Top Tips for a Successful Final Year Project

Top Tips From Supervisors

Overall responsibility for the project is yours.

Show initiative.

You should view yourself as the project leader.

Your supervisor should provide support rather than lead the project. Contact your project supervisor as soon as possible to organise the first meeting and organise regular meetings with them.

Planning

The key to a successful project is good planning.

Plan the project over the whole academic year giving realistic timings for each element. This should highlight the need for allocating equal time to each semester and to start the project as soon as possible.

Keeping a log-book throughout the project will make the task of writing the thesis more straightforward.

Realise that resources are finite. Other students will require access to testing/manufacturing facilities and technical support, so timetable your use of resources and don’t leave things until the last minute.

Report Aims

You need to have a clear set of aims before starting to write a report. In formulating the aims you need to consider the intended content, the audience, the purpose for writing.
You will find it helpful to list a set of objectives under each of these headings before starting to write a report.

The intended content depends on what you were asked to do: build a mathematical model, design a controller; compare design techniques; or write some software. For example, if you were asked to design a controller you might list the intended contents as:

∙ Description of system to be controlled.
∙ Choice of design method.
∙ Details of design procedures and justification for decisions.
∙ Assessment of performance of the design.

There are many different types of project and so it is difficult to produce a detailed set of recommendations to suit every single dissertation. The type of project will dictate the content and structure of the dissertation and you should discuss this with your supervisor.

Final Project Report

Produce a draft for each chapter/section in turn and follow each up with a discussion with your supervisor. Note your supervisor will only read one draft of any individual section.

Material from your interim report should be integrated into the final dissertation. Modifications will be made to it based on feedback from your supervisor, and the deeper understanding you will have developed through your own developments and analysis of your results means that you will be able to produce a better-analysed survey.

Every chapter/section apart from the introduction and conclusions should have an introductory section that sets the scene for the chapter, i.e. explains the reasoning behind the chapter's structure.

Plan your project time so that the supervisor has time to read drafts and make comments, and you have time to act on your supervisor's comments.

The English Language Teaching Centre can offer assistance to all students on dissertation writing.

Writing Style & Guidelines

You are writing a scientific document so do not write "chattily" or in the first person singular. For example, write “Some samples were made” instead of "I made some samples”. (Acknowledgements can be written in th first person, eg. “I would like to thank my supervisor, Dr X”.)

Write in clear, concise English. Avoid writing notes, or long winded sentences.

Captions: Figure and table captions should be descriptive enough that the figure and caption alone are self-explanatory (this is not always possible).

Symbols: Always define in the text what symbols mean. You can also include a table at the beginning.

Equations: Try to stick to conventional styles. Use the equation editor if you have a lot of equations or if they are complicated. If your work is essentially mathematical you might consider using LaTex instead.

Diagrams, graphs etc: Always label them and number them consecutively. Labels should make the figure self-explanatory. Make sure axes on graphs are labelled. Use a legend or key if needed. Sometimes you can spend more time using complex drawing packages than the picture is worth. Don't fall into this trap.

Refer to any figure in the text. If you haven't written about it in the text it shouldn't be in the document. Where possible figures should be created using appropriate software tools.

If you use abbreviations or acronyms they should be expanded when first used, e.g. "TLA (Three Letter Abbreviation)" and if they are used throughout the dissertation a glossary should be provided as an appendix.

Length: A short well-argued or described report using references properly is preferable to a long-winded, unstructured ramble. Ensure you do not exceed the page or word limits.

Reading papers in the area of your project is a good way to develop a good writing style. Writing a report is time-consuming. It is in your interests to make an early start on it. Do not wait until you have finished all the practical work before starting writing.

Your supervisor will comment on structure and content, not grammar and spelling mistakes. 

Appendices

You can begin organising the report before you have collected all the material. A good way of doing this is to separate the material into three categories:

1. Obviously important information which must go into the report.
2. Borderline information which might be of use to some readers, or which might amplify or substantiate other more important material.
3. Information that you find interesting (or cannot bear to throw away) but which is not relevant to the report.

Material in category 1 will probably go in the main body of the report and that in category 2 in an appendix. Material in category 3 you will probably eventually throw away (but not yet, for if you do you will find that it contained a piece of vital information which you had overlooked).

You do not necessarily start writing the report at the beginning and stop at the end. A good starting point can be to decide what will go in appendices and to assemble or write each appendix. Appendices should be used to remove information from the body of the report that is not essential to the majority of readers, e.g. details of how to use a particular computer program to obtain a controller design. This is valuable information for anyone who subsequently wishes to use the program but is not relevant to the reader who is interested in how the controller performs.

Other uses of appendices include to hold program listings or detailed tables of results, or to contain background information which most readers will know but a few need to be told, such as detailed derivations of formulae or theorems.

Oral Presentation

Overcoming your fears. You can overcome a fear of presenting by considering the audience to be no more knowledgeable than yourself in the subject. The audience is there to listen to you, and learn from what your presentation has to offer.

Speak clearly and to the point to the audience.

The use of written notes may be useful, but avoid head-down reading of a prepared script as this can lose audience attention and sympathy.

Prior preparation of the presentation is the key to preventing poor performance. Study the material you are presenting and practice with your presentation, pay attention to timing.

Structure your presentation in a logical sequence of introduction, body, discussion and conclusion. The presentation should be a description of project work carried out, including:

∙ A title slide containing title, student name and supervisor’s name.
∙ Overview of the presentation or the contents slide
∙ Main presentation slides outlining aims and objectives of the project, an introduction to the problem, problem formulation, outline theory, experimental details, results and discussion
∙ Last slide on conclusions or summary and directions for future work

Avoid putting too much information on any one slide. Use short sentences and/or phrases and provide explanation during the presentation.

The presentation may comprise a mix of audio/visual material. It is important to keep a balance between various elements. Visual aids can contribute to the efficiency and quality of presentation if used effectively to serve a purpose and help convey the intended message.

The font used for the main text should be at least 18 point for overheads. Suggested spacing between lines is 1.5 lines or more.

As a general rule, present equations only if they provide critical information that cannot be presented by other means.

Plots and Graphs should have appropriately labelled axes and a key should be provided.

Allow time for questions and discussion. This is useful for the presenter to receive feedback and the audience to get clarification on queries.

Provide concise, clear and convincing response to questions.

You may not know the answer to a question. It may fall outside the scope of your work, and you are not expected to have 100% knowledge of the subject(s) related to your project.

Avoiding the use of Unfair Means

IMPORTANT NOTE: You should thoroughly read and understand the information on unfair means. If you are unsure about what this means and the implications for your work, you should consult your project supervisor, the Individual Project module leader, your year tutor or your personal tutor: http://shef.ac.uk/ssid/exams/plagiarism

Any work submitted must be your own and must not include the work of any other person unless it is properly acknowledged and referenced.

Learning how to reference sources appropriately is an essential skill that you will need throughout your University career and beyond. Follow any guidance on the preparation of assessed work given by the academic department setting the assignment.

You are required to attach a declaration form to all submitted work (including work submitted online), stating that the work submitted is entirely your own work.

The Library provides online information literacy skills tutorials: http://www.shef.ac.uk/library/services/infoskills.html

The Library also has information on reference management software:
http://www.shef.ac.uk/library/refmant/refmant.html

The English Language Teaching Centre operates a Writing Advisory Service for all students:
http://www.shef.ac.uk/eltc/services/writingadvisory

Additional guidelines for projects with a design and manufacturing component

In carrying out your project you will need to follow a defined design process. Remember that at each decision point you will need to fully justify the choices you make. This may require some calculations, experiments or numerical modelling so this will have to be factored into your plans. You may be able to find some supporting data in the literature. Quantitative justification is much better than qualitative.

Additional guidelines for projects with a simulation component

Understand the purpose of the simulation.

Be aware that simulation is not a simple add in to the project and that you need to be aware of why you are doing a simulation and allow enough time to undertake is properly.

Have a clear plan of what the aim of the simulation is, how it fits in with your project, what software is available and why you would choose one piece of software over another.

Learn the software. This could mean learning completely new software or extending your knowledge of existing software. You might need to apply for an Iceberg account to use some types of software remotely. There are tutorials available on most software packages, so ask your supervisor for further details.

Validate your model. Be aware that all simulations need validation. You should therefore plan how you are going to validate any results through experiment, calculation or complementary research.

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