How To (survive a) Design Informatics MSc Dissertation (in data visualization)
As well as this page, you should read the Masters Project Guide (Design Informatics) on the School of Informatics website.
What is the purpose of an MSc thesis?
The idea of an MSc thesis is to show that you are capable of individual intellectual work. It should be an original piece of work, addressing an specific problem and discussing solutions or lessons learnt in deadling with this problem. A thesis can range from more practical work to more theoretical and data collection work (more on possible contributions here).
A thesis wants to assess
- Can you think and deal with chaos?
- Can you define a problem?
- Can you plan and use reserach methods?
- Can you present results clearly?
- Can you be creative and critical about methods and solutions?
- Can you reflect and discuss your work?
- Do you know the context of your work well enough?
Who “owns” a Dissertation?
You. You are the sole author and everything you write should be your own thougths and ideas. Your supervisor will help you and can propose you problems and solutions but there are no specific checkboxes or to-do lists prepared for you.
Components of a Dissertation
A Design Informatics MSc thesis consists of largely 4 components that you should cover in your write-up.
- a problem: a problem you describe that requires solution. Ideally, this a hard problem but it must be described and credible.
- a solution: an idea for a tool, a design, a system, survey, etc. that aims to address the problem.
- a concept/idea: a concept that is the basis for your solution (e.g., a novel approach or some creative thinking). This is the core of your creative thinking.
- an evaluation: some data / evidence how this solution is helping with your problem.
An MSc dissertation is usually between 3-4 months. This is very short. Below is a possible outline how you should place your milestones.
- Month 1 (Exploraton & Scoping):
- Month 2 (Design & Implememtation):
- Month 3 (Evaluation & Iteration):
- Month 4 (Discussion & Writing-up):
See general information on how to plan a project and contribution here.
You are well familar with your project, and ideally your supervisor is, too. However, All that the (other) grader of your thesis will see is your writing.
- explain terminology you use. More explanation does not hurt.
- create meaningful figure captions that explain what these figures show.
- explain figure content in the text and its caption
- demonstrate your design and prototype through figures and examples. Text is often not enough.
- add a URL (video, website) to demonstrate your design. This helps enormously
- explain your research, not other people’s work: around 70% of the writing should focus on your work and your thinking, not describing well known concepts and background. Most of the related and conceptual work should go into into introduction, related work, and discussion.
You need to describe each of these in your thesis. More information on technical writing here.
What is a ‘good dissertation’?
- A good thesis (A3), contains all four concepts mentioned above and is easy to follow, clear to understand and clearly demonstrate intellectual engagement and knowledge.
- A very good thesis (A2) shows creativity beyond a standard approach to solve and evaluate the problem. It has a good question that can have some significance beyond this thesis and the specific problem you look at. It also shows that you can think creatively, explore solutions, and come up with a solid solution yourself. There is some chance this could be included into a publication / furthered into a publication.
- An outstanding thesis (A1) provides some novel results, creative thinking, and rigorous and critical engagement with the topic. The thesis presents a novel concept worth publishing and of relevance to other researchers far beyond the School and your supervisor.
A dissertation grade gets (significantly) lowered for the following reasons:
- writing is unclear and the four componets are not well explained
- figures are unclear and don’t show the design/prototype/results.
- work is not critically discussed and reflected upon
- the main findings / lessons learned are not well summarized and communicated in the thesis.
- the writing is bad so that we cannot understand your thoughts
- too little of your work is shown and demonstrated
Also, check the below marking scheme for self-assessement.
Dissertations are marked against the following scheme:
(unsatisfying, poor, fair, good, very good)
- Understanding of problem
- Completion of project
- Quality of work
- Quality of dissertation
- Knowedge of literature
- Critical evaluation of previous work
- Critical eval of own work
- Justification of chioces and decisions
- Solution of any conceptual problem
- Amount of work
- Quality of prototype
See also the MSc Project Marking Guidelines.