Monday, December 22, 2014

Writing a paper on spreadsheet research

Following my earlier blog entry about the spreadsheet mindset, I decided to write to Dr Felienne Hermans (she of the Enron spreadsheets), asking for suggestions. Although she didn't help directly with search terms, she suggested that we have a conversation ... and so we did on Friday morning.

The more important part of our conversation was that she is hosting a workshop which will take place in Florence, Italy, in May; the workshop will last for one day but is part of a week-long conference. Who can turn down the idea of a long weekend in Florence which will culminate in a workshop (under the banner of the "2nd Workshop on Software Engineering Methods in Spreadsheets")? We agreed that I should write a two page position paper and present it at this workshop.

I have already written a short precis of my research which is intended for the ICESAL conference which will take place in Greece at the end of June. Felienne wants something different, which is apparent from the name: a position paper as opposed to a research in progress paper. An advantage of a position paper is that it doesn't have to be based much on the literature; instead, I can present my own ideas, which as I know don't seem to appear anywhere in the literature. A second advantage, which only became clear to me this morning, is concerned with length. The paper is limited to two pages; references take up valuable space in those two pages and thus the fewer the references, the more space for my ideas.

On Friday evening, I cannibalised the paper intended for ICESAL; whilst the result was ok, it wasn't particularly what I wanted. Yesterday I went over the paper and edited it: some sentences were removed, some added and the order of paragraphs changed, making the whole thing tighter. I also managed to lose two references, so the length shrank from two and a half pages to two. I have sent this version to Felienne who is prepared to edit the paper and make it suitable for publication in the proceedings of the workshop.

This morning I located the proceedings of last year's workshop; whilst the contents are not necessarily interesting, the style of the two page articles is. I realised that I need to write a completely new opening paragraph; my problem (as always) is that I am too polite and I need to be controversial, or at least provocative.

The opening sentences need to be something like: The majority of spreadsheet research is concerned with the data contained within the spreadsheet. Little attention is paid to the source of those data. I'm sure that I can continue with this new orientation, utilising the material which I have already written whilst changing its focus.

This brings to mind my music. It has happened more than once over the past few years that I have worked hard on creating a track only to realise after finishing it that it is too solid and that something more inventive is required. I am also used to working on my own and applying my own editorial choices and tastes whereas here I am working with some in the Netherlands who is about to go on a holiday for at least a week (she mentioned something about skiing in France, apart from the public holidays in Europe).

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