Requirements for CS137 Projects

The major component of your grade in CS137 is the term project. As such, you should plan to spend a significant amount of time on the project. Since the entire visible result of your effort will be the presentation and reports, you should also plan to spend a lot of time on those.

Requirements and suggestions for each component of the project follow. Note that in all cases, writing quality matters. You are expected to be able to communicate your ideas clearly and concisely. If you have trouble with writing, take advantage of the Writing Center for help.

ALL WRITTEN SUBMISSIONS SHOULD BE SINGLE-SPACED. Single-spaced documents are the norm in science. Double-spaced drafts are used only when extensive corrections are expected. Since this is not a class in how to write, you should not expect me to do rewriting for you. You are expected to not only write, but to repeatedly read your writing and revise it until it flows smoothly and clearly. If you have trouble with writing, I strongly recommend that you return to your copy of Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams and Joseph Bizup, 12th Edition, ISBN 978-0134080413 (or buy it if you didn't go through HMC WRIT 1, or re-buy it if you foolishly got rid of after passing WRIT 1).

All page-count requirements are exclusive of the bibliography.

Written Submissions

Project Proposal

The primary purpose of the project proposal is to ensure that you have a viable idea and that you have thought it out sufficiently well to convince both yourself and me that it has a good chance of succeeding. To ensure adequate coverage, your proposal should be at least one page long (single-spaced). Do not go over two pages. Citations are not required, although you should cite any sources you have found so far.

Your proposal will be graded on completeness (i.e., have you done your homework to ensure that the proposal will work out) and writing quality. You will not be graded down if I decide that your proposal is infeasible or incorrectly scoped. However, a seriously infeasible proposal will be rejected and you will have to submit a second one, so it is to your advantage to check your ideas with me before you write them up.

Progress Report

Approximately halfway through the term, you will submit a progress report. The primary purpose of this report is, quite frankly, to kick you in the rear end to ensure that you don't put things off until the last minute. Your progress report should be 2-4 pages long, single spaced. It should convince me that you have not only started work on your project, but that you have made substantial progress. To that end, you should have several citations to resources or prior work that you have discovered in the literature.

The progress report will be graded on your progress toward your goal, the completeness of the report, and (as usual) the quality of the writing. The best way to get a low grade on the progress report is to have me conclude that you haven't done much. That can happen because you actually didn't do anything, or (less often) because you did a lot of work but failed to communicate that fact to me. Remember that communication is key to success in the world and in this course.

Presentation

Near the end of the term, you will do an in-class presentation on your project. Depending on exactly where your presentation falls in the schedule, this might be either a progress report or a complete discussion of your final results. Usually it will fall somewhere in between those two extremes.

Your presentation slot will occupy one-third or one-half of a 75-minute class period (exact timing to be decided later in the semester). For a one-third slot, plan to talk for 20 minutes and use 5 for questions and discussion. For a one-half slot, talk for 30 minutes and use 7 for discussion.

Most students choose to use software such as Beamer, Keynote, or Powerpoint to assist in their presentation, although it is also acceptable to give a chalkboard talk. If you use slides of any sort, plan on spending about 2-3 minutes per slide, so your talk should have 10-15 slides in total. Regardless of media, be sure to practice and time your talk beforehand.

Your presentation will be graded on two criteria. The most important is the quality of the presentation, in terms of how well you cover the essence of the project and the results you achieved. You will not be downgraded for nervousness! Many of you do not have prior presentation experience, and it would be unfair to penalize you for being a first-timer. However, you are expected to explain your project and convince the audience of your conclusions. The second grading criterion will be the project itself: have you accomplished a significant amount of work, and did you achieve some insight into file systems in the process?

Draft Project Report

The draft of the project report serves three purposes. First, like the progress report, it ensures that you don't put things off to the last minute. Second, it gives me a chance to give you feedback on both the writing and the places where more information (or more work) is needed.

Third, the project-report draft can save you from further work. If the draft is sufficiently good, I will excuse you from writing a final version. Generally speaking, "sufficiently good" means that there are few or no writing problems, that the content is clear and complete, and that the project itself is thorough and shows significant insight. Any such draft report is worthy of an A (although not all A-quality drafts will get you out of the final report).

The project report, both in draft and final form, should be 6-10 pages in length, single spaced, double-column, in either 10-point or 11-point font (11-point preferred), and with margins no larger than 1.25 inches.

The draft report must be complete in all respects. This means that it must be properly formatted, have correct section headers, have an abstract, introduction, and conclusion, and contain a complete and correct bibliography.

The grading criteria for the draft report are the writing quality and the completeness of the report.

In addition, because I am tired of seeing badly formatted documents, you will receive a one-step grade reduction (e.g., A to A-) if your report suffers from any of the common deficiencies caused by using a word processor instead of LaTeX and BibTeX to format your document. These deficiencies include (but are not limited to): ragged-right justification; unnumbered or incorrectly numbered sections; citations that are incorrectly numbered, incorrectly formatted, or incorrectly sorted; orphaned section headers; absurd amounts of whitespace in the middle of lines; and inexplicable font changes in mid-document.

Note that the above criterion does NOT mean that you are required to use LaTeX and BibTeX. You are welcome to shoot yourself in the foot by choosing a WYSIWYG word processor and refusing to use automated bibliography tools. However, if you take the time to learn and use LaTeX, you will find that your life is much easier both for this report and in the future. I am more than happy to answer questions about particular LaTeX problems, how to use BibTeX correctly, etc.

Final Project Report

If you did a good job on the draft of the project report, finishing the final report should be easy: simply incorporate my corrections and suggestions. (If you did an excellent job, you won't even have to do that.) But regardless of how much work is involved, I expect that every correction I mark will be reflected in the final report. To that end, you are required to return the marked-up copy of your draft to me so that I can check it against the final report.

The grading criteria for the final report are the same as for the project as a whole. The project must show a significant amount of effort; it must show that you have gained useful insights about file systems; it must present new (to you) knowledge; it must draw meaningful and supportable conclusions; and it must be described completely and accurately using a standard scientific writing style.

Writing Tips

The most important writing tip for this class, and for all other writing you will do in your life, is to reread and revise what you wrote, over and over. When I am writing a professional document, I typically read it from four to ten times, each time looking for ways to improve the writing. At the low level I correct punctuation and grammar; at the medium level I change paragraph breaks and ask myself if things flow sensibly; and at the high level I think about whether the overall document organization is the best that it could be.

When I review your papers, I generally print them out (on a grayscale printer, which means you shouldn't depend on color to communicate your message) and mark them up using a notation that is based on standard U.S. proofreading marks. If you're unsure what a mark means, there are several references on the Web; I think Merriam-Webster's is a pretty good guide. If all else, fails, ask me what I meant.

When I give you back a corrected paper, pay attention to the corrections. Even though this is not a writing class, I put a lot of effort into showing you how to improve your writing. Take advantage of me: don't just blindly copy a correction into your paper (or far worse, blow it off). Instead, ask yourself why I made that particular change. Does it improve flow? Add clarity? Avoid ambiguity? Make the sentence easier to parse? Seem more professional? Just plain sound better? Learn from the correction, and apply it elsewhere in the document and also to your future writing. If you don't understand why I made a particular change, ask me. If you think I'm wrong, come and argue the point; we both might learn something.

If you have questions about minor points of style, such as where to put hyphens, refer to the Chicago Manual of Style. The Claremont Colleges have a subscription so you can browse it freely online. There are other style guides and standards out there, but you can't be criticized for following CMOS.

Before you submit any document to any venue, but especially to me, spell-check as the last step. I am somewhat tolerant of homonym spelling errors, but as the author of a widely used spell-checking program, I am unforgiving when it comes to typos that could have been caught by spending 60 seconds with an automated tool. (Note that ispell can handle LaTeX documents just fine.)

Some random points that I see over and over: