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  2. Core skills
  3. Reading and writing maths
  4. Writing maths

Writing maths

Writing good mathematics helps to clarify your thoughts, as well as helping other people to understand your ideas (including yourself, six months later!).

Here are some tips

  • When you read maths, notice how it is written and the level of detail included
  • Make your task easier to tackle by breaking it into stages
  • Write in sentences, explaining your work carefully and checking that each sentence follows logically on from the previous one
  • Always show every step of your working
  • Start each new sentence on a new line and give yourself plenty of space to show your working
  • Don't rub out calculations that don't work, just put a line through them and start again
  • Use link words like 'Hence', 'So' and 'Therefore' to help your workings flow
  • Use notation correctly. An 'equals' sign should only be used if two expressions are equal - it should not be used to link your solution together!
  • If you have to write down large numbers, leave a slight gap between groups of three digits to make them easier to read
  • It can take a lot of time to word process mathematical notation, even with specialised software. For assignments you may be able to save time by adding the symbols by hand. Check with your tutor
  • Check your writing by reading it aloud - when you translate the symbols, it should still make sense
  • Use graphs, charts and tables to summarise data and results clearly.
  • Remember to include the units of measurement.

Exercise in writing maths

Find your written solution to a mathematical problem you have worked on. Now imagine you are a tutor, marking this piece of work. Use the writing tips to check through the solution.

  • Is the writing clear, easy to follow and understand?
  • Does it make mathematical sense?
  • Has mathematical notation been used correctly and have the conventions for writing maths been followed?
  • Have the units of measurement been included (if relevant)?
  • Is there enough detail in the explanation?
  • Are there any points that you need to work on in your next piece of writing?

Producing charts, graphs and tables

Even if you can read and interpret charts, graphs and tables it takes a certain skill to design and produce your own. Finding the best method of presenting numerical data can be important in communicating your findings clearly and unambiguously.

The booklet 'More charts, graphs and tables' is designed to develop your skills in presenting numerical data. It also covers tables, line graphs, bar charts, histograms, pie charts, and simple descriptive statistics. It provides a step-by-step guide for each form of presentation, and describes when it is appropriate to use them. Spend a few minutes reviewing its contents and complete some of the more relevant activities.

The OU booklet 'More charts, graphs and tables' gives you further information on this subject.

OU websites

  • Use Skill Math for links to mathematics study skills resources.
  • Mathematical study skills - guidance for Level 2 and 3 students on reading and writing maths, plus strategies for tackling problems.