What’s in a progress report (FYP BSc/MSc dissertation)?

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It is that time of the year again.  December, light drizzle, grey skies, Christmas presents lists, and of course progress reports for your final year project or MSc dissertation.  So I get 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 understand what’s out there, 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, a proof, an implementation, a 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).  An FYP is about a scientific/research/engineering question.  Your introduction should highlight this research question (and why this is a non-trivial project).
  • Literature overview highlight the current state of play in the field.  This should also offer a critique of 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.

Here are some examples of undergraduate FYP progress reports (CS department).  These are old, and require revisiting (jump to the next paragraph). And here are the guidelines for the MSc progress report (ICS5200 – ICS Department).

And now some goodies. Two excellent progress reports, one for the third-year undergraduate ICT3907 and another one for postgraduate ICS5200 (MSc in AI, Big Data stream). For the latter, notice the paper format (you should keep to the templates offered by your department). Thanks to Sara and Joseph for these.

Finally, keep in mind you are the manager of your own project (and not your supervisor).  So own it!

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