How to improve organization of math on a page?

1. Oct 1, 2014

OrigamiCaptain

I'm pretty good at math, but I have troubles organize stuff on a page. I might have some fine motor problems, but I'm not sure. Specifically with figures with straight lines like square root symbols, the number 1, x's and y's specifically in lowercase form. You can see why this can be an issue. I need some tips for organize my math on a piece of paper and improving my syntax. I've definitely had problems where my x and y variables become indistinguishable and the letter "a" becomes a 9 at some point or everything is all over the place and impossible to keep track of and I need like 3 pages to complete a problem when my math TA can keep it to one page.

Does anyone have any tips for improving organization on a page?

Thanks everyone.

2. Oct 1, 2014

Simon Bridge

For layout and appearance use a typsetting text editor that supports LaTeX ... then you can just focus on the reasoning and logic of your math arguments. Ability to typeset in LaTeX is an essential skill.

longhand - distinguish x and y by writing the y as a u with a long tail rather than as two straight lines.
distinguish the x from the multiplication symbol by writing it as two "c"'s (one backwards) instead of two lines.
The difference between 9 and a is the tail - like the difference between a and d or q - so write the 9 the same way you write a q. I put a fish-hook barb on the tail of my q's or they look like g's or 9's. I curl the tail on my g's to make them look different from 9's.

I also cross my z's and 7's like the "t" but through the middle.

Print caps, but use the handwriting style for lower-case to avoid straight lines.
The square-root box is a tick with a long back ... when you reach the end of the stuff that should be inside the root, put a small downward mark at the end of the back. You can also put everything under the root inside square brackets for clarity.

Your TA can keep the math to one page because your TA has done it all before many times - don't sweat it.

3. Oct 1, 2014

SteamKing

Staff Emeritus
If you have trouble reading your own handwriting, that could be a problem.

Handwriting is a manual skill, and it must be constantly practiced so that one can remain proficient at it. Now that people do a lot of their writing using a computer keyboard of some sort, we hate the physical drudgery of having to return to the use handwriting for certain tasks. And lack of use of this skill can lead to worse handwriting over time.

If you have trouble arranging your mathematical thoughts in written form, this is also something which can be improved by practice. Authors of non-mathematical writing often write and re-write their work, polishing it and changing it around to eliminate things which are redundant or unclear or are not descriptive. Since you are impressed with your TA's ability to concisely organize mathematics on a page, perhaps you should pick his or her brain about how to go about getting better at this task. You could also write out several short mathematical discussions and give them to your TA to critique.

4. Oct 1, 2014

OrigamiCaptain

Yeah that is a good suggestion and I'll be sure to ask. I've looked over his work to get a feel for it, but I get the impression that it has to do with his handwriting and ability to know how much space he is going to take up before he writes. Handwriting isn't super neat or even small just very, very clear. I'm not sure how to do that and it might just be something that comes after a significant amount of practice?

5. Oct 1, 2014

symbolipoint

What you described is Efficiency or Economy. Being able to compose and calculate like that comes with familiarity and practice.

6. Oct 1, 2014

SteamKing

Staff Emeritus
Extra handwriting practice couldn't hurt. If you are working at a university, there might be someone in the Art department you could ask to help you with improving your handwriting. It used to be when manual drafting was taught, a significant amount of time and practice would be spent on training draftsmen how to letter clearly. I figure that there must be someone in the Art department who might be able to teach you how to improve your handwriting skills.

Sometimes, changing your writing tools can make a difference.

Good luck!

7. Oct 2, 2014

Simon Bridge

... yes it does: on paper and on a whiteboard.

You should find that you can visualize how much space something will take on the page when it is not maths - like you can probably get a large block-caps heading centered at the top of the page, not perfectly but, fairly nicely, for example. OTOH: these are skills that used to be routinely taught at the primary or intermediate school level (i.e. before secondary school). I know in NZ this is no longer the case so I am always teaching people how to form letters for maths.

8. Oct 2, 2014

Dr Transport

Practice, and re-writing. The other thing I can say, is that taking your time when writing is the best way to make sure that what is written down is legible.