Why Writing Works

Disciplinary Approaches to Composing Texts

Writing in Computer Science

by Dr. Dan Kaiser

The amount of non-academic writing in the various subdisciplines of computer science far outnumbers the articles written for academic journals. Most computing professionals will never write a peer-reviewed paper. Instead, their writing tends to be much more professionally practical. Among other short documents, they will write project proposals, formal requirements specifications, software and code documentation, reports on error detection and resolution, and, of course, code. The formats these documents will take are dictated by their organization’s specific standards. Most computer scientists begin their career with a lengthy orientation to their organization’s practices. As with most fields today, far more is written in digital format than print.

Writing in the computer science classroom

Throughout the courses in their major, computer science students will develop their skills in writing the types of documents previously listed. Most of their courses require the completion of at least one substantial project. Thus, they must write the proposal, specifications, code, and documentation. Many students of computer science take some time to realize the necessity of clear, thorough specifications and documentation. Since courses only last a semester, projects in these courses must be limited to a scope of only a very few weeks. This means it is not possible to match the complexity of most commercial projects with a course project. Students often are the sole coders for their entire project or a standalone piece of a multi-person project. However, in a commercial setting, developers work on larger teams with multiple coders working on each piece. Clear specifications and documentation are what allows someone to understand what the code is supposed to be doing. Imprecise specifications or unclear documentation can critically slow a project’s progress. 


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