Computer Laboratory

Submission and Content of the Project Proposal

Completed project proposals, including a completed Project Resource Form, must be delivered to the Student Administrator by noon on the relevant day. You should ensure that your name is checked off the Student Administrator’s list when your document is accepted.

The sheets of paper making up a proposal must be firmly attached together (stapled or in a simple binder). When planning your submission you should allow yourself adequate time for printing.

The Model Project Proposals3(which were originally written for Diploma students) conform to the required layout of all project proposals. These Model Project Proposals should be inspected and the style used should be followed closely. The remainder of this section draws attention to some details of the requirements.

A project proposal is expected to be about 1000 words long, and must be printed single- or double-sided on A4 paper, the sheets being neatly stapled together. It consists of the following:

  1. A standard cover sheet - see
    http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/teaching/projects/ProposalForm.pdf
  2. The body of the proposal (see below).

In the case of projects that are to rely on support from outside the University it will be necessary to procure a letter from the sponsors that confirms both that their equipment will remain available right up to the end of the course and that they understand that the results of work done by students cannot be viewed as secret or proprietary. An Overseer will then countersign the letter to record acceptance of these assurances.

The body of the proposal should incorporate:

  1. An introduction and description of the work to be undertaken.
  2. A description of the starting point.
  3. Description of the substance and structure of the project: key concepts, major work items, their relations and relative importance, data structures and algorithms.
  4. A criterion which can later be used to determine whether the project has been a success.
  5. Plan of work, specifying a timetable and milestones.
  6. Resource Declaration.

This text will expand on the title quoted for your project by giving further explanation both of the background to the work you propose to do and of the objectives you expect to achieve. Quite often a project title will do little more than identify a broad area within which you will work: the accompanying description must elaborate on this, giving details of specific goals to be achieved and precise characterisations of the methods that will be used in the process. You should identify the main sub-tasks that make up your complete project and outline the algorithms or techniques to be adopted in completing them. A project description should give criteria that can be used at the end of the year to test whether you have achieved your goals, and should back this up by explaining what form of evidence to this effect you expect to be able to include in your dissertation. For example, this summary might take the form

This project is to do A. Doing A requires the development of B. B will be tackled via C. C will be evaluated by D. The project will therefore consist of [e.g.] two main pieces of work, X and Y.

A description of the starting point must be present to ensure that all candidates are judged on the same basis. It should record any significant bodies of code or other material that will form a basis for your project and which exist at project proposal time. Provided a proper declaration is made here it is in order to build your final project on work you started perhaps even a year earlier, or to create parts of your programs by modifying existing ones written by somebody else. Clearly the larger the input to your project from such sources the more precise and detailed you will have to be in reporting just what base-line you will be starting from. The Examiners will want this section to be such that they can judge all candidates on the basis of that part of work done between project proposal time and the time when dissertations are submitted.

Similarly, a proposal must specify what it means for the project to be a success. It is unacceptable to say “I’ll just keep writing code in this general area and what I deliver is what you get”. It is advisable to choose a reasonably modest, but verifiable, success criterion which you are as certain as possible can be met; this means that your dissertation can claim your project not only satisfies the success criterion but potentially exceeds it. Projects which do not satisfy the success criterion are, as in real life, liable to be seen as failures to some extent.

Preparing a properly detailed work-plan can often seem the hardest part of completing a project proposal. This plan should show how the complete project is split into two- or three-week work packets, with these all being well enough specified that there will be a chance as the work progresses to evaluate how well targets have been met. Particular care should go into the selection of the milestones that will be reached just before the time that the progress report will become due. The timetable should make allowance for disruption to project work during the weeks immediately leading up to the written examinations, and should include dissertation preparation as well as programming time.