Your response should (1) reflect your understanding and analysis of
the issues raised by the paper, and (2) should help direct your and
others' preparation for in-class discussion.
You may write the response in whatever style you prefer that meets
the above goals. One good format for the response is to critique the
paper, listing the following three points: its biggest contribution
(and, briefly, why that result was not already obvious), its biggest
mistake (in motivation, methodology, algorithm, data analysis,
conclusions, or some other area), and the biggest question that it
raises (or the most interesting and important follow-on work that it
suggests). Another acceptable format is to summarize the paper,
describing its thesis, approach, and conclusions, and stating why it
is significant. The commentary should also list questions that you
have about the paper, such as about technical points or connections to
It is OK if you read the paper and there are issues that you do not
understand. Please ask questions about those issues -- both in your
response and in class -- and we will all gain by the discussion. It is
best to explain why something makes no sense to you. For example,
do not just say, "I didn't understand section 2", but state where there
is a logical fallacy or a conclusion that does not follow or a term
that is not defined. Your questions will help shape the lecture.
If you have a question, it is likely that many other people have the
same question; they will appreciate you raising the point. However,
do come to class prepared: carefully read the paper and get as much as
you can out of it on your own. Doing so will make the class time much
Write your response with an eye towards contributing something
interesting to the discussion in class the following day.
List of questions to help you write you response.
- Why was the paper written? What problem does it solve? Does it
completely solve the problem; under what circumstances? Why is the
- How is the paper topic relevant to us today?
- What question would you want to ask the authors, and why?
- Why are we reading this paper? What can we take away from the
paper? How did the paper change your perspective on distributed
What are the abstractions introduced by the paper, or used in the
design of the system described in the paper?
- Is the paper the final word on the subject? What are some
questions that it brings up?
Other bits to keep in mind.
- I am interested in reading about what you think, not what
the authors think. Therefore, a successful response would primarily
revolve around your ideas/thoughts about the paper.
- Make your words count. A longer response is not necessarily a better
- Focus on a few specific, technical, aspects of the paper. Avoid
making general claims/comments about the paper.
- Spend the time to thoroughly discuss the issues/ideas that you do
raise. It is better to have 1 interesting well-discussed idea, rather
than 5 short and fragmented bullets. Aim for a cohesive
- Avoid meta comments (e.g., "paper needs more figures"). If you
want to make a meta comment/question about the reading, then make it
as specific as possible and interesting to the rest of us.
- When critiquing an aspect of the paper (e.g., not handling message
loss is an unrealistic assumption) consider why the authors ignored
these issues (perhaps these are not fundamental to the problem that
they are solving?). It also helps to think about how you would
overcome these issues (again, I am much more interested in your
thoughts/solutions, then blanket criticisms).
- Every paper has shortcomings, so if you do bring up a shortcoming,
then make sure that your response discusses/reflects on the
shortcoming in a non-trivial manner. For example, simply stating that
"it was not clear how 30s delay was computed" is not sufficient. You
need to talk about why you think the authors decided not to solve this
problem, why this problem is worth solving, what are the implications
of not solving this problem in this specific system, etc. Finally,
when you do bring up shortcomings, make sure to bring up shortcomings
that are fundamental, and not those that can be easily remedied.