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Athabasca University

Handbook for MSc IS Projects

This handbook provides guidance to graduate students who are undertaking a research project as part of the completion requirements for the Master of Science in Information Systems (MSc IS) program, and to faculty and staff 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.

1.1 Overview

Graduate Students in the Master of Information Systems (MSc IS) program have the option of pursuing one of two routes: project and course-based. The first route provides an opportunity for an MSc IS graduate student to focus on an investigation that is of import and of interest to that individual and that culminates in an original contribution to the discipline of Information Systems (IS). The second is an avenue for those graduate students who wish to enhance their knowledge and skills in Information Systems by completing the required elective credits through conventional courses and a three credits thesis essay. From the perspective of personal or professional development, the project route is viewed as better preparation for further graduate studies than the course-based route.

With respect to the implications of this choice for the graduate student, the project route consists of the foundation courses (3-12 credits), core courses (9-15 credits), a minimum of one elective course (3 credits) and a project (9 credits). The project is carried out under the supervision of a committee and would normally be completed near the end of the student's program. In order to complete the credits requirements for the project, the graduate student must register in ALL of the following 3-credits blocks:

  • COMP 697: Project I (3 credits). This is the first element of the project work for students choosing the project route. The graduate student may register to COMP 697 and start his/her project only after completing the required foundation and core credits. The course focuses on the development of a proposal for the project. The proposal work consists of three components: (1) graduate student working with his/her supervisor on the project proposal specifications, (2) graduate student engaging with other students online about general questions related to project requirements and research ideas, and (3) eventual presentation (online) of the project proposal and discussion/refinement. All graduate students taking the project route must successfully complete COMP697 before they can enroll in COMP698.
  • COMP 698: Project II (3 credits). This is the second element of project work. Students can enroll in COMP698 anytime after they have successfully completed COMP697, produced an acceptable project proposal, and a project committee for the project has been established. During this second part of the project work, the project implementation should be in an advanced stage and the students may be required to present an advancement report to his/her supervisor and sponsor.
  • COMP 699: Project III (3 credits). This is the third and final element of the project work. Graduate students should enroll in COMP699 in the term in which they anticipate completing the project work. By the end of this part of the project work, the graduate student should produce the final project report and eventually schedule the oral presentation. The project courses (COMP 697, COMP 698 and COMP 699) are not conventional courses; however they are treated similarly for administrative purpose. The graduate student must register to these courses in sequence and will be given a mark of .Pass. or .Fail. according the committee decision after completion of COMP 699.

Competencies to be demonstrated in the Research Project

A major innovation in the MSIS 2000 & 2006 Model Curriculums, which is the basis for the MSc IS program, is the required integration component. This component addresses the increasing need to integrate a broad range of technologies. It offers Graduate students the opportunity to synthesize the ideas presented earlier in the program, and to implement comprehensive systems across an organization.

As specified in the MSIS 2000 Model Curriculum, the integration can be viewed from three perspectives: Enterprise integration, IS function integration, and IS technologies integration. Enterprise integration and integration of the IS function are management perspectives, and will not be pursued in the MSc IS at this time. The integration of IS technologies will be the main approach for MSc IS students integration courses or projects. This view concerns the development of an integrated IS enterprise architecture including the evaluation and selection from architectural and platform choices, priorities, and policies, the assessment of the impact of emerging technologies, evaluation of the role of standards, and evaluation of the effect of vendor strategies.

The integrative project should deal with the development of technologies for intra- and inter-organizational systems in the form of an integrated technical architecture (hardware, software, networks, and data) to serve organizational needs in a rapidly changing competitive and technological environment. The project must also satisfy an acceptable combination of the following criteria:

  • It deals with a novel exploratory implementation, the results of which will be of some interest to a portion of the IS community.
  • It involves novel implementation techniques.
  • It involves the implementation of a practical piece of nontrivial software whose availability could have some impact on the IS user community.
  •  It examines a practical problem or series of problems that can be adequately addressed in reasonable time and effort (equivalent to three 3-credit courses).

1.2 Processes

(Project) (graphic representation)

Step 1: Selecting a research topic and finding a supervisor for essays or projects

Research work formally begins after the student has completed his/her foundation and core courses. 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 of 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:

S0: The student should complete her/his electives prior to registering in COMP695 unless having the approval from the instructor of COMP695;

S1: The student registers and successfully completes COMP 695;

S2: A brief mini-proposal is written up either while registered in COMP 695 or after completing COMP695; while enrolled in COMP695, the student should discuss with the course instructor or the program director to find a prospective supervisor. Students can also find a supervisor through interactions with the SCIS faculty members and/or referring to the research topics list on the COMP696 or COMP697-699 webpage. The student should use the template for mini-proposals to write a mini-proposal for COMP696 or COMP697.

S3: If the graduate student has found a perspective supervisor, she/he should submit the mini-proposal to the perspective supervisor, otherwise, submit the mini-proposal to the program director and go to Step S7. The prospective supervisor reviews the student's mini-proposal and agrees (or does not agree) to act as the essay supervisor.

S4: If the prospective supervisor agrees to act as the graduate student's supervisor, and approves the mini-proposal, the supervisor forwards the mini-proposal and his agreement to supervise to both the program director and Director of the School of Computing and Information Systems, and copy . Once the prospective supervisor gets the approval from both the program director and the director, then the student can register for COMP696 or COMP697.

S5: 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 S2 with the goal of generating a new mini-proposal.

S6: If the student can not find a prospective supervisor, she/he should submit the mini-proposal to the program director.

S7: The program director reviews the mini-proposal and helps the student to find a supervisor.


  1. 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.
  2. 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/project.
  3. After the supervisor approves a mini-proposal, the content of the mini-proposal, such as methods, tasks or goals etc are still changeable. Anything in the mini-proposal can be changed if both the supervisor and the student mutually agree during the period of the essay/project research.

Step 2: COMP 697- Research Proposal Writing

To effectively manage research projects, graduate students must possess a unique set of project management skills and abilities. Individuals must be able to manage four key activities: time and schedules, budgets, teams, and product quality. Project managers must also be able to eliminate or reduce risk and manage unanticipated change. Graduate Students who have experience in middle and senior management positions may already possess many of these skills.

The research proposal writing step consists of three smaller steps: scoping, planning, and proposal review and revision.


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 to be examined. This activity is often the most difficult part for the graduate student to complete and it is important that the graduate student work closely with their Project Supervisor to select an appropriate research topic.

During the Scoping Phase, the graduate student should undertake the following steps:

  • Identify research interests. Identify related problems and issues.
  • Identify a potential project sponsor if needed.
  • Review possible research project ideas with project supervisor.

This phase must be completed before the beginning of the project proposal elaboration and is considered part of the course COMP 697: Project I.

Proposal-writing (Planning)

The purpose of the planning phase is to document and define the research idea in the form of a draft project proposal. The aim of a project proposal is to describe in detail the problems and/or issues to be examined during the conduct of the Project research. It identifies the research questions, describes the supporting literature and lists the potential participants.

During the planning phase, the graduate student should undertake the following steps:

  • Write draft project proposal.
  • Review draft project proposal with project supervisor and project sponsor.
  • Review draft project proposal with peers through the conference system of COMP 697 or other methods such as .online presentations.

This phase should be completed by the elaboration of the project proposal. The draft project proposal should be presented to your project supervisor and potential project sponsor in written form. The proposal should be no more than 25 A4 pages in length, including references, excluding supporting appendices.

The draft project proposal should be reviewed by the student's project supervisor and project sponsor. They should explore the viability of the research project and identify the research methodology, resources and support required to complete the Project successfully. The graduate student should also discuss the research Ethics Policy and the Integrity and Misconduct in Research and Scholarship Policy with their Project Supervisor.

You are encouraged to go to the online conference for COMP 697, and present and discuss your Project proposals with your peers and cohort. This peer review may take different forms of formal and informal presentations and discussions (Poster presentations, abstracts, draft proposals, ...etc).

Graduate Students must fully understand the problems and issues important to the sponsor. This can be achieved by involving Project Sponsors in the development of the draft Project Proposal and final Project Proposal. Graduate Students must ensure there are no surprises in either document. All areas that involve Project Sponsors, their subordinates or superiors, or processes that may potentially be out of the ordinary for the normal workflow should be reviewed with the Sponsor before the Project Proposal is submitted and approved by the student's Project Supervisor and Project Sponsor.

Committee Formation and Proposal Review

The aim of the proposal review Phase is to finalize the Project Proposal, confirm commitment from all project participants and establish guidelines for conducting the project. The project committee should be assembled and complete the evaluation of the project proposal.

After generating a project proposal reviewed and approved by the supervisor and sponsor, the supervisor should set-up a project committee consisting of the project supervisor, sponsor, an external reviewer, and a chair of the committee (see Roles and Responsibilities of the committee members). The Supervisor should communicate to the Program Director the names of the selected committee members and get the approval from the Program Director. The decision of the Program Director will be final.

During the establishment of the project committee, the program director must verify:

  • No intellectual or personal differences exist with the committee members.
  • No conflict of interest exists with the committee members.

The draft Project proposal must be reviewed by the project committee. During the completion of the review, the graduate student must verify:

  • All committee members accept the project proposal;
  • The availability of the resources and funds required for completing the project;
  • The commitment and ability of the sponsor to implement the project in accordance with the project schedule.

After reviewing the Project Proposal with the project committee, the graduate student will incorporate the comments of all reviewers and produce a final draft of the Project Proposal. The final Project Proposal must conform to the Athabasca University Research Ethics Policy and to the Athabasca University Integrity and Misconduct in Research and Scholarship Policy. Copies should be submitted to:

  • The project committee members;
  • The MSc IS program office.

Before starting the second project component (COMP 698), graduate students must produce a signed committee form, produce a Letter of Agreement that both the graduate student and sponsor must sign. The Letter of Agreement will act as an informal contract between the graduate student, the organization participating in the study, the Project Sponsor and Athabasca University. These commitments should be described in the Letter of Agreement signed by all parties. An original signed copy of the Letter of Agreement must be forwarded to the Program coordinator, the Project Supervisor and the Project Sponsor.

The Project committee review and approval of the Project proposal and signing of Committee Form and the Letter of Agreement might not occur until after the completion of COMP 697. In this case, the graduate student must ensure that formal research project approval is received as soon as possible after the completion of COMP 697 and certainly no later than one month following the end of this course.

Step 3: COMP 698 Implementation Stage

The purpose of the Implementation stage is to ensure that graduate students effectively manage the successful completion of a research project in accordance with the approved Project Proposal and produce a Project that satisfies the requirements of the program and of the University.

The aim of the Project is to formally document the methods, findings, conclusions and recommendations of the graduate student's research project consistent with the mission of the program.

The methods and tools used to conduct the project should be dictated by the selected research methodology. The recommended sub-steps of this Step include:

  • Conduct initial meetings with Project potential participants.
  • Scope problem.
  • Complete literature review.
  • Determine the hardware and software environment and tools
  • Work out the testing plans (cases) of the system to be implemented
  • Assessment of test findings
  • Produce draft Project report or advancement report.
  • Discuss and review draft Project report with committee members.

By the end of the second Project component (COMP 698) and before the Third Project component (COMP 699). However part of this phase output may be finalized during COMP 699.

The draft Project report must be assessed and approved by the project Supervisor and project Sponsor.

Step 4: COMP 699 Project Report Writing and Oral Defence

The aim of the Closing Phase is to produce the final Project report that satisfies the requirements of the program and of the University and ensure that graduate students have completed all of the requirements for completion of the degree and graduation.

Graduate Students should brief the Project Sponsor and other study participants about the findings, conclusions and recommendations contained in the draft Project. The graduate Students should seek final feedback from all involved parties before submitting the final Project.

Graduate Students must produce a Project that conforms to the MSc IS Project Style Guide. The University requires three unbound hard copies of the final Project Report  forwarded to the Program Director. Project Sponsors may also require one or more copies of the Project: If so, graduate students are responsible for ensuring that the Project Sponsor receives these copies.

Important: Once the Project has been submitted for examination, the graduate student must not make changes to the Project unless requested to by the Committee.

Project Supervisor should produce a written assessment of the student and Research project using the Athabasca University Project Assessment Form. The Project Supervisor should share his/her written assessment with the student before submitting it to the Program coordinator.

The Project Sponsor should also produce a written assessment of the student using the Project Assessment Form and forward it to the Program coordinator.

Oral Defence

Graduate Students are required to defend their Project orally through a formal Oral Defence.


After the oral defence, the Project committee will use the written assessments by the project supervisor and project sponsor and the performance of the Student in the oral defence as the basis for their final examination of the completed Project.

The details about the critera for the assessment are here.

The Project committee will communicate their decision ("Acceptable", "Acceptable with Minor Revisions", "Acceptable with Major Revisions", or "Not Acceptable/Rejected") directly to the graduate student.

Project Report Revision

The graduate student is responsible for revising their submitted Project according to the Project committee request of changes to the Project. If the Committee requests changes, a copy of the revised Project should be submitted to the Supervisor and the Program Director for validation of the revisions before the graduate student submits three final copies of the revised Project. The graduate student will not be recommended for graduation at Academic Council if the revised Project is not validated.

Project Report Submission

There are some important guidelines about the project report submission. Please refer here.

Apply for Graduation

Once the program requirements have been met, students must contact the Registrar's Office to register for graduation. Staff at the Registrar's Office will be pleased to explain the administrative steps that must be completed in order to graduate.

1.3 Roles and Responsibilities

Project committee

Every MSc IS graduate student completing a Project will be supervised and assisted by an Athabasca University project committee approved by the MSc IS Graduate Program Director.

The role of the project committee is to:

  • Provide guidance to graduate students during their research and the completion of their Project Reports;
  • Assist graduate students in the identification of their research question, the methods to be used and how to effectively complete their research;
  • Provide professional advice and feedback to graduate students during the conduct of the Project research;
  • Review documents to verify that they meet the minimum academic requirements established by Athabasca University; and
  • Assess graduate students and their ability to demonstrate the required competencies for the Project.

All project committees must have the following minimum membership:

  • Project Supervisor
  • Committee Chair
  • External Reader (must be external to the university)

If the project needs support from an organization or persons for resources such as financial support, equipment or data, the the student should find a sponsor, who may be a workplace mentor, community-based mentor or an applied practitioner with practical experience in the area of study being demonstrated by the Graduate student. Otherwise, the sponsor and the supervisor can be the same person.


Chair of the Committee Functions are:

  • As required, arbitrate all disputes among members of the project committee.
  • As required, re-assign existing or appoint new project committee members.
  • Ensure the project committee review of each Project meets or exceeds the academic standards established by the university.
  • Act as the final reviewer of the Project Report, when the project committee recommends that a graduate student's project be "Rejected".
  • On behalf of the program faculty, approve all Project Reports as .Completed. when recommended by the project committee.
  • Authorize students to graduate, when all program requirements related to the project have been satisfied.

 Project Supervisor

The project supervisor is charged with the responsibility of mentoring the graduate student throughout the project process. The supervisor should be a knowledgeable and experienced authority in the area of the graduate 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 graduate student will succeed. The supervisor will also be responsible for assembling the project committee.

Note that potential supervisors (Athabasca University faculty members or those who are given approval to act as supervisors) are not obligated to accept a project 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.

The Project Supervisor may be either a permanent faculty member of Athabasca University, or Adjunct faculty member or an outside professional approved by the MSc IS Graduate Program Director.

Project Supervisor Functions

  • Guide graduate students in the identification and development of their project.
  • Help graduate students to ensure that their project conforms to the Research Ethics Policy.
  • Undertake regular consultations with graduate students during completion of their project.
  • Review and provide comments on all drafts of the Project Report produced by graduate students.
  • In consultation with other committee members:
  • Assess completion of the competencies as described in the program mission
  • Determine if the graduate student must complete an oral defense of the Project Report
  • Communicate the success or failure of the graduate student's Project to the MSc IS Graduate Program coordinator.
  • Produce a written assessment of the graduate student after the Project Report has been submitted.

Selecting a Project Supervisor

To qualify as a Project Supervisor, individuals will normally possess a relevant doctorate degree, and be approved by the MSc IS Program Director. Potential project supervisors may be:

  • Athabasca University faculty and adjunct faculty members
  • Faculty members from other academic institutions
  • Professionals from related industries

Selecting the Project Supervisor

The Project Supervisor may be selected as follows:

Faculty members may request that specific graduate students be assigned to them based on mutual research and academic interests.

Graduate students may request that they be assigned to a specific faculty member.

The MSc IS Graduate Program Coordinator may assign graduate students to individual faculty members to ensure that an equitable distribution of work is maintained within the Program.

Project Sponsor

Project Sponsors should clearly understand their role in the project committee. The graduate student should discuss these functions with the sponsor before beginning the project.

Project Sponsors's responsibilities:

  • Assist graduate students in identifying and articulating the problems or issues to be examined during the project.
  • Agree to provide the resources and support described in the Letter of Agreement (see appendix 3).
  • Review and provide comments on the Project proposal.
  • Provide the resources, facilities, funds and personnel needed to support the successful completion of the project as described in the Project proposal.
  • Where appropriate, facilitate the timely collection of data.
  • Review the project findings, conclusions and recommendations with the graduate students.
  • Assess completion of the competencies as described in the program mission
  • Produce a written assessment of the graduate student at the end of the project.

The Project Sponsor may be any one of the following individuals:

  • An academic who has a well-defined research project.
  • A workplace supervisor or an individual who has ownership of the workplace problem to be examined.
  • A manager of a not-for-profit or community-based organization who has responsibility for providing services to the public.
  • An individual or organization that needs assistance in re-organising, problem solving, improving performance or any reason that may require the intervention of an outside consultant.
  • A professional who is an identified leader in his/her field (such as a university researcher) and requires expert assistance in examining a specific set of issues or problems.

Selecting a Project Sponsor

To qualify as a Project Sponsor, individuals must be willing to sponsor the graduate student's Project research and assist the student where required. The MSc IS Graduate Program coordinator must approve the assignment of each Project Sponsor.

When selecting a Project Sponsor, graduate students should identify an individual who will:

  • Demonstrate enthusiasm and support for the project;
  • Have an authoritative understanding and knowledge of the issues that will be examined as part of the project;
  • Be willing to accept the outcome of the project, no matter what the conclusions or recommendations may be; and
  • Have the resources, time and funds to commit to the project and be willing to provide freely of them where appropriate to support the project goals and objectives.

Manager-Employee Relationships

If a manager-employee relationship exists with the potential sponsor, the requesting graduate student must feel confident that their project could be completed without bias or judgment based on his/her previous working relationship with the potential sponsor.

Managing Project Sponsor Expectations

Graduate Students conducting the study must attempt to develop a professional and trusting rapport with their Project Sponsor. They must understand and attempt to meet the sponsor's expectations for the outcome of the proposed Project. These expectations may change through the life cycle of the Project.

Graduate Student

Role of the Graduate Student

The graduate student is responsible for planning, implementing and completing the Research project. The graduate student is also responsible for ensuring that their Research project is conducted in accordance with the Athabasca University Research Ethics Policy and the Athabasca University Integrity and Misconduct in Research and Scholarship Policy.

Graduate Student Functions

  • Review and understand this Project Handbook.
  • Review and understand registration and other requirements that apply to the project route for completion of the MSc IS program.
  • Identify a problem or issue that will meet the program mission as the basis of their Research project.
  • Discuss the problem or issue with their Project Supervisor.
  • Complete the Research project, in accordance with the Project Proposal and in accordance with the Athabasca University Research Ethics Policy and the Athabasca University Integrity and Misconduct in Research and Scholarship Policy.
  • Regularly communicate project progress to the Project Sponsor and Project Supervisor.
  • Effectively lead the Research project and the project team.
  • Circulate copies of the draft Project to all project committee members for review and comments.
  • Produce both a draft and final Project that conform to Athabasca University policies and guidelines.

Changing Committee Members

A committee member, the graduate student or the Program coordinator may initiate changes in the project committee at any time.

Change in a committee member may be required for the following reasons:

  • A graduate student changes his/her research direction, and requires a Project Supervisor with interests more closely aligned to his/her research interests.
  • The graduate student has irreconcilable academic, intellectual or personal differences with one or more of his/her committee members.
  • A committee member is unable to reconcile his/her academic or personal differences with the graduate student and to continue would jeopardize the student's chance of success.
  • A committee member finds himself or herself unable to work with the other members of the project committee.
  • A member of the committee becomes ill or unavailable for a long period of time and therefore is unable to complete his/her functions successfully.
  • A committee member is unable to effectively perform his/her duties.
  • Other reasons known to the Program coordinator.

Potential Impact of Changing the Project Sponsor

A change in the Project Sponsor may require a major change in the project's research question or methodology. If this is the case, then the graduate student should assess the potential impact of the change and discuss this matter with his/her Project Supervisor. The Project Supervisor must determine how to minimize the impact of any potential change and provide advice to the graduate student on how to recover any lost ground.

Change in the Project Supervisor should have minimum impact on the research project, assuming that the alternative individual selected as Project Supervisor has similar experience and interests as the previous Project Supervisor.

Role of the Director, SCIS or Graduate Program in Committee Changes

In all cases, the Director of SCIS and Graduate Program Director should be made aware of the need for any changes in the project committee and will, where necessary, undertake an investigation. If the change is deemed necessary, then the Director, SCIS or Graduate Program will assign new members and reform the committee as required.

1.4 Policies

Guidelines for using Human Subjects in Research

Should the project involve research that involves human subjects, the project must conform to the Athabasca University policy governing research involving human subjects. Examples of Use of Human Subjects:

  • Interviews with individuals or groups.
  • On-site job observations that involve human subjects who must provide personal data.
  • Review of personnel files or assessment reports.
  • Psychological testing.
  • Lab work, evaluation or testing programs involving targeted subjects.

Research Ethics Policy and Research Ethics Board

Graduate Students whose projects involve human subjects must follow the Research Ethics Policy of Athabasca University. The Research Ethics Policy may require that students submit their Project 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 Project Supervisor from the outset of their Project research. The Research Ethics Policy and related application forms for ethical reviews are available online at the University website.

Confidentiality in Research

Graduate Students must adhere to corporate, government or not-for-profit organization confidentiality guidelines. They should become thoroughly cognisant of these guidelines before producing a project proposal. Potential projects that require students to restrict their investigative or reporting methods should be avoided. The Publication of Research Policy is available at the university website.

Policies Governing Confidentiality

Some organizations may require signing non-disclosure forms. This obligates the Graduate 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.

Restrictive Practices

Issues of confidentiality and non-disclosure must be thoroughly explored with the project Sponsor. Non-disclosure agreements or restrictive practices that curb the ability of the student to complete their applied projects should be avoided. Some examples of Restrictive Practices are:

  • An organization reserves the right to restrict the type of data that is reported in the final project report.
  • An organization limits distribution of the final project report and therefore the ability of other researchers to use the project report is restricted.
  • An organization does not permit the graduate student to describe productivity data or financial information in the project report.

Intellectual Property and Research

The completion of an applied research project 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 Intellectual Property are:

  • A completed CD-ROM used for training.
  • A written report and its supporting data.
  • A set of evaluation instruments produced to gather data.
  • A database used to collate and analyze data.
  • A video tape.

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 project is being completed for. In these situations ownership of any intellectual property should be clarified before the research is undertaken.

Clarifying Ownership

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 project, 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

What is Copyright?

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 Project Report.

Athabasca University Conditions of Copyright

As a condition for the award of the degree, the Graduate student is required to sign a form giving permission to the University to make the Project Report available for inspection, to copy and circulate the Project Report for scholarly purposes, and to make use of the material and ideas in the Project Report in the preparation of papers for publication.

Copyright Protection

At the request of the author and/or where circumstances warrant, a Project Report or research product may be withheld from circulation for up to one year to allow such activities as patent protection or other legal steps to be completed.

Documents and Templates

MSc IS Project Style Guide

Graduate Students should produce their Project in accordance with the MSc IS Project Style Guide. The MSc IS Project style Guide can be downloaded and part of COMP 697 course material or sent to the student in electronic format upon request from the Program Office. Graduate Students should ensure that they are in possession of a current Style Guide and that their Project conforms to the Style Guide.

Project Sponsor Letter of Agreement

The aim of the Letter of Agreement is to act as an unofficial contract between the graduate student and the Project sponsor.

Who is Involved?

It is the responsibility of the graduate student to produce the Letter of Agreement, based on the Letter of Agreement template. Both the graduate student and the Project Sponsor should sign the Letter of Agreement. A signed original copy of the Letter of Agreement should be forwarded to the student's Project Supervisor, Project Sponsor and the Program coordinator.

When to Produce

The graduate student and the Project Sponsor should sign the Letter of Agreement after they have agreed to support the Research project. At the very latest, the graduate student and Project Sponsor should sign the Letter of Agreement when the Project Sponsor approves the final version of the Project proposal.

Document Content

The Letter of Agreement should describe the roles and responsibilities of the graduate student, Project Sponsor and Project Supervisor during the conduct of the research project. The letter should indicate clearly the resources, expenses and other support that will be required by the research project and who has the responsibility for providing them.

The Letter of Agreement should be tailored to meet the specific requirements of the project.

Important: The Letter of Agreement acts as a contract and its content should be considered carefully.

Layout Guidelines

The Letter of Agreement must be formatted in accordance with the MSc IS Project style Guide and the Letter of Agreement template.

Roles and Responsibilities

Project Sponsor

  • Assists graduate student in identifying and articulating the problems or issues to be examined.
  • Reviews and provides comments on the Project proposal for investigating the problem.
  • Where appropriate, provides the resources, facilities, funds and personnel needed to support the successful completion of the project as described in the Project proposal.
  • Where necessary, facilitates the timely collection of data.
  • Reviews the project findings, conclusions and recommendations with the graduate student.
  • As a member of the Project committee, reviews the final Project report to ensure that it meets or exceeds university and program academic requirements for theses and completes the Project Assessment Form.

Graduate Student

  • In conjunction with the Project Sponsor and Project Supervisor, develops the problem or issue into a project proposal.
  • Completes the project in accordance with the Project proposal.
  • Regularly communicates project progress to the Project Sponsor and Project Supervisor.
  • Effectively leads the project and project team.
  • Produces a Project Proposal and final Project Report, which conform to the University and program guidelines.

Project Supervisor

  • Ensures that the Project Sponsor is supportive of the project as described in the Project proposal.
  • Approves the Project proposal.
  • Undertakes regular consultations with graduate student during completion of his/her Project.
  • Briefs the Project Sponsor on his/her role and responsibilities as a Project committee member.
  • Ensures that graduate student applies rigorous research methodologies throughout his/her project completion.
  • Reviews and provides comments on all drafts of the Project produced by graduate student.
  • Circulates the approved draft of the Project to the other committee members for review and comments.
  • In coordination with the Program coordinator, Convenes a Project committee meeting to review the Project comments.
  • In consultation with other committee members, assesses the completion of the competencies described in the graduate student's Project contract.
  • Acts as the recording secretary for all Project committee meetings.
  • Communicates the success or failure of the graduate student's Project to the Program coordinator.

Project Proposal

The Project Proposal should be no more than 20 pages in length. This does not include supporting appendices. It should address the following requirements:

The Problem/Opportunity. A detailed description of the problem being investigated.

The Goal. It is critically important to clearly identify the goal of the research.

Impact or Significance of the Problem/Opportunity. The Graduate Student should describe the potential impact if the problem is not addressed.

Potential Causes of the Problem/Opportunity. The potential causes and scope of the problem should be described. This section should confine itself to a high-level analysis of the chosen topic. A more detailed and comprehensive examination of the problem and its causes should form an integral part of the completed Project.

Information Review. The Graduate Student should describe the information and supporting documents from the organization under study. This information should amplify or support the description of the problem.

Literature Review. The Graduate Student should describe similar problems or issues described in the professional literature.

Potential Solutions to the Problem/Opportunity. Potential solutions identified in the literature should be described. This section should include a detailed examination of the various options that will be explored during the conduct of the Project research.

Research Methodology. The research methods and steps to be used to conduct the study should be described. Hardware and software environments, and development tools, statistical methods and analysis techniques if appropriate should be addressed.

Project Deliverables. The Graduate Student should describe what he/she will deliver to the Project Sponsor upon completion of the project. This could include a software package, video, project report or other documents as required.

Project Milestones/Schedule. A list of milestones and a project schedule should be included.

Project Participants. A description of the project team and other participants should be identified. A list of human research subjects should be included.

Project Resource Requirements. A list of project resources, facilities or supporting contractors should be identified. Travel requirements should be described.

Project Budget. A project research budget should be included, where appropriate, which supports the successful completion of the project.

Project Report (Thesis) Template 

Project Quality Standards


The Project 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 Project.

Content Quality Considerations

  • Did the literature review consider all appropriate sources of information?
  • Did the graduate student properly address the problems identified in the Project Proposal using valid tools or methods?
  • Does the final Project adequately describe how the graduate student applied the research methodology and steps described in the original Project Proposal?
  • Did the final Project clearly describe the contributions by the student from the project?
  • Are the hardware and software environment, the running environment, the user manual, testing cases, experimental settings (e.g. subjects), and data gathering techniques (when appropriate) described or attached to the final Project?
  • Does the final Project demonstrate the proper and effective use of software engineering tools, such as, UML diagrams, CVS, statistical analysis or qualitative analysis tools when appropriate?
  • Are the developed software package, findings, conclusions and recommendations in the Project supported by collected evidence and other information described in the literature review?
  • Does the Project conform to the Research Ethics Policy of Athabasca University?
  • Will the Project stand up to rigorous academic scrutiny?

Production Quality Considerations

  • Does the Project layout and format conform to the MSc IS Project style Guide?
  • Are the citations and reference list formatted in accordance with the MSc IS Project style Guide?
  • Are the tables, figures, diagrams and graphs of sufficient print quality that they can be reproduced on a high quality photocopier? Are they suitable for microfilm reproduction?
  • Is the Project free of spelling or grammatical errors?
  • Is the Project printed on appropriate paper? Please refer to the style guide for advice on appropriate paper to use for theses.

1.6 Copyright Information

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:

  • A chapter or substantial excerpt from a book or journal
  • Material copied from a website
  • Screen captures from a website
  • Charts and tables
  • Images
  • Audio or video clips

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:

Copyright permission is NOT required for:

  • Anything you write or create
  • Short passages or quotes
  • Items in the public domain
  • Links to websites
  • Ideas
  • Titles

Note: Open Access materials, such as items licensed under a GNU General Public License or a Creative Commons License, 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

  • For works from published books, journals, online journals, or e-books: submit your permission request to the publisher. Publisher contact information can be found using an online search or a print directory.
  • For materials taken from a website: submit your permission request to the website administrator.
  • For unpublished works: submit your request to the author.
  • For photographs: submit your request to the photographer.
  • For artistic works: submit your request to the museum or archive that houses it. You may need to obtain permission from the artist as well.
  • For video clips or audio clips: submit your request the producer or distributor of the work.

If you have difficulty locating a rights holder, contact a Copyright Collective or the Copyright Board of Canada.

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 your 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 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 June 28 2017 by Student & Academic Services

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