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MSc. Dissertation Preparation Guidance
Judith Bell and Alison Cawsey April 2006
This document gives basic information about the preparation and submission of MSc dissertations in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Computer Science and Information Technology. Further information and advice is provided in the Research Methods and Project Planning module. We focus here on the final written dissertation, not the conduct of the project, and cover format and length, typical content and structure, and submission procedures. Note that slightly different guidelines apply to IT(business) projects and are available online.
2. Format and Length
As a general rule, the body of the dissertation should be between 15,000-20,000 words - this will normally correspond to about 45-60 pages if you include some diagrams. Dissertations which are significantly outside this range may be penalised. The length will depend on the subject area. However, long dissertations often include too much insignificant background material. Although background information is required, it is the work which you have undertaken which is most important and should take up the majority of the dissertation. Dissertations which are too short often indicate that insufficient work has been undertaken or that it has not been documented fully. There is no prescriptive style/format, but you should choose a font that is easy to read (normally 10 or 12 point) and are encouraged to use one-and-a-half line spacing. You are encouraged to include appendices for additional material not central to the report (e.g., questionnaires, screenshots) and these will be in addition to the 45-60 pages for the main body. You may choose to include some code listings as appendices when they are central to the dissertation. However, excessively long listings of code should not be included as listings and can be attached on a CD.
3. Content and Structure
Your project will be assessed primarily from the dissertation and it is therefore essential that it is a full account of your work and clearly presented. The detailed structure will depend on the type of project, and you should obtain advice from your supervisor. Your supervisor may also be prepared to comment on outlines and drafts, and you should discuss this in advance to agree timescales to facilitate this. When writing your dissertation make sure to "pitch" it at the right level. You should not assume that your reader is an expert in the specialist topic that you are reporting, but should assume they have a good knowledge of the general discipline (Computer Science/ Electrical and Electronic Engineering/IT). If you think a good fellow student would understand it, then that is about right. All dissertations will normally have the following elements: • • • • • • Title Page A declaration that the dissertation is your own work (see discussion in section on submission) Abstract: A summary of the dissertation highlighting major points and describing the dissertations scope and conclusions. Acknowledgements: Anyone you wish to thank. Table of Contents: Detailed breakdown with chapter headings, section headings, and maybe subsection headings, each with page numbers. Table of Figures: Location, number and legend of all figures in document (optional)
This structure is appropriate where you have a customer (external or supervisor) who wants some software or hardware for a real (or imagined!) problem. select from available methods/tools. 4. Design and Build Project. and present that coherently. conclusion.2 Chapter 2 – Literature Review or Background Material Chapter 2 will normally include a critical review of relevant literature. It is important that this review: is written in your own words throughout. A successful project is one where you elicit the customer’s needs.3. 4. Academic papers and books usually meet these criteria. there are three basic types of project: experimental. A simple web page might satisfy some customers but would not result in you getting an MSc. this chapter will be presenting the background information necessary to understand the actual work which was undertaken by you.2. In essence it is your analysis and understanding that we are interested in.sometimes a web site is indeed the most appropriate and authoritative source on a subject. Some projects may combine features from more than one of these types.1. how you build on existing work. design. For some projects where there is little literature to refer to.3 The Middle Chapters The structure of the middle section of your dissertation will vary according to the type of project. which will be detailed more fully in the remainder of the dissertation:• • • What were you trying to achieve/solve in the project? Why is this a problem that requires to be addressed? A brief introduction to the how you went about it. give a short review of the context. Sources should be authoritative. so the reader understands what you are building on. Experimental/Research Project -2- . It is important to select your references carefully in your review. It is not sufficient to find 15 web sites which seem to have something relevant to say.3 covering some variations for different types of project. 4. Chapter 1 – The Introduction Chapter 1 will normally start with a short introduction to the problem you are addressing and your objectives. theoretical and design and build. See later for how to cite your references. It should essentially briefly summarise the answers to the following questions. and preferably should still be around in 5 years time. evaluation. The chapters may cover: requirements. and provides some critique/analysis of the material and its applicability to the problem. shows the relevance of the material presented to the problem being addressed. The goal is to develop some software/hardware to solve some problem or carry out a specific task. guidelines and even existing products if relevant to what you will be presenting later.3.• • • • The Chapters (see later) References (see later) Bibliography (optional . and describe what follows in the main body of the report. prototyping and redesign. It should also of course be technically non-trivial. 4. but also some web site sources are acceptable . Many possible structures are possible but broadly speaking.1. and test/evaluate the system to demonstrate that it does indeed meet the customer’s needs. Your supervisor will be able to provide guidance. A possible structure is described below. reads as a coherent and connected piece of writing. develop a reliable and functional solution. You may also describe techniques.sources that you have used but not cited) Appendices (optional) 4 The Chapters The exact structure and content will vary significantly with the type of project. 4. with 4. understand its limitations. accurate.
General Guidelines on Content The advice below consists of a set of suggestions of material that you might include in your report. but ensure that the structure is discussed with your supervisor. Such a project will necessarily have a report which will describe the theoretical foundations of the technology.4 Concluding Chapters Note that in any style of dissertation the final chapter will normally present conclusions and discuss further work. developing theorems and proofs. Some projects may involve surveys of user or organisation opinion. and it may be the design of these surveys that forms a central element. including design of any experiments. It should be clear just what has been achieved against the original objectives/problem description set out in chapter 1. The aim is to investigate something. 5.3. The goal is often to further understanding by carrying out an investigation which may include prototyping a system. For example. and hence make a modest contribution to knowledge. It is important to make clear what has been learned/achieved and what further work could be undertaken by you or others to further the objectives of the project.. making and testing conjectures.1. 4. For example: • • • • What problem are you solving/investigating? Why are you investigating it? How does this relate to other work in this area? What work does it build on? Your reader is technically literate. Don't feel constrained to structure your document in a particular way. Many variants of these structures are possible. This may involve a substantial amount of (software or hardware) implementation and the application of scientific measurements and investigations to ascertain its properties and usefulness. and the structure will reflect that. 5. about which not enough is already known or understood. This structure is appropriate for open-ended investigations inspired by either a novel idea or a plausible principle or hypothesis. You should provide enough background to the reader for them to understand what the project is all about. A particular report should only include those parts that are relevant. so help them understand. First and foremost. Write about the context in which your work fits. where appropriate. implementation and the experimental procedures used and an analysis of the results. Devote most space and time to this. investigating further examples.g. Write about the interesting parts of your project No-one wants to read about every detail of how you implemented your project. but may not understand in detail the area of your project or any tools or building blocks you've used. together with an assessment of the relationship between the project work and other published work. an AI search algorithm or a statistical model for image processing). The interest. significance and quality of the results are the primary criterion of success (bearing in mind that negative results of a well-conducted investigation are just as valuable as positive. 5. with attention given in suitable cases to possible applications. Where a program is developed it is not an end in itself rather it is an instrument for experimentation and discovery.2. There may be a discussion of the problems of existing methods and how the new ideas overcome any of these problems. and assessing the results.3 Theoretical Project Project dissertations in this category tend to concentrate on introducing the relevant concepts with suitable examples. a description of the research undertaken.These projects involve the investigation and evaluation of a new piece of technology (e. some projects will centre on the evaluation of an existing system.) 4. you should write about the most interesting or important parts of your project. -3- .
then just summarise the requirements.4. L.. or were there problems? 6.g. e.did the design do the job you intended. 12. & Bakalar. If you didn't do detailed requirements capture.5. No system behaves well in all circumstances.. and which you didn't. Some systems are particularly hard to test.. London. Sources are cited at the relevant point in the text and full source information is given in the references section. and in the circumstances in which it works less well. papers or web sites that you have used) as background and context for the work. In most cases your reader does not want to know about all the detailed tests you ran. No project is perfect . vol. 1. The citation number is used when citing the document in the body of the text (e. "Linear networks . Some projects involve designing systems whose final correct behaviour is not known in advance usually such projects would be classed as "research" projects.P. 5. Variations are possible. and in such cases you might need to go into quite some detail on why it's hard to test. Typically such a project report will devote a lot of time to evaluation of how the final system behaved. 6. for example we can say that Jones (2003) has developed a new technique.g. Wainwright. 6. 1994. write about them. Some projects involve detailed requirements capture. 'New drugs for acute respiratory distress syndrome'.  W. 6.assessing their feasability". The bibliography is given alphabetically by author. books. R. Apr. write about it. Yale University Press.. not just the title and author.B. and why the changes were made. Phys. If the differences are interesting. Differences in how the references are listed are otherwise minor. disadvantages. Yeung. Notice that there is a lot of information about the articles cited. Give an overview of your work If your project involved designing a system. pp. and P. Marijuana: the forbidden medicine. (1997). so your reader will be interested in both how well it works. -4- . etc). no. and some the requirements are essentially handed to you. Provide a critique of your work..3.. If you had to do detailed requirements capture (eg a survey of potential users. strengths and limitations of your work. This ensures that the reader can find the article in question. no. Grinspoon. If your design was not implemented fully. New England Journal of Medicine. In many projects. give a good high-level overview of your design. Building a system that works well is difficult. A105-A119.J. 5. describe which parts you did implement. Journal and book names are italicised. (1993). 2003). vol. These are briefly discussed below. Provide a critical evaluation of your work Your reader wants to know that you understand the advantages.g. For example . Find out what is expected for different types of article (e. pp.g. References Your dissertation may cite a wide range of sources (e. and you should have spent a significant amount of time on testing. but the most commonly used styles in Computer Science are the Harvard style and the IEEE style. 337. hardware or a combination).. ). and where it worked well and where it didn't. conference papers) and aim to give as complete information as possible.5. (Jones. G. and how you overcame this obstacle. If the reason you didn't implement everything is interesting (eg it turned out to be difficult for unexpected reasons). Rev. the initial design and the final design differ somewhat.2 IEEE style Here references are listed alphabetically but given a number. 435-439. 5. then this might be described in some detail. Describe any preparatory work you needed to do. Chen.there's never enough time for that. Annas.g. Describe how you evaluated your work Most projects involve building a system (either software. There are a variety of acceptable citation and referencing styles.1 Harvard (author-date) style The author's name and the date of publication are used in the body of the text when citing sources e. but they will be interested in your testing strategy and philosophy.6. J.
If something is so good you want to include it literally word-for-word then do it like this. MSc Dissertation Preparation Guidance. and in an as objective fashion as possible. Remember that the main assessment is -5- . author. However. You should also state when the web page was accessed. Grammar can also be checked.consider using these. The main point to make is to present material clearly and concisely. while the passive voice is normal for scientific writing it is not used universally. title of document. <web address>. just the heading "References". using the Harvard style we might have: Cawsey. When presenting background material about the project. as URLs often change. If you simply cut and paste the material it is easy to detect and also does not provide the information in the correct context for your dissertation. If something is so good you want to include it literally word-for-word then do it like this: 'Cawsey provides a concise discussion of how we can quote material: "While considering style we should re-iterate what has been said elsewhere about plagiarism. where you are genuinely voicing an individual opinion you can use the first person. reasoning that the person who wrote it had better language skills. as web sources often change. Look up how to reference different kinds of sources. date if possible) and consider just using footnotes for non-authoritative electronic sources. You may fail your dissertation if you do this.. from LaTeX to tools built into Microsoft Word. Some word processing tools may provide help with referencing . students frequently plagiarise sections from books and the web. Find out about them and use them. so don't feel forced into a style that you find awkward. 7. Normally references should start on a new page. Spelling errors will not be acceptable if there are spelling checkers you could have used. (2006). One format that you can use is the following: Author's name. While considering style we should re-iterate what has been said elsewhere about plagiarism. (date accessed) For example. Give as much information about these as possible (title. You should normally avoid using expressions like "I did this" and instead report the work in a passive voice ("it was done").ac. date of document (if available).macs. the main thing is to give proper thought to how and what you cite. It is your responsibility to ensure that the English language and grammar is acceptable and that the dissertation is written in clear and appropriate language. A.You should select which style to use and use it consistently. taking particular care with electronic sources. If you want to use another style apart from IEEE and Harvard then you should discuss it with your supervisor. Remember. <http://www. Style Style in technical writing is discussed in more detail elsewhere. The guiding principle is that you should maximise someone’s chances of finding the document. 8. If you copy more than half a line directly from a source without quoting and citing it then it is considered plagiarism. The main thing is clarity and objectivity. With the increase use of Web sources you should take particular care how you cite these. that person wrote the information for another reason and not to justify/explain the work you have undertaken. You should make sure to put more than simply the URL. and should not have a chapter or section number. If you copy more than half a line directly from a source without quoting and citing it then it is considered plagiarism.hw. Your personal impressions and feelings should rarely come into it.uk/~alison/diss_prep. Errors in referencing and poorly laid out graphics may be penalised where you could have used a simple tool to insert them for you. Also.html (accessed 1/3/ 2006) Whatever style you use the references section should come between the main text and the appendices." ' Note that the copied material is in quotation marks AND the source is cited. However. Document Preparation Tools There are many tools to support document preparation.
etc. software demonstration. Quality of any product. external sponsors and other staff to see the tangible outcome of the year's work and provides you with the opportunity to present your work and provide a demonstration of any outcomes from your project. one electronic copy burned onto a CD together with code listings. 10. So what are the assessors of your dissertation looking for? You will be given the assessment form that we use. but to summarise some of the elements looked for we may be looking for some or all of: • • • • • • • • Clear and concise presentation of work..g." This is a serious declaration and examiners may refer any dissertations with suspected plagiarism to the University disciplinary committee. considering ethical issues where appropriate. A poster presentation of your dissertation work will be required about a week after the submission deadline. text. A standard page for inclusion which contains this text is available from the student offices and will be provided along with the covers for your dissertation. A list of references employed is included. Submission Procedures You will be expected to submit three copies of your dissertation. -6- .. Covers for the two copies of the dissertation can be obtained from the Student Offices and spiral bound at the University Print/Copy Facility. Any contribution to knowledge. The poster will be independently marked and contributes 10% to your final dissertation mark. This provides an opportunity for your supervisor. Assessment Your dissertation will be marked by your supervisor and by a second reader. appendices. Demonstration of ability to critically analyse other work and come up with original analyses and ideas. Properly acknowledging sources means quoting as well as citing the source of any copied material. Demonstration of depth of technical understanding. figures. knowledge of the field. If it is borderline it may also be assessed by the external examiner for the course. programs etc are properly acknowledged. but you will be expected to provide your own CD and to pay for the spiral binding of your dissertation. 9. Demonstration of professional conduct. Any uses made within it of the words of other authors in any form e. equations.from the report. and two spiral bound hard copies of the dissertation document and appendices. The following form of words should be used: "I <name> confirm that this work submitted for assessment is my own and is expressed in my own words. tables. The covers are provided free of charge. ideas. and of course no evidence of plagiarism. second reader. Evidence of initiative and perseverance. Coverage of related work. so you should ensure that comprehension of what you have achieved is not hindered by poor presentation. Your document should include a signed and dated declaration that the work is your own.
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