Guide to preparing final essays

Content and Format

Your essay should be based around one or two papers of your choice on a topic in cognitive modelling. It must discuss empirical findings1 in the context of a computational model or models. The easiest way to do this is to find a single paper that includes both empirical and modelling results, but the paper in question should be very meaty, i.e., fairly long and including many experiments or a thorough comparison with other approaches. If you cannot find a suitable single paper, you can look at two shorter papers covering different models of a single phenomenon, or additional experiments testing the same model. Marking will take into account the difficulty of the chosen article(s)/theme(s), but we find that stronger essays tend to be those that focus on a single article. It's okay to choose an older paper, but in that case you should explain how it relates to more recent work.

You must have your choice of paper(s) approved by the deadline given below. For help choosing papers, see the tips on the website in the first instance. If you are still having trouble, feel free to contact one of the instructors well before the deadline. Essays may not focus on papers that are the subjects of student presentations. In other words, if a paper is on the main reading list and its topic has been chosen for a presentation, it is not suitable as the main subject of an essay.

Whether you choose one or two main papers, your essay should discuss the context of the work (i.e., behavioural findings or philosophical questions addressed), summarise the model(s) and experiment(s), and critically evaluate the work. A good essay will include some material you get from "reading around" the topic. You may also wish to address one or more of the following questions: how does this work relate to other models/approaches we have studied in class? What questions are raised by this work? What further experimental or modelling work might help to address these questions? Your goal is to demonstrate that you can read a cognitive modelling paper, understand its methods, evaluate its claims and place it in context in the field.

Your essay should be between 2500 and 3000 words, including headers and figure captions but not the bibliography, and should be written at a level that an interested but non-specialist reader would understand -- someone who has some background in cognitive science but not necessarily in the specific area you are discussing. Articles in the journal Trends in Cognitive Science, many of which have been included as background readings in this course, are good examples of this level of writing (although the format/content of these articles is different from what you will write). Do not include an abstract.

Citations, collaboration and plagiarism

Your essay must be your own work. The University takes plagiarism very seriously, and ignorance of definitions or policies is not considered an excuse for violating them. Please read the reminders below about what constitutes plagiarism and how to appropriately cite the work of others. For details on plagiarism and plagiarism policies at the University, see

Definition: Plagiarism is the act of copying or including in one's own work, without adequate acknowledgment, intentionally or unintentionally, the work of another. It is academically fraudulent and an offence against University discipline.

A non-exhaustive list of examples of plagiarism:

To comply with these regulations and show awareness of good scholarship practices, you should make sure to cite any sources used in your essay. This includes both the particular papers you are discussing, as well as any information you include from additional background reading. Here are some guidelines on citations:

Any standard citation format, such as ACM, IEEE, or APA 6th Edition is acceptable, but you should be consistent in the format of your references and avoid errors in your bibliography.

Finally, as usual in this course, you are free to discuss the topics, papers, and models described in your essay with other students as much as you like. However, your essay must be your own work, stated in your own words, and you must acknowledge any significant help or ideas gleaned from other students. This can be done in an acknowledgment section (for general help) or in a citation to "Lastname, Firstname, date: personal communication." (for specific ideas).


Your essay is worth 55% of your final mark. Please see the marking rubric for an idea of the criteria that will be used to determine your mark.

  1. These must include data from experiments, observational studies, and/or surveys involving humans. Purely "in silico" results do not suffice.<--

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