Course Outline

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Contacts
  3. Course Overview
  4. Assessment
  5. Requirements
  6. Activities, Deadlines and Assessment Dates
  7. Late Penalty, Extension and Special Consideration
  8. Reassessment Procedure
  9. Student Resources
  10. Expectations and Responsibilities of Students
  11. Further Information

1. Introduction

The School of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) administers final year thesis reports in single, combined, and concurrent degree programs for the BE (Computer Engineering), BE (Software Engineering), BE (Bioinformatics), BSc (Computer Science Honours).

ProgramThesis Part AThesis Part B
Software Engineering SENG4910, BIOM5909 SENG4911, BIOM5904
Computer Engineering

COMP4930, BIOM5920, BIOM5950

COMP4931, BIOM5921, BIOM5951

BINF4910, BIOM5940

BINF4911, BIOM5941

Computer Science Honours COMP4910 COMP4911

2. Contacts

Staff associated with thesis administration in CSE include:

Thesis Administration

  • First point of contact for all thesis enquiries.

Head, Student Services

  • All policy related matters, including thesis extensions, late penalties, result submission, reassessment coordination.

Thesis Coordinator

  • Academic guidance for students and supervisors on report content, seminars and demonstrations.

3.   Course Overview


  • for BE students, you must have completed at least 75% of Stage 3
    (ie. approximately 132 units of credit must be completed before enrolling in Thesis Part A)
  • for CS students, you must be enrolled in the first semester of Computer Science Honours


Undergraduate theses are unusual (compared to other courses) in that they consist of a single piece of work spread over two courses: Part A and Part B. The two parts have quite different outcomes and assessment, which are described in detail below, but which can be summarised as:

  • Thesis Part A
    • aims: understand the problem, develop a plan, start work on solution
    • milestones: presentation in week 7, report in week 12
  • Thesis Part B
    • aims: complete the solution, evaluate it, write up the whole project
    • milestones: demonstration in week 10, report in week 13

Aims and Goals

The aim of the Thesis is to allow you to put into practice the knowledge and skills that you've learned in your study up to this point. You do this by investigating a research topic, developing a significant software/hardware system, or some combination of these.

All topics will require you to carry out the same basic set of six tasks:

  1. Define the problem: with the topic description as starting point, you need to describe in more detail what the problems are or what the product is. You also need to motivate the work and say why it is important that it should be done.
  2. Survey the literature: you need to determine what the key developments in the area are, and in particular, how they relate to your topic. Describe, compare and analyse the `competition.
  3. Present your options: describe and compare the alternative methods that could be applied to solve the problems that you have identified, or the (alternative) steps involved in making the product. Highlight the advantages and disadvantages of each of the methods.
  4. Plan your attack: decide on the method(s) that are most appropriate, and justify your decision(s). Plan how you will do the work, and check with your supervisor that your plan is realistic. Note that you will be using this plan in Thesis Part B.
  5. Solve the problem: carry out your plan and either develop a solution to the research problem, or build the system.
  6. Evaluate your solution: justify why your solution is a good solution. For a theory problem, this may already be clear from the solution (proof) itself. For other kinds of research problems, you might do some complexity analysis or build a simulation. For software development, you need to show a testing plan which analyses relevant aspects of the system such as correctness, performance, usability, etc.

Whether you are developing software or hardware, or are doing a piece of pure research, you cannot predict how the work will go. However, you should be able to develop a work-plan that will help you determine whether the work is on track. This work-plan may take the form of a timeline, commencing in week 8 of Thesis Part A and finishing on the date of final thesis submission, and contain milestones. For example, if you are developing hardware, you need to plan when the fabrication of the equipment should take place (and check for example on workshop availability). If you are developing software, a software lifecycle may determine how long you are in the requirements gathering phase or when you need to start testing and evaluation. If your work is more research-oriented, then the original problem is normally broken up into smaller, more easily doable sub-problems, and some ordering is placed on these sub-problems. Many topics will involve some mix of the above, and this will result in a possibly more complex work-plan. In any case, an important aspect of both Thesis Part A and Part B is that you demonstrate that you can set yourself and carry out tasks in a (semi)independent way.

The outcomes of Thesis Part A are a report and a seminar, both of which are assessed. The outcomes of Thesis Part B are a thesis (written report on the entire project) and a demonstration; only the thesis is directly assessed, but the demonstration can impact the assessor's impression of the work.

The purpose of Thesis Part A is to prepare you for both the research/development and the thesis writing that you need to carry out in Thesis Part B, and for you to start the actual project work. In Thesis Part A, you should also develop the skills and gain the confidence you need to work semi-independently in Thesis Part B.

4. Assessment

Thesis Part A

In Thesis Part A, you are expected to submit a written report and hold a seminar. The report and seminar will be assessed by your supervisor and an assessor. However, in certain cases additional assessors may be appointed.

A mark out of 10 will be returned by your supervisor and will contribute 10% towards your final mark for Thesis Part B. The written report and the seminar are worth 5 marks each.

In your UNSW academic transcript, Thesis Part A is graded as Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory. You must pass both the written report and the seminar to receive a satisfactory (SY) grade in Thesis Part A.

The report will be assessed on the following criteria:

  1. a clear definition of the topic and the aim of the work
  2. analysis of the literature: organisation, comprehensiveness, citations and bibliography
  3. summary and comparison of alternative approaches, identification of the problems
  4. research or work plan
  5. presentation (i.e. formatting and English expression).

More details on the assessment criteria and standards expected are available.

Thesis Part B

In Thesis Part B, you are expected to submit a final Thesis Report and demonstrate your work to (at least) your supervisor and assessor. (The final Thesis Report is often called simply The Thesis).

The thesis report is worth 90% of the final mark. The mark for the final Thesis Report is determined by taking an average of the marks awarded by the supervisor and the assessor.

The final Thesis Report will be assessed on the following criteria:

  1. a clear definition of the topic and the aim of the work
  2. analysis of the literature: organisation, comprehensiveness, citations and bibliography
  3. quality of the analytical work and the results (for research theses)
  4. quality of the software development process and final product (for development theses)
  5. presentation (i.e. formatting and English expression).

Full details of the assessment criteria and standards expected are given on the Thesis web site.

Marking Scheme

The final thesis mark is computed according to the following:

ThesisASeminar = mark out of 5

ThesisAReport = mark out of 5

ThesisAMark = ThesisAReport + ThesisASeminar

ThesisAGrade = SY, if ThesisAMark ≥ 5; UN, otherwise

ThesisBMark = (SupervisorMark+AssessorMark) / 2

FinalMark = ThesisBMark*0.9 + ThesisAMark

FinalGrade = HD|DN|CR|PS|FL, determined by FinalMark

For example:

Thesis Part A: ThesisASeminar = 4, ThesisAReport = 3
Thesis Part B: SupervisorMark = 70, AssessorMark = 66

ThesisAMark = ThesisASeminar + ThesisAReport = 7

ThesisBMark = (SupervisorMark+AssessorMark) / 2 = 68

FinalMark = 68 * 0.9 + 7 = 68.2 
(not including late penalty)

5. Requirements

Thesis Part A - Seminar

Thesis A Seminars take place in week 7 of the semester (details will be posted on the thesis web site in due course). The aim of the seminar is to present the work you've done so far and get some feedback on it. The ultimate goal is to convince the audience that you are in a good position to work towards a solution or build the required software.

Note that Thesis A Seminars are held around three weeks before the the Thesis A Report is due, so you should take any feedback from the seminar into consideration as you write your report.

The seminar should go for a minimum of 30 minutes including questions, with an extra 15 minutes for feedback from the supervisor and assessor. In the seminar you need to convince the audience that you:

  • understand the topic
  • have identified the problems
  • are capable of working towards a solution or product
  • can give an effective oral presentation

A basic skeleton of a seminar can follow the first 4 tasks outlined above, namely:

  1. define the problem
  2. survey the literature/related work
  3. analyse and compare your options
  4. describe your plan of attack (justifying any decisions made)

If you have preliminary results, you should also present these.

The beginning and end of your talk should be understandable to other 4th year thesis students. The main body of the talk should be targeted to academics.

Your supervisor will chair the seminar (30 minutes) and the meeting afterwards (15 minutes).

Students enrolled in Thesis A are required to attend at least six seminars by their fellow Thesis A students. A roll will be marked in each Seminar; ensure that your name/id are recorded when you attend each seminar.


  • Overhead projectors and data projectors are available in all of the K17 seminar rooms that will be used for Thesis A seminars.
  • You will need to bring your own laptop if doing a computer-based presentation (e.g. PowerPoint)
  • If you wish to do your presentation using overhead transaprencies, ask your supervisor for some.
  • You'll need to do all of your own printing and photocopying.

Assessment Criteria

Your seminar will be assessed on the following aspects:

  • Technical quality, which includes motivation of the work, quality of the literature survey, range of solutions, justification for choices, quality of the work-plan and the general degree of difficulty of the work.
  • Presentation quality, which includes ability to communicate, clarity of description, platform manner, structure of the talk and competence in handling questions.

Thesis Part A - Written Report

The written report should expand on the first 4 tasks described above. You should also describe any preliminary results (e.g. a system prototype). It is worth investing effort in the Thesis Part A Report, because you can use most (if not all) of the content as a basis for your Thesis Part B report.

The report should:

  • include a title page, containing: thesis title, author name(s), submission date, supervisor name
  • contain proper page numbers and a properly formatted list of references (bibliography)
  • be at least 10 pages long, not including the title page and bibliography
  • preferably, not be longer than 30 pages
  • be formatted for an A4 page with 2cm margins, 12-point font size, and 1.5 spacing
  • be in PDF format that is readable with Acrobat (acroread) on the CSE workstations (other formats such as MS-Word, RTF or LateX are not acceptable)

Thesis templates in LaTeX and Word format will be made available. For technical writing such as a thesis, LaTeX is superior to MS-Word.

Warning: The thesis report is supposed to represent your own ideas. Do NOT copy text from other people into your thesis. You may include small quotes from others' work, but they must appear in quotation marks and be properly referenced. Failure to follow this advice will result in automatic failure of the thesis and possible disciplinary action from the University. See the University's plagiarism guidelines for more details.

Submission: The written report must be submitted on-line by Tuesday of Week 12 (see Thesis website for details).

Thesis Part B - Demonstration

During Week 10 of the Thesis B semester, students should arrange to demonstrate their work to their supervisor and assessor and to any other students and staff who might be interested. This provides a chance for feedback on the work before you complete the write-up of the Thesis B Report. It also gives supervisors a chance to identify excellent theses, which will be demonstrated in the Thesis Showcase at the end of the semester.

Apart from the above, there are a number of reasons for doing the demonstration:

  • To impress the supervisor/assessor with the research before they read and mark the thesis.
  • The assessor in particular may have had little to do with the research and may need face-to-face contact to better understand the scope of the research and to ask questions.
  • Thesis students usually welcome the opportunity to present their work to others - it is a form of closure' to all that hard work.
  • It is part of the students' education to have experience of demonstration (like the Thesis Part A Seminar), and to see how others do it.
  • Future thesis students can get a better idea what thesis work involves, and in particular, on a specific research area that they might be interested in pursuing.

The demonstration will not be officially assessed, but is very important in contributing towards an overall impression of the work in the mind of the assessor.

Thesis Part B - Report (aka "The Thesis")

The Thesis should contain a complete description of your project, including expanding on all 6 tasks described above. You should have most of the introductory material (aims, literature review) from the Thesis A written report, although some aspects may have changed during Thesis B, so be prepared for some re-writing of the material. It should also report on the results of your work. In the case of a research-oriented topic, you should describe what you discovered/proved and provide solid arguments and evidence as to why we should believe your results. In the case of a development-oriented topic, you should document the development process (requirements, specification, design, implementation and especially evaluation/testing) of your system. There is no need to submit source code listings as part of the Thesis; however, you should make the source code available to your supervisor (create a tar/zip of the source code tree and submit it as an attachment to the Thesis).

The Thesis must:

  • include a title page headed:

    and followed by
    • Title of Thesis
    • Name of Author/s
    • Degree for which thesis is submitted
    • Submission Date (month and year)
    • Supervisor/s: (followed by name)
    • Assessor/s: (followed by name)
  • include a comprehensive bibliography (comprehensive in the sense that all work by other people that is mentioned in the thesis appears, and also comprehensive in the sense each entry is complete i.e. would enable someone to locate a copy of the cited work)
  • include a table of contents
  • include a one-paragraph Abstract which summarises the major results of the work
  • be formatted for an A4 page with 2cm margins, 12-point font size, and 1.5 spacing
  • be in PDF format that is readable with Acrobat (acroread) on the CSE workstations (other formats such as MS-Word, RTF or LateX are not acceptable)
  • have all pages numbered, with the main body of the Thesis being numbered from beginning to end; other sections of the Thesis must either be included in this numbering or given their own logical numbering system.

Thesis templates in LaTeX and Word format will be made available. For technical writing such as a thesis, LaTeX is superior to MS-Word.

Further tips on the preparation of the Thesis:

  • Don't try to pad the Thesis with verbose prose. Explain the ideas and results concisely, but always justify any claims that you make.
  • Large tables of data, large numbers of graphs, etc. should be placed in Appendices. The main body of the thesis should contain a summary of the results. You should not include the entire code listing for any software that you produce; submit a zip/tar archive to your supervisor. However, you may include small samples of code to illustrate specific points.
  • Graphs, diagrams and photographs should be inserted as close as possible to their first reference in the text. Rotated diagrams are to be conveniently readable, i.e. with the bottom edge to the outside of the page.
  • The author of the Thesis is responsible for proof-reading the draft material and having corrections made as necessary, before final submission.
  • There are no specific requirements on the size of the main body of the thesis. However, any significant piece of work will require at least 30-40 pages to describe. Try to resist the temptation to write a 100+ page treatise. A typical size is around 50-60 pages of solid text not including Appendices.

Warning: The thesis report is supposed to represent your own ideas. Do NOT copy text from other people into your thesis. You may include small quotes from others' work, but it must appear in quotes and be properly referenced. Failure to follow this advice will result in automatic failure of the thesis and possible disciplinary action from the University. See the University's plagiarism guidelines for more details.

Submission: The Thesis must be submitted on-line before midday Tuesday of Week 13 (see Thesis website for details).

6. Activities, Deadlines and Assessment Dates

Useful information can be found at various locations on the thesis web site.

Undergraduate Thesis Part A Lecture

There will be a lecture to help you get started on your thesis project. The lecture will cover such topics as: how to get started, researching the topic, developing ideas, evaluating research, presenting results, preparing a presentation, writing the thesis, relationship with supervisor, administrative requirements. See the Thesis Noticeboard for the time and location of this talk.

7. Late Penalties, Extensions and Special Consideration

Thesis Part A

Any student who does not attend their Thesis Part A seminar or submit their report by the due date will receive an Absent Fail grade and will be required to re-enrol the following semester. Special Consideration can be sought in the usual manner, by submitting an application within the required time to Student Central (see below for more details on Special Consideration).

Thesis Part B

Any student who does not submit their Thesis Part B report by the due date will receive an Absent Fail grade and will be required to re-enrol the following semester.

Application for an Extension

If you are going to submit your thesis late then you should notify the CSE Student Office Manager by email, stating on what date you will submit. Note that if you submit late then you will automatically incur a late penalty, unless you have specifically applied for and been granted an exemption from the late penalty in advance (see below).

Late Penalty

The penalty for submitting late will be up to 2 marks per day. More precisely, your late mark is computed as follows:

N = # Days Late

      if (OriginalMark < 50) then

LateMark = OriginalMark


LateMark = 50 + (OriginalMark-50)*(exp(-0.04*N))


which gives:

N →01234567142128
Original Late mark
50 50.0 50.0 50.0 50.0 50.0 50.0 50.0 50.0 50.0 50.0 50.0
55 55.0 54.8 54.6 54.4 54.3 54.1 53.9 53.8 52.9 52.2 51.6
65 65.0 64.4 63.8 63.3 62.8 62.3 61.8 61.3 58.6 56.5 54.9
75 75.0 74.0 73.1 72.2 71.3 70.5 69.7 68.9 64.3 60.8 58.2
85 85.0 83.6 82.3 81.0 79.8 78.7 77.5 76.5 70.0 65.1 61.4
95 95.0 93.2 91.5 89.9 88.3 86.8 85.4 84.0 75.7 69.4 64.7
100 100.0 98.0 96.2 94.3 92.6 90.9 89.3 87.8 78.6 71.6 66.3


Application for an Exemption to a Late Penalty

An exemption from the late penalty is only granted in extenuating circumstances, e.g. prolonged sickness or major equipment or supply delays. These circumstances must be documented, and the documentation must clearly show how the work was affected.

If you require an extension because of major equipment or supply delays, you should apply for an exemption from the late penalty in the following way:

  1. Email the CSE Student Office Manager, notifying her of the situation immediately and outlining the circumstances leading to your request for an extension without penalty.
  2. Your supervisor will be contacted to discuss the application and to determine the new deadline.
  3. You will recieve a confirmation email, copied to your supervisor and assessor, giving the new deadline and any penalty conditions.

Otherwise, if you require an extension because of an illness or family circumstances (for example), you should apply for an exemption from the late penalty in the following way:

  1. Apply for Special Consideration via Student Central (formerly New South Q).
  2. Submit a copy of the application to the CSE Student Office Manager, indicating on this form how much extra time you will require.
  3. Make sure your supervisor is fully informed of your circumstances.
  4. You will recieve a confirmation email, copied to your supervisor and assessor, outlining the new deadline and penalty conditions.

In all cases, the School will get back to you with a decision via an email to your CSE account.

8. Reassessment Procedure

The Thesis Part B mark may be queried by a student. Before doing so, the student should be aware of the following:

  • Thesis Part B reports are marked by the supervisor and assessor independently. The final mark is determined by an average of these two marks, less any penalties.
  • The supervisor and assessor do not apply any (or exempt) mark penalties for lateness. Late penalties are applied by the Student Office Manager after consultation with the Thesis Coordinator after the submission of the marks to the Student Office.
  • Supervisors and assessors can modify their mark after submission via an email to the Student Office Manager, but must justify the change to the Thesis Coordinator once final results have been released to students.
  • The student's CSE weighted average or eligibility for honours are not sufficient grounds to justify a mark change, or a request for revision of the final mark.
  • An application for review must be made not later than 15 working days from the date of official results notification to students.
  • After a review of the mark, the mark may be either increased or decreased.

Thesis Report Review

If a student feels that en error has been made in marking the thesis report, then the following action should be carried out:

  1. The student should email the Student Office Manager and explain the error. If the error is clear the Student Office Manager will make arrangements for the mark to be corrected, otherwise students will be directed to step 2.
  2. The student should see both the supervisor and assessor, together or separately, and request both to review their assessment of the report.
  3. If the academics deem the request reasonable, both should review their assessment independently, and forward a report to the Student Office Manager.
  4. The Student Office Manager will inform the student of the Thesis Report Review outcome after discussion with the Thesis Coordinator.

Thesis Coordinator Review

If the student is not content with the result of the Thesis Report Review, then the student should initiate a Thesis Coordinator Review.

  1. The student should contact the Student Office Manager again, and submit via email the reasons why they feel the result of the Thesis Report Review was unacceptable.
  2. The Student Office Manager will contact the Thesis Coordinator, who will review the case and determine whether:
    • the conclusion of the Thesis Report Review should stand, or
    • an independent examiner should be asked to assess the report.
    The independent examiner may choose to interview the supervisor and assessor before assessing the report itself.

If the student is still not content, then the student is able to submit a complaint to the CSE Grievance Officer.

Students should be aware that they are always able to submit a formal application for review via Student Central. However, a fee is charged for such reviews, and the scope of the review is far more restrictive than a school-oriented review. It is thus advisable to follow the school's internal review procedures.

9. Student Resources

Advice on Research

Here is some simple advice that will help you get on well with your supervisor and work effectively:

  • Meet with your supervisor regularly. Note that your supervisor is not there to tell you what to do, but to advise you. In general, you should take the initiative to organise meetings, and you should drive the work.
  • Manage your time. You are responsible for monitoring your own progress and ensuring that you remain on track to meet deadlines. However, your supervisor should be able to tell you whether you are being too optimistic, or whether you need to do more.
  • Write-up as you go. Do not under-estimate how much time it will take to write up the work. Writing-up as you go is not only more time-efficient, it also forces you to formulate your ideas more clearly and completely, and this will substantially increase the overall quality of your work. As well, your final mark will depend largely on the quality of the work and the quality of the presentation in the thesis.
  • Focus the project. Understanding the context of your work is important in placing and motivating the research. However, having a concrete, narrow focus when you are working towards a goal and understanding thoroughly the deeper issues involved is better than working too broadly or tackling too wide a problem. Your supervisor should help you to keep your work suitably focussed.

Many students are too ambitious in Thesis Part A and Part B and find they run out of time with a thesis that is nowhere near finished. Make sure that the project is feasible (do this early in consultation with your supervisor), write-up whenever you can, and keep an eye on the plan.

10. Expectations and Responsibilities of Students

Plagiarism and Academic Integrity

Plagiarism may be defined as "the presentation of the thoughts or work of another as one's own†"

Examples include:

  • direct duplication of the thoughts or work of another, including by copying work, or knowingly permitting it to be copied. This includes copying material, ideas or concepts from a book, article, report or other written document (whether published or unpublished), composition, artwork, design, drawing, circuitry, computer program or software, web site, Internet, other electronic resource, or another personâs assignment without appropriate acknowledgement
  • paraphrasing another personâs work with very minor changes keeping the meaning, form and/or progression of ideas of the original;
  • piecing together sections of the work of others into a new whole;
  • presenting an assessment item as independent work when it has been produced in whole or part in collusion with other people, for example, another student or a tutor; and,
  • claiming credit for a proportion a work contributed to a group assessment item that is greater than that actually contributed.‡

Submitting an assessment item that has already been submitted for academic credit elsewhere may also be considered plagiarism.

The inclusion of the thoughts or work of another with attribution appropriate to the academic discipline does not amount to plagiarism.

Students are reminded of their Rights and Responsibilities in respect of plagiarism, as set out in the University Undergraduate and Postgraduate Handbooks, and are encouraged to seek advice from academic staff whenever necessary to ensure they avoid plagiarism in all its forms.

The Learning Centre website is the central University online resource for staff and student information on plagiarism and academic honesty. It can be located at:

The Learning Centre also provides substantial educational written materials, workshops, and tutorials to aid students, for example, in:

  • correct referencing practices;
  • paraphrasing, summarising, essay writing, and time management;
  • appropriate use of, and attribution for, a range of materials including text, images, formulae and concepts.

Individual assistance is available on request from The Learning Centre.

Students are also reminded that careful time management is an important part of study and one of the identified causes of plagiarism is poor time management. Students should allow sufficient time for research, drafting, and the proper referencing of sources in preparing all assessment items.

† Based on that proposed to the University of Newcastle by the St James Ethics Centre. Used with kind permission from the University of Newcastle.

‡ Adapted with kind permission from the University of Melbourne.

11. Further Information

Occupational Health and Safety Policies and Expectations

The role of the Occupational, Health Safety and Environment team is to provide a professional service to the UNSW, its staff and students on all matters relating to occupational health, safety and environment, particularly in the area of legislative compliance.

Equity and Diversity

All tertiary education institutions have a responsibility to provide the opportunity for students with disabilities to access and participate equitably in tertiary education in order to achieve their individual capabilities. UNSW Australia also has obligations under the following anti-discrimination legislation:

  • New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Act 1977
  • Disability Discrimination Act (1992).

UNSW is committed to the goals of equal opportunity and affirmative action in education and employment. It aims to provide a study and work environment for staff and students that fosters fairness, equity and respect for social and cultural diversity and that is free from unlawful discrimination, harassment and vilification.