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Main.ResearchAssignmentr1.16 - 15 Nov 2010 - 20:49 - AndyZaidman

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Research Assignment

What the Study Guide Says

``The Literature Survey is an individual assignment carried out under supervision of a CS or MKE staff member. For this assignment the student reads a broad range of papers in the chosen specialisation field and writes a report in which the ideas found in the papers are discussed and compared.''

Currently, the literature survey is 10 ECTS.

Research Assignments at SERG

Typically the research assignment is the first step of the subsequent thesis assignment. The objectives include:

  • to clarify the problem to be solved in the thesis assignment,
  • to identify existing scientific literature that can help to address the problem.
  • to come up with a plan for the full thesis project.

Research assignments at SERG are conducted in Master Groups, groups of approximately six students working on related topics. Your supervisor can tell you in which master group your topic belongs.

Issues to consider when conducting the research include:

  1. It is important to start out from a clear goal or problem description. The underlying problem can be scientific in nature, coming from your university supervisor, or practical in nature, being a concrete problem of the company for which you will do your project.
  2. Your literature study should be conducted in light of this concrete problem. Thus, you should find papers relevant to the problem, and interpret their applicability for the problem at hand, rather than just summarize them. Thus, instead of copy-pasting figures from these papers, it is better to redraw these figures using concrete examples taken from your problem domain.
  3. To evaluate papers, you can also conduct small experiments, try out a tool, build a prototype, and report on your experiences.
  4. Try to find organizing principles that help you understand the literature. This may result in categories (papers on X, papers on Y), in a table in which you categorize various techniques proposed in the literature according to relevant properties, or some form of taxonomy based on distinguishing characteristics.
  5. Since this is a research assignment, your literature survey should focus on scientific articles. It should not be a web search. See ResearchPointers for suggestions on how to find your way in the scientific literature.
  6. The coverage of your literature search should be substantial: this typically would include the analysis of approximately 25 scientific papers.

Milestones, Deliverables and Phasing.

The duration of the research assignment is 7 weeks.

Project milestones and deliverables include:

Precondition: Topic approved.

Milestone M1: Research literature document approved by supervisor (week 6).

  • Deliverable D1: Research assignment report.
  • Deliverable D2: Plan for full thesis project.

Milestone M2: Presentation given at student colloquium (week 7).

  • Deliverable D3: Electronic version of the slides.

Milestone M3: Grade given by supervisor (week 8).

All four deliverables D0-D3 should be handed in electronically in pdf to the supervisors.

The Resulting Research Assignment Document

It is compulsary to use the Master Thesis Style. With this style seet, the size of the resulting document would typically be around 40-50 pages.

This will also force you to use bibtex. Make sure your bibtex entries are as complete as possible, including all relevant information such as page numbers, publisher, editors, etc.

You are free to adopt your own table of contents, together with your supervisor. A typical table of contents may look as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Problem context
  3. Problem statement
  4. Survey of Existing Approaches
  5. Discussion of Open Issues
  6. Plans for further research
  7. Conclusions

Example reports are attached.

Writing is hard for anyone, but practicing helps. Some good advice on writing is contained in the paper The Science of Scientific Writing.

The Presentation

You will present the results of your research assignment in the student colloquium. The typical duration is 20 minutes. Participants include:

  • Your supervisors, from university as well as from the company
  • All members of your master group
  • Other SERG staff or SERG master students interested in the topic.

Make sure your presentation is lively, convincing, and gives a good perspective on the problem to be studied, how the literature you identified helps to address this problem, and what open issues still remain.


The grade for passed research assignments can vary between 6-10, with rougly the following meaning. This schema is only meant as a directive.

6 Just good enough.
  The problem definition is clearly stated.
The techniques or principles to be applied are clearly described.
7 Adequate study, which surveys the right set of papers in light of the research question.
  Do the references in the literature assignment cover the field? If not, did the author explain why he/she restricts himself to part of the research field?
Are the references of sufficient scientific depth (journals, conference proceedings) rather than mostly light-weight web site quotations?
8 Good study, interesting perspective on literature, inclusion of papers that are off the beaten track.
  Do the references used reflect the current state of the art?
Are the various techniques found actually compared?
Are criteria set out with which the solution will be judged?
9 Authorative survey that can be used as starting point for a scientific paper.
  The criteria to judge the solution with are well-argumented.
Advantages and drawbacks of the proposed/documented solution(s) are well described, for example through experiments or tabularization.
10 Very strong study, almost directly publishable as survey in a scientific journal.
  The literature study covers the field, it is well-structured and as such enables to get new insights into the domain.

Factors that can further influence (positively as well as negatively!) your final grade include:

  • Are all bibliographic data (authors, title, year, publisher, page numbers, editors, book title, etc) correctly provided for every reference?
  • Is the document well-written (both language-wise and structurally)?
  • Does the research assignment come with good planning?
  • Does the research assignment come with a good risk analysis?
  • Was the colloquium presentation convincing?
  • Was there an active approach by the student?
  • Was the literature study completed in time? (relative to the planning)


Example research assignment reports are attached below.

About this Page

This page was originally written by Andy Zaidman and Arie van Deursen and posted July 2007. We welcome suggestions for improvement.

I Attachment sort Action Size Date Who Comment
RA-Engin-Bozdag.pdf manage 1218.9 K 08 May 2007 - 08:06 ArieVanDeursen Research Assignment Engin Bozdag
RA-Emmanuel-Mulo.pdf manage 262.2 K 20 Jul 2007 - 13:22 AndyZaidman Research Assignment Emmanuel Mulo

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