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Thesis Projects
Mikael Berndtsson • Jörgen Hansson
Björn Olsson • Björn Lundell
Thesis Projects
A Guide for Students in Computer Science
and Information Systems
Second Edition
Mikael Berndtsson
University of Skövde
Sweden
Jörgen Hansson
Software Engineering Institute
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA
USA
Björn Olsson
University of Skövde
Sweden
Björn Lundell
University of Skövde
Sweden
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Library of Congress Control Number: 2007936686
ISBN-13: 978-1-84800-008-7
e-ISBN-13: 978-1-84800-009-4
Printed on acid-free paper
© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2008
First edition Springer-Verlag London Limited 2002, 1-85233-332-4
Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study, or criticism or review,
as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, this publication may only be reproduced,
stored or transmitted, in any form or by any means, with the prior permission in writing of the publishers,
or in the case of reprographic reproduction in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the
Copyright Licensing Agency. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside those terms should be sent to the
publishers.
The use of registered names, trademarks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a
specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant laws and regulations and therefore free
for general use.
The publisher makes no representation, express or implied, with regard to the accuracy of the information
contained in this book and cannot accept any legal responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions
that may be made.
9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Springer Science+Business Media
springer.com
Preface
Any B.Sc. or M.Sc. study programme in the computing discipline typically ends
with a capstone project. A capstone project builds and tests the skills and the
knowledge acquired during the education and is an essential part of the training
towards becoming a professional. There is a large number of different terms for
these types of projects: capstone project, senior project, final year project, B.Sc./
M.Sc. thesis project, etc. In this book we will use the term ‘thesis project’, and in
some cases, for the sake of simplicity, just ‘project’.
This book focuses on thesis projects within the computing discipline. Thus, the
type of project discussed in this book is in line with the capstone format described
in the ACM/IEEE Computing Curricula 2001 Computer Science (p. 53):
… an alternative capstone format is a research experience that includes some original
work, a review of the scientific literature, and an investigation of a proposed solution, followed by a scientific paper and/or an oral presentation of the results. It is important to
remember that these are undergraduates and be realistic about the amount and quality of
research expected. Even so, it may be more worthwhile to expose outstanding students to
the challenges of research than to have them design and build yet another program
In this book, we present a process for conducting thesis projects with the researchorientation described in the quote above. This process was developed at the
University of Skövde, Sweden, and it has been applied successfully at the B.Sc. and
M.Sc. levels and to a wide spectrum of projects, addressing many different subjects
within computing. Typical subject areas have included, for example, artificial intelligence, theoretical computer science, databases, data communication, distributed
systems, human-computer interaction, operating systems, real-time systems, web
technologies, software engineering, systems analysis and technology transfer.
Some projects have been theoretical and others more empirically oriented, and they
have included both science- and technology-oriented projects. In addition to this
book, the interested reader can also find additional information on our experiences
of these types of projects in the following article:
Olsson, B., Berndtsson, M., Lundell, B. and Hansson, J. (2003). Running research-oriented
final year projects for CS and IS students. In Proceedings of the 34th SIGCSE Technical
Symposium on Computer Science Education, Reno, Nevada, USA, 19–23 February 2003,
pp. 79–83, ACM Press.
v
vi
Preface
Who Should Read This Book?
We have written this book with the aim of meeting the needs of students who are
close to finishing a B.Sc. or M.Sc. degree. However, several other categories of
readers may find this book a valuable companion. We hope that a number different
categories of readers may benefit from the book, as outlined below.
●
●
●
●
Students who plan to do a B.Sc. or M.Sc. project in which they are expected to:
use scientific methods to solve a problem, work with a research-oriented focus,
write a report in the form of a thesis, and/or present and defend their work orally
(viva voce examination).
Supervisors who supervise B.Sc. or M.Sc. projects. It is important that supervisors are familiar with and up to date on questions and issues that students might
encounter in the various phases of their B.Sc. and M.Sc. projects.
Examiners of research-oriented B.Sc. or M.Sc. projects. The book may be particularly useful for anyone who is new in the role as examiner and needs a head
start on, for example, assessment criteria.
Coordinators who are responsible for maintaining and developing course curricula for B.Sc. or M.Sc. projects, as well as other people involved in development
of study programmes.
In addition to the general descriptions and advice provided in this book, we want to
emphasise that it is important for students to find out the exact requirements at the
department where the project is undertaken.
Changes from Previous Edition
●
●
●
Terminology. We have updated the terminology and do not use the term Final
Year Project. Instead we either use the more term Thesis Project or simply just
projects.
Information-seeking and use. A new chapter on Information-seeking and use
and a subsection called Improve your learning (and grade) have been added to
strengthen the material on how to search for relevant literature and also how to
validate it. This material was written by Ola Pilerot, who is lecturer at the
Swedish School of Library and Information Science (SSLIS) at Göteborg
University and at University College of Borås.
Nuts and bolts. We have fine tuned the text and updated the information wherever appropriate.
Acknowledgements
This book would not have been possible without the support of a number of people,
all of whom we wish to acknowledge with gratitude for their help and support. We
are indebted to all our fellow examiners, supervisors and students who, during the
period 1996–2007, improved the quality of the thesis project process. We would
also like to thank Stig Emanuelsson, Anders Malmsjö, Pam Lings, Dan Lundh, Lars
Niklasson, Ingi Jonasson, and Ola Pilerot for their support and assistance during
our work on preparing this book, and Lars-Erik Johansson for his encouragement
and support in the initial phase of this project.
We are grateful to the University of Skövde and the Department of Computer
and Information Science, Linköping University for their financial support, and to
our friends at Springer-Verlag London Ltd, who have been very patient and understanding during the development of this book. Finally, our special thanks go to our
families.
Mikael Berndtsson
June 2007
Jörgen Hansson
Björn Olsson
Björn Lundell
vii
Contents
Preface. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
v
Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
vii
Part I
1
2
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3
1.1
1.2
1.3
1.4
1.5
1.6
Motivation and Purpose of the Book . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Purposes of Thesis Projects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Actors in the Project . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Assessment Criteria . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Reading Guidelines. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4
4
6
7
7
8
Computer Science and Information Systems Research Projects. . . . . .
9
2.1
2.2
2.3
2.4
3
Concepts
The Landscape of CS and IS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
What is Research?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Research Methods. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Linkage Between Research and Thesis Projects. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
9
10
12
14
Actors Involved, their Roles and Relationships . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
15
3.1
15
16
17
18
18
19
19
20
20
22
The Student . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.1.1 The Responsibilities of the Student. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.1.2 Projects with Multiple Students . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.2 The Supervisor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.2.1 The Responsibilities of a Supervisor. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.2.2 Projects with Multiple Supervisors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.3 The Examiner . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.3.1 The Examiner as Quality Evaluator . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.3.2 The Examiner as Quality Assuror . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.3.3 The Responsibilities of an Examiner . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
ix
x
Contents
Part II
Process
4
The Process – An Overview. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
25
5
Developing your Project Proposal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
27
5.1
Choosing a Subject Area. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5.1.1 Start Early . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5.1.2 How to Choose a Subject Area . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Choose Problem to Focus on Within the Subject Area. . . . . . . . . . . .
5.2.1 Descriptive Projects. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5.2.2 Theory Oriented Projects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5.2.3 Applied Projects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5.2.4 A Comparison of Theory and Practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Assure Quality of Initial Ideas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Write and Submit a Project Proposal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5.4.1 Structure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5.4.2 Project Proposal Checklist . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Quality Control of Project Proposal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Matching Supervisors and Students . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
27
28
29
30
31
31
32
32
33
33
33
35
35
36
References and Citations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
37
6.1
6.2
6.3
Appropriate References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Citations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Improve your Learning (and Grade) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
37
40
42
Developing your Aim . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
45
7.1
7.2
7.3
Meetings with Your Supervisor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Time Plan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Activities to Perform While Developing the Aim. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7.3.1 Refine the Initial Aim . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7.3.2 Develop the Arguments Behind the Aim . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7.3.3 Write the Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
45
46
47
48
49
52
Developing your Objectives and Choosing Methods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
54
8.1
8.2
8.3
54
56
58
58
60
62
5.2
5.3
5.4
5.5
5.6
6
7
8
Important Concepts. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Addressing Validity and Reliability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Methods. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
8.3.1 Literature Analysis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
8.3.2 Interview . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
8.3.3 Case Study. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Contents
xi
8.3.4 Survey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
8.3.5 Implementation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
8.3.6 Experiment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
8.3.7 Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
An Illustrative Analogy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A Four-Step Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
8.5.1 Develop Objectives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
8.5.2 Identify Potential Methods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
8.5.3 Choose Among the Potential Methods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
8.5.4 Present Details of the Chosen Approach. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
63
64
65
65
66
68
68
69
69
70
9
Following the Objectives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
71
10
Presenting and Analysing your Data . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
73
10.1
Presenting Non-Numerical Data . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10.1.1 Presenting Data from a Literature Analysis . . . . . . . . . . .
10.1.2 Presenting Data from Interviews and Questionnaires . . . .
10.1.3 Presenting Data from Implementations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10.2 Presenting Numerical Data . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10.2.1 Using Tables and Graphs. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10.2.2 Avoiding Misleading Graphs. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10.2.3 Significance Tests . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10.3 Analyse Your Data . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10.3.1 Descriptive Projects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10.3.2 Theory Oriented Projects. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10.3.3 Applied Projects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10.3.4 A Comparison of Theory and Practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10.4 What is a Good Result?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
73
73
75
76
79
79
81
82
83
83
84
84
85
86
Drawing your Conclusions and Identifying Future Work . . . . . . . . . .
87
11.1
11.2
11.3
11.4
Summarising the Results. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Putting the Results into Context . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Evaluating the Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Identifying Future Work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
88
88
90
90
Presenting and Defending your Work Orally . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
92
8.4
8.5
11
12
12.1
Oral Presentation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 92
12.1.1 Before the Presentation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93
12.1.2 The Presentation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96
12.1.3 What to Say . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 98
12.1.4 Handling Questions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99
12.1.5 Preparing for the Defence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100
xii
Contents
12.2
Acting as Opponent. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
12.2.1 How to Act as Opponent . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
12.2.2 Preparing for Opposition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
12.3 Prepare the Final Version of your Report . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
102
102
103
105
Part III Supplements
13
Information-Seeking and Use . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109
13.1
13.2
Information Literacy for Computer Science . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Information Searching, Seeking, and Behaviour . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
13.2.1 Search Techniques . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
13.3 A Session with INSPEC . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
13.3.1 What will you Find? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
13.3.2 Boolean Commands. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
13.3.3 Information Structure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
13.3.4 How to Get Hold of Documents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
13.4 The Information Seeking-Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
13.5 Two Basic Strategies for Information Seeking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
13.5.1 The Concept Map . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
13.5.2 Personal Research Information Management . . . . . . . . . .
14
109
110
111
112
113
113
114
117
118
119
119
120
The Report . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 122
14.1
14.2
14.3
14.4
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Who is the Report for? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Requirements of the Report . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Structure of the Report . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
14.4.1 Title Page . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
14.4.2 Abstract . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
14.4.3 Chapter 1 – Introduction Chapter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
14.4.4 Chapter 2 – Background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
14.4.5 Chapter 3 – Problem Description and Statement . . . . . . .
14.4.6 Chapters 4–6 – The Core of your Report . . . . . . . . . . . . .
14.4.7 Chapter 7 – Related Work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
14.4.8 Chapter 8 – Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
14.5 Style of the Report . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
14.6 Managing References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
14.6.1 The List of References. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
14.6.2 Sources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
14.6.3 Reference Style . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
14.6.4 References to Tables and Figures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
122
123
125
126
126
127
128
129
130
130
130
131
132
133
133
134
135
144
Contents
15
xiii
Examination . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145
15.1
15.2
The Examiner’s Roles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145
What to Examine. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 146
Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151
Appendix . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 152
Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157
1
Introduction
One of the strongest instincts we have is the desire to learn new things about the
world we live in. In fact, through our entire life we never stop learning new things.
This has been crucial for our survival, but it also stimulates our curiosity. Very
young children learn by copying the behaviour of others. Learning is later extended
to acquiring knowledge through other modes of communication, e.g. through
books, lectures and labs. One of the primary goals of academic training is to learn
how to learn, i.e. to learn how to continuously absorb new knowledge. This is
increasingly important in rapidly changing areas such as computer science and
information systems. The process of exploring the unknown, studying and learning
new things, building new knowledge about things that no one has understood before
– that is what we think of as performing research. Undertaking a thesis project is
one step towards an increased understanding of how to study, how to learn about
complex phenomena, and towards learning how to build new knowledge about the
world around us.
A thesis project is a capstone in undergraduate and graduate education, and as
such, it builds and tests the skills and knowledge acquired during your education
and training to become professionals. The thesis project is different from a traditional course in several ways; in its size, in its goals, in the form of examination, in
the form of supervision and in the form of communication (personal dialogue, as
opposed to lectures). A project represents a significantly larger workload than a
single course. While traditional courses include lectures and lab work, where the
focus is on acquiring knowledge in a specific subject area, the thesis project focuses
on deepening your understanding of a subject. But above all, it should give you
training in carrying out projects independently, at an advanced level, using a sound
method.
This introductory chapter sets the scene for the book, discusses the characteristics of thesis projects, and explains how best to use this book in order to complete
your project successfully.
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M. Berndtsson et al. (eds.), Planning and Implementing your Computing Project – with Success!
© Springer 2008
4
1.1
1 Introduction
Motivation and Purpose of the Book
According to the ACM/IEEE Computing Curricula 2005 there are five major computing disciplines: Computer engineering, Computer science, Information systems, Information technology, and Software engineering. Although the material
covered in this book is applicable to all five computing disciplines, we will focus
on examples related to computer science and information systems.
Computer science and information systems are two areas spanning a wide
range of topics, for example, artificial intelligence, CASE-tools, database systems,
human-computer interaction, information systems assessment, programming languages, operating systems, and web based information systems. The areas are
multi-disciplinary in the sense that they have elements from the natural sciences
(mathematics, logic etc.) and human sciences (psychology, philosophy etc.). The
multi-disciplinary nature of the covered areas does not simplify the task of
performing a project; indeed it presents profound challenges and interesting
problems. Areas such as social science, psychology, mathematics, and engineering
have established guidelines and methods for formulating problems, and for
choosing appropriate research methods.
The wide range of areas within computer science and information systems
means that it is not always easy to formulate a problem that is suitable for a project,
to choose the appropriate research method, or to develop a structure for a written
report. Furthermore, many students experience uncertainty as to what to expect
from a project, how to complete it within the given time frame, and how to attain
the goals of the project. This is understandable since most students will have had
no prior experience of a project as complex and as broad in scope as a thesis
project. It is difficult to envisage what it will be like. These concerns are due partly
to the lack of suitable textbooks and the lack of references specifically targeting
students doing projects in computer science and information systems. Moreover,
the project is probably the biggest project you, as a student, will have undertaken
in your academic life, and maybe even in your life.
This book focuses on the process of carrying out a project, with a particular
emphasis on the roles and responsibilities of the student, the supervisor and the
examiner. The aim of the book is to bridge the gap between different research methods
and describe the general process of carrying out a project in the computing
disciplines. In this book we identify a series of actions that should be of assistance
to you when planning and carrying out your project.
1.2
Purposes of Thesis Projects
What characterises a project is the fact that it is something that is planned, has a
specific purpose, lasts only for a limited time with a clear start and finish, and is
undertaken with finite resources with respect to personnel, money and equipment.
1.2 Purposes of Thesis Projects
5
You can view the thesis project as serving several (sometimes overlapping)
purposes:
●
●
●
Learning more. The project is an opportunity for studying a subject in more
depth.
A stepping stone towards finding and securing a job. You may view the project
as preparation for working life, by practising your skills and knowledge on realworld problems.
A stepping stone towards graduate studies. You may use the project as preparation for graduate studies, by exploring a research problem and learning about the
research process.
In addition, your university probably sees your project as serving two further
purposes. Typically, these can be captured by the following goals, shared by most
projects, and which emphasise the educational motivation and the research
motivation.
The first goal is the “educational” part of the project. This can be viewed as a test
to show that you have mastered previously attained knowledge and skills, and know
how they can be applied to a problem that is more realistic than those normally presented in courses. In detail, the “educational” part has the following set of learning
goals. The project should (1) develop your critical thinking; (2) enhance your ability
to work independently; (3) increase your understanding of how to use and appreciate
scientific methods as tools for problem solving; and (4) develop your presentation
skills, oral as well as written. With “critical thinking” we mean the ability to approach
something new in a systematic and logical way, and to use creative and diverse, yet
systematic ways to approach and solve a problem. Further, to support opinions with
trustworthy evidence, data and logical reasoning; and also the ability to decide how a
problem fits into a larger context. Those who have become comfortable with thinking
in this way can often apply these acquired skills also in everyday life.
The second goal is the “research” part of the project, in which you will deepen
your understanding of the subject area, and contribute to the common knowledge
and understanding of the subject area. However, to attain this goal, your project
must have aspects that are original. In other words, it is generally not enough to
repeat the work of others, since it is regarded as a waste of resources (time, money
etc), unless, that is, your purpose is to confirm or reject previous findings. The gains
from your project are based on the contribution it makes, i.e. the development of
knowledge and results that were not known before you started the project, and on
the fact that the findings will have been disseminated. Dissemination of results is
necessary in order to ensure that the knowledge is spread to other people working
in the field. Even though you might learn a lot from the project, no one else will do
so if the results are not disseminated. In this case, the project would fail to fulfil the
first goal concerning the development of knowledge, i.e. to increase our understanding of the subject area. The non-dissemination of new and valuable knowledge
may be said to be as useful as work not done at all.
In universities, most research is carried out by faculty members and doctoral
students. However, there are many valuable reasons for linking research and
6
1 Introduction
undergraduate teaching. It introduces students to the fascinating world of science,
and makes the latest knowledge available to them. In fact, you should expect that
university studies, wherever appropriate and possible, incorporates the findings of
the latest research. It is generally considered that incorporating elements of research
methodology, and giving students the opportunity to undertake their own
research related project, or to be involved in a bigger research project, facilitates
individual students’ development towards becoming independent and critically
thinking people. It is our opinion that thesis projects offer excellent opportunities for
closing the gap between research and teaching.
Of course, the link benefits you as a student in many ways. Not only are teachers
able to pass on their knowledge and experience in the topic area, as well as research
methods, but it also gives an excellent opportunity for you to become involved in
leading-edge research activities. Independently of whether you do your project offcampus or in the university environment, you will notice that you will be working
more closely with faculty members, and very often in a more collegial and informal
way than is normally the case in traditional courses. As mentioned before, the
project itself gives insights into what research is and how it is performed, and is a
good preparation for doctoral studies, since it includes initial training in using
research methods.
1.3
Actors in the Project
The three main actors in the project are you (the student), the supervisor and the
examiner. Of the three actors, you are the most important, since you are the one who
moves the project forward. You focus on solving some well-defined problem in a
specific area, and thereby increase your understanding of the area. But you also learn
methods that can be used to approach, structure and solve complex problems.
The supervisor is your ally. He or she should not only give you advice to help
you achieve success in your project, but will also critically point out strengths and
weaknesses. Normally he or she is a domain expert in the area in which you are
doing your project. The dialogue between you and the supervisor serves as a compass for establishing directions when exploring new areas.
In contrast, the examiner is the person who critically evaluates your work, and
recommends or decides the grade. The examiner is not necessarily a domain expert
in the specific topic of your work, but normally has a good understanding of the
subject area generally. More importantly, the examiner has significant experience,
enabling him or her to review your work with respect to both content and method.
A positive interaction between these three actors is vital for the successful completion of a project. Note that while these are three distinct roles and are usually
performed by three different people, the roles of supervisor and examiner may
sometimes be carried out by the same person. However, there are many advantages
of keeping the roles strictly separate.
1.5 Assessment Criteria
1.4
7
Process
You now know what the different purposes of a project are, and who the actors
involved are. The final thing you need to know before you embark on your project,
is how to structure your work in order to reach the goals. The view put forward in
this book is that you need to apply a process that can guide you through the various
stages of the project, and at the same time help you to achieve its purposes.
Therefore, the later parts of his book will outline such a process. The process
involves the following steps:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
Developing your project proposal (Chap. 5)
Developing your problem description (Chaps. 7 and 8)
Following the objectives (Chap. 9)
Presenting and analysing your data (Chap. 10)
Drawing your conclusions and identifying future work (Chap. 11)
Presenting and defending your work orally (Chap. 12)
Preparing the final version of your report (Chap. 12)
In order to ensure that your work is on track, your examiner and supervisor evaluate
your work during the process. The number of checkpoints varies from university to
university. If present, such checkpoints typically come after steps (1), (2) and (5).
The first two checkpoints assess the quality of the project proposal and the problem
description. The third checkpoint is the last quality control before the work is presented and defended. The reason for these early checkpoints is based on experience;
a good start is facilitated by a strong project proposal and problem description. If
the project has a good problem description with clear goals, then the rest of the
work becomes easier,since it makes it easier to keep focused. Finally, after step (7)
there is a final examination where the examiner recommends or decides the grade
for your work.
1.5
Assessment Criteria
When doing a project, it is important to familiarise yourself with the criteria and
expected standards defined by your university and/or department. In the process
outlined in this book, the assessment of projects involves a set of criteria (see
below) that has been shown to be representative of many departments.
General
●
●
●
●
Relevance of chosen topic
Originality of chosen topic
Significance of findings
Degree to which the work is the student’s own work (as opposed to the
supervisor)
8
1 Introduction
Report
●
●
●
●
●
●
Clarity of presentation
Consistency between different parts of the report
Degree of insight apparent from the arguments presented to support the decisions made in the project
Ability to differentiate between others’ thoughts and your own
Ability to handle references and citations
General stylistic impression
Defence
●
●
Degree of insight apparent from the arguments presented to support claims and
conclusions
Degree of insight apparent from discussion in response to relevant questions
Other
●
●
How the student performed as opponent
Fulfilment of deadlines and other formal requirements
These criteria are discussed in more detail in later chapters, especially in Chap. 15.
1.6
Reading Guidelines
The book is divided into three parts, structured as follows. The first part of the book
(Chaps. 1–3) gives a general introduction to projects. It discusses their purpose, in
particular highlighting the characteristics of projects performed in academia and
industry. In addition, it gives an introduction to what science is, and elaborates on
the roles of the student, supervisor and the examiner. Each chapter in this section is
independent, and they can be read in any order, although preferably they should all
be read before the second part of the book.
The second part (Chaps. 4–12) describes in detail the process of carrying out a
project. The chapters should be read sequentially since they are chronologically
ordered with respect to the main stages of the project.
The third part (Chaps. 13–15) contains a set of supplementary chapters that
present advice on how to search for relevant information, how to write a report, and
guidelines for examiners and supervisors on how to examine projects.
The book is best read sitting in a quiet room with a nice cup of tea!
2
Computer Science and Information
Systems Research Projects
This book outlines a general process for carrying out thesis projects, and it embraces
the following components as fundamentally important: (1) identifying the question/
research problem; (2) planning time and resources; and (3) choosing a research
method for studying the specific question. In this section, we consider how a thesis
project relates to research and research methods. First, we discuss the different
areas within computer science and information systems.
2.1
The Landscape of CS and IS
Computer science and information systems have been described and defined in
many different ways in the literature. One illuminating characterisation of computer
science, given by Edsger W. Dijkstra, is as follows: “Computer science is no more
about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.” However, to avoid being too
abstract for our purposes with this text, we will avoid in-depth elaboration of the
various characterisations and definitions. Instead, we give one general view, which
we then illustrate with specific examples of problems. These serve to give some
idea of the broad scope of computer science and information systems.
The 1975 ACM Turing Award winners Allen Newell and Herbert A. Simon
(Newell and Simon, 1976) characterised computer science (CS) as an empirical
discipline, in which each new artefact, e.g. a program, can be seen as an experiment,
the structure and behaviour of which can be studied. In particular, the field of
computer science is concerned with a number of different issues seen from a technological perspective, e.g. theoretical aspects, such as numerical analysis, data
structures and algorithms; how to store and manipulate data (e.g. by means of a
database system); the relationship between different pieces of software (i.e. different
types of architecture, such as client-server, peer-to-peer, two-tier, three-tier);
techniques and tools for developing software (i.e. software engineering, programming languages and operating systems).
The field of Information Systems (IS), as characterised by Allen S. Lee (2001),
is concerned with the interaction between social and technological issues. In other
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M. Berndtsson et al. (eds.), Planning and Implementing your Computing Project – with Success!
© Springer 2008
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2 Computer Science and Information Systems Research Project
words, it is a field which focuses on the actual “link” between the human and social
aspects (within an organisation or other broader social setting), and the hardware,
software and data aspects of information technology (IT). Similarly, the IFIP
Working Group 8.2, which focuses on information systems, describes its scope as
being concerned with:
the generation and dissemination of descriptive and normative knowledge about the development and use of information technologies in organisational contexts, both broadly
defined. By information technology (IT), we mean technologies that can be used to store,
transfer, process or represent information. By organisational context, we mean the institutional arrangements in which information is used or created (IFIP WG 8.2, 1996)
The following three examples of research problems, all of which are centred
around a specific IT product such as a CASE-tool, illustrate that the primary concern for each problem might be different. Research problems that focus on the
human and organisational aspects of CASE-tools are naturally IS-oriented,
whereas research problems that focus on technical aspects of CASE-tools are
more CS-oriented. It follows, therefore, that there will be different choices of
methods available for each.
The first problem is based on a human and organisational perspective on specific
types of software tools (CASE tools). The second problem is illustrated by a focus
on both technical and human issues in the context of CASE tools. The third problem has a technological basis, and addresses technical aspects of CASE:
1. What are the critical elements that shape the organisational changes associated
with the adoption and use of CASE tools? (Orlikowski, 1993, p. 310)
2. What features do software developers want from OO-CASE tools? Related to
that question is: how well do current OO-CASE tools meet these needs? (Post
and Kagan, 2000, p. 384)
3. In this paper the meta-CASE system KOGGE will be described. In order to
illustrate the KOGGE approach it will be shown how KOGGE was used to implement a CASE tool supporting the object-oriented method BON. (Ebert et al.,
1997, p. 203)
2.2
What is Research?
The term “research” is semantically overloaded given its use in everyday language.
In an academic context, research is used to refer to the activity of a diligent and
systematic inquiry or investigation in an area, with the objective of discovering or
revising facts, theories, applications etc. The goal is to discover and disseminate
new knowledge. While you, as a student, are learning new things throughout the
course of a project, it the goal is also that your results should include som elements
of new scientific knowledge.
Science primarily aims to develop knowledge previously unknown in the area of
concern, i.e. the outcome of the scientific research process should be an original
2.2 What is Research
11
contribution of knowledge to mankind. Therefore, the overall goal of scientific
research is to reduce, or even eliminate uncertainty in what we know. Such results
are primarily disseminated via scientific journals and conferences (c.f. the journalist
who is normally said to be carrying out research when collecting material for an
article. This is not considered research in a scientific sense).
To contrast scientific research with research and development (R&D) activities,
which are undertaken within commercial organisations, it is instructive to look at the
goals. You will see that they are different in terms of motivations and activities. In a
scientific research project, the primary objective is to learn and understand complex
phenomena. For example, a research institute will undertake research activities which:
●
●
Establish new knowledge which is made available to the public, often by means
of publications in academic journals or conferences
Are not driven by profit; researchers are therefore relatively free to identify and
define their research questions
In a commercial setting, there is usually an expectation that the research activities
will be centred on business goals, with the aim of contributing to new products or
services, which are expected to generate profit for the organisation. For example,
an R&D division within an organisation might perform activities such as:
●
●
●
●
●
●
Undertaking research in areas related to the long term business goals
Monitoring and observing research findings and trends in technology
Undertaking pilot-projects to analyse and evaluate new technologies
Exploring trends in technology for their potential adoption by the organisation
(e.g. to analyse whether a specific research finding, such as a new software
architecture, would be suitable for adoption)
Building research prototypes and platforms for evaluating technologies, and
possibly provide the foundation infrastructure for forthcoming development
efforts
Acting as experts and technology champions within the same organisation
For example, if an IS development organisation initiates a systems development
activity, a primary goal will be the resulting successful system. In contrast, if a
research institution has a goal of investigating a research question, which involves
developing a system, then the system itself becomes a means by which the issue is
explored. In other words, the developed system is, in itself, not of primary interest.
Although the term research is used in a number of ways with different meanings,
in this book we take it to mean a systematic problem solving activity, undertaken
with care and concern in the context of the situation at hand. In the process of fulfilling the requirements, the research activity is characterised by the researcher’s
trustworthiness, both with regard to the actual process of undertaking the research,
and to the actual phenomenon being studied.
Research questions state what you want to learn. Hypotheses, in contrast, are
statements of your tentative answers to these questions. Many researchers explicitly
state their ideas about tentative answers as part of the process of theorising and
analysing data. These are often called propositions rather than hypotheses, but they
12
2 Computer Science and Information Systems Research Project
have the same function, and therefore we use the term hypothesis throughout the
text, to denote both meanings.
Research projects normally start with a basic question that you want to study.
The question should be central to the project, thus helping to maintain the focus on
the purpose of the project.
Research questions are normally, at an initial stage, more general and open. It is
natural, as the project progresses, for the question to become more refined and particularised. Hence, the project is adapted to reflect an increased understanding of
the problem.
2.3
Research Methods
Once you have a specific question suitable for study in a project, the next step is to
choose an appropriate, systematic method. This is important for the successful
completion of the project. In essence, the use of a systematic method is the soul of
research.
Generally speaking, a method represents the means, procedure or technique used
to carry out some process in a logical, orderly, and systematic way. In the context
of a research project, a method refers to an organised approach to problem-solving
that includes (1) collecting data, (2) formulating a hypothesis or proposition, (3)
testing the hypothesis, (4) interpreting results, and (5) stating conclusions that can
later be evaluated independently by others. This is also commonly described as the
scientific method. In fact, part of the purpose of carrying out a thesis project is to
get training in the use of a scientific method, which can then be applied when structuring and solving more complex problems. More importantly, you should know
how, as well as why, the steps in the method are carried out. It should be pointed
out that it is the nature of the problem or phenomenon itself, which guides the decision as to which method to use. Hence, you choose and use tools once you have
established what you are dealing with (the nature of the problem), and when you
know what you want to accomplish (hypothesis/proposition testing).
For a certain class of problems with similar characteristics (in terms of, e.g. the
purpose, context, or research question) particular methods have shown to be effective in avoiding threats to validity. This is because researchers working on similar
problems often interact with each other and form a community, where certain
practices and norms evolve and become established.
However, given the many different methods that could be adopted within different
areas of computer science and information systems, you should discuss the choice
of method with your supervisor. Your supervisor has, after all, training and experience in research.
Most methods have some common characteristics, including the existence of a
problem that needs to be formulated, aims and objectives to be met, and a phase
where the problem will be investigated. This book does not discuss different scientific methods at length. However, related to method is methodology, which in certain
2.3 Research Methods
13
areas, e.g. information systems, is commonly referred to as method. The term
methodology actually comes from an old Greek word, denoting the practice of
analysing different methods, implying a set or system of methods, principles, and
rules for regulating a given discipline.
When we study a problem, as investigators as well as participants in a study, we
approach it, for better or for worse, with certain a priori conceptions, values and
experiences. These affect the way we perceive the research question. It is always
the primary goal for any outcome of a project to be trustworthy, i.e. the results
should be valid, independently of our personal experiences. Research methods help
us to ensure validity. There are a number of potential threats to validity that have to
be taken into account. It is important, therefore, that you are aware of the variety of
the different types of threats to validity, which can occur in the actual application
of the chosen research method. It is also important to be aware that there are slight
variations in the way you can deal with different threats, even though it is partly
dependent on the type of method being used in your specific project. Later in this
book, we discuss the different kinds of threats to validity in more detail.
Quantitative methods have their origin in the natural sciences, where the scientific concern is with attaining an understanding of how something is constructed,
how it is built, or how it works. In the natural sciences, the attempt to express this
understanding by means of simple laws or principles of general importance. The
research is generally driven by hypotheses, which are formulated and tested
rigorously, with the goal of showing that the hypothesis is wrong. Hence, one
attempts to falsify the hypothesis, and if the hypothesis withstands the test, it is
considered to be correct until proven otherwise. Repeatability of the experiments
and testing of hypotheses are vital to the reliability of the results, since they offer
multiple opportunities for scrutinising the findings. The goal of quantitative
research and methods is develop models, theories, and hypotheses pertaining to
natural phenomena. The quantitative aspect is to emphasize that measurement is
fundamental since it gives the connection between observation and the formalization of the model, theory and hypothesis.
Qualitative methods have their roots in the social sciences, and are primarily
concerned with increasing our understanding of an area, rather than producing an
explanation for it. Qualitative research is typically used in specific social contexts.
Over the years, many different styles and variations of qualitative research methods
have been proposed in the literature.
Qualitative research is often associated with fieldwork and analysis in a limited
number of organisational settings. For example, a problem is often studied in a
unique setting, and the researcher undertakes the analysis from a position close to
the subject under study. He or she takes an insider’s perspective, and is thereby part
of the problem situation. As such, problems are often analysed by means of investigating and interpreting human or organisational aspects in relation to technology.
In undertaking such research, the organisational context itself changes. As humans
and organisational conditions change over time, the pre-condition for the study and
the analysis of the problem change. Hence, repeatability of experiments may not be
possible.
14
2 Computer Science and Information Systems Research Project
Even though there is much in common between different kinds of validity
threats independently of the type of research, there are specific research methods
and styles of research which are associated with certain strategies for addressing
potential threats to validity. Later in this book, we review a few of the most likely
in qualitative research.
By observing and reflecting on your own and others’ experiences of research
projects, you will develop an increased sensitivity to potential traps. This is important, since your success depends on how well potential threats are taken into
account. It has a direct bearing on what can be claimed in your findings. In other
words, addressing validity is closely related to minimising the limitations of the
findings in the project. When discussing methods later in this book (Chap. 8), we
shall make additional comments on validity threats, and in particular, how they can
be identified and dealt with.
2.4
Linkage Between Research and Thesis Projects
Up to now, we have elaborated on research and its relationship with development
activities in different environments, ranging from scientific research carried out at
research institutes, via research and development, to product development in industrial and organisational settings. While the notion of research and the outcome may
differ in these environments, a core aspect is the systematic process by which such
activities are undertaken. It is our view that thesis projects share this core aspect,
even if the outcome is not necessarily intended as a scientific contribution. It is also
our view that thesis projects should have a stronger emphasis on developing your
own learning. This concerns your ability to carry out a bigger project systematically
and independently, to apply previously acquired knowledge, and to acquire new indepth knowledge in the project area. Our notion of research, in the context of thesis
projects, simply denotes a structured process for solving complex problems, formulated as research questions.
During your project, you interact with examiners and supervisors who are
trained in carrying out research. You will be inspired and influenced by the strategies they use when approaching and tackling problems. The nature of the problem,
which will be the topic of your thesis, might be of a scientific nature, or it might
originate in a purely industrial setting. In either case, you will benefit from using
this systematic way of identifying and addressing a suitable research problem.
3
Actors Involved, their Roles and Relationships
The purpose of this chapter is to discuss the roles of the people involved in your
project, emphasise their responsibilities and elaborate on their inter-relationships.
The roles of the participants in your project can be characterised as follows:
●
●
●
The student, who identifies, approaches and solves a problem
The supervisor, who guides you in your work
The examiner, who critically assesses your work
The number of people involved in your project may vary, since a project may
include multiple students, or supervisors. In fact, your project may even have multiple examiners, although this is not very common for student projects at bachelor
and master’s level. Normally, a thesis project has one student, one supervisor and
one examiner. A project with more than one person in each role introduces
additional issues that need to be addressed, and these will be discussed separately.
As mentioned earlier, projects are characterised by the fact that they have a distinct start and end, and hence, a limited time in which they can be performed.
Projects are allocated resources (people, time, money etc). Furthermore, projects
have distinct purposes, and aim to achieve defined goals. Hence, carrying out a
project is the task of optimising the use of these resources, and of delivering the
results.
3.1
The Student
As you know, you are the one who moves the project forward. Without your initiative and commitment, the work will not be progressing satisfactorily, and the
project comes to a halt. Supervisors have the right to expect a high level of commitment from their students, who in turn should respond positively to advice and
guidance. In so doing, students develop an increasing level of independence when
it comes to solving complex problems.
You should always remember that your supervisor is your best friend when
doing a project. He or she believes in you. Otherwise they would not have agreed
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M. Berndtsson et al. (eds.), Planning and Implementing your Computing Project – with Success!
© Springer 2008
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3 Actors Involved, their Roles and Relationships
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en
“Driver”
ag
e
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me
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Examiner
Fig. 3.1 The three actors and how they are related. Clip arts © 2000 –2007 www.arttoday.com
to be your supervisor in the first place. The supervisor is there to help you, pointing
out both the good aspects in your work and the less good ones, in order to help you
improve. You are both involved in a project which may increase the body of knowledge and deepen our understanding of a problem in a particular area. This is the
ultimate reward for a successful project, but it requires that you are both committed
to doing a good job (Fig. 3.1). Your supervisor certainly is!
3.1.1
The Responsibilities of the Student
As a student you should:
●
●
●
●
●
●
Discuss with your supervisor what kind of guidance you find most useful, and
what your possible preferences might be with respect to the working routines
Plan and discuss with your supervisor the topic of the project and the timetable,
including a schedule of meetings where appropriate feedback can be given
Maintain progress according to the agreed schedule, and continuously report
your progress to the supervisor
Keep systematic records of work completed
Make sure to submit written material to your supervisor in time to allow for
discussion and comments before proceeding to the next stage of the project
Decide on a date, together with your supervisor, when the project should be
finished and the report submitted to the department or university
3.1 The Student
●
●
●
●
●
●
●
17
Discuss with your supervisor (taking into account any input from the supervisor)
the preparation of the report, and decide when it is ready for submission
Write up and submit the report within the time limit, and in accordance with
local submission guidelines
Address and respond to criticism, guidance, and suggestions given by the
supervisor, which may include undertaking any study required by the supervisor,
e.g. directed reading or applying a statistical test to analyse your data
Be informed about and respect any regulations and considerations, legal as well
as ethical, that are relevant for the project
Drive the project forward and initiate discussions
Inform your supervisor of any problems or difficulties, technical as well as
non-technical, e.g. any personal circumstances which prevent you from working
on your project
Take pride in and responsibility for your work; prioritise and organise your work
in such a way that it represents your best efforts.
Please note, although your supervisor will point out problems and errors in your
written work, he or she will expect you to proofread your own text, and will assume
that it represents your best effort. Only then will you be able to maximise the
resource that is your supervisor, and thus enhance your own learning during
the project. Remember, too, that your supervisor is a busy person with limited
time. If you hand in material that is carefully proofread, well structured and clearly
written, it means that the supervisor can spend less time on commenting presentation details. As a result, more time can instead be spent on discussing your results,
future directions for your work etc. In this way, you will be using your portion of
the supervisor’s time more efficiently. As a general guideline, it is well worth to
keep in mind that it is your project, and under no circumstances should the supervisor
do the work for you!
3.1.2
Projects with Multiple Students
When there are multiple students working on the same project, there are additional
issues to be taken into account, e.g. project co-ordination and responsibilities.
Although larger projects with many people have some unifying problems and
goals, it is generally a good idea to identify unique parts of the problem, which
can then be assigned to each person. However, in certain situations it is difficult
to allocate responsibilities and tasks fairly and evenly among the project members. In these circumstances, it is essential that all project members are held
equally responsible for the outcome of the project. It is good for both students and
supervisors if students are allocated distinct problems in the project, even when
there will be extensive collaboration resulting in one report. In the event of your
writing one report together, it is important to realise that you are all equally
responsible for its content.
18
3 Actors Involved, their Roles and Relationships
3.2
The Supervisor
The supervisor is a person who is there to guide you, both in the subject area and
in scientific thinking. The supervisor is normally skilled in carrying out projects in
the particular subject area, and knowledgeable about the methods relevant to and
accepted in that subject area.
Your supervisor should help you choose and define the boundaries of the topic
to be studied in the project. The supervisor helps you ensure that your project can
be completed successfully and on time. This includes setting the project boundaries
in such a way that it is of a reasonable size with respect to the allocated time.
It should also be of a reasonable level of complexity with respect to the academic
degree. Furthermore, the supervisor will help you ensure that there are appropriate
literature or data sources available in the area.
Throughout the duration of the project, the supervisor monitors progress by
regularly meeting with you in person and discussing the project. It is preferable to
complement these meetings with email contact.
One of the most important aspects of a thesis project is that it gives you training
in approaching problems in an independent and systematic manner. You are likely to
find that your supervisor is a valuable source of reflection, which will stimulate you
to critically evaluate and reflect on your own work, as well as that of other people.
3.2.1
The Responsibilities of a Supervisor
Here we give a list of the responsibilities of a supervisor. The list should not be seen
as complete, but nevertheless it represents a good set of guidelines concerning the
role. The supervisor should:
●
●
●
●
●
●
●
●
●
Inform you of the instructions of your particular department or university for
carrying out a thesis project
Inform you of assessment criteria and the expected standard of thesis projects
Discuss dates when your work should be handed in, presented or discussed
Provide guidelines for how to report the project
Discuss with you what is expected in terms of how you should work together
Give guidance concerning the nature of research, the standard expected, relevant
literature and sources in the area, and what research methods are considered
good practice in the area
Inform you of relevant regulations and issues, legal as well as ethical, e.g. copyright
issues, plagiarism
Explore your academic background to identify any areas in which further training
is required (including, not only knowledge related to the topic of your project,
but also language and writing skills)
Help you ensure that your project can be completed, including preparation of a
report, within the allocated project time, and advise you accordingly
3.3 The Examiner
●
●
●
19
Meet you regularly and discuss the progress in the project (how often depends
on the type of project, and what phase the project is in)
Request that you hand in written reports (or other material, as appropriate for the
type of project), within an agreed time
Inform you of any inadequacy with respect to progress or the quality of the
work, or in the worst case, of failure to reach an acceptable standard
Although writing is a continuous process throughout the project, as it gets closer to
completion the writing intensifies. The supervisor should provide guidance on your
writing and preparation of the report, including commenting on at least one complete
draft and the final version of the report before it is submitted (or goes to the printer).
However, it is important to stress that the supervisor is not expected to undertake
major editing, or revision of a draft report. After all, you are the one responsible for
the work done in the project, and the primary responsibilities of the supervisor are to
provide advice and guidance to you in your quest for new knowledge.
In reasonable time before completion, the supervisor should ensure that you are
prepared for the oral part of the examination, i.e. the defence. This means that you
need to understand the role of the oral examination in the overall examination process, be well prepared to present your work, and adequately respond to questions
about it. In order to improve your presentation skills and prepare you for the oral
examination, the supervisor can help a good deal by arranging opportunities for you
to present your work, e.g. at seminars at the department.
After the oral examination, the supervisor should advise and assist you in the
preparation of the final manuscript, addressing the implications of any recommendations made by the examiner.
3.2.2
Projects with Multiple Supervisors
A project with multiple supervisors requires good working practices for the communication between all the parties involved. It is recommended that one of the
supervisors be appointed as primary supervisor, with overall responsibility for
supervision of the project. The supervisors should decide between them how best
to co-ordinate their supervision; what their roles are with respect to the project, and
what they expect to contribute to the supervision of the student.
3.3
The Examiner
The examiner is the person who assesses your project, either continuously or
summatively. There are two typical roles an examiner can take. We call these roles
quality evaluator and quality assuror. The examiner’s involvement in the process
depends on which role he or she takes. In explaining these two roles we stress the
20
3 Actors Involved, their Roles and Relationships
important characteristics of each in order to emphasise the differences. Of course,
in practice the examiner may combine elements from the two roles.
3.3.1
The Examiner as Quality Evaluator
When evaluating the quality of the work, the examiner focuses on a result oriented
approach, i.e. the quality of the work based on the contribution made, the complexity of the problem, the usefulness of the solutions and how well presented the
work is.
In this approach the examiner is only involved at the very end of the project
when the work is close to completion (or has been completed). Hence, the evaluation is based on the report and the oral defence. Furthermore, during the project
there is no project-related communication between the examiner and yourself, nor
between the examiner and the supervisor. This is the typical scenario for graduate
degrees, such as doctoral degrees and also possibly master’s degrees.
The advantage of this approach is that the objectivity of the examiner can be maintained more easily, since he or she is not biased by any involvement in earlier phases
of the project. The disadvantage is that the examiner cannot assess you with respect to
those criteria which are related to your own performance and independence in the
process. This is due to the examiner’s lack of insight into the process, and how you and
your supervisor have been working together. See Fig. 3.2 for an illustration of this. The
numbers along the axis represent the number of weeks in an example project.
3.3.2
The Examiner as Quality Assuror
An alternative to just evaluating the quality of the outcome, is that the examiner
reviews material produced at different checkpoints in your project. This enables the
examiner to gain a deeper understanding of your progress. When this is the case,
the examiner normally takes on the responsibility of also assuring the quality. Most
importantly, however, the examiner takes on a more process-oriented view. In
Problem
description
Project
proposal
2
3
4
5
6
7
Do the work to solve the problem
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
1
Report Produce
Finalize
result & 1st draft
Oral report
contributions
presentation
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
22
Interaction with examiner
Fig. 3.2 The examiner as quality evaluator
3.3 The Examiner
21
addition to evaluating the results, the examiner monitors and evaluates your
progress at certain checkpoints. At these points in time the examiner may give
feedback to you and/or your supervisor, which indicate the strengths and weaknesses of your work, possibly together with suggestions which may be of help in
addressing any weaknesses. See Fig. 3.3 for an illustration of the process, with
checkpoints where the examiner interacts with you and your supervisor.
The advantage of having the examiner involved in earlier phases is that both
you and your supervisor can see how an external person perceives the work, since
the examiner is not directly involved the project. Furthermore, if the examiner
provides regular feedback throughout the project, it is less likely that big issues
and concerns will be discovered only at the end. However, the examiner has to be
cautious. If the examiner gives feedback during the process, he or she will also
affect the final result of the project. This implies that, at the end, the examiner is
evaluating the quality of a product, which has been influenced by his or her earlier
comments. Hence, it can be argued, justifiably, that there is a risk that the examiner
will be less objective when evaluating the final product. The examiner must therefore be very careful about maintaining objectivity. It is much harder for examiners
to do this than simply to evaluate the outcome of the project. Feedback during the
project, in order to avoid the examiner becoming the supervisor, should generally
be kept to a minimum. This approach offers better insight into the process, resulting
in a better understanding of how you have matured, and how you have progressed
during the project. In fact, you can now be assessed with an additional criterion
related to the process, which is not possible when the examiner acts only as a quality
evaluator.
At some stages of the project, the examiner may take a more active role in monitoring the process. In the interest of wanting to see as many successful projects as
possible, the examiner may offer some assistance during the initial stages of the
project. At this stage, the examiner can have a significant positive influence, by
giving both you and your supervisor feedback and support during the process of
defining the problem area and setting the goals for the project.
The other situation, in which the examiner may take a more active role, is if
some problem arises. You may be unhappy with the supervision, or your supervisor
may be unhappy with your progress. In such situations, it is advisable to contact the
examiner and to ask for his or her advice.
Project
proposal
2
3
Problem
description
4
5
6
7
Do the work to solve the problem
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
1
Report Produce
Finalize
Oral report
result & 1st draft
presentation
contributions
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
22
Interaction with examiner
Fig. 3.3 The examiner as quality assuror
22
3 Actors Involved, their Roles and Relationships
3.3.3
The Responsibilities of an Examiner
It is the responsibility of an examiner to scrutinise your work and point out its
strengths and weaknesses, as well as to decide if you pass or not and to set your
grade. He or she will likely initiate a discussion with you in order to test your ability
to reason about the problem and its solutions from alternative perspectives.
Test criteria that are commonly used include:
●
●
●
●
●
●
●
Level of creativity in the process
Ability to analyse and reason in different situations
Clarity in written presentation
Oral presentation skills and ability to defend the work, i.e. to respond to scrutinising questions
The relevance and originality of the problem and topic
How well you are able to separate your own work from the work of others, and
how well you are able to manage citations of other work
How well the project has been managed with respect to time and the project
plan
This concludes the first part of the book. In the next part, the process is described
in detail.
4
The Process – An Overview
In this chapter, we present an overview of the process of conducting thesis projects.
Briefly, the process consists of seven activities, which are carried out by you. In
addition, your supervisor and examiner are involved in four activities, which focus
on controlling the quality of your project at different stages. Figure 4.1 presents an
overview of the process.
The process starts with an activity in which you develop a project proposal. The
project proposal is a short description of your initial ideas about what you would
like to do, and how you intend to achieve the overall goal of the project. The project
proposal is submitted for quality control.
Once the project proposal has been accepted, the ideas in your proposal are
developed into a more extensive problem description. Typically, developing a problem description includes activities such as searching for information at the university library, developing the aim (the overall goal) and objectives (how to reach the
aim) of the project, and developing arguments which support the aim. The problem
description is then submitted for quality control. It is a common practice to present
the problem description at a seminar where, possibly among others, both your
examiner and supervisor are present.
You then continue the process by doing the actual work; following the objectives, collecting the data, analysing and presenting it, and drawing conclusions from
the results. At this stage, the project is near completion, and a complete first draft
of your report can be submitted for quality control. This quality control point can
be used by your supervisor and examiner to investigate whether you have made
satisfactory progress, before allowing you to present and defend the work at a
seminar.
In general, the presentation and defence of your work will provide you with
valuable feedback, which is useful for preparing the final version of your report.
Finally, your examiner (possibly with assistance from your supervisor) evaluates
and grades the submitted thesis.
The process and activities depicted in Fig. 4.1 are explained in detail in the
forthcoming chapters.
25
M. Berndtsson et al. (eds.), Planning and Implementing your Computing Project – with Success!
© Springer 2008
26
Fig. 4.1 An overview of the process
4 The Process – An Overview
5
Developing your Project Proposal
A project proposal is a brief description of what you intend to do. Typically, a
project proposal is only a few pages long. On these few pages you need to introduce
the reader to the:
●
●
●
●
Subject area. What is the topic and scope of your project?
Aim. What is the goal of your project?
Arguments. Why is it important to investigate the chosen topic?
Objectives. Preliminary ideas for how you intend to achieve the aim.
Figure 5.1 presents an overview of activities to be carried out when developing a
project proposal. In subsequent sections, we shall take a closer look at each one of
these activities.
5.1
Choosing a Subject Area
As outlined above, the subject area is the topic of your project. Some example areas
within computer science and information systems are: electronic commerce, software engineering and human-computer interaction. Apart from choosing a subject
area, it is necessary to describe the topic of your project in more detail, for
example:
●
●
●
●
Database systems. Object-oriented databases, relational databases, active databases, multimedia databases, distributed databases, etc
Electronic commerce. Infrastructure, web auctions, web shops, company strategies for implementing electronic commerce, etc
Software engineering. Software testing, object-oriented modelling, CASE tools,
rapid prototyping, etc
Human-computer interaction. Usability, interface design, visualisation, etc
These examples show that the names of subject areas often correspond to course
names, titles of textbooks, or keywords in research articles.
27
M. Berndtsson et al. (eds.), Planning and Implementing your Computing Project – with Success!
© Springer 2008
28
5 Developing your Project Proposal
Developing your project proposal
Choose a subject
area
Focus on and
choose a problem
within the subject
Assure quality of
initial ideas
Write and submit
a project proposal
Fig. 5.1 Developing a project proposal
In some situations, a subject area consists of a combination of other subject
areas, for example, databases and human-computer interaction. These could be
combined, perhaps, to become user interfaces for database systems. In addition,
there are subject areas that combine computer science or information science with
another academic field. For example, bioinformatics can be viewed as a combination of computer science and biology. Although these types of subject areas are
worthwhile to explore, it can be problematic to find a supervisor for such a project.
The supervisor should know the related subject area well. Alternatively, you may
need two supervisors.
5.1.1
Start Early
Finding and choosing a subject area for the project is a task that benefits from being
initiated well before the actual project begins. Start thinking about possible subject
areas early, and let the decision regarding the chosen area of study be refined incrementally. In this way, you can avoid hastily made decisions that are not well
motivated.
Another benefit of starting early is that before the project begins, you may have
time to identify and check important sources of information. The time it takes to,
for example, identify and order literature or discuss a proposal with a company,
should not be underestimated. It is much better to do this before the project starts,
than when the project is already underway. This does not mean that you should
launch a complete literature analysis before the actual project commences. But you
should try to familiarise yourself with the most important sources of information,
and investigate whether they will be available when the project begins.
Keep in mind that there are many different sources of information, not only books.
Libraries usually have several ways of supplying information. The first and obvious
5.1 Choosing a Subject Area
29
are the library’s own literature resources (books, journals etc.), but most libraries will
also organise inter-library loans if they do not have the literature you want.
Most libraries provide access to bibliographies and bibliographic databases.
These contain large numbers of documents that can be of interest, and which can be
searched by author, title, subject and keywords. This is a good way of finding
interesting articles from journals and conferences. They often contain information
on new subjects and recent research, not yet published in books. Many libraries also
have access to full-text databases, where the complete texts of articles (often including
figures and tables) are made available. These databases have the advantage of providing access to the articles immediately; a fast and effective way to obtain information. Examples of useful bibliographies are provided in the appendix.
In addition to your library, you may want to search for information on the
Internet. Searching for information on a given topic may be difficult – at least if you
do not have any good places on the Internet from which to begin. You might try
some of the common search engines, although there are likely to be many hits at
first. In most situations there will be an overflow of search results, and you might
have trouble selecting the relevant information.
You should also find out if your university subscribes to Internet access for journals in your field of study. If so, this could allow you to search those journals’
archives of past articles, and to print out any articles that are useful to you.
If you cannot find any literature at the library associated with your subject area,
it may be an indication of one of the following:
●
●
●
Your chosen subject area is too novel for a B.Sc. or M.Sc. project. Your chosen
area is more suitable for a Ph.D. project.
You are looking in the wrong place. Try other sources, such as journals or conference proceedings. Sometimes it may help to use a different set of keywords
when searching bibliographic databases.
You are in the wrong library!
Searching for information is discussed in detail in Chap. 13.
5.1.2
How to Choose a Subject Area
Which subject area to choose is a decision that only you can make; nobody else will
make this decision for you.
One of the most crucial factors for succeding with a project is the motivation for
undertaking the work in the chosen subject area. You should strive to choose the
subject area that you are most interested in. This will have a positive effect on the
entire project.
Choose a subject area where you have the necessary skills. Do not choose a
subject area in which, for example, you have failed courses.
A combination of areas is usually a good source of interesting problems and
topics for project proposals. At the same time, it is not recommended that you
30
5 Developing your Project Proposal
choose a project which combines more than two areas, since they can become too
complex to handle.
In addition to the above guidelines, ask yourself whether you:
●
●
Have previously in your studies encountered subject areas or courses that you
felt were especially interesting
Would like to work within a particular subject area in the future
5.2
Choose Problem to Focus on Within the Subject Area
Once you have found a subject area for your project, it is time to focus your
interests within the chosen area. You focus your interest by identifying a problem
within the subject area that you would like to explore. For example, a potential
problem within database systems is how to map a logical database design to a
physical database design.
You should try to find problems which are of general interest, or which can be
generalised or applied, for example, to several companies or organisations.
Here are some ways to identify a problem within the subject area:
●
●
●
●
Ask yourself what you would like to do within a particular area (or what you can
do, given your current knowledge).
Read the literature, since others may have already identified and reported the
issues that are worthwhile to explore. You may even find that somebody else has
already done what you were planning to do. In this situation you can adjust your
aim, so that it targets something that other information sources do not cover. It
is better to find this out sooner rather than later, since there is no point in reinventing the wheel.
Ask potential supervisors, as they typically have ideas on what could be worthwhile and interesting to explore within the subject area. Sometimes they will
have project proposals already written down. Frequently, project proposals will
be in the context of the supervisor’s own professional research areas. This may
increase the likelihood that he or she will be highly motivated to act as a supervisor
for the project.
Ask companies and organisations, as they may have encountered problems that
they do not have time, knowledge or resources to investigate themselves. Such
problems or ideas are typically very specific. Hence, you will need to discuss
them with a potential supervisor in your department, who should be able to help
you put the company’s specific problem into a wider context.
Avoid setting up a project in an area in which you do not have the necessary background. Suppose, for example, you have read an interesting article about database
design, and you begin thinking about doing a project in this area. If you have not
previously studied database systems, then you would have to spend valuable time
reading and trying to understand basic concepts. This is not a good way to begin a
project, since too much time would be spent reading about the basics of the subject
5.2 Choose Problem to Focus on Within the Subject Area
31
area. It is also much more difficult to identify relevant problems if you are unfamiliar
with the area in general.
Once you have found a problem, you need to investigate whether it is worthwhile
to explore further. Try to write down your arguments for why it is important to
investigate the problem. If you find clues in the existing literature that the problem
is still not solved, then you are on the right track. On the other hand, if you find no
supporting clues in the literature, you have to develop all the arguments yourself.
Your initial ideas can be further refined by asking yourself – what type of project
would I really like to do? Should it be, for example:
●
●
●
●
A descriptive project
A theory oriented project
An applied project
A comparison of theory and practice
Keep in mind that most thesis projects use elements from more than one of the above
categories. Use the categories to identify the main characteristic of your approach.
In the subsequent sections, we take a closer look at each of these project types.
5.2.1
Descriptive Projects
Descriptive projects present the state-of-the art for a given subject. A descriptive
project can be set up in different ways. Here we outline two common types of
descriptive projects.
In the first type, the aim is to categorise and compare previous work within a
subject area. This may include objectives such as (1) categorising previous work,
(2) selecting comparison criteria, and (3) comparing previous work with respect to
the comparison criteria. This type of survey is useful when you want to identify
how a subject area has evolved over time, what its current status is, and how it may
evolve in the near future.
In the second type of project, the aim is to gain an understanding of the current
status of the subject, and to identify important factors. This may include objectives
such as (1) selecting questions, (2) interviewing people, and (3) identifying important factors from the interviews.
When you choose to do a descriptive project, it is important that you do not write
a report which is simply a summary of all the literature you have read in the field.
Instead you need to, e.g. highlight your analysis of the literature.
5.2.2
Theory Oriented Projects
Theory oriented projects often deal with extending or comparing existing theoretical models without testing them in practice. Here we outline two common types of
theoretical projects.
32
5 Developing your Project Proposal
In our first example of a theoretical project, the aim is to extend an already existing
theory or model; to extend the relational data model with support for business rules.
This may include objectives such as (1) identifying the details of the extension (e.g.
what types of business rules), (2) introducing the extension to the original theoretical model, and (3) comparing the original theoretical model with the extended
version.
In our second project example, the aim is to compare the support for business
rules in two different data models. This project is an example of a comparison
between two theoretical models; This may include objectives such as (1) selecting
comparison criteria, and (2) analyzing the two data models with respect to the comparison criteria.
When you choose to do a theoretical project, it is important that you are aware
of how the theoretical ideas may be applied in practice. Although a theoretical
project does not involve implementing or otherwise testing the theory in practice,
it is nevertheless important that the theory/model is correct.
5.2.3
Applied Projects
Applied projects often deal with conducting experiments and building proof-ofprinciple implementations, and gathering experiences from them. Here we outline
one common type of applied project.
In this type of applied project, the aim is to gain experience from implementing
an algorithm for caching of web data. This may include objectives such as (1) setting
up a simulator, (2) implementing the new algorithm, (3) testing and analyzing the
results obtained, and (4) suggesting improvements to the algorithm.
An applied project should not be a consulting job. If it were, it would probably
satisfy the company where the project is carried out, but in most cases would not
meet the requirements of a thesis project. There is a tendency for such projects to
be carried out in isolation from the related theory. One way around this is to take a
practical problem, e.g. from a company, and put it into a theoretical context. It then
becomes easier to demonstrate the importance of investigating the company’s
problem.
5.2.4
A Comparison of Theory and Practice
Projects which combine theory and practice may contrast the theory with current
practice in companies or organisations. Here we outline one example project.
In this example project, the aim is to contrast the current theory relating to
object-oriented modelling, with how companies and organisations use objectoriented modelling in practice. This may include objectives such as (1) selecting
5.4 Write and Submit a Project Proposal
33
companies or organisations, (2) selecting comparison criteria, (3) investigating the
details of the theory with respect to the comparison criteria, (4) investigating how
companies or organisations work with object-oriented modelling with respect to the
comparison criteria, and (5) a comparison of the results obtained from (3) and (4).
5.3
Assure Quality of Initial Ideas
Unless you have already discussed your initial project ideas with a potential
supervisor, now is the time to do this. A potential supervisor can check your initial
project ideas in terms of overall quality.
If you start with a project idea suggested by a supervisor, it is still important to
write a project proposal yourself. It is not a good idea to just copy the supervisor’s
description of the idea, and use that as your project proposal. Your potential supervisor wants to know that you have understood the idea, that you have really thought
about the problem yourself, and that you are able to develop the idea further by
yourself. Therefore, you must write a project proposal which develops the supervisor’s
ideas further, expresses your own understanding of that idea and contains your own
thoughts of how it can be developed.
5.4
Write and Submit a Project Proposal
Generally, a project proposal is one to a few pages long. However, the recommended
length and the level of detail of the project proposal may vary from department to
department. You must therefore, check with your department what guidelines they
have and what standard they expect. Writing is best begun as soon as you have
decided on the subject area.
Once the proposal is finished, you submit it for quality control. Although you
may feel that you have not read and understood everything in the problem domain,
try to be as clear as possible in your writing. It is important to keep in mind that
your reviewer (supervisor or examiner) will view the proposal as coming from you.
When the reviewer starts asking difficult questions about the project proposal, you
are the one who has to be able to answer those questions. Already at this point in
time, the project is considered to be yours and not your supervisor’s.
5.4.1
Structure
In this section we present a simple structure for the project proposal (see Fig. 5.2).
First, you need to introduce your chosen subject area to the reader. Second, focus
34
5 Developing your Project Proposal
Title of project?
Introduction
– To the subject area (e.g., XML documents).
– To the problem within the subject area (e.g., preserving links when transforming XML
documents to another data format).
Reasons why it is important to investigate the chosen problem.
Aim of project
A short description of what you intend to do.
Objectives
How (by what steps) do you intend to achieve the aim of the project?
Name
Contact information (email, phone)
Fig. 5.2 An example structure of a project proposal
your interest within the subject area on a specific problem. Having done this, begin
developing arguments that back up your aim and objectives. Remember that one of
the main purposes of the project proposal is to convince the reader that your project
is worthwhile. If you can present good arguments for why it is important for someone to undertake your project, as captured by your stated aim, then you have laid
the first brick in planning a solid project. Do not use subjective arguments such as
“I would like to do X because I think X is interesting”. Your reviewer could then
easily reject the project proposal with “I don’t think X is interesting”. There must
instead be objective reasons for why the project needs to be done. Ideally, these
reasons originate in the gaps in current knowledge within the subject area.
The project aim is a question or a problem definition within the subject area that
you would like to pursue. For example,
To investigate the usage of electronic commerce in small and medium sized
companies during the last 10 years.
You should keep in mind that one of the requirements of the project is that it
should be original to some degree, see Sects. 1.2 and 5.2. Therefore, you should
point out in your proposal what particular piece of knowledge is currently missing,
and that you aim to provide us with this by doing your project. In addition, you
should explain why this piece of knowledge is useful or necessary. For example,
how to optimise queries in distributed main memory databases (missing knowledge) would be useful to know, because it would give users faster responses.
The objectives are the means by which to achieve the aim. Usually, they are presented as a list of activities to carry out in order to achieve the aim. See earlier
Sects. 5.2.1–5.2.4 for examples of objectives.
If it is possible for you to make your preferences known with regard to the
choice of supervisor, here are some guidelines for making the right choice:
5.5 Quality Control of Project Proposal
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35
Ask previous students how they were supervised by the person you have in
mind.
Browse theses of students who were supervised in previous years by your potential supervisor.
Check whether the supervisor will be available or not. Check that your potential
supervisor will not be away from office for half of your project. We do not recommend having a supervisor who is too heavily involved in other activities.
Check how active they are within their research areas. If you have two equally
good candidates, it might be advantageous for your project to choose the supervisor who seems to be most active in his or her field. This can be difficult to
determine, but one approach is to check the descriptions of research activities on
their personal web pages.
Talk to the potential supervisor. If you have not met before, it might be good to
talk to him or her to see whether you have any personal differences.
5.4.2
Project Proposal Checklist
If you submit a well-written project proposal to the reviewer, you can get a head
start of your project and probably also avoid time-consuming resubmissions of your
proposal.
Before submitting the project proposal to the reviewer, check the following:
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Proper language. Is the wording in the project proposal clear and concise?
Mandatory information. Does the project proposal contain the required
information?
Quality assurance. Have you discussed the project proposal with a potential
supervisor or someone else who has knowledge in the chosen subject area?
Skills and resources. Do you have the necessary background and resources to do
a project in the chosen subject area?
Time. Have you estimated the time it takes to complete the project? Preferably,
your estimation should also include some slack to cater for any project delays.
After you have submitted the project proposal, continue to read the literature,
arrange meetings etc. while you are waiting for a response from the reviewer.
5.5
Quality Control of Project Proposal
A reviewer can get a good overview of the quality of the project proposal very
quickly by checking the language, mandatory information etc. In addition, the
reviewer will check that your proposed project is not too simple, too advanced, too
small, too fuzzy, too broad, too specific or too big. Project proposals that fall into
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5 Developing your Project Proposal
these categories are in most cases a sign that you have not carried out enough quality
assurance checks before submitting it. These problems can be resolved in most
cases by further discussions with (potential) supervisors and revision of the
proposal.
5.6
Matching Supervisors and Students
In this section, we assume that the person responsible for matching supervisors and
students is already in dialogue with supervisors. Matching supervisors and students
is not as easy as it may seem, and is often constrained by the following factors:
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Availability of supervisors within the subject area. Typically, there are not many
potential supervisors within a given subject area in each department. This causes
problems when there are many students wanting a particular supervisor and he
or she is the only available person with knowledge in a particular subject. For
example, suppose that ten students would like to be supervised by a particular
person. Unfortunately, since the supervisor will have other commitments and
obligations, it may only be possible for him or her to supervise two students at any
one time. Thus, only two of the ten students will get their preferred supervisor.
Availability of supervisors outside the subject area. When asked, students are
often reluctant to be supervised by someone who is only vaguely familiar with
the subject area. However, this person may have substantial experience of
supervising projects. Such a supervisor is often very good at posing the right
questions, and thereby helping the student to move the project forward. If possible, an external domain expert may be brought in as co-advisor, and thereby
compensate the main supervisor’s lack of expertise in the subject area.
Therefore, being assigned a supervisor who is only vaguely familiar with the
subject area, may not be the disadvantage that it first appears.
Personal suitability of supervisors. In some situations, the supervisor may have
a connection with the student, with the implication that he or she may not be a
suitable supervisor for that student. For example, the potential supervisor may
be a close friend of the student. In this particular case, it can be difficult for the
supervisor to distinguish between the two roles: friend versus supervisor.
Alternatively, personal differences between the supervisor and student may
make the supervisor unsuitable.
Given the above factors it is impossible, in practice, to satisfy all students’
wishes concerning a preferred supervisor. Some students will be assigned the

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