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Durham University

Department of Physics

Weekly problems: guide to presentation

This short guide is to summarize ways to avoid typical pitfalls made by students when answering questions.  For Level 1 weekly problems there is one mark to be awarded in each question for the presentation of work and the following are examples of what the markers will be looking for.

  1. Do not quote a result to more significant figures than the data has in the question.
  2. Don’t plug in numbers until then end. When solving a maths based problem, use symbols for the variables and do not plug in the numbers until the end. It is very difficult for both markers, and yourself to follow a solution consisting of a sequence of numbers.
  3. Draw a diagram. As a general rule – draw a diagram to make things clear.
  4. Include units. Always give numerical results with their units.
  5. Check answers (if numerical) are of a reasonable magnitude. Think about the results and don’t blindly write down the answer from your calculator.
  6. Check with dimensional analysis. When deriving an equation it can sometimes be useful to check if the expression has the correct dimensions. If it does, then it is an indication (but not proof) that you are correct. If it has the wrong dimensions then you must definitely be wrong.
  7. Accompany the equations by adequate explanations in plain English (e.g., definitions of symbols, assumptions made, etc). Typically just a few short sentences spaced around the mathematical derivations make things much clearer to read.