Writing the report
These guidelines have been provided here to help you write your report.
General notes for writing the report
The project report is an extremely important aspect of the project. It serves to show what you have achieved and should demonstrate that:
- You understand the wider context of the subject by relating your choice of project, and the approach you take, to existing products or research.
- You can apply the theoretical and practical techniques taught in the course to the problem you are addressing and that you understand their relevance to the wider world.
- You are capable of objectively criticising your own work and making constructive suggestions for improvements or further work based on your experiences so far.
- As a professional engineer, you can document clearly and concisely your thinking and working processes for third parties who may not be experts in the field in which you are working.
With the exception of your project supervisor, project assessors will not have followed your project throughout and for this reason will rely heavily on the dissertation to judge the quality of your work. The same applies to the external examiners whose job it is to provide an opinion, heavily influenced by the individual project, to the exam board on borderline candidates. Many students underestimate the importance of the dissertation and make the mistake of thinking that top marks can be achieved simply for working hard producing a good product. This is fundamentally not the case and many projects have been graded well below their potential because of an indifferent or poor write-up.
In order to get the balance right you should consider that the aim of the project is to produce a good dissertation and that software, hardware, theory etc. that you developed during the project are merely a means to this end. Don't make the mistake of leaving the write-up to the last minute. Ideally you should produce the bulk of the dissertation as you go along, and use the last week or two to bring all this together into a coherent document.
The physical layout and formatting of the dissertation is also important, and yet is very often neglected. A tidy, well laid out, and consistently formatted document makes for easier reading and is suggestive of a careful and professional attitude towards its preparation. Most students use Word to prepare the dissertation, but an alternate excellent document preparation software is LaTeX, or for those wanting a WYSIWYM front-end to LaTeX, suitable for beginners, LyX (www.lyx.org). Whatever system you use make sure that you become familiar with it early on in the project so that dissertation preparation can be quick and without hitch.
Remember that quantity does not automatically guarantee quality. A 150 page dissertation is not twice as good as a 75-page one in the same way that a 10,000 line program is not twice as good as a 5,000 line one. Conciseness, clarity and elegance are invaluable qualities in dissertation writing, just as they are in other aspects of engineering, and will be rewarded appropriately. The shortest prize-winning project dissertation to date, for example, contained just 33 pages, although it is important to appreciate that the appropriate size and structure of a dissertation can vary significantly from one project to the next. Typical length is from 50 – 150 pages.
Despite these variations, however, most good dissertations have the following components in common - see the rest of the page for detailed information.
Title page, abstract, acknowledgements
Title page This should include the year, project title, MSc name, and your name. You should also list the name of your supervisor.
Abstract The abstract is a very brief summary of the dissertation's contents. It should be about half a page long. Somebody unfamiliar with your project should have a good idea of what it's about having read the abstract alone and will know whether it will be of interest to them.
Acknowledgements It is usual to thank those individuals who have provided particularly useful assistance, technical or otherwise, during your project.
Contents page This should list the main chapters and sub sections of your dissertation. Choose self-explanatory chapter and section titles and use double spacing for clarity. If possible you should include page numbers indicating where each chapter/section begins. Try to avoid too many levels of subheading. Try if possible to stick to sections and subsections; sub-subsections are usually avoidable.
Introduction This is one of the most important components of the dissertation. It should begin with a clear statement of what the project is about so that the nature and scope of the project can be understood by a lay reader. It should summarise everything you set out to achieve, provide a clear summary of the project's background and relevance to other work and give pointers to the remaining sections of the dissertation which contain the bulk of the technical material.
The background section of the dissertation should set the project into context by relating it to existing published work which you read at the start of the project when your approach and methods were being considered. There are usually many ways of solving a given problem, and you shouldn't just pick one at random. Describe and evaluate as many alternative approaches as possible. The background section is often included as part of the introduction but can be a separate chapter if the project involved an extensive amount of research.
The published work may be in the form of research papers, articles, text books, technical manuals, or even existing software or hardware of which you have had hands-on experience. Don't be afraid to acknowledge the sources of your inspiration; you are expected to have seen and thought about other people's ideas; your contribution will be putting them into practice in some other context. However, you must avoid plagiarism: if you take another person's work as your own and do not cite your sources of information/inspiration you are being dishonest; in other words you are cheating.
Plagiarism and mandatory online course
All MSc Students do an online Plagiarism Course (find out more here) The deadline for completing the online plagiarism course for MSc students is 31 October 2017.
Plagiarism will usually be detected (we have electronic systems such as Turnitin which can do this), and will normally result in failure of the project and degree. MSc dissertations are assessed in part on your ability critically to appraise the literature. That will normally be exhibited in the background Chapter(s).
A note on using quotations: Where another author has put all that you wish to say in an acceptable manner, it is then appropriate to quote him verbatim, but please see the information on Plagiarism on the main project page. You should indicate that it is a quotation, by using inverted commas ("...") around quoted phrases. A good approach is to indent the quoted passage - this is particularly so when it is a lengthy quote. Remember to give the reference to the original work and the author! Figures taken from other work should also be acknowledged by giving the reference.
Body of dissertation
The central part of the dissertation usually consists of three or four chapters detailing the technical work undertaken during the project. The structure of these chapters is highly project dependent. Often they reflect the chronological development of the project, e.g. design, implementation, experimentation, optimisation, although this is not always the best approach.
However you choose to structure this part of the dissertation, you should make it clear how you arrived at your chosen approach in preference to the other alternatives documented in the background. Your supervisor will advise you on the most suitable structu re for these middle sections. The above caution about plagiarism applies equally to all sections of your dissertation.
Conclusions and future work
All good projects conclude with an objective evaluation of the project's successes and failures and suggestions for fut ure work which can take the project further. It is important to understand that there is no such thing as a perfect project.
Even the very best pieces of work have their limitations and you are expected to provide a proper critical appraisal of what you have done. Your assessors are bound to spot the limitations of your work and you are expected to be able to do the same.
The bibliography consists of a list of all the books, articles, manuals etc. used in the project and referred to in the dissertation. You should provide enough information to allow the reader to find the source. You should give the full title and author and should state where it is published, including full issue number and date, and page numbers where necessary. In the case of a text book you should quote the name of the publisher as well as the author(s). Be consistent in the way that you write them and give all necessary details, so that the references can be easily located e.g.
1) J.E. Carroll, “Technical Writes and Wrongs”, Electronics and Power, vol. 25, pp.256-258, April 1979.
2) J. van Emden and J. Easteal, “Dear Sir or Madam”, Electronics and Power, Vol. 31, pp. 291-294, April 1985.
The bibliography should contain keys to allow specific references where appropriate. Use numeric  or AuthorDate [Cla06] keys. EndNote is a Word add-on provided by the College which will maintain bibliographic references automatically and BibTex a package that will work with LateX or LyX, but manual references are also fine and may be more appropriate given the time constraints of the project.
The appendices contain information which is peripheral to the main body of the dissertation. Information typically included are things like program listings, complex circuit diagrams, tables, proofs, graphs or any other material which would break up the theme of the text if it appeared in situ.
Large program listings may be submitted with the dissertation although it is preferable either to provide them on CD, or to cite their web path name in the dissertation. Where CDs used you must prepare two CDs, one for each paper copy of the dissertation.
For projects which result in a new piece of software or hardware you should provide a proper user guide providing easily understood instructions on how to use it. A particularly useful approach is to treat the user guide as a walk-through of a typical session, or set of sessions, which collectively display all the features of your product.
Technical details of how the product works are rarely required here. Keep it concise and simple. The extensive use of diagrams illustrating the product in action usually proves particularly helpful. The user guide is often included as a chapter in the main body of the dissertation, but can be included as an appendix to the main dissertation.
Note on College branding of your thesis cover
Please note: It is not permitted for you to use the College crest on your dissertation or thesis cover. The College’s coat of arms is an important part of the graphic identity of Imperial College London. The crest is reserved for uses which promote the heritage and history of the College, such as degree certificates, invitations to formal College events, and sports team apparel and merchandise. Instead please use the Imperial College Logo.
More information can be found here about this.
For College information on how to use their Logo visit these pages: http://www.imperial.ac.uk/brand-style-guide/visual-identity/the-imperial-logo/