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Unformatted text preview: A Guide to Writing Mathematics Dr. Kevin P. Lee Introduction This is a math class! Why are we writing? There is a good chance that you have never written a paper in a math class before. So you might be wondering why writing is required in your math class now. The Greek word mathemas , from which we derive the word mathematics, embodies the notions of knowledge, cognition, understanding, and perception. In the end, mathematics is about ideas . In math classes at the university level, the ideas and concepts encountered are more complex and sophisticated. The mathematics learned in college will include concepts which cannot be expressed using just equations and formulas. Putting mathemas on paper will require writing sentences and paragraphs in addition to the equations and formulas. Mathematicians actually spend a great deal of time writing. If a mathematician wants to contribute to the greater body of mathematical knowledge, she must be able communicate her ideas in a way which is comprehensible to others. Thus, being able to write clearly is as important a mathematical skill as being able to solve equations. Mastering the ability to write clear mathematical explanations is important for non-mathematicians as well. As you continue taking math courses in college, you will come to know more mathematics than most other people. When you use your mathematical knowledge in the future, you may be required to explain your thinking process to another person (like your boss, a co-worker, or an elected official), and it will be quite likely that this other person will know less math than you do. Learning how to communicate mathematical ideas clearly can help you advance in your career. You will find that writing good mathematical explanations will improve your knowledge and understanding of the mathematical ideas you encounter. Putting an idea on paper requires careful thought and attention. Hence, mathematics which is written clearly and carefully is more likely to be correct. The process of writing will help you learn and retain the concepts which you will be exploring in your math class. 1 What does good mathematical writing look like? As you learn more math, being able to express mathematical ideas will become more important. It will no longer be sufficient just to be able to write down some final answer. There is a good reason why Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick as a novel and not as the single sentence: The whale wins. For this same reason, just writing down your final conclusions in an assignment will not be sufficient for a university math class. You should not confuse writing mathematics with showing your work. You will not be writing math papers to demonstrate that you have done the homework. Rather, you will be writing to demonstrate how well you understand mathematical ideas and concepts....
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