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Tony Tang

I'm an Associate Professor in Computer Science at the University of Calgary. I'm passionate about Human-Computer Interaction and other weird things.

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Your proposal is your opportunity to articulate four things: (a) what the problem is, (b) what others have done about the problem, (c) what you will do about the problem, and to demonstrate that (d) you have a plan to address the problem. The proposal itself is a three-four page document. Your goal is to write it in such a way that demonstrates to the reader (i.e. me and the course instructor) that you are capable of carrying out the research plan, and that you know why you are carrying out the plan that you are.

Template

Your course instructor will have posted a template for you to do your proposal in. Download and use that template.

In the absence of a template, use the one that is on this webpage.

Exercise

Here are some samples written by previous 502/503 students:

I encourage you to review at least two of these (for variety) – each of these are fairly different project spaces. One strategy that is a good one to apply here is to read one that “looks like” the kind of project you would like to do, and to read another that “really doesn’t look like” the project you are planning on doing. This will give you some good variety. When you read this, make note of the following:

  • What is the problem that the author is articulating?
  • What is the proposed solution/approach to addressing the problem?
  • What is the background the author thinks is important for you to know?
  • Finally, how does the author show you that s/he has a plan to accomplish what is going to happen?

Note: avoid reading this specifically for the content (sounds a little weird, but that’s what I’m suggesting). Instead, read it at a higher level, and try to glean how the author is trying to say what s/he is saying. I think each of these proposals is pretty good – each has its weaknesses and strengths, but overall, these all received good grades.

Sections

There are four major sections to write. Before you get going, read through all of this material, as I try to provide you hints about what needs to be in each.

Introduction. This section should outline the answers to each of the following four questions (and, I think it is useful to actually use the language – e.g. “The problem is…”):

  1. What is the problem that you are addressing? What is the motivation for the work? (Who should care, and why?)

  2. What is the approach that you are going to take? (What are you going to try to do about it?)

  3. How are you going to evaluate your approach? (In most projects that involve me as a supervisor, this will involve a small user study, and you should take time to describe the nature of this study.)

  4. What is the expected contribution of this work to the research literature? (Why would other researchers read what you have written? What will they learn from it?)

Related Work. Here, you discuss the previous work that has tackled your problem. In most cases, I will provide you with some pointers, and ask that you try to find more through your own research. Your job here is to do synthesize what you have read for the reader. That is, avoid simply summarizing the works. Instead, identify lessons or themes that keep recurring throughout the pieces that you have read. Use the works that you have read to back you up. (For more information, you can read my writing a related work tutorial).

Proposed Work. Describe exactly what you will do. Break it out into components if it makes sense. Justify each section so that it’s clear what you will do, and why you will do each.

Timeline. Provide a timeline for your term. My suggestion is to write this backwards. Allocate two weeks to writing your final paper, one week to running your study, etc., etc. You will soon see that, while you seem to have a lot of time, you really don’t. Make sure you have a deliverable for each week of the term. This is useful for you to make sure you are keeping on track.

References. This is an easy section (to mess up). Take note of the formatting guidelines, and make sure you follow them to the T for each of your papers.

How to Proceed

  1. Download the template.

  2. Draw up an outline. I usually expect this within the first two weeks or so. Your outline should be done in the template. The way to construct this is as follows: for each paragraph you think you will write, insert a bullet point that summarizes what that paragraph will be about.

Grading

Remember that two people reading this are me and the course facilitator, who is actually not involved in any of our conversations. That is, s/he will have no background in what you are talking about, what your plans are, etc. Thus, it is your job to make this as clear and as transparent as possible. Be concise, specific and direct in your use of language.

A Note about Feedback

If you would like to get feedback on your writing, provide me with a copy at least one week in advance of whenever you’d like to get it back (there is, unfortunately, enough on my plate that it usually takes a week to get to writing). I am happy to provide this feedback. Note: it is easiest for me to provide feedback on outlines (rather than tomes of text).