When studying TM470, students are required to design, plan and carry out a short project that will enable them to show off the skills and knowledge that they have gained from their earlier level 3 students. To pass this module, students have to submit a detailed project report, which can also be thought of as a dissertation.
Since student projects can take many different forms, the TM470 module materials offer general guidance that need to be interpreted by students. A suggested report structure might work well for one type of project, but not for another. Students might decide on a research project (looking into a very specific problem in a lot of detail), an evaluation project (comparing one product, tool, system or approach to another), or an implementation project (choosing to design and implement code that solves a well-defined problem).
In absence of some very specific guidance about how to structure of project report, this blog post offers a summary of some of the guidance that I have offered (and continue to offer) during some of my TM470 EMA preparation tutorials. After my tutorials, I also share a link to this blog post to the TM470 students that I am supporting.
I must offer a disclaimer: this guidance will not fit all projects. Students must decide about whether the below suggested structure it is appropriate for their own project. Also, they must also decide on whether their report demonstrates that the TM470 learning outcomes have been met.
Before summarising the suggested structure, I have three tips for students:
- Ensure that your report is as readable as possible (but do make sure it remains a formal report). The project marker may be unfamiliar with the subject that you are writing about. Take time to set the scene and explain concepts that may be unfamiliar to a reader.
- Do have a look through the OU Skills for Study resources (OU website). In particular, I’m a fan of The Good Study Guide which you can find through the OU study booklets page (OU website). The Good Study Guide offers some really helpful advice about researching and writing.
- Think of the project report as a ‘technical narrative’, or a ‘technical story’. It is also a story that can contain other narratives. There is a story about your planning, a story about your reading, a story about what has been done, and what has been learnt. Make your technical story as interesting as you can.
In this section, present a really short introduction to the whole project. Try to summarise it in a couple of sentences. Then, provide the reader with a pointer towards what they can expect to see in the next sections. This will ‘prime’ them for what is coming up in the next section. You might also want to allude to what you have achieved, but don’t tell them everything; this is presented in the next sections.
2. Problem description
In this section, go into a bit more detail about what your project. You might want to explain a bit more about the project context or setting. Background information will help the EMA examiner to understand what your project is all about. In some ways, think of the opening sections of the report as a ‘spiral’, where you gradually lead the examiner towards the detail of what you’ve done. In some way, you’re teaching the reader about your project.
3. Preparation and planning
In the previous section, you’ve told the examiner what you’re going to do. This section is all about how you’re going to do it. Since sharing detail about your project plan is important, it is a good idea to split this section into a number of subheadings.
3.1 Project Model
A suggestion is to begin by telling the examiner about the project model you’ve chosen. Do have a look at the module materials about this, and what this means. In other words, you could use this section to summarise the project planning approach that you have chosen, and why it is appropriate.
3.X Resources, skills, activities, risks, plan…
What might follow is a series of subsections about resources that you need, skills, potential risks to the project, and also something about this high level plans. Do say something about what you’re going to be doing, and also what tools you might have used to decide on what you’re going to be doing and when.
4. Legal, social, ethical and professional issues
Legal social ethical and professional issues (LSEPI) are important, especially in TM470. As future Computing and IT professionals, it is important to be mindful about the impact of a project or development on wider society, and any implications it might have. Also, if a project involves working with people to uncover requirements, it is important that you treat everyone in an ethical way. The module team offers a bit of guidance about this topic, but for further inspiration it might be a good idea to have a quick look through the British Computer Society Code of Conduct (BCS website).
5. Literature review
This section is all about showing the examiner what you have read or studied, and how this has influenced the project work that have done. I’ve suggested it comes at this point, after the LSEPI section, since the identification of some legal, social, ethical or professional issues might raise questions that can only be answered by further reading.
There are different ways to structure a literature review. Two ways are: by theme, or by time. In other words, by the subjects that you have read about, or the order in which you have read things. I always prefer thematic literature reviews since they enable the writer to adopt a more critical approach. This means you can more directly and easily compare and contrast different opinions from different sources.
In this section, do try to reference as widely as possible. Do take the time to reference other modules you have studied (including textbooks and module blocks), any technical text books you might be using in the next section, and also do a bit of digging into the OU library (which all students have access to).
Fellow tutors have offered the following guidance: “show you understand the importance of a source; show you recognize the limitations of your sources; show how the literature has influenced the direction of the project and informed your thinking, and show how the literature has justified decisions”.
6. Project work
This is one of the most important sections of the report. It shows the examiner what you have done. It should ideally be a series of case studies that presents a narrative (story) of what you have done, and should relate back to the plan that you have described. To structure everything, it is a good idea to separate everything out into a series of subheadings; one for each mini case study.
Drawing on comments from fellow TM470 tutors, the examiner needs to get a feel for the project as a whole, the solution you created, and whether you solved the problem. Importantly, this section should demonstrate your technical and presentation skills, and should be concise.
If you have a project where you have generated a lot of materials, such as interview scripts, survey results, source code, or diagrams, you need to make a choice about what goes in this section, and what you choose to put in an appendix. One way to answer this question is to ask yourself: is this an example of my best work? If so, put something in this section.
7. Review and reflection
By the time you get to this section, you would have prepared a plan, have done some research, and have carried out some project work. This section is all about telling the examiner what you have learnt from the experience of running your project.
To help you to begin to answer this question, think of those “WH” questions: what, how, when, and why? Ask yourself the following questions: Did you follow your plan? Did you learn the right thing, and the right time, to solve the right problem? How did what you learn help or hinder your project? Also, how did you expand on your level 3 studies?
The more thoughtful your review and reflection section appears, and the more that you appear to have learnt by completing the project, the more evidence there will be that you have obtained some of the TM470 learning outcomes.
To wrap everything up neatly, I tell students to write a short summary. A suggestion is: to offer a reminder about what the project was all about, what project model was chosen, summarise what has achieved, and then to share three things that have been learnt by completing the project. In some senses, this final summary should mirror the introduction section.
Clear referencing is really important. The aim of this section is to enable the examiner to find an original source, report, textbook, or anything else that has helped you with your project. It also offers a neat summary of all the reading that you’ve done.
For TM470, you only need a references section, not a bibliography and a references section. If you use a resource in the body of your text, make sure that you refer to it in this section. Make sure that you present everything in alphabetical order, and mention dates of publication. If you’re unsure how to format any resource, book, paper, technical report, or bit of software, do refer to the CiteThemRight website.
A project report can have any number of appendices. You can use an appendix to share supplementary materials to help the examiner to get a feel for what you’ve done during the course of your project.
There are no hard and fast rules about how many appendices you should have since every project is different. You might use them to show excerpts of source code, diagrams, consent forms, and data that you might have collected during the course of your project. Whatever works best for you. You should, however, always reference each appendix from within the body of the report, just to make the examiner aware that this may be an important part of your report.
Although you must try to limit your project report to 10k words, there is no limit to how many additional words you can provide within the appendices (but the module team does encourage everyone to be reasonable).
You can include an acknowledgement section in your project report, along with a glossary if you feel it is appropriate to include one.
This acknowledgement section is for this blog post, rather than for a project report. I would like to acknowledge Chris Thompson and Karl Wilcox, who have been very generous in sharing their tutorial resources with me. I would also like to acknowledge Alexis Lansbury, who is my TM470 line manager.