Time and quality management: keeping a project on track

While you are busy with your project research, it is necessary to also pick up the unwritten skills of research. The two biggest challenges for IT and engineering students are usually time management and writing. Setting a series of weekly deliverables is a useful discipline for pacing your work. Supervisors will not typically provide feedback, however you can take a copy to weekly meetings as a discussion point.

Weekly Deliverables for semester 1 of a two-semester project

Deliverable number

Requirement

Week Number

---

--- Week 1 no deliverable ---

1

1

Project title and project description

2

2

Annotated bibliography

3

3

Project plan (Swales 4b)

4

4

Statement of research question and project introduction (Swales 1-4)

5

5

Progress report draft

6

--- Mid semester break (will vary from year to year)---

---

*** Progress report *** (honours project requirement)
http://www.itee.uq.edu.au/~comp6803/

7

6

Elevator pitch

8

7

Seminar outline and draft of seminar slides

9

8

Description of preliminary results or pilot studies

10

*** Seminar Week*** (honours project requirement)
http://www.itee.uq.edu.au/~comp6803/

11

9

Description of your research methodology and analysis or evaluation techniques

12

10

Project review and Timeline for semester 2

13

D1. Project Title and Project Description

Task

  1. Describe your project in your own words (200-500 words)
  2. Give the word count

Rationale

The tasks for the first week are easy tasks to make sure you can access the facilities and are on track with your project selection. It’s like writing a program that says “Hello World!” when you learn a new language.

Tips

  • A good project description clearly describes the goals of the project and the methods that will be used.
  • Look at three previous project reports to get a feel for what is required and the variation between reports.
  • Send an email to your supervisor with the Title and Project Description
  • Check out the Research wiki (http://www.itee.uq.edu.au/~comp4809/wiki/index.php/Main_Page)

D2. Annotated Bibliography

Task

  1. Look at the reference formats, APA and IEEE. Choose one of these two. (IEEE is usual for engineering)
  2. Learn how to use endnote. (For formal methods and mathematicians, latex and bibtex would be preferable.)
  3. List 5 appropriately formatted references relevant to your project using endnote. At least three must be peer reviewed papers. If you can't find a relevant article, choose something related to the topic.
  4. Briefly summarizing each article (1-2 sentences) and its relevance to your project (1-2 sentences).
  5. Email your Annotated bibliography to your supervisor

Rationale

  • Compiling a reference list is a mundane task that should be done throughout the project. Getting the format right early saves valuable time later.
  • Endnote is a standard tool. Even though you may not need to use it for your project, you should be familiar with it and able to learn such tools quickly. You can choose any tool for the rest of your project.
  • Reading a paper is more that just starting at the beginning and continuing to the end: Read the title and abstract. Predict what the paper will be about. Skim the intro, figures and conclusions. Ask yourself questions as you read. What’s the most relevant result in the paper? Is it relevant to your project? If so, read the whole paper. Summarize the article for your bibliography. Use full sentences and use your own words. It will make writing up your project much more professional and much easier later.
  • Reading original references and extracting the relevance for your own research is a skill essential to a good researcher. It can initially take time, but it can be developed and the relevance of a paper extracted very quickly

Assessment

  • Refereed publications include full articles in journals and fully refereed conference papers. They don’t include textbooks, or user manuals.
  • Wikipedia and other web pages are not refereed.
  • Appropriate formatting means in traditional academic style, as if submitted to a journal or conference.

Tips

  • http://www.itee.uq.edu.au/~comp4809/wiki/index.php/Writing
  • http://www.itee.uq.edu.au/~comp4809/wiki/index.php/Reviewing
  • If you don’t know what format to use, look at the journal or conference where your most important references are from, find their format (usually available in the back cover of the journal or online) and use that format.
  • Google and scholar.google.com are often useful. Online journals are ok, provided that they are peer reviewed and published. If you can't tell, assume they are not peer reviewed.
  • Unlike Wikipedia, Scholarpedia is moderated, but it is not reviewed. Online tutorials, Wikipedia and scholarpedia can sometimes be useful for learning about a new field, but they can also be biased and sometimes just wrong. The definitive articles for referencing are the peer reviewed ones.
  • http://www.itee.uq.edu.au/~comp4809/wiki/index.php/CourseFAQ for details of what “peer review” means
  • Impact factors are a good way to find out the standing of a conference or journal. E.g. ISI and Citeseer http://www.itee.uq.edu.au/~comp4809/wiki/index.php/Impact_factors
  • When you summarise, don't copy sentences directly from the paper - that would be plagiarism. Use your own words.
  • If the material is so technical that you don’t yet understand it, but you really like the phrasing, type the exact quote into your own notes using quote marks and note the source. Later you will know that you need to quote it or rephrase it when you write your literature review.

D3. Project Plan (Swales 4b)

Task

  1. Describe the specific aims for your project and the methods to be used, including references if applicable (200-500 words). Define all technical terms. Give the word count
  2. Summarize the progress made in the first three weeks of the project (200-500 words). Give the word count
  3. Email your project plan to your supervisor and incorporate their feedback if there is time.

Rationale

This section will form part of the introduction for your progress report (Swales 4b)

Tips

  • Look at the methods sections from past project reports, or from relevant journal and conference articles.
  • A good description will often have global aims and specific aims.
  • Methods in the broadest sense include software engineering, computational modeling, ethnography, surveys, etc. Within each of these general areas, there are more specific details for your particular project — what language, tools, analyses, etc. If you don’t yet know what methods are appropriate, give what details you can and state how you will find out more information and when you will be making those decisions.

D4. Statement of research question and project introduction using Swales format

Task

  1. State your Research Question (also called the thesis-of-the-thesis). It should be 25-200 words. State the word count
  2. Write a brief description for each of the sections below (these elaborate on the headings of the Swales format discussed in class in week 3). The total should be 800-1000 words. State the word count
    (These sections will be useful preparation for writing the introduction section for your project at the end of the year. You may also use them for your progress report.)
  3. Email your D4 to your supervisor and incorporate their feedback if there is time.

Swales format for writing an Introduction

  1. Understand the wider context and importance of the project
    1. State the general topic and make a claim about why it is important.
    2. Describe what is generally known about this topic.
  2. Summarize previous research
    1. State the core ideas in the literature and structure them in a logical sequence.
    2. Draw conclusions from the literature review by summing up the relevance of the literature review for the project and listing the informed decisions that need to be made.
  3. Prepare for the current research
    1. List the gaps. That is, given all the research reviewed in Step 2, what is left to be done? An accurate summary of this situation is one of the critical aspects of a project. Are there gaps related to an area that has not been studied, or to a new method that needs developing?
    2. List possible methods for addressing the gaps. For a large project, usually at least five different approaches are possible. Understanding the breath of questions that could be addressed is a major step in understanding why your project is addressing the gap that it is.
    3. Select a gap and a methodology for addressing it. A gap can be selected because new technology, theoretical tools or methods have recently become available. It can be constrained by length of time available for the project or by resources available.
      The gap is frequently large. By appreciating that many approaches would be valid, you can see what aspects you will be able to address with your chosen methodology, and what will be outside the scope of the project. Don’t confuse the gap with your research plan (which is the next Step). It is conceivable that someone else could address the same gap using the same general methodology but design a different specific plan.
  4. Research plan
    1. State the overall goals and the specific aims of the research. In an empirical study, the hypothesis is stated here. Make the aims as specific as possible.
    2. Outline the methods to be followed. A timeline is frequently useful in this section.

Rationale

Using a standard set of headings (such as Swales) forces you to think about why your project is important, how it relates to past literature and what the gap and aims of your project are. Thinking about these issues deepens your understanding of your research question and guides the plan of your project work. Your won’t necessarily have good answers for all the questions at this stage, but should endeavour either to give the best answer at present, or indicate that the issues are not yet fully known, and sketch how you will find an answer. The questions raise issues that many students in the past have only faced at the final stage of writing.

Tips

  • D4 requires writing a brief section on each of the areas of Swales. A full introduction is not required at this stage.
  • Material from D3 can be used in Swales 4b.
  • Bullet point format is ok so long as you use full sentences.
  • More details are linked to the wiki copy at http://www.itee.uq.edu.au/~comp4809/wiki/index.php/Defining_the_thesis_theme
  • Note that D4 differs from the project progress report because it requires specifically addressing each section and has strict word limits.
  • Checklist
    • Is the title given?
    • Is the research question identified?
    • Is the word limit for the research question in the range 25-200 words?
    • Is each section addressed (minimum 1-2 sentences on each section from 1a to 4b)?
    • Is there a clear understanding of the difference between the gap in section 3 and the plan in section 4.
    • Is the word count stated?
    • Is the word limit for all four sections together appropriate — not too short (min 800 words) and not too long (max 1500 words)

D5. Progress report draft

Task

  1. Write a draft of your progress report. State the word count.
  2. Email your draft to your supervisor.

Rationale

  • The aim of the progress report is for the student to crystallize the issues in their project, report on pilot studies and outline a plan for the remainder of the project. It demonstrates the level of understanding of the literature, methodology and plan, and provides a first assessable piece of written work.
  • The draft progress report is aimed at ensuring that the major framework and all the components of the report are in place a week in advance, so that the final week can be spent dealing with substantive issues that enable the student to deepen their understanding of the literature, methods and/or plan, as necessary. It is both a time management and a quality management
  • The more complete the draft report, the better you will be able to evaluate the balance of all components, and also the better the feedback possible.

Tips

o See the assessment at http://www.itee.uq.edu.au/~comp6804/assess.pdf

o Checklist: The minimum requirement includes:

    • Title, student name and number, supervisor
    • Contents showing a clear structure with suitable headings, including at least a first draft of
      • Introduction
      • Literature review
      • Methods
      • Plan
      • References in appropriate format
  • Note that you should use the structure as determined by your supervisor. The above structure is one example among many.
    For example, for one student, the supervisor specified that the sections (with more informative headings) should cover
    • Title
    • Contents
    • Abstract (or executive summary)
    • Introduction
    • Literature review
    • Methodology
    • Pilot studies
    • Plan and timeline for the rest of the project
    • References
    • Appendices (if needed)
  • Don’t include the annotations from the annotated bibliography D3. They were a step on the way to developing a literature review, and should not be included in the progress report or final report.

o For the Introduction, a Swales format is good. But rewrite section 3b much more concisely to focus on your specific gap and include appropriate (project specific headings). For the project proposal, you need to describe your specific project.

Question: Can D4 be used in the D5 Progress Report draft? Is it appropriate to use it?
Answer: D4 and the Intro to D5 cover similar but not identical information. You are welcome to use the same material in both, keeping in mind that they have slightly different requirements:

  • D4 required specific sections and had a word limit which allowed you to see more clearly the relationship between each section. The Progress Report introduction may be much longer and may also integrate the D4 sections into a single section.
  • In D4, Section 2 included just the main points. For many projects, the full literature review in the Progress report would be much more detailed and the section in the introduction will include forward references to the literature review where appropriate.
  • In the D5 introduction, the gap section from D4 (Section 3) will need condensing down to just the main issues. In thinking about the project for D4, you needed to consider all the wider options to ensure that you can justify why your approach is appropriate. D5 is the point where you condense that down to your project.

Project Progress report (final)

Assessment

Marked by supervisor as part of project.

Tips

· See the assessment at http://www.itee.uq.edu.au/~comp6803/, http://www.itee.uq.edu.au/~engg4801/

D6. Elevator Pitch

An “elevator pitch” is a brief description of the motivation and aims of your project.
Imagine you have walked into an elevator with the chairman of the Faculty Research committee, who comments that the committee is looking for interesting research to fund in the coming months. He or she then asks what your project is about. It’s not a long elevator ride - you have 30 seconds to get the message of your project across. What would you say? That 30-second message is called an elevator pitch.

Task

  1. Write an elevator pitch for your project (aim for a message that takes you about 30 seconds to say talking at normal speed). State the word count.
  2. Email your D4 to your supervisor and incorporate their feedback if there is time.

Rationale

The aim of the elevator pitch is to practice communicating your work at a different level of detail. A brief time frame forces you to focus on the most important aspects. It prepares you for the poster and demo presentations in semester 2.

Tips

  • Try explaining your project in non-technical terms to a few people who don’t know your work, and watch their faces to see what explanations are most useful.
  • Typically, the first draft takes about 3-5 minutes, which you can hone and polish until the message is very clear and can be communicated well in 30 seconds.
  • Elevator pitches are all about the clarity of the communication: give a clear description of the motivation and aims of the project.

D7. Seminar outline and draft of Seminar slides

Task

Prepare a draft of your seminar presentation. This is not intended to be the final perfect presentation, just the planning stage.

  1. State your name, student number, supervisor and title of your project.
  2. Length of time for your seminar, giving total time and time for questions.
  3. Date for your seminar if organized, or approximate date if not yet known
  4. Number of slides
  5. Title of your seminar (use your project title if nothing better comes to mind)
  6. Describe the take home message of your seminar (20-50 words). State the word count.
  7. Topic for each slide. You may either
    • Do the slides using Power Point or another presentation format (a rough draft of each slide is ok); or
    • List the contents of the slides in text form
  8. Write five questions that you would like the audience to ask you at the end of your seminar. These questions may be circulated at your seminar so make sure they are ones that you will be able to answer well.
  9. Email your slides to your supervisor and incorporate their feedback if there is time.

Rationale

Presenting research effectively in a seminar requires attention to both the content of the research and the delivery. Planning early and thinking about the issues ahead of time allows a speaker to consider a variety of options for communicating the main point, and then plan and refine a talk. Drafting the talk before polishing the slides is effective time management, since no time is wasted polishing slides that are not likely to be part of the final performance.

Tips

  • The “take-home message” is the one thing that you want your audience to remember.
  • A seminar is a professional communication task. The skill of effectively presentation of technical material can be learned. Like all skills, it improves with training and practice.
  • Choose five questions that will make you look intelligent, reveal how much you understand about your research area, and/or allow you to highlight the main points.

D8. Description of preliminary results or pilot studies

Task

  1. Describe the progress made on the substance of the project to date, including description of pilot studies, code written etc. (300-500 words). State the word count
  2. If your project includes writing software, state the backup system you are using and other software engineering tools.
  3. Email your D8 to your supervisor and incorporate their feedback if there is time

Rationale

Efforts at this stage of semester are often directed towards the seminar, but you also need to be making progress on the substance of the project.

Tips

  • Good time management is useful for keeping a project on track.

Half Time Seminar

Assessment

Marked by supervisor as part of project.

Tips

  • Make sure your presentation has your name, student number and project title clearly displayed.
  • To create a pdf from a powerpoint presentation, <print> → select pdf printer → select <print what> handouts - 6 slides per page

D9. Description of Research Methodology and Analysis or evaluation techniques

Task

  1. Clearly describe the planned methodology for your project. Use diagrams where relevant. This should be in a form that may be directly useful for your final project report (minimum 300 words)
  2. Describe the results you intend to collect and the form in which they will be collated. Use tables or graphs to show the relevant variables or axes. (minimum 300 words)
  3. Clearly describe the analysis or evaluation techniques that are relevant to your project. Refer to particular analyses in the literature, and where relevant include specific diagrams that you will be using as a model for your own project. (minimum 200 words)
  4. State all word counts.
  5. Email your D9 to your supervisor and incorporate their feedback if there is time.

Rationale

The time to think about methodology, collation of results, and analyses or evaluation is when studies are first designed. This information is important both for the planning stages of research, and also for the presenting your work in the seminar. The depth of your thinking about these issues at this stage of the research will be reflected in the final quality of your project in semester 2.

Tips

  • “Methodology” covers all the procedures that are followed in a field in order to discover new information. In some fields it might involve mathematical proofs, in another it might be neural network simulations, in another it might be extreme programming. “Methodology” covers the general case, and “Methods” are the specific application of a methodology to your project.
  • “Results” are the indisputable numbers or the facts that are observed.
  • “Analysis or evaluation” is how to turn the observed facts into meaningful knowledge. For example, when comparing two algorithms, the results might be their recorded performance on a set of tasks. Analysis might include a statistical test to determine if the performances were statistically different. For a classifier, analysis might include generating a ROC curve.

D10. Project Review, Plan and Timeline for remainder of project

Task

  1. Project Review: Think about what you know and/or have learned this semester about how to do research and about your research project over the last 13 weeks.
    Write 500-1000 words about the process of the research you have done so far this semester. Give the word count.
  2. Plan and timeline: Provide a detailed plan of the project tasks to be done. Provide a Gantt chart of the tasks and estimated duration for each task (week-by-week) until project completion.
    Include time to write the project report, seeking and incorporating feedback, and preparing and delivering the demo or poster.
    Mark when there are breaks for holidays.
  3. Email your Plan and Timeline to your supervisor and incorporate their feedback if there is time

Rationale

Professional researchers learn most of their research skills through practical projects, working with experienced researchers where possible, and learning by trying things and finding out what works for them. Self-reflection is one of the major tools that can be used to improve performance by sifting through experiences to determine things that went well, and are effective for the individual in practice, and places where performance could be improved by deepening technical knowledge or development of personal skills such as writing and time management. Planning research is a skill that is learned primarily through practice.

Tips

  • Gantt charts are a common tool. Descriptions can be found using any search engine.
  • The Project Review is about the research process and not the product. That is, it is about “How you do effective research” and not “what your research produces”
  • If you don’t know where to start, consider one or more of the following questions:
    • How well has your project gone this semester?
    • Are you on track compared to where you thought you would be?
    • What went well this semester?
    • What didn’t go well?
  • The Plan and Timeline should provide sufficient detail to estimate the time management issues for the rest of the project.
  • The Plan and Timeline requires thinking about next semester. What will you focus on for your project and what is the core path to completing the project successfully?