It is that time of the year again. December, light drizzle, grey skies, Christmas presents lists, and of course progress reports for your B.Sc. final year project (FYP) or M.Sc. dissertation. So I understand the blank stares when students sit in front of LaTeX, wondering what they should write.
Turns out that examiners are only interested in finding out one thing – that you know what you are talking about. Secondarily, they want to check out that your method of approaching problems is scientifically sound. Informally, this means that you understand the problem at hand; that you read about it and know the field (and other people’s solutions to the same problem); that you are able to define your contribution to the field; and that you are able to measure (evaluate) your contribution. Your project may take on many forms, an algorithm, proof, implementation, dataset, or an analysis.
Specifically your few-pager (perhaps five or six pages) progress-report document should make sure to highlight the following:
- A clear description of the research question (what your project is about, but also why). It is easier to formulate this as question. An FYP or a dissertation is about a scientific/research/engineering question. Your introduction should highlight this research question (and why this is a non-trivial project).
- A (comprehensive) literature overview highlighting the current state of play in the field. This should also offer a critique of current approaches (and what is missing).
- How you are going to approach the problem (this may also include a short description of an initial prototype, if you got that far!).
- How you are going to evaluate your solution/approach (answers the question, how good is it?). Typically here you compare your solution to another, or to a benchmark. Evaluation should measure how good (or bad) your answer (to the research question) is.
- A project plan (some people prefer Gantt charts)
These should be written up in proper formatting (templates are offered by the respective departments for these kind of reports). Make sure to have page numbers, section titles, table of contents, consistent referencing, etc. Also, make sure to stick to the page limit. These dissertation-specific LaTeX and content tips apply.
It may be a good (excellent, rather) idea to send a skeleton to your supervisor before any extensive writing. By ‘skeleton’ I mean just the section/subsection titles, a couple of sentences in each section which describe the contents of each (or points), and any figures which you are going to include (with captions). As my supervisor used to say “you can read a good paper just by looking at the figures”.
And now some goodies. A few excellent progress reports, one for the third-year undergraduate ICT3907 and another three for postgraduate ICS5200 (M.Sc. in A.I., some in the Big Data stream). For the latter, notice the paper format (you should keep to the templates offered by your department). Thanks to Sara, Joseph, Etienne, and Penza for these.
Here are some other examples of undergraduate FYP progress reports (CS Department, University of Malta). These are old (2014), and require revisiting. And here are the guidelines for the M.Sc. in A.I. progress report (ICS5200 – Department of Artificial Intelligence).
Finally, keep in mind you are the manager of your own project (and not your supervisor). So own it!