A) For preparing the "extended abstract"

Try to convince me that you a) carefully read the paper and thought about it, and b) that you worked hard on the assignment. Be consistent. Avoid any sloppiness.

Formal requirements

Cover page/Header: Indicate name of the course, Univ. of Vienna, date, name and student number. Indicate the paper you refer to (bibliographic reference).

Layout: Pages must be numbered. Use a font of 12 points, margins of at least 2.5 cm, line spacing of 1.5 lines. Use a spell-checker (either AmE or BritishE). Avoid typos. Mind your commas. Do not use “don’t”, “isn’t” etc. in formal writing.

Hints for writing: Be concise. Shorter is better. Think before writing. Critically review your text before handing it in. Ask yourself: does it say what I mean? Do I need this word or sentence to properly express my opinion? If not, cut it.

Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought. Revise your text at least 5 times before handing in.

Comments can take many forms. Be creative. Possibile lines of reasoning are as follows:

"The authors interpret their result as meaning x. I do not agree. I think the proper interpretation is y. Here is why."
"The authors use method x to demonstrate that A has a causal effect on B. I think using this method is inappropriate because .... A better way to make the point would have been to ..."

You need to hand in at least two assignments on a paper we have not yet discussed in class but you are welcome to hand in several assignments. The best performance counts for your final grade. 

Here are sample Q1 Q2 from a similar course (these examples do not use a cover page but a header which also is fine if the information provided is as required).


B) For preparing your presentation

Structure of a session: There are three parts in a typical session. Make sure to reserve enough time for the third part.

  1. Presentation. Explain what the authors have done, what they find, how they interpret it, and why they think it is interesting. A typical paper can be presented in 15'-20'. Short and sweet, please (book-long treatments of a topic may require somewhat longer presentation, but stay below 30' even for an entire book).
  2. Questions for clarification (about 15'-30'). In this part, the students and the instructor have the opportunity to ask questions about details of the study, aspects of the design or results you had no time to talk about etc. The purpose is to make sure we are all on the same page.  
  3. General discussion (remaining time). Now it is time to raise critical questions about the method, the analysis, the relevance or the interpretation of results. A broad discussion of potential policy implications or of issues of interest that seem related is also welcome here. The pole of competence prepares a sheet intended to guide this discussion. But students are welcome to bring up other issues (e.g. those they have raised in their assignment ).

Preparing your presentation:

  • Be sure to get the main message of the paper through at the very beginning of your presentation, in the first two minutes or so. Say it in your own words, say it as clearly and as simply as you can. Give the main intuition, the main result (broadly) of the paper, and then say why it is interesting or relevant.
  • Rehearse your presentation. Shorter is better. Plan to speak for 20' or less. Make sure you know how to correctly pronounce key expressions in your presentation. Speak clearly and slowly. You are (probably) not a native speaker. Neither is the audience.
  • Be simple and clear. Someone who has not read the paper should be able to follow the presentation.
  • Explain what the authors do, how they analyze the data, what they conclude from their analysis. Concentrate on the main argument, the main analysis, the most important insights. Skip the details (but have them ready on spare slides in case we ask in part 2). Make sure we do not get lost in detail. 
  • A good figure is worth a thousand words. When showing figures and tables, you need to explain them carefully. We need to understand what the numbers or graphs mean. If you do not plan to explain it, you should not show the table or figure but just verbally summarize it.
  • Start preparing early. Sometimes students panic the day before the presentation when they discover that they do not understand some parts of the paper. Starting in good time will save you the embarassment.
  • Work in a team with a fellow student. Working with others is often more fun and is sometimes also more productive. Some of the papers are more difficult than others, and it is ok not to understand every single detail of a difficult paper (but make sure you convince me that you have tried hard).