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Masters Dissertation

This is the main page for information about the 60 credit masters dissertation. Please see the CMT400 module description for further details. In particular take note of the assessment and the syllabus, giving an overview of the various stages in the project. Deadlines are shown with your project information when you log into your PATS account. You will also receive further information about your final year project by e-mail. E-mails relevant to everyone are also available below.

* Masters Dissertation Guide: The complete guide for Masters Disserations on a single page for printing/saving as PDF.

Project Selection

In term 2 you are going to select your project. Below are guides on how to propose projects and select your project using PATS.


This is an overview of the expected deliverables and related tasks you have to execute for your project. You also find the required deliverables with their submission deadlines under your PATS project details.

  • Dissertation: A final report must be submitted at the end of the summer period. Guidance for writing this report is given in the MSc Project Handbook.
  • Project Publication: Details about how to publish your project online in PATS.

For information about how to submit a report via PATS please see the Submission Guide. Note that in order to get an extension to the submission deadline the general coursework submission extension guidelines apply.


The MSc Project Handbook (available on Learning Central) covers most aspects concerning your project throughout its lifetime. Further information on how to use PATS, prepare the various deliverables in a suitable format and related technical issues are available in these guides:

  • Submission Guide: General instructions on how to submit the deliverables via PATS.
  • PDF Guide: Instructions on how to generate PDF files.


The mark is based on your project approach, argument, products and reflection (on equal weighting) according to the following criteria:

  • Project approach
    • a professional approach is used
    • appropriate methods and tools are used
  • Argument
    • the dissertation is well structured
    • the dissertation justifies its conclusions.
  • Products
    • products deal with the problem appropriately
    • products make a contribution to knowledge
  • Reflection
    • The student has developed insight and understanding

Your project dissertation will be marked independently by your academic supervisor and a second examiner (moderator) selected by the School on the basis of understanding of the subject area. They each give a mark out of 100. If their marks differ by 10 or less, the average is taken. If the difference is greater than 10, they meet together to discuss the reasons for the difference, and try to come to an agreement. If they cannot agree, a third marker will be appointed. You require a mark of at least 50% to pass; also see the MSc project handbook above.

Project Coordinator

Project Selection

Project Proposals

You can propose your own project for your final year project or take on a project proposed by staff. Here we discuss how to write and submit your own project proposal. The process is the same for students and members of staff, and both kinds of proposal should provide the information outlined here.

Please see the Project Supervision entry for how to find a supervisor for your own proposal or agree supervision of a staff proposal. Deadlines for the selection will be announced by e-mail and are also visible in the PATS Tasks section.


The purpose of the project is, in the context of the degree you are studying, to integrate various aspects of the taught material and to demonstrate your (academic) research skills and your (professional) analysis, design and implementation skills. It gives you the opportunity to conduct in-depth work on a substantial problem to show individual creativity and originality, to apply where appropriate knowledge, skills and techniques taught throughout the degree programme to further oral and written communication skills, and to practise investigative, problem-solving, management and other transferable skills. The management and execution of the project is your responsibility, but you should seek and take advantage of advice from your supervisor.

As a general guideline a good project aims to solve a problem related to your field of study. You can pick a general area you are interested in and try to find a specific problem you could be working on. Instead of solving a complete project you can also work on a partial solution or some specific aspect of a larger problem, possibly simplified to make it feasible for a final year project. If you are not sure on the specifics you can also discuss a rough initial idea for a project with a member of staff to find something suitable, that can be executed in the context of a final year project. Out of such discussions often very interesting project ideas can arise.

When you choose a project, you should do so carefully, to reflect the focus of the degree programme you are enrolled in, your personal interests (the project needs to keep you interested for the duration of the project) and the ability of the academic staff to support you throughout your project. Projects vary widely in the problem they address and the products they deliver at the end. While the main product of some projects is a piece of software or hardware, other projects produce a systems model or design, and yet others may address some research hypothesis using a theoretical or experimental approach. This means not every project produces a piece of software. In brief, the better defined the problem that your project addresses, the further through the systems lifecycle you should expect to progress in the course of your project. If instead you are addressing a research hypothesis, your main product may be the evaluation of some experiments or a theoretical result.

So, for example, a project that seeks to develop a logistics planning system for a small business or voluntary organisation would be expected to provide a fully operational, fully tested program that meets all the identified needs of the client. However, a project that aims to validate a government policy in a particular area might only achieve the development of a model to confidently simulate the main factors influencing that policy, and identify the research agenda in terms of specifying precisely the data requirements to allow a full investigation of the relevant factors. A scientifically oriented project may focus on the practical or theoretical evaluation of a new rendering approach and compare it with existing approaches, which may involve some implementation, but does not require fully functional software.

Project Proposals

To submit a new project proposal, log into your PATS account. On the left navigation bar you will see a “My proposals” link which takes you to a section listing your own proposals. There you can add new proposals, edit or delete existing proposals and make them available for selection.

To create a new proposal go to the “New Proposal” tab and enter a proposal title and description. If you are a student the proposal will automatically be assigned your degree scheme (Please check in your profile that your degree scheme there is correct and contact the project coordinator if this needs to be amended). Staff should select the degree schemes for which their proposal is suitable from the list provided.

When choosing a title for your proposal make sure it refers to the core topic of your project. Do not make the title too general (like “A Computer Game”, instead of the specific type of game you wish to write) or provide too much details (“A System to Manage the Selection, Allocation, Deliverable Submission and Marking of Final Year Projects”, instead of “Final Year Project Management”).

In the description of your project briefly give the general context of your project and then describe what you intend to do for the project in detail. Outline the main issues you wish to address with the project and what you intent to produce by the end of the project. Also describe any special resources you need, e.g. non-standard hardware, special software, etc. Staff may also wish to discuss the skills needed to execute the project and the skills that must be acquired during the project.

You may also wish to discuss ideas for projects with staff members who may be interested in supervising this. This can especially be helpful to refine your idea.

Project Selection

In the initial phase of project selection you will only be able to propose projects, but not select projects. This will become available at a later time and will be announced by e-mail. Then student and staff proposals are available for viewing, expressing interest and arranging supervision (see Project Supervision). Only projects marked as available can be viewed by others during this phase. You can change the availability status of a proposal on PATS at any time. Note that proposals selected for supervision will automatically become unavailable. (Members of staff are able to make proposals available again if they think more than one student can in principle work on the project, but the work students dp at the same time must still be sufficiently different to qualify as separate project).

You can submit more than one project proposal, but please keep the number of proposals reasonable and rather make sure you write one or two really good proposals. This will make it much more likely that you find a member of staff to supervise your project. Of course you can only do one project and once supervision with a member of staff is agreed via PATS (only staff can choose to supervise a project), this can only be changed in very exceptional cases.

There is no guarantee that there will definitely be a member of staff who will supervise any of the projects you have proposed. This will depend on the quality of your proposal and staff's interest and expertise. Alternatively you can select a staff proposal instead or even despite having made a good proposal, if you are more interested in this.

To a somewhat lesser degree this equally applies to staff proposals - there is no guarantee to find a student who can or wants to do a staff project, nor do members of staff have to supervise all their own proposals. However, a student who does not select a proposal will be assigned a random member of staff as supervisor.

Arranging Project Supervision

After proposals have been submitted they will eventually become available for arranging supervision. This will be announced separately by e-mail. Your own proposals can then be viewed by members of staff and staff proposals will become available for viewing. During this phase it is still possible to edit your proposals and add additional proposals to the system.

Suitable navigation links will then be available in PATS to view proposals and express interest in them. Note that expressing interest simply indicates to the proposer that you may want to do the project, but it does not mean supervision is agreed. Members of staff can see which proposals you are interested in and you can see who is interested in your proposals.

During this time you should contact members of staff to discuss the proposals and agree supervision. You must discuss a proposal with a member of staff before supervision can be agreed and usually this should be done in person.

If a member of staff is happy to take you on for one of their projects or to supervise your project they can select to supervise you on PATS directly. This will create a project that will become available in the navigation bar. Once this happened you have a project agreed and cannot select any other project. This usually cannot be reversed. So make sure that once you agree the supervision of a project, this has actually also been done on PATS. Note that members of staff can only choose to supervise you on a project in which you have shown interest.

Please mention your degree scheme to the staff members when you see them. This is to ensure that the suitability of your proposed project for your degree scheme could be checked by the staff members. You may also like to discuss the scope of your proposed project with the staff member, i.e. whether the project will allow you get a pass, 2-1 or first class.

Note, that after supervision has been agreed the proposal accepted will become unavailable and the students other proposals will also be marked as unavailable. A member of staff can make their own proposals available again, if they think there is sufficient scope for more than one student to work on different aspects.

If you do not select a proposal by deadline then you will be assigned a random supervisor at the beginning of the project year. This is not in your interest as you may well get the worst possible arrangement. Even if you cannot find a perfect proposal and/or cannot find a supervisor for your own proposal, it is still better for you to select a proposal than not selecting anything at all.

Dates and deadlines will be announced by e-mail and are also available in the PATS Tasks section..


Project Publication

If you wish to make your project available online after it has been completely submitted and marked, you can specify this in PATS. On the project description page you can check “make project public”. This will generate a publication form that will automatically be added to your project. You can see the way your project (as far as it has been submitted) will appear, once published via PATS, in the “Complete Project” tab. Everything visible there will appear in the PATS archive if you select to make your project public. Examiner reports, marks, etc. will of course not be available there. The date by when you must finalise this is shown in the description tab of your project, at the bottom, indicating how long the data can still be modified. A copy of the publication form is here:

Note that we cannot guarantee that your project will be published via PATS or for how long it will remain available online.


Submission Guide

This explains how to submit the deliverables for your final year project. All deliverables must be submitted via PATS, except for physical artefacts (details below). For details of what needs to be included for the various deliverables, please see the guidelines specific to your final year project module. All submissions must contain at least one PDF file in the document section or they will not be accepted by PATS and so submission cannot be completed.

Online Submission

PATS enables you to submit nearly all parts of your project online. Each submission consists of a collection of files under the following sections:

  • Document files: These must be PDF files and each submission must have at least one of these files - this section is for the written report.
  • Appendix files: These are additional PDF files, not part of the document files, that form an extended appendix of your report. Including files here is optional and you can instead add a normal appendix to the document files. What is most suitable mainly depends on the nature of the files and your specific project.
  • Archive files: These are file archives to provide the sources or any other content collections such as a set of images, test cases, survey data for your project, that are relevant to your report. The archives can contain any file type and can have any arbitrary hierarchy. You can upload zip, tar.gz, tar.bz2 or tar.xz archives only. But for compatibility any non-zip file will be converted to a zip file. Providing files here is optional, but at least final report submissions are likely to require at least one archive, e.g. for the sources of your software.
  • Other files: Here you can upload any other files to support your report. This is provided to enable you to submit any special files for your project in special formats, etc. as an alternative to submitting these in an archive. Typically these would be files standing on their own in a special file format.

Note that, of course, not all file types need to be included with each submission. What is suitable depends on your project and your report and please discuss with your supervisor what you should be submitting if you are unsure.

To add files to these sections, press the related [Upload] link which opens a separate upload dialog. You can select more than one file at once to upload into a section in that dialog before you press the “Upload” button. Once you have uploaded a file you can view its type, file size, MD5 and SHA1 checksum via the provided link. You can use the MD5 or SHA1 checksum to verify the integrity of the file (also see checksums). You can further rename, delete and move the file up or down in the list in each section. You cannot move files between sections.

After you have uploaded at least one file to the document section you can complete the submission. This will generate a zip file containing all the files you have uploaded in all sections, sorted by these sections and in order they are displayed in the submission area. Your files count as submitted only after you have completed the submission. While files in the content area are visible to your supervisor and moderator, they cannot actually mark them.

You can resubmit at any time before the deadline (all deadlines are by 23:00 on the day shown). A resubmission will completely replace the previously submitted files and not extend the previous submission, so always upload all files into the submission area and then submit them all at once by completing the submission.

The system will keep the current and the previous submission archive. You can delete these archives at any time before the deadline and also download the archives to verify their contents. If you wish to check the archive before completing the submission, select the “Preview Submission” button.

Make sure you check the contents of any files you upload in the file submission area and especially the contents of the final submission archive. Files uploaded via the network may sometimes be corrupted and downloading them again to verify their content avoids any problems. To verify they files you may also use the MD5 or SHA1 checksums.

Your supervisor and moderator will be able to see any of the files you have in the submission area and your current and previous submission archive (unless you delete them).

See the PDF Guide for information on how to create a PDF file.

Physical Artefacts

Some projects may also produce physical artefacts without any digital versions of them. Hardware or similar physical objects do not need to be submitted, but should be available for demonstration at the oral examination and your report should contain sufficient information to rebuild these. Any manually created documentation necessary for your project should, however, be included in the archive in a digitised format.

Anything that fits on an A4 page or smaller can be scanned and directly included in the report as a figure. For documents larger than A4 we recommend taking photos of these and submit the image files via PATS. If a single photo is insufficient due to resolution limitations you can take multiple overlapping photos of the document and combine these into a single image. This applies in particular to large soft system models drawn manually.

In addition to the digitised version, the documents larger than A4 should also be handed in by the submission deadline to the COMSC office in a suitable envelope. On the envelope clearly write your name, the title of your project and the names of your supervisor and moderator. The document will not be archived, but used by your supervisor and moderator to decide your mark and will be available at the oral examination. It will be returned to you after the oral examination.

Assistance is available to create digital versions of such large documents from the project coordinators and the computer support officers. If you cannot take any suitable images of the document, contact them for assistance (to take one or multiple photos and merge them, etc.).

Submission Problems and Peace of Mind

After you submitted your files on PATS as an archive (not just uploaded them into the submission area) your project report or plan counts as submitted and you do not have to do anything else. We do not expect any problems with the network connection, the server or the integrity of your submitted file. However, to avoid any problems with the integrity of your submission and to deal with any problems arising from the server, the Internet connection or anything else that prevents you from submitting the project in time (i.e. on the day of the submission deadline), please follow these instructions:

  • Put all the files you wish to submit into some archive file (similar to the submission archive generated by PATS).
  • Compute an MD5 checksum of this archive file and store the checksum in a separate file.
  • Carefully preserve the archive you have submitted or intend to submit in its original form and the MD5 checksum file. For this you may for instance burn it on a CD or DVD.
  • Send the MD5 checksum by e-mail to the project coordinator with the title “Final Year Project MD5 Checksum” from your university e-mail account. The e-mail must be sent before the submission deadline and all e-mails will be acknowledged. If you do not have e-mail access, print out the MD5 checksum and hand it in at the COMSC office with your name and project title (again latest by deadline, but note that the closing times of the office on the day).

While the procedure is optional it avoids any problems arising from the online submission. If you provide an MD5 checksum, then the following applies:

  • If you have submitted your project online, we will contact you by e-mail in case the MD5 checksum you have submitted does not match the checksum of the submission archive. In this case the submitted archive may be replaced by the archive with that checksum. This is to ensure the integrity of the archive.
  • If for whatever reason you did not manage to submit the project online by the deadline, the MD5 checksum (submitted before deadline) can be used to verify that the archive has been generated before the submission deadline. In this case you can hand-in the archive (e.g. on a CD or DVD) or upload the archive later. Obviously the late submitted archive must produce the same MD5 checksum. You will automatically be contacted if you have send an MD5 checksum and no archive has been submitted. This is to avoid problems that may arise from server problems, network connection problems, etc.

For details on how to generate MD5 checksums, etc. please see checksums

You are free to use any file types as long as they are suitable for the submission section. However, in general we recommend the following file formats, unless there is a good reason for your project to use a different format:

  • Documents: Whenever possible use PDF. You may include the original document files used to generate the PDF in the “Other” section. Note, the main report and the appendices must be in PDF format.
  • Sources: Sources, interpreted files, HTML files, etc. should usually be plain text files encoded in ASCII, UTF-8 or ISO 8859-1 (latin1). Other standard text encodings may be used, if necessary.
  • Images: The JPEG or PNG formats are preferred, for compatibility. An image quality of 90% is usually sufficient for JPEG.
  • Video: Use QuickTime, MPEG or DivX formats. The H.264 and MJPEG codecs are preferred, for compatibility and quality. Usually the resolution does not have to be greater than 720p (1280×720 pixels).
  • Audio: Use OGG or MP3 for lossy compression or FLAC for lossless compression. For MP3 a sampling rate of 32kbps is sufficient for voice and analog tape recordings, 128 to 192kbps should be used for CD quality and 192 to 320kbps should be used for complex audio sources (containing a broad spectrum of frequencies). For OGG a quality 0 is sufficient for voice, quality 6 should give you roughly good CD quality and higher qualities (up to 10) should be used for complex audio sources only.

PDF Generation Guide

This section describes how to prepare PDF files for your final year project. Independent of the program you are using to write the document and create the PDF file, the PDF file must fulfil the following conditions:

  • It must be compatible with Acrobat 5, PDF version 1.4.
  • All of the typefaces used in your document must be embedded in the PDF file, except for the standard PDF fonts. Embedding the standard PDF fonts is optional. The 14 standard PDF fonts are Times–Roman, Times–Bold, Times–Italic, Times–oldItalic, Helvetica, Helvetica–Bold, Helvetica–Oblique, Helvetica–BoldOblique, Courier, Courier–Bold, Courier–Oblique, Courier–BoldOblique, Symbol, ZapfDingbats.
  • The PDF file must not contain any malicious software. In general there is no need to embed any scripts at all.

We also recommend that you turn off any additional image compression during the PDF generation to preserve the original image quality. Furthermore, the PDF file should be generated for 300dpi or higher (print or prepress settings are ok). Screen resolutions, etc. may be of insufficient quality to easily read or print your documents.

The method you choose to create your PDF file is up to you, of course. However, there are several methods that most people use as described below. Following these methods will ensure your document fulfils the above conditions.

Once you created the PDF file you are highly advised to carefully proofread the resulting PDF file using acroread, available at (also installed on all COMSC computers). In particular check that the PDF file does not differ from the original file in any significant way.

TeX and LaTeX

If you are using TeX or LaTeX there are two basic options to create a PDF file: directly generate the PDF file with PDFTeX / PDFLaTeX or create the PDF file from a DVI file. For special TeX frontends and implementations for various platforms, commercial version, etc. you should refer to the documentation of these programs.


We recommend to use PDFTeX / PDFLaTeX directly by calling pdflatex or pdftex command to create a PDF file. Note that there are some small differences between these commands and the original latex or tex commands, which produce DVI files. To avoid any problems you should choose which version you use before you write the complete document.

TeX and LaTeX with DVI files

The standard version of TeX and LaTeX produce DVI files. To generate acceptable PDF files from these, first convert the DVI file to PostScript with the following command:

dvips -Ppdf -G0 -t a4 -o FILE.dvi

Then you should run the ps2pdf program to create the PDF file from the PostScript file:

ps2pdf  -dPDFSETTINGS=/prepress \
        -dCompatibilityLevel=1.4 \
        -dAutoFilterColorImages=false \
        -dAutoFilterGrayImages=false \
        -dColorImageFilter=/FlateEncode \
        -dGrayImageFilter=/FlateEncode \
        -dMonoImageFilter=/FlateEncode \
        -dDownsampleColorImages=false \
        -dDownsampleGrayImages=false \ FILE.pdf

Microsoft Word

There are various ways to generate a PDF file under Microsoft Word. The following three sections describe the most common options.

Save as PDF

Newer Word programs offer under the save menu point the option to save the file as a PDF file. You may have to install a separate option in order for this to work. In general this may be best best option to generate a PDF. Make sure you turn off image compression and select at least 300dpi resolution.


PrimoPDF is a free program available at It installs a PDF printer which can be used to generate the PDF file as well. For details on how to use it see its documentation.

LibreOffice / OpenOffice

If you are using OpenOffice to write your report export the file in PDF format using the File → Export As PDF … menu. Under the options window provided you do not need to select any of the special options. But make sure you turn off JPEG compression by selecting lossless compression to avoid image quality problems and we also do not recommend reducing the image resolution.

File Checksums

A checksum (or hash) is a datum computed from digital data to verify the integrity of that data. Typically you use a program to compute the checksum of a file. Then after this file has been transmitted to some other location the same checksum algorithm is used to compute the checksum there. If the two checksums are the same, it is unlikely that the data has been changed during transmission.

You can use MD5 or SHA1 checksums to verify the files you submit via PATS in this way. We also use it to enable you to hand in a submission late, while you can prove that is has been generated before the deadline. For this you simply have to send the checksum to use before the submission deadline. Read the Submission Guide for details.

Below you find instructions of how to generate MD5 and SHA1 checksums.

Creating MD5 Checksums

It is usually sufficient to use MD5 checksums and by default we expect you to submit an MD5 checksum. It looks something like this:


Please make sure you submit the hexadecimal MD5 sum.

In order to generate such a checksum you may use the following MD5 checksum generators:

Creating SHA1 Checksums

Alternatively you can also use SHA1 checksums. A SHA1 checksum looks something like this:


In order to generate such a checksum you may use the following SHA1 checksum generators:

Other Checksums

In exceptional circumstances alternative checksums that are at least as reliable as an MD5 checksum may be acceptable (e.g. GNU-PG/PGP file signatures). But please contact Frank Langbein early if you intend to use one of these checksum mechanisms.

masters_dissertation_guide.txt · Last modified: 2018/05/15 14:10 by scmfcl