on GitHub
Below are a few screenshots of problems that Iâve done in the past:
If I didnât know how easy it was and the benefits that I get from typesetting my homework, Iâd probably ask as well. However, Iâd argue that using LaTeX to type up homework has made me a far better student than when I used to handwrite my homeworks.
And that is something that I care a lot about.
I can summarize the benefits like so:
It can be kept in Source Control. Handwriting canât be stored in a version control system; once you erase something, itâs gone.
You can see your homework materialize in front of you. Seeing the results and the equations in their complete LaTeX-glory is a very powerful way to conceptualize things. Thereâs just something different about the way things look so perfect that makes the subject easier to understand.
Youâll do better in your classes. This one goes with the previous point, but having the ability to see your homework helps you understand it. By understanding it well, youâll do better on tests. You will maximize how much you can learn as well as maximize your grade (if that matters to you).
Itâs very neat & tidy. Although my handwriting has improved quite a bit, I still find myself slipping back into a rushed, messy script from the past. LaTeX gives zero doubt that the professor/TA will be able to read my solutions.
A Very Short History
Donald Knuth, a legendary Computer Scientist as well as one of my favorites, is well known for the system that he created called just TeX.
It is a piece of typesetting software that aids in writing documents and formulas. The power comes from the fact that the document that you write is plain source code.
The code that you write is then âtypesetâ into the final document in whatever form you wish.
Hereâs an example of some basic LaTeX code:
With the output looking like below:
Using the Template
Iâve created a GitHub repository, latex-homework-template, just for my homework template that Iâve been using ever since I started. I found it online and used it as a base to start my template.
To use it, just download the homework.tex file and start editing. Once you need to typeset it, youâll need LaTeX here.
After that, you just need to compile it and youâll get your output. There are tons of different resources that Iâve found useful in learning LaTeX:
Affect on Performance
I have a solid set of anecdotal evidence in favor of using LaTeX for writing up my homework.
In all the classes that Iâve used LaTeX, Iâve come out of the class with a very strong understanding of the material as well as a good grade. Although Iâm not a big fan of grades (like at all), I know it matters to some people.
This might have to do with the fact that doing the homework in LaTeX takes longer. It might have to do with the fact that I perfect the appearance and spend a lot more time looking at the subject.
The most likely reason is a combination of all that I previously mentioned plus other factors. Iâm usually one to always want to quantify something, but in this case, I know it helps; thatâs all I need.
There definitely is a learning curve when it comes to trying to use LaTeX for homework. I felt that it was definitely worth the effort unlike how it might seem to some students.
I reasoned that when I go to graduate school, I will want to use it there. I also know how pervasive it is in textbooks. Since I love to read textbooks so much, I wanted to see what it took to write them so elegantly. I may even want to write one in the future; weâll have to see =]
To me it seemed like a small tradeoff for the great benefits that it provided.
I cannot recommend using LaTeX for your homework enough.
The benefits go a long way. It helps you learn the material and in a way that isnât as easily achieved when just using pencil and paper.
LaTeX is also widely used in academia and learning about the tool is almost essential if you wish to go to graduate school.
Once I graduate from university, I plan on releasing all my code for the last three semesters as open source. It includes all my LaTeX code which has really accumulated over the last year. It should provide a nice resource for others.
In the meantime, hopefully if you start using LaTeX for your homework, you wonât be able to resist doing it early because of how fun it is. Well, at least it was fun for me =]
You're awesome for reading this. You should follow me on Twitter and GitHub.