of Earth Science / Northeastern
Hints for Solving Quantitative Problems Dr. Laura Sanders
quantitative problems is a crucial aspect of scientific
and engineering work. Your colleagues, supervisors, and
clients will make decisions based on your calculations.
There may be a whole lot riding on your work, including
your clients' or the taxpayers' money, people's health
and safety, and/or our understanding of Earth processes.
As a result, it is important to base your calculations
on a logical progression of steps, present them neatly
and carefully, and explain them in words and terms your
reader can understand.
Below are some guidelines for approaching the task.
|START THIS WAY:
w Start with lots of
clean scratch paper.
Write information given,
and write what you need to find.
w Sketch a diagram
illustrating the situation.
Decide whether you need
additional information, and if you do, find it.
Determine if you can use
established formulas, and if so, make sure they are
applicable to your situation.
w Break the process
into several smaller parts. Solve each part in a
logical sequence of steps that take you from what you
know to what you want to know.
dimensional analysis (see this helpful link!).
It will help guide your solution.
w At each
step, write a brief explanation--in words!--of what you
|PRESENT YOUR WORK
When you are confident of
your solution, copy your work onto a clean sheet of
w Write no
unexplained numbers or words on the paper--everything
must be explained in words. Brief phrases are
useful for this.
w Make it easy to
read: leave lots of blank space, and put a box around
the final answer.
On graphs, label
axes (include units of measurement!), give title and
date; and write chapter and problem number.
Some answers are best given
in tables. If your answer includes a table,
make it neat. Each column needs a heading; the heading
must include units of measurement. If applicable, show
a sample calculation after the table.
w Start each new
problem on a new sheet of paper.
w Write your name on
w Staple or clip
pages together, and trim ragged edges.
|MAKE A FINAL CHECK:
w Check again to see that your
answer is reasonable and your logic can be followed and
understood by an informed reader.
w Once again, check
to see that you wrote the units of measurement
at every step in the solution. This really is
Department of Earth Science | Northeastern
Copyright 2010 by Laura L. Sanders. Last
updated January 11, 2010.