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

  1. Presentation (max. 30'). Explain what the authors have done, what they find, how they interpret it, and why they think it is interesting.
  2. Questions for clarification (about 15'). 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 (about 45'). Now we 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 welcome here. Students are expected to raise the questions/comments they handed in as an assignment. But students are of course also welcome to voice their opinions (be ready to defend it) and to bring up issues that seem related.


A) Guideline for preparing the "questions" assignment

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, full name(s) and student number(s). Indicate the paper you refer to (complete 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).

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.

Avoid typos. Mind your commas. Do not use “don’t”, “isn’t” etc. in formal writing.

You may also submit a comment instead of question. For example, you may argue something like: "The authors interpret their result as meaning x. I do not agree. I think the proper interpretation is y. Here is why."

Be sure to meet the deadlines for handing in papers (see handout). You are welcome to hand in several assignments. The best performance counts for your final grade.

Here are sample questions Q1 Q2 Q3 from similar course (these examples do not exactly correspond to the structure lined out above. for example, they use an incomplete cover page. Please stick to the guidelines above but try to write as well and clearly as the students in these examples do).


B) For 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), and then say why it is (in the authors’ opinion) interesting or relevant.

Rehearse your presentation. Plan to speak for 30' 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. Take into account that most of the other students have not read the paper (not carefully at least).

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.