MSc Dissertation Handbook (IT and Management of IT), UNMC[v 13.0]

Summer, 2013/14.

Contents


Introduction

All MSc students are required to successfully complete a research or development project as a part of their course, and write this up as a dissertation.  This is a major component of your degree, being worth 60 credits.  The dissertation is principally a Summer module, but some components do need to be carried out within the Spring term. 


Course Director and Supplementary Regulations

The table below provides links to the supplementary regulations for each MSc degree and the name of the course coordinator. If in doubt about the requirements for the degree you are enrolled on, please direct your enquiries to the course coordinator.

Degree

Course Director

G507: MSc in Information Technology KR Selvaraj (email: kr.selvaraj)
G565: MSc in the Management of Information Technology KR Selvaraj (email: kr.selvaraj)

 



Module Components

  1. Question and Answer Sessions
    The module convenor will be available to answer questions (in room BB57 or through e-mail: siang-yew.chong). Occasionally a lecture may be organised; if so, the lecture will be announced in advance by e-mail.  
  2. Selecting a Topic / Arranging a Supervisor
    You should choose a topic for your research, find a supervisor and have an initial meeting before the end of May.  Advice on choosing a topic and finding a supervisor is provided below.  Your supervisor will be able to officially sign you up. If you do not arrange a supervisor before the end of May, you will be automatically assigned to a member of staff who has space left. (Making us do this is definitely NOT a recommended option and is frowned upon). After selecting a topic and having confirmed supervisory arrangement, make sure you complete the Enrollment Form and hand-in over to the Faculty Office.
     
  3. Writing a Project Plan: (10% of Final Mark)
    In consultation with your supervisor, you will decide on a project topic. You must have written a project plan and submitted it for approval by your supervisor. You will be briefed on the requirements and the document will be up to four (A4) pages long. Once the plan is submitted it will be marked by your supervisor and feedback will be provided.
     
  4. Supervision Meetings
    You should have regular meetings with your supervisor during the summer period.  You should arrange with your supervisor convenient times for these meetings. Attendance at these meetings is mandatory, and non-attendance (at scheduled meetings) is liable to be penalized. Be sure to check with your supervisor if they will be away over the summer for any extended periods. Many members do take a holiday during the summer so be aware that they may not be available for some periods. During these times you must continue with your independent research. You must document these meetings using the Meeting Form.
     
  5. Presentations: (10% of Final Mark)
    You will give a formal presentation about your work at the end of the summer period.  More information about presentations is provided below.
     
  6. Dissertation: (80% of Final Mark)
    Your research and development work should result in the production of a dissertation. This comprises the major assessed component of this module. Information on the dissertation is provided below. Maximum length is 20,000 words.
     
  7. Submissions
    You are required to submit an electronic version of both your project plan and dissertation in recordable media CD/DVD (as well as the hard copies), on the appropriate submission deadline.  These should be in PDF format, and submitted through the Faculty Office.

Deliverables & Dates

Deliverables should be submitted to the School office on the dates shown below.  
You must have selected a dissertation area and found yourself a supervisor (from the list) by this date at the latest.  You should have had an initial meeting, and your supervisor must have signed you up (only the supervisor can do this - so make sure that they do this for you). 

As stated above if you have not found a supervisor by this date, you will be allocated a supervisor (depending on who has space left) by me. You will then be required to meet with your allocated supervisor, agree a topic and get signed up.


Staff Presentations

Information of seminars is available at the module convenor's website.

 


Dissertation Requirements

One of the most commonly asked questions is what type of dissertation is acceptable?  The answer to this depends upon your degree stream. It is, however, a requirement of the dissertation that it is relevant to your degree. This is why it is important to agree in advance the topic of your dissertation with your supervisor and what it will entail (for example, whether you will have to develop a large amount of software).  

It is important not to lose sight of the fact that the degree is a science degree, and therefore all dissertations must be subject to scientific rigour.  The writing must be objective, and any claims that you make must be backed up by hard evidence (i.e. it must not be subjective "opinions").
 


Choosing a Topic For Your Dissertation

It is your responsibility to make every effort to find a suitable topic and a supervisor for the project. This is a major element of your postgraduate study, and you must achieve a pass grade in order to be awarded a degree. It is the supervisor's responsibility to approve the topic and the plan of work.  It is most important that you choose an area you are happy to work in, and in which you are confident of your abilities. However, there are no hard and fast criteria for choosing a project.

You should consider all of the modules that you have taken so far, and identify the modules and the specific parts of the modules that you found to be the most interesting.  This should give you some ideas about likely subject areas.  Look at the supervisors' ideas pages that are maintained by members of staff, and see what areas look interesting.  Some staff post specific ideas for projects, others post more general areas that are fertile for research.  You might decide to undertake a project which mirrors your interests or hobbies. For example, a football enthusiast might wish to implement a football pools predictor, or a keen musician could implement software to generate sound effects on input guitar signals.  You might also want to consider whether a given topic will increase your job opportunities.  You might want to make use of past experience in choosing a subject area - some students undertake projects based on specialist knowledge that they acquired whilst studying for their first degree.

It is an extremely good idea to find a project that interests you, because you will be spending a lot of time on it, and ultimately this will be an important item on your CV!

Remember - all good research is answering a research question! What is your research question going to be?

Specific Guidelines for IT

The IT project must be technology based. However, the idea is not to produce a copy of an existing piece of technology. Students who undertake a piece of technology for its own sake will not obtain a good grade. Writing a new website for a product/company using existing ideas will not work. You need to research what is limiting the effectiveness of current technology and try to produce a prototype of a solution.

Projects done within the School of Computer Science will therefore involve you in programming but this must be supported by background research on how the technology you are developing has been used before and what innovations are needed. An example would be the development of an educational computer game. Just to write a game, however good it was at teaching and as a game would not produce a dissertation that would get a high score. It would be necessary to research the background to computer games, to establish a clear goal that would be investigated. For example one could ask, is it possible to improve the time on task of a student learning basic mathematical concepts using a computer game? You would then have to research how such games had been used in the past, what it is necessary to teach, how the subjects are currently taught, what motivates and de-motivates children and how children differ. You would also need to try out your software so an important part is developing a good plan for assessing its effectiveness.

Specific Guidelines for Management of IT

The MIT project largely falls into one of two areas it is either an IT project and directly involves the development of a computational technology (software-based or otherwise) or, the project is more of an information systems project which studies the design and / or application of computational technologies, often within industry.

Ways of choosing a good project:

A student who has good contact with a business or organization may wish to look at ways of improving the company's performance by an analysis of the company's current practice and determining a plan for how this can improved. In general, projects of this nature in the past have been student-driven. It is no good just suggesting generic answers. The project must be well researched and come up with a solution that answers specific needs in a reasonably novel way.

MIT projects should be well researched and focus on the technology rather than the management systems. They do not necessarily involve the development of technology but may do --- for example developing and evaluating a prototype alternative interface. Equally, it is possible to identify quite technical projects that would fit the project model for a Management of IT student - as long as the technology developed looks like it would have applications to solve some kind of specific industrial (or possibly consumer need). For example, students have in the past looked at solutions scheduling problems and other system-modelling tasks.

Dissertations that will not work are proposals to research a current application area (i.e. to conduct a state-of-the-art or literature review). Such proposals are generally a request to write an essay after looking through limited numbers of articles. Research in this area is quite difficult as it requires the sort of critical analysis that would be undertaken in the first year of a PhD in order to achieve a good grade for the MSc.


Supervisors

The following members of staff will be supervising MSc dissertations. To find out about their interests and areas of expertise you should look at their home pages (staff page). A list of topics will be provided to students.

 


Finding a Supervisor

Most people are supervised by one of the lecturers listed in the supervisors section of this document above. 

If you approach a potential supervisor other than one on this list then please remember that they are under no obligation whatsoever to agree to supervise you - so be polite, and accept a no gracefully!  All supervisors on this list have a fixed quota of students - when any individual supervisor has signed up the required number of students to fill their quota they are not required to take on any more. If your first choice of supervisor has signed up their full quota you will have to find a different supervisor.

It is best to find a supervisor whose own interests are similar to the work involved in your dissertation - that way they will be best placed to advise you based on past experience.  Of course this is not always possible, especially when a member of staff already has a full set of projects, but one of the other staff can supervise your project if necessary.  Before you approach any supervisor make sure you are aware of their interests (check out their personal web site) and their list of suggested projects (if they have made one).

When you approach a potential supervisor you should either have a clear idea of what project that you want to do, or else you should be willing to take on a project in their research area that they suggest.   There is little point in going to someone with a vague idea like "I want to look at e-commerce", because if it is outside their personal area of expertise they probably won't have the in-depth knowledge of the subject area that is needed to refine your idea into a workable project.

If you really can't think of a solid project, then go and talk to a potential supervisor who is expert in an area that you are interested in and ask him or her if they have any specific ideas, but do bear in mind that supervisors will be much happier to talk to you if you're bringing something to the conversation, i.e. at least some ideas of areas your interested in, or technologies you'd like to work with, or research methods you'd like to employ.

When you have found a supervisor and they have agreed to take you on, you must get your supervisor to sign you up with the form provided. If staff seem unsure about this process direct them to Dr. Siang Yew Chong for further instructions.


Project Equipment

If you wish to use school equipment (hardware or software, e.g., those available at CSIT lab) then you must request the equipment through your supervisor. 

If you wish to use your own equipment, then you can do so providing that you are independent of the School. School staff cannot support your own personal equipment, and hardware or software purchased for a project can not usually be used outside of the school (there are both good pragmatic and legal reasons for this). For reasons of Health and Safety regulations, as well as security and support, your own equipment can only be connected to school facilities under limited circumstances (e.g. laptop points in the terminal room). Therefore, if you use your own equipment for development work then you must make arrangements to demonstrate it to your supervisor (e.g. either on a laptop, or by installing it on a School machine).


Dissertation Overview

This section outlines the structure of a dissertation. 
  1. A dissertation must be completed by all students following the MSc degree courses, although there is no dissertation requirement for the diploma course.
  2. Dissertation projects will be performed individually (with one student and generally one supervisor, although joint supervision might be allowed under certain circumstances).
  3. The dissertation will include some admin and preparation during Semester 2 and the research work will be completed during the summer period.

    Production of the Dissertation

    Students are required, by University regulations to submit TWO hard copies of their dissertation (and one soft [PDF] copy). 

    The title page of the dissertation must  have the following layout, and each copy should be signed and dated where indicated:

    [Dissertation Title]

     Submitted September 2012, in partial fulfilment of
    the conditions of the award of the degree [ name of degree ]

     [Student Name]

    School of Computer Science 
    University of Nottingham

     

     I hereby declare that this dissertation is all my own work, except as indicated in the text:

     

     Signature ______________________

    Date _____/_____/_____

     

    I hereby declare that I have all necessary rights and consents to publicly distribute this dissertation via the University of Nottingham's e-dissertation archive.*

     

    Public access to this dissertation is restricted until: DAY / MONTH / YEAR**

     

    *Only include this sentence if you do have all necessary rights and consents. For example, if you have including photographs or images from the web or from other papers or documents then you need to obtain explicit consent from the original copyright owner. If in doubt, delete this sentence. See Copyright Information for more details.

    **Only include this sentence if there is some reason why your dissertation should not be accessible for some period of time, for example if it contains information which is commercially sensitive or might compromise an Intellectual Property claim. If included, fill in the date from which access should be allowed.

    This is followed by a one page Abstract which should summarise the contents of the Dissertation.

    Beneath the abstract you should list any keywords you think would help someone trying to find your dissertation (e.g. in a web search). Please be careful to enter specific keywords relevant to your dissertation, and don't be too general. We recommend that you include the full version of any acronyms in your title or abstract and also include synonyms or alternate spellings. Seperate words or phrases with commas, e.g. Keywords: MRI, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, resonant tunnelling, resonant tunneling

    The next page is a Table of Contents for the dissertation. Include page numbers throughout the dissertation.

    References are collected at the end of the Dissertation and given in a standard journal format as described in the Information Services publication IS2010 - "How to Cite References".  Dissertations must be typeset and printed on a publication-quality printer.

    There is a recommended dissertation structure in the Your Dissertation section below.

  4. The Project Plan is an independant, assessed piece of work. It is important as it ensures that both you and your supervise know what you will be doing during your research. It is also your opportunity to demonstrate your project planning / management skills. Details on the exact structure for your project plan will be posted here in due course.
  5. The Presentations are scheduled during September 2012, and will consist of a ten-minute talk (followed by approximately five-minutes for questions). All members of the school (staff and students) are allowed to attend (and ask questions).
  6. Late submission of the dissertation, the interim report or failure to give a presentation will be considered as non-submission. Non-submitted work will be awarded zero.
  7. The supervisor will arrange a demonstration of any software or hardware systems that have been developed as a part of the research, as necessary for them to help mark your work.
  8. Examiners may if they wish require an internal viva-voce examination.
  9. All marks shall be subject to the final moderation/approval of the Board of Examiners.

Assessment Criteria and Grades

In the following the term work refers to the total effort of the student from the start of the proposed area of study to the final submission of the dissertation. The grading of the work is based upon the dissertation. It will not, however be acceptable for high grades to be awarded to good work which is not reflected in a good dissertation without such special circumstances. The term dissertation refers to the final written report of the student; this document will be the primary source of assessment.

The work is usually assessed using criteria such as: amount of effort, diligence, initiative and enthusiasm shown; difficulties experienced and extent to which overcome; the extent of self-organization and ability demonstrated by the students; the effectiveness, quality, and quantity of work produced and the extent to which the objectives of the work were met. The organization and structure of the work; quality of referencing, appendices, figures, programs and any other supporting documentation where relevant Originality, novelty and innovation displayed in the work and reflected in the dissertation. The quality of the dissertation as a source of clear, concise and interesting information.

Grades

The following are general characteristics of grades awarded to dissertations by the University. Your dissertation is worth 60 credits, and you are not allowed to compensate more than 40 credits, therefore you must pass the dissertation to get your MSc. As with all other MSc level courses, the minimum pass mark is 50%, anything less is a fail.

NB, If you fail, like any other module, you are entitled to resit.

  1. Exceptional (90-100%) The work and dissertation should exhibit all the characteristics of an Excellent grade. Additionally the dissertation should be publishable without significant reworking or alteration. Any software and supporting documentation should be of the highest possible quality. The work should display complete and comprehensive originality. In short the work should be reflected in a dissertation of stunning and universally accepted quality!
  2. Outstanding (80-89%) The work and dissertation should exhibit all the characteristics of an Excellent grade. Additionally the results should be publishable in a suitably modified form. The work should exhibit a large degree of independent thought and originality. Technical assistance from the supervisor would have been minimal and the student would have exhibited high levels of self motivation. Any software and supporting documentation should be of the highest possible quality.
  3. Excellent (70-79%) The work should display a complete and thorough understanding of the conceptual and practical issues surrounding the chosen topic. There should be evidence of independent thought in the form of some degree of originality in the presentation and discussions of the material. The dissertation should be well structured with a clear line of argument and the quality of the analysis should be excellent. Any software should be completed in all respects and exhibit very high quality; there should be evidence of a high degree of testing. Supporting documentation should be complete and approaching the standard of high quality professional documentation.
  4. Good (60-69%) The work should show a good understanding of the conceptual and practical issues surrounding the chosen topic; the arguments should be clearly structured, but there is no specific requirement for any degree of original work. The quality of the analysis and the writing of the dissertation should be good. Software should be competently designed using a recognized design method; evidence of testing should be presented. The software should be a complete and usable package which not only illustrates the principles of the work but also exhibits good levels of quality. Supporting documentation should be excellent for all purposes; it should be complete, well written, well presented and generally exhibit high quality.
  5. Average (50-59%) The work would be expected to display an adequate understanding of the key conceptual and practical issues, although weakness may be present in some areas. There should be evidence of some attempt to construct an argument around the information available. The analytical content should be average. Software should be adequate to illustrate principles; it may display weakness in areas not central to the work and lack comprehensive testing. Supporting documentation would be well presented yet lack completeness; the quality of the documentation should be very good.
  6. Probable Fail (40-49%) The work would display an incomplete understanding of the central issues relating to the chosen topic. The dissertation would lack a clear structure and strong argument and the quality of analysis would be below average. The writing would be mediocre. Software would be poorly designed, incomplete, poorly commented and difficult to understand; it would exhibit poor levels of quality. Supporting documentation would be adequate.
  7. Definite Fail (below 40%) The work would display a very poor understanding of the chosen area; there would be no clear structure and the analysis may be weak or incomplete. The dissertation would be poorly written and presented. Software would be limited n capability, and difficult to use. Supporting documentation would be inadequate for most purposes.

Your Dissertation

Since all projects are different it is very difficult to make comparisons between the various dissertations. Thus to assess the projects, a set of guidelines has been developed which should help to guide you in the production of your final dissertation.

Before writing your dissertation, be sure to read the section below on copying of other work.

Your dissertation is important!

Your dissertation is a key element of your degree - it is by far the most important deliverable by which you will be judged! You may include a copy of working software on a recorded media CD/DVD, but no matter how good that is, the dissertation is what will primarily be judged. Remember also that the external examiner may not have the time to look at your working software and they will only be able to judge your project from the dissertation.

It is important to realise that you cannot perform excellent practical work and then follow it up with  a poor write-up and expect to do well. You must remember that others will be involved in the assessment of the dissertation who you have not had weekly meetings with and who do not have access to knowledge not presented in the dissertation. Indeed, in the case of the External Examiner, they will not even know who you are! Thus all they have at their disposal to grade you is the written dissertation.

Given this crucial observation you should not leave the writing of your dissertation just to the last few weeks of your project timetable. Also bear in mind that many others will be rushing to produce documentation towards the end of the second semester and that the printing facilities will be at full stretch during the last two or three weeks. The failure of printers, computers and the absence of paper at weekends, overnight or indeed at any time during this period will not be a valid excuse for the late delivery of your dissertation. All these occurrences can be guaranteed to occur so you must plan accordingly.

Writing your dissertation

The best dissertations and reports, whether for a third year-project, a PhD thesis or even in some commercial applications, usually all follow much the same structure, as described here.

The exact layout of dissertations tends to vary depending upon the nature of the material and the style of the author.  It is  recommended that you discuss this in detail with your supervisor.  However the following might be considered to be a typical layout: 

  1. Title page: with a signed declaration that the dissertation is your own work
  2. Abstract: giving a short (500 words max) overview of the work in your project
  3. Acknowledgements: thanking anyone who has helped you in any way
  4. Table of contents: giving page numbers for all major section headings
  5. Introduction: set the scenes, explain why you are doing this work and what is the problem being solved.  Most importantly you should clearly explain what the aims and objectives of your work are.
  6. Related work: explain what is the current state of the art in your area.  What work have other people done (published or commercial) that is relevant to yours.
  7. Methodology:  explain what tools and technologies have you used.  If you have collected data then explain how it is collected and analysed.
  8. Description of the work: explain what exactly have you done.  If this is a software project, describe your software in detail.  If it is a data-based project, present and explain your data in detail.
  9. Discussion: explain what your work means.  In a software project you should evaluate the functionality of your software. In a research project you should interpret your experimental results.  In all cases you should evaluate what you have achieved against the aims and objectives you outlined in the introduction.  The discussion should always end with a Conclusions section - in which you should briefly explain what conclusions you have come to as a result of doing this work.
  10. References: provide a list of papers, books and other publications that are explicitly referred to in the text.  These should be  in a standard journal format as described in the Information Services publication IS2010 - "How to Cite References". 
  11. Appendices: Supplementary material should be included in appendices - these are optional, but they might contain:

Where the appendices are long (e.g. code listings) do not print them out, rather provide them on a CD/DVD.

Dissertation size

Maximum length is 20,000 words.

The only requirement is that the dissertation should not exceed the prescribed number of words. The reason for this is to stop the presentation of unstructured and verbose dissertations which are generally repetitive. If you can present all your work clearly in 5,000 words or less then that is fine (but be aware that it is very rare for somebody to be able to express the work of their thesis quite so succinctly). Think carefully about the examiners who have never met you and might not know the application area you are describing. You may know your work backwards, and perhaps your supervisor might have a good idea about what the project involved, but what about some other reader? It is all too easy to assume that everyone else knows what you did whereas in fact they have no idea at all! Poor dissertations are generally notable for what is omitted rather than what has been included.

One final question concerns the inclusion of Appendices. Appendices are excluded from the total word count. It is unlikely that an Appendix will be read in detail by an examiner. The aim of an Appendix is to act as a supporting reference to the main body of the dissertation. Thus you might state in the main dissertation that "A complete and detailed User Manual was produced (see Appendix E)". Appendix E would contain the User Manual. This allows any casual reader to access the User Manual easily to verify the truth of the statement.

Copying - quoting or plagiarism?

One thing that is absolutely not allowable is copying of text or code from any source at all and passing it off as your own work. This is called plagiarism and will, at the minimum, result in your being awarded zero marks for that component of the work, and may result in expulsion from the University without a degree being awarded.

A commonly used definition of plagiarism is "passing off someone else's work, whether intentionally or unintentionally, as your own for your own benefit". This means that it is not plagiarism if you make use of someone else's work and acknowledge it properly and fully. It is therefore legitimate to, for example, include text in your dissertation by quoting someone who has written or said something relevant to your work. However, you must indicate very clearly which part of the text is copied, the name of the author(s) and where it comes from, and you must italicize the quoted text and delimit it with quotation marks.  Under no circumstances should quotations comprise more than a small fraction of the submitted work.

You should also be aware of copyright law - it is illegal to duplicate substantial amounts of text (with or without indication) unless you have the explicit permission of the copyright owner.

Exactly the same goes for copying code or images - you can easily breach both copyright law and University regulations on plagiarism.

Staff can easily detect copied work because usually there are changes in the quality of the work, the written expression, syntax and so on all make it obvious that some parts of the work are not by the claimed student author.

In summary - do not copy text, code or anything else and attempt to pass it off as your own work. For example, never succumb to the temptation to cut & paste text or images from the web into your dissertation without proper reference.  This is plagiarism, it is ILLEGAL as it breaches copyright, and it is CHEATING as it breaches University regulations.  It is regarded as a very serious offence and is punishable when caught, and an especially dim view of plagiarism is taken when it occurs in dissertations.

For a tutorial on plagiarism see here.


Archival and Publication

In the past dissertations gaining a distinction mark have been lodged in the library for reference. We are now making such dissertations available publicly through the University of Nottingham's e-dissertation archive. This can only be done if you have all necessary rights and consents to make your dissertation publicly available. For example, if you have included photographs or images from the web or from other papers or documents that are subject to copyright (and most are) then you need to obtain explicit consent from the original copyright owner. See Copyright Information for more details. If you have included such material in your dissertation without specific consent under an expectation of "educational fair use" or similar then your dissertation cannot be considered for the archive. In this case please do NOT include the declaration about consents in your dissertation cover page. Similarly, if there is some reason why your dissertation should not be accessible for some period of time, for example if it contains information which is commercially sensitive or might compromise an Intellectual Property claim then please include the corresponding declaration on the dissertation cover page - we can then ensure that it is not released on the e-dissertation archive until after that date. Please also note that we will not be able to consider your dissertation for the archive if the PDF that you submit is corrupt or incomplete. You should make every effort to ensure that this is not the case, as some supervisors may be intending to mark the electronic version of your dissertation!

The Presentation

As an integral part of your project you will be required to give a presentation. This will take place in a seminar room or lecture theatre, and you will have access to a data projector and a PC with MS Office installed.  You are strongly advised to use MS PowerPoint for your presentations, although an overhead projector, whiteboard and VCR will also be available should you want to make use of them.  You may use your own self-powered laptops, providing that it has a VGA output to connect to the VGA input of the data project and provided that you know how to force the laptop to send a signal to this output!  This is usually a proprietary keystroke, and you cannot expect School staff to spend time working out what this is!

The mark for your presentation will be determined by the scores given to you by the panel of markers at your presentation day. The marking panel will be made up from a selection of members of faculty and research staff within the school. Your mark will be determined from an average of their scores.

Plan to speak for ten minutes and allow five minutes for questions. The chair of the session will impose strict timekeeping. Do not go over the ten-minute time limit.

Absolutely ensure that your arrive punctually for your presentation (this will be arranged in blocks of time). You must arrive and stay for the entire presentation block to which you are assigned. Make sure you arrive at the beginning of the session to check your slides and any technical equipment you will use - laptops etc.

Some helpful notes on giving presentations are given in "Preparing and giving presentations" a guide on study skills, and a part of the University's Pathways program - this is highly relevant to MSc students.


Original document by Tim Brailsford, David Kirk, and Thorsten Altenkirch. Last update May, 2012.