CS349 - Developing User Interfaces - Winter 2005

Optional Assignment - Your choice.

The optional assignment is your opportunity to improve your mark if you suffered a problem on one of the compulsory assignments.

In the optional assignment you

  1. Choose a section of the course that interests you;
  2. Do some research to find different expositions of your topic in human-computer interaction books;
  3. Decide what YOU think is the best exposition of the material; and
  4. Write a short exposition in your style.

General Considerations


The topic should be something covered in the course. It can range from part of a lecture to one or two lectures in breadth. It should not be larger, or you will have trouble keeping your writing focussed. It should be something that interests you, that you wish to understand in more depth than the course presentation.

Hints for organizing, thinking and writing

When you have read your different sources and are starting to write you will most likely find that the hardest problem is: what to put in, what to leave out. Your answer is most likely to be effective - in stimulating the marker, in getting a good mark - if it's organized around a single idea: your own idea. Then it can be structured like an argument in favour of that idea. So the first problem is finding your idea.

Finding your idea

Let's assume that you have read a few sources, and want to get down to constructing your answer. You need to start by finding out what YOU think is true about what you have read. When you have been successful in doing this you will have be able to state your idea in a single sentence that is not a sentence from any of your sources. The sentence should be short and concrete - e.g., font choice is irrelevant to the usability of user interfaces. It is easier to write about if it is controversial. Once you have found your idea your answer takes the form of an argument that will make a skeptic believe it. You put in what is needed to make the argument; you leave out everything else.

If you are having trouble here's a little method that sometimes works to help you find your idea. (Many such methods exist, and there's nothing special about this one.) As you read, or after you have finished reading, write down in a short sentence or phrase each thing you found interesting or important. Cut up the paper on which you wrote so that there is one sentence or phrase on each piece of paper. Then start making collections of the pieces of paper, with each collection including one topic. You should end up with several large collections and a whole lot of small ones. Find a single word or short phrase that describes what's in each of the larger piles. Then construct a single sentence containing every word or phrase: a sentence that you consider to be true, and to which you are enough committed that you would be willing to argue in favour of it.

Making an argument

An argument should take the following form, in roughly the order given.

  1. A question or problem, to which your idea is the answer/solution.
  2. A focussed collection of facts with which it's impossible to disagree, presented in an organization that is based on the idea for which you are arguing.
  3. Reasoning that starts with the collection of facts and ends at the truth of your idea.
  4. Consequences of accepting the truth of the idea.
Using examples

Argument by example (anecdote) is not logically sound, but is extremely persuasive. Furthermore, examples are very effective for helping the reader to know what you are getting at, and for letting the marker know that you understand what you're saying. Using examples freely will certainly increase your mark, with one caveat. An argument based solely on example, or on specious examples, will substantially lower your mark.



Short, well-focussed expositions are harder to inexperienced writers to produce, but they are MUCH easier to read and much more effective at making your point. It is extremely worthwhile to learn how to write them, and will take you much further in your career than learning a new IDE or computer language.

When you are writing for a course it is far too easy for a student to confuse quantity with quality. To help you be less confused there is a strict limit on how much you are allowed to write: 1000 words. At 1000 words the marker stops reading, in the middle of a sentence, if that's where it is.


Well organized and formatted expositions are much easier to read, and much more persuasive, according to many studies of writing. You submit electronically in PDF, which gives you the opportunity to provide the marker with the precise presentation you intend, in a platform-independent form. You will be marked on the PDF that appears on our screens, and some of the marks are for the quality of your formatting.

Possible Sources

Your research should include both printed material and material on the web. Please be aware that much material on the web is highly opinionated and unreliable. Including incorrect `facts' in your answer will surely be highly prejudicial to your mark. That you got them from a web page is not a defence. You must be able to argue that the web page is reliable. (For example, the Sun web pages describing Java are prima facie reliable in a way that Java discussion lists are not.)

A good source of published material is textbooks for user interface or computer-human interaction courses. Each author has a different `take' on any particular topic, and thinking how it is that all takes can be true is a way of finding your own ideas.

There are a few books listed on the References page of the course web site.

Marking Scheme

There is no explicit marking scheme in the sense that if you put in some particular thing you automatically get marks for it. All the same there is a way I mark answers. It takes the form of the following mark scale.


In class I have recommended stealing other peoples ideas as a way of learning. This is good. However, stealing other people's work is extremely bad. It's called plagiarism. When you do it at work you can cost your employer millions of dollars and even go to jail. When you do it as a student you can lose the chance to get a degree. But the dividing line between ideas and work is a fuzzy one. How do you make certain that you are ALWAYS on the right side of the line?

The answer is easy. When you put into your answer an idea from your reading, use the exact words that you read, put quotation marks around the words, and give a reference telling where you found the words. (Rewriting in your own words and giving the reference works well for experienced writers, but is dangerous for inexperienced ones.)

If you find that your answer is all quotations, it tells you that you haven't put in enough of your own ideas.

Handing in Your Work

Your answer should be formatted as a PDF file, and handed in using the submit command.

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