The purpose of this handbook is to provide guidance to graduate students who are writing the research essay as part of the completion requirements for the Master of Science in Information Systems (MSc IS) program, and to faculty members and staff members involved in the process. Athabasca University (AU) policies and regulations take precedence over the information contained in the handbook. If any confusion arises over the interpretation of information provided in this handbook, students are encouraged to contact the MSc IS Graduate Program Director or the SCIS Director.
Graduate students of the MSc IS program have the option of pursuing one of two routes: project and essay (course-based). The essay route is an avenue for those students who wish to enhance their knowledge and skills in Information Systems by completing the required elective credits and a three-credit essay.
With respect to the implications of this choice for the student, the essay route consists of the foundation courses (3-12 credits), core courses (9-15 credits), three elective courses (9 credits) and an essay (3 credits). The essay is carried out under the supervision of a supervisor and reviewed by a committee. The student will be able to register to COMP 696 and start his/her research only after completing the required foundation, core credits and three elective courses. It would normally be completed at the end of the Student.s program.
In order to complete the credits requirements for the essay, the student must register in COMP696 (3 credits) and follow the submission schedule. The student will be given a mark of .Pass. or .Fail. after the committee review and mark the essay.
Research essays should meet the following criteria:
(ESSAY) (A graphical view)
Step 1 Selecting a research topic and finding a supervisor:
Research work formally begins after the Student has completed his/her Foundation courses and Core courses. During taking COMP695, the student should discuss with the COMP695 course instructor(s) or MSc IS Program Director to find a prospective supervisor. The student should follow the template for mini-proposals. to write a mini-proposal for the essay. After completing COMP 695, the student is requested to submit the mini-proposal to the program director for approval.
Some students may indeed enter the program with ideas for an essay and, if so, the student is welcome to begin the process of generating and presenting a mini-proposal to a prospective supervisor.
To facilitate the task for selecting an essay topic and finding a supervisor, the steps delineated below may serve as a framework:
(1) Register and successfully complete COMP 695;
(2) A brief mini-proposal is written up either while registered in COMP 695;
(3) If the graduate student has a perspective supervisor in mind through interactions with the SCIS faculty members and/or referring to the Research Topics), she/he should submit the mini-proposal to the perspective supervisor (otherwise, submit the mini-proposal to the program director and go to (7)). The prospective supervisor reviews the student.s mini-proposal and agrees (or does not agree) to act as the essay supervisor. The essay supervisor should get the approval for the supervisorship from the program director;
(4) If the prospective supervisor does not agree to act as a supervisor, then the student must either modify the min-proposal in accordance with the prospective supervisor.s recommendations for resubmission (if the supervisor agrees to accept the mini-proposal again) or submit the mini-proposal to another potential supervisor or return to step 2 with the goal of generating a new mini-proposal.
(5) If the student can not find a supervisor, she/he should submit the mini-proposal to the program director to assign an essay supervisor.
(6) The program director reviews the mini-proposal and distributes it to the faculty. A faculty member who is interested in supervising the essay should send an email to the program director to express his/her willingness within two weeks.
(7) The program director will discuss with the school director about the assignment considering the workload balance. External supervisors or co-supervisors will be considered when needed.
The effort expended in the writing of the mini-proposal (literature review, interactions with the program director and the presentation of the mini-proposal to prospective supervisors) are NOT factors that impact on the acceptance or rejection of the mini-proposal.
The mini-proposal (and each of the steps that lead to the completion of the research) is the individual student.s responsibility and the onus is on the student to demonstrate that the proposed investigation is worthy of being deemed an essay.
Step 2 Writing an essay
Essay-writing can generally be broken down into the following five phases.
1. Scoping Phases
The purpose of the scoping phase is to clearly identify and define research questions or issues that have been introduced in the mini-proposal. The Student should clearly identify the research problem or issue to be examined. This activity is often the most difficult part for Students to complete and it is important that Students work closely with their essay supervisors to select an appropriate research topic. The Student will develop more passionate and well-argued essays if the Student writes about a subject that sincerely interests the Student.
The most common error students make is choosing a topic which is far too broad to explore in a standard essay. Once you've chosen a topic, a thinking or "incubation" period gives you time to get used to the subject.
The scoping phase must be completed before the beginning of the essay proposal elaboration and is considered part of COMP 696.
2. Initializing Phases
The Student, with the help of the Supervisor, should explore the viability of the research and identify the research methodology, resources and support required to complete the research successfully. The Student should also discuss the Research Ethics Policy and the Integrity and Misconduct in Research and Scholarship Policy with their Essay Supervisor.
A conference system will be set-up for the course COMP 696 and Students are encouraged to present and discuss their ideas with their peers and cohort.
3. Essay-Writing Phase
The aim of the essay-writing is to formally document the methods, findings, conclusions and recommendations of the Graduate Student's research consistent with the mission of the program.
It is important to write a general statement that is a sentence which tells what you think about the topic of your essay. Your statement should be a sentence that will prompt a response in a reader, or cause him/her to ask "why?" The statement should contain the gist of your point of view on the subject you are going to write about.
You should review the literature on related work as completely as possible. The Student can refer to this reference to find out how to conduct the literature review.
The topic and the thesis statement the Graduate Student choose may contain certain key words that will suggest the content and structure of your essay. For example, the Student may be asked to:
. Analyze: Separate out the parts and show how they relate to the whole. For example, when the Graduate Student analyzes a paper in Information Systems, she/he will need to look at individual elements such as research issues, point of view, architecture, diagrams, tables, and future works. See how each of these elements contributes to the overall meaning of the paper.
Step 3 Submitting an essay
The student should follow the submission schedule. The student sends the draft of his/her complete essay to his/her essay supervisor for approval. The supervisor may request the student to revise the draft until the supervisor thinks that the draft is ready to be reviewed by the external examiner.
During this phase, the Graduate Student should undertake the following steps:
The student should brief the Supervisor and other study participants if any about the findings, conclusions and recommendations contained in the draft essay. The student should seek final feedback from all involved parties before submitting the final essay.
Important: Once the essay has been submitted for examination, the Graduate Student cannot make changes to the essay unless requested to by the Committee.
Step 4 Oral Defence
The student may be required to defend their essay orally through a formal Oral Defense. Oral defenses will normally be required only when:
The student who is required to participate in an oral defense may, in consultation with the Program Director, have the option of either completing their defense:
The student should discuss the examination options and potential dates with their Essay Supervisor.
The student who is required to participate in an oral defense and who chooses to participate from distance will be responsible for the procurement of the conferencing facilities and related costs at her/his chosen location. Athabasca University will cover the teleconferencing costs of the essay committee. If the student chooses to travel to Athabasca University for the oral defense, she/he will be responsible for her/his own travel and accommodation costs.
Guidelines for Oral Defence
The student should discuss with his/her Essay Supervisor the conduct and procedure to be used during his/her oral defense. Some guidelines to consider are:
For an oral defence conducted via teleconference, the student must:
Step 5 Assessment
The essay committee members should produce written assessments of the Student and the essay using the Essay Assessment Form. The Essay Supervisor should share his/her written assessment with the Student before submitting it to the Program Director.
The essay committee will use these written assessments as the basis for their final examination of the completed essay. The Chair of the essay committee will communicate their decision (.Acceptable., .Acceptable with Minor Revisions., .Acceptable with Major Revisions., or .Not Acceptable/Rejected.) directly to the Student.
The Student is responsible for revising the submitted essay according to the essay committee request of changes to the essay. If the committee requests changes, a copy of the revised essay should be submitted to the supervisor and the Program Director for validation of the revisions before the Student submits three final copies of the revised essay. The Student will not be recommended for graduation until the essay is validated.
Step 6 Essay Final Submission
A copy of the .pdf version of the approved essay and supporting materials must be submitted to Athabasca University before the student can be authorized for graduation. The .pdf version of the essay must be submitted to Administrative Assistant for the MSc IS program. The Essay will be reviewed by the Program Director and forwarded to the AU Digital Thesis and Project Room (DTPR) services for processing. The .pdf version of the essay must be submitted to Administrative Assistant for the MSc IS program.
The Library will retain a bound hard copy of the Essay for open access and will also forward a hard copy of the Essay to the National Library of Canada for transfer to microfilm and for central cataloguing. The University may also request permission from the student to make the essay available online at the University website in .pdf format.
The Library will retain a bound hard copy of the Project for open access and will also forward a hard copy of the essay to the National Library of Canada for transfer to microfilm and for central cataloguing. The University will also require permission from the graduate student to make the Project available online at the University website in .pdf format. In this instance, the graduate student will be required to submit an electronic copy of the final Project in .pdf format.
In the event that the Essay is a multimedia presentation or other electronic essay, two copies must be submitted to the Library on a CD-ROM or in a format that can be accessed using a Web browser.
The graduate student will be invoiced for all additional bound copies that are requested by the graduate student including the 2 required Library copies. This fee must be paid to the School of Computing and Information Systems before graduation. The Student is also responsible for the shipping costs of the bound copies.
The Student is responsible for the cost of binding two essay copies and any additional copies he/she may request. The Student is also responsible for the shipping costs of the bound copies.
Once the program requirements have been met, the student must contact the Office of the Registrar to apply for graduation. Office of the Registrar staff will be pleased to explain the administrative steps that must be completed in order to graduate.
Every student writing an Essay will be supervised and assisted by an Athabasca University essay committee approved by the MSc IS Graduate Program Director.
The role of the essay committee is to:
All essay committees must have the following minimum membership:
The student is encouraged to find a reviewer who is external to the school or to the university. The committee chair will not actually vote unless there is dispute between the essay supervisor and the reviewer.
2. Essay Supervisor
The Essay Supervisor may be either a permanent faculty member of Athabasca University, or an adjunct faculty member, or an outside professional approved by the MSc IS Graduate Program Director.
The essay supervisor is charged with the responsibility of mentoring the student throughout the completion of the essay. The supervisor should be a knowledgeable and experienced authority in the area of the student.s interest.
The supervisor is responsible for providing direction and support within reasonable limits in order to maximize the possibility that a conscientious and hard-working student will succeed. The supervisor will also be responsible for assembling the essay committee. The responsibilities of Essay Supervisors are
Qualifications of Essay Supervisors
To qualify as an Essay Supervisor, individuals will normally possess a relevant doctorate degree, and be approved by the MSc IS Graduate Program Coordinator. Potential essay supervisors may be:
The Essay Supervisor may be selected in one of the following ways:
Note that potential supervisors (Athabasca University faculty members or those who are given approval to act as supervisors) are not obligated to accept an essay mini-proposal that has been submitted to them for consideration. The reasons for refusing to accept a mini-proposal or to take on the role of supervisor are varied - e.g., the supervisor may have little or no experience or expertise in the area, the mini-proposal may be weak or the supervisor may be supervising a sufficient number of students.
3. Chair of the Committee Functions
The Graduate Program Director or School Director will serve as a honorary committee chair. The chair will not vote unless there is a dispute between the supervisor and the external reviewer. The responsibilities of chairs of the essay review committees are
4. The External Examiner
The supervisor should communicate to the Graduate Program Director the name of the selected committee member (external examiner) and send him/her a copy of the essay. The external examiner should be outside of SCIS and preferably outside of Athabasca University.
The responsibility of the external examiner is to review the essay and provide comments on all drafts of the essay produced by Graduate Students. Normally, the external examiner must be a holder of PhD or equivalent in the IS filed.
5. The Graduate Student
6. Changing Committee Members
A committee member, the Graduate Student or the Graduate Program Coordinator may initiate changes in the essay committee at any time. Change in a committee member may be required for the following reasons:
A change in the Essay Supervisor should have minimum impact on the research essay, assuming that the alternative individual selected as Essay Supervisor has similar experience and interests as the previous Essay Supervisor.
In all cases, the Director of SCIS or Graduate Program Coordinator should be made aware of the need for any changes in the essay committee and will, where necessary, undertake an investigation. If the change is deemed necessary, then the Director of SCIS or Graduate Program Coordinator will assign new members and reform the committee as required.
1. Essay Quality StandardsThe Essay should meet or exceed the content, layout and production standards set by the University and the program. The Graduate Student should consider the following quality issues when producing the Essay.
Content Quality Considerations
Production Quality Considerations
2. Assessment Criteria
The Essay and supporting materials will be assessed based on their ability to meet the program mission to provide leadership in:
University Assessment Criteria
The Essay must be a sustained, creative, independent and original piece of applied work. Athabasca University requires that:
Supervisor and External Reader Assessment Criteria
The Essay Supervisor and external reader will base their assessment of the essay on an examination of four key areas:
These key areas are outlined in the Essay Assessment Form.
4. Student Appeal Procedures
Students will have an opportunity to appeal their assessment if the Essay is deemed to be .Not Acceptable/Rejected.. This appeal should be directed to the director of the School of Computing and Information Systems (SCIS) for review and consideration.
Students must submit a Letter of Appeal to the Director of the School of Computing and Information Systems explaining their reasons for the appeal. The letter must be received within 60 days of being informed that their Essay was considered .Not Acceptable/Rejected..
Students who submit a Letter of Appeal will receive a formal decision from the Director of the School of Computing and Information Systems within 30 days of the receipt of their letter.
The template for the essay mini-proposal is linked here.
2. MSc IS Essay Style Guide
Graduate Students should produce their essay in accordance with the MSc IS Essay Style Guide .
3. The Essay
Content: The length of an Essay will vary depending on the type of essay and the amount of evidence collected. Students should make every effort to write concisely. The main body of the Essay (excluding appendices, references, etc.) should be between 50 and 80 pages in length.
Layout Guidelines: The Essay will vary in content and style based on the type of research being conducted. It is meant to be a flexible document. The Essay should be formatted in accordance with the MSc IS Essay style Guide.
Please see the essay title page template: Sample Essay Title Page.
Report Requirements for Alternative Media: Individuals who elect to produce an alternative media (such as a video product, book, or CD-ROM) should still produce a supporting report that illustrates to the Essay committee how they successfully completed their essay in order to create the alternative media product.
4. Copyright letter template - (See Copyright Information)
Should the essay involve research that involves human subjects, the research must conform to the Athabasca University policy governing research involving human subjects. Some examples of Use of Human Subjects are:
Students whose essays involve human subjects must follow the Research Ethics Policy of Athabasca University. The Research Ethics Policy may require that students submit their Research Proposal to the Research Ethics Board (REB) for review and potential revision. Students should discuss the Research Ethics Policy and the role of Research Ethics Board with their Essay Supervisor from the outset of their research.
2 Confidentiality in Research
Students must adhere to corporate, government or not-for-profit organization confidentiality guidelines. They should become thoroughly cognizant of these guidelines before producing an essay proposal. Potential research that requires Students to restrict their investigative or reporting methods should be avoided. The Publication of Research Policy is available at the university website.
Some organizations may require signing non-disclosure forms. This obligates the student to confidentially restrict the use of specific information that may provide outside organizations with an insight into an organization.s competitive advantage or corporate strategies.
Issues of confidentiality and non-disclosure must be thoroughly explored with the research Sponsor. Non-disclosure agreements or restrictive practices that curb the ability of the Student to complete their applied essays should be avoided.
Some Examples of Restrictive Practices are
(1) An organization reserves the right to restrict the type of data that is reported in the final version of the essay.
(2) An organization limits distribution of the final version of the essay and therefore the ability of other researchers to use the essay is restricted.
(3) An organization does not permit the student to describe productivity data or financial information in the essay.
3 Intellectual Property (IP)
The completion of an essay may result in the creation of new knowledge, processes or tools. Ownership of this new knowledge, process or tools can often be complicated, especially if the outcome of the research has potential commercial applications. In most cases, the owner of the new knowledge, process or tool is the originator of the idea (e.g. the Athabasca University Master.s degree candidate). Some examples of IP are:
NOTE: Ideas are not considered intellectual property, until they have been recorded in some medium that others can read, review, touch and/or see.
Ownership of Intellectual Property
The issue of intellectual ownership becomes difficult when the person conducting a research study is either a paid employee or a paid contractor of the firm that the research is being completed for. In these situations ownership of any intellectual property should be clarified before the research is undertaken.
The method of clarifying ownership before a study is completed could be as simple as a statement in the Letter of Agreement or as complicated as a legally binding research contract.
Research contracts often stipulate that intellectual property (which could be copyrighted) may be jointly owned and the agency or company participating in the research effort has the authority to exploit the knowledge, process or tool for commercial gain.
Athabasca University and Intellectual Property
Athabasca University holds NO claim on the intellectual property produced as a result of the research, but may be willing to assist in the patent process. The university will only approve projects that protect the rights of the Student to freely publish and defend the results of his/her research.
Copyright and the University
Copyright is the right to copy, distribute, publish and/or sell all or part of an academic, artistic or commercial product. The author of an Athabasca University project or research product owns the rights to their product and should claim copyright on the title page of the Essay.
As a condition for the award of the degree, the student is required to sign a form giving permission to the university to make the essay available for inspection, to copy and circulate the essay for scholarly purposes, and to make use of the material and ideas in the essay in the preparation of papers for publication.
At the request of the author and/or where circumstances warrant, an essay may be withheld from circulation for up to one year to allow such activities as patent protection or other legal steps to be completed.
For Master of Science in Information Systems (MSc IS) Essays and Projects
Copyright permission is required when you want to include a substantial amount of someone else.s work in your MSc IS essay or project.
Copyright Permission IS required for:
For a more comprehensive description of copyrighted material and when permission should be sought, see the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) A Guide to Copyrights: Copyright Protection: http://strategis.ic.gc.ca/sc_mrksv/cipo/cp/copy_gd_protect-e.html#2
Copyright permission is NOT required for:
Note: Open Access materials, such as items licensed under a GNU General Public License http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html or a Creative Commons License http://creativecommons.org/, are usually less restrictive and can often be reproduced for non-commercial purposes, provided you acknowledge the source. Carefully review any such license or agreement attached to the works, as copyright requirements can vary. If in doubt, contact the rights holder of the work.
Expediting Copyright Permission Requests
If you have difficulty locating a rights holder, contact a Copyright Collective or the Copyright Board of Canada. http://www.cb-cda.gc.ca/societies/index-e.html
Requesting Copyright Permission
If available, complete and submit the copyright permission form provided on the publisher.s website. Fill out the form as completely as possible; incomplete forms or missing information will delay your request. If you are submitting a copyright permission form online, remember to make and keep a copy for your files. If no online form is available use the following copyright permission form as you template:
Copyright holder name & address
Dear Copyright Holder:
RE: Author, Complete Title (description of item or excerpt). Place of publication: Publisher, year, Pp #s. ISBN#, URL (If applicable).
I am a graduate student in the Master of Science in Information Systems (MSc IS) program at Athabasca University. On the understanding that you own copyright to the above item, this letter is to request permission to reproduce this material for use in my MSc IS graduation thesis/ project. The thesis will be reproduced in both paper and electronic format. The electronic version of the thesis will be deposited in the Athabasca University Library Digital Thesis and Project Room http://library.athabascau.ca/DTPR/ and stored on a server owned and maintained by Athabasca University. I am requesting non-exclusive world rights.
Please let me know if you are the copyright holder of this work, and if so, if will there be a fee for this copyright permission. Should permission be granted, please provide me with your preferred acknowledgment statement.
My deadline for this project is (date). Thank you for your prompt attention to my request and I will look forward to receiving a response at your earliest convenience.
Your Name & Address
Pending Copyright Permission Requests
Before you can include the cited material in your thesis you must receive written consent, via fax, mail, or email, from the rights holder. Obtaining rights holder permissions can be a lengthy process. Ensure that you allow sufficient time to complete your project with or without the material you want to reproduce. Following up on your initial request often helps to expedite a response from the rights holder. Keep in mind that many publishing houses may not respond to requests for several weeks.
Note: If you are adapting the rights holder.s material in any way, your permission request form must describe how you intend to modify the material.
Negotiating Copyright Permissions
Current copyright costs for published materials range from 5 to 25 cents per page. Photographs and images are often more costly. However, because your request is for non-commercial use, the rights holders may waive or significantly reduce any copyright fees.
If you are denied permission to reproduce the requested material, you may want to follow up with the rights holder by requesting further details, elaborating your intended use, or offering to provide a draft for review. If the denial is absolute, you must remove the item from your thesis/ project.
Inserting Copyright Acknowledgments
All copyright permission statements (credit lines) must appear on the first page where the reproduced material appears in your thesis/ project. If the rights holder has not provided a preferred acknowledgement statement (credit line), then include a complete bibliographic citation, plus the phrase, .Reproduced with permission..
Submitting Copyright Agreements
All written responses from copyright holders granting permission for the inclusion of their materials in your thesis/ project must be submitted to the MSc IS Administrative Assistant along with the final version of your thesis/ project. Ensure that you make and keep copies of all permission agreements for your files.
Updated October 05 2015 by FST Technical Staff