Computer Laboratory


The Dissertation

University Regulations require that dissertations be no longer than 12,000 words (including tables and footnotes, but excluding appendices, bibliography, photographs and diagrams). There is no advantage to be gained from writing up to the maximum, and first class dissertations are often around 10,000 words. (Unix users can get an indication of word count from their PDF file using either ps2ascii or pdf2tex and removing the appropriate parts from the start and end with a text editor before using wc. But these two programs themselves can vary by 20 percent or so in what they delimit as a word, so be careful.) The dissertation should be written for a technically competent reader who is not necessarily familiar with the particular aspects of Computer Science involved.

You might mistakenly think you will be rewarded for extra work and extra words. Think of the poor examiner who has to read 50 of these things. Poor or verbose writing will disaffect the examiners. Better grades will arise from clarity and ease of reading, good pictures, clear explanation, minimal jargon and appropriate use of equations. Writing a dissertation requires planning and time. It is prudent to allow three or four weeks for the task.

Dissertations must consist of a single PDF file that must be

  • formatted on A4 paper;

  • in 12-point font;

  • less than 15 megabytes length (i.e.than $15\times 10^6$ bytes);

  • (ideally) use embedded fonts.

Examiners and Assessors are permitted to judge your work only through study of your dissertation, although they will require your original source code to be available for them to refer to in cases where clarification is needed. You will be notified of the process by which you should upload your dissertation and code shortly before the deadline for the submission. Information about the process can be found at http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/teaching/projects/submission.htmlbut, as the system is currently changing, this is not guaranteed to be accurate outside of the Easter Term. some hints on using the MCS for producing PDF files can be found at

To facilitate the assessment process, the Examiners require the top-level structure of the dissertation to be strictly as shown below.

  Cover Sheet
  Proforma
  Declaration of Originality
  Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Introduction
Chapter 2 Preparation
Chapter 3 Implementation
Chapter 4 Evaluation
Chapter 5 Conclusions
  Bibliography
  Appendices
  Index
  Project Proposal

It is not the intention of the Examiners to constrain writers too greatly. Although the layout of the Cover Sheet and the arrangement of the Proforma are tightly specified the organisation and length of each of the five chapters are allowed to vary considerably from one dissertation to another.

Further details are given below, and at the end of this document there is a copy of the Guidelines issued to Assessors. The marking scheme is included. Study these Guidelines carefully.

Your dissertation PDF must be prefixed with the following pages that must come before your main title page. We provide Word and Latex users with blank forms for these pages.

The Cover Page

The single Cover Page contains

  • Your Name, in the extreme top right-hand corner.
  • The Title of your Dissertation.
  • The Examination for which you are a candidate.
  • Your College and the Year in which you are submitting the Dissertation.

The Proforma Page

The single Proforma Page is a preface that immediately follows the Cover Page. The Proforma must be arranged thus:

  • Your Name and College.
  • The Title of your Project.
  • The Examination and Year.
  • Approximate word-count for the dissertation.
  • Project Originator.
  • Project Supervisor.
  • At most 100 words describing the original aims of the project.
  • At most 100 words summarising the work completed.
  • At most 100 words describing any special difficulties that you faced.
    (In most cases the special difficulties entry will say “None”.)

It is quite in order for the Proforma to point out how ambitious the original aims were and how the work completed represents the triumphant consequence of considerable effort against a background of unpredictable disasters. The substantiation of these claims will follow in the rest of the dissertation.

Declaration of Originality

All dissertations must include an anti-plagiarism declaration immediately after the Proforma, preferably on the same page if there is room. The declaration must have exactly the following syntax:

I, [Name] of [College], being a candidate for Part II of the Computer Science Tripos, hereby declare that this dissertation and the work described in it are my own work, unaided except as may be specified below, and that the dissertation does not contain material that has already been used to any substantial extent for a comparable purpose.

Signed [signature]

Date [date]

You will sign an electronic form of the same declaration as you upload your PDF, so you do not have to put a signature inside the PDF file.

The University drafted the wording, which is similar to that relating to dissertations in a wide range of subjects; thus the “unaided except as may be specified below” clause merits some explanation:

  1. The clause does not require acknowledgement of the project supervision or informal conversations with peers.
  2. The clause is believed to be about collaborative projects which are not now permitted in Computer Science. As such it is not relevant to Computer Science dissertations.
  3. This clause aside and notwithstanding 1 and 2, candidates are required to draw attention, in the Implementation chapter, to the parts of the work which are not their own, in accordance with section 12.7 of this document. Other acknowledgements should be given wherever appropriate.

Student Adminstration will not accept a paper copy that does not include the relevant Cover, Proforma and declarations.

Table of contents

This should list the contents in some sensible way.

Introduction

The Introduction should explain the principal motivation for the project. Show how the work fits into the broad area of surrounding Computer Science and give a brief survey of previous related work. It should generally be unnecessary to quote at length from technical papers or textbooks. If a simple bibliographic reference is insufficient, consign any lengthy quotation to an appendix.

Preparation

Principally, this chapter should describe the work which was undertaken before code was written, hardware built or theories worked on. It should show how the project proposal was further refined and clarified, so that the Implementation stage could go smoothly rather than by trial and error.

Throughout this chapter and indeed the whole dissertation, it is essential to demonstrate that a proper professional approach was employed.

The nature of this chapter will vary greatly from one dissertation to another but, underlining the professional approach, this chapter will very likely include a section headed “Requirements Analysis” and incorporate other references to the techniques of Software Engineering.

The chapter will cite any new programming languages and systems which had to be learnt and will mention complicated theories or algorithms which required understanding.

It is essential to declare the Starting Point (see Section 7). This states any existing codebase or materials that your project builds on. The text here can commonly be identical to the text in your proposal, but it may enlarge on it or report variations. For instance, the true starting point may have turned out to be different from that declared in the proposal and such discrepancies must be explained.

Implementation

This chapter should describe what was actually produced: the programs which were written, the hardware which was built or the theory which was developed. Any design strategies that looked ahead to the testing stage might profitably be referred to (the professional approach again).

Descriptions of programs may include fragments of high-level code but large chunks of code are usually best left to appendices or omitted altogether. Analogous advice applies to circuit diagrams.

Draw attention to the parts of the work which are not your own. Making effective use of powerful tools and pre-existing code is often laudable, and will count to your credit if properly reported.

It should not be necessary to give a day-by-day account of the progress of the work but major milestones may sometimes be highlighted with advantage.

Evaluation

This is where Assessors will be looking for signs of success and for evidence of thorough and systematic testing. Sample output, tables of timings and photographs of workstation screens, oscilloscope traces or circuit boards may be included.

As with code, voluminous examples of sample output are usually best left to appendices or omitted altogether.

There are some obvious questions which this chapter will address. How many of the original goals were achieved? Were they proved to have been achieved? Did the program, hardware, or theory really work?

Assessors are well aware that large programs will very likely include some residual bugs. It should always be possible to demonstrate that a program works in simple cases and it is instructive to demonstrate how close it is to working in a really ambitious case.

Conclusions

This chapter is likely to be very short and it may well refer back to the Introduction. It might properly explain how you would have planned the project if starting again with the benefit of hindsight.

Bibliography

It is common, but not mandatory, to have a Bibliography.

Appendices

Assessors like to see some sample code or example circuit diagrams, and appendices are the sensible places to include such items. Accordingly, software and hardware projects should incorporate appropriate appendices. Note that the 12,000 word limit does not include material in the appendices, but only in extremely unusual circumstances may appendices exceed 10-15 pages - if you feel that such unusual circumstances might apply to you you should ask your Director of Studies and Supervisor to apply to the Chairman of Examiners. It is quite in order to have no appendices. Appendices should appear between the bibliography and the project proposal.

Index

An Index is optional.

Project Proposal

A copy of the original project proposal must be included at the very end of the dissertation.

Supervisor’s Report form

A report form, signed by the student’s project Supervisor and Director of Studies and to be found at http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/teaching/projects/SupervisorForm.pdfmust be submitted to the Student Administrator, preferably at the same time as (but not bound in with) the dissertation, and in any case by 4pm on the following Wednesday.