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Athabasca University

COMP676-680 Thesis Handbook

Table of Content

Step 1: Selecting a research topic and finding a supervisor

Research work for the thesis formally begins after the graduate student has completed his/her foundation and core courses of MSc (IS) program. MSc (IS) graduate students who select the thesis route are required to have a supervisor. In the Master's program, "the selection of a supervisor should occur once the graduate student has been approved to the thesis route" (Section 1.3 of Master's thesis route guidelines).

The graduate student-supervisor relationship is one that requires mutual interest in the selected thesis topic, ability to work together, and related expertise of the faculty member. It is the responsibility of the supervisor to advise and mentor the graduate student in the development of his or her research and intellectual growth. Likewise, it is the responsibility of the graduate student to conform to university policies and program requirements, and to fulfill certain responsibilities when engaging in a supervisor-graduate student relationship. The Faculty of Graduate Studies outlines the responsibilities of both the graduate student and the supervisor:

Graduate students normally identify their supervisor, who is usually a faculty member from the School of Computing and Information Systems. Below is a list of strategies graduate students might use to assist with identifying a supervisor:

►Information on the School for Computing and Information Systems website and the Research Topics list;

► The Faculty of Graduate Studies office, which maintains a list of potential supervisors and committee members whom have been recommended by the various faculties and centres;

► Graduate students may be familiar with a specific faculty member whose research interests parallel their own by having enrolled in a course or attending a presentation that the faculty member conducted; or

The graduate student is required to prepare a mini-proposal and share this with a prospective supervisor. The graduate student should use the template for mini-proposals to write a mini-proposal (see Appendix A for the template). The mini-proposal is usually written either while registered in COMP 695 or after completing COMP695.

If the graduate student has found a prospective supervisor, she/he should submit the mini-proposal to the prospective supervisor. The prospective supervisor will review the graduate student's mini-proposal and decide whether to accept the role as the thesis supervisor. If the prospective supervisor agrees to act as the graduate student's supervisor and approves the mini-proposal, the supervisor forwards the mini-proposal to the Program Director at for approval and then the Program Director will forward the mini-proposal to the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

Both the graduate student and the supervisor should follow the following steps:

i) The supervisor will obtain the Master's Thesis Supervisor Approval form from the FGS website, and in consultation with the graduate student, completes this form. It is important that both the student and supervisor sign this form;

ii) the supervisor submits the form to the MSc (IS) Program Director for signature;

iii) the MSc (IS) Program Director submits the form to FGS for final approval;

iv) the FGS provides the MSc (IS) Program Director with a copy of the form with approval;

v) a copy of the form will be stored within the SCIS graduate files database.

In some cases the mini-proposal presented to a prospective supervisor does not align with the research discipline of the supervisor. Either the supervisor will ask the student to modify and resubmit the proposal in accordance with the supervisor's recommendations or the supervisor will recommend an alternate supervisor for the student.

If the graduate student encounters difficulties in finding a suitable prospective supervisor, she/he should submit the mini-proposal to the MSc (IS) Program Director who will review the mini-proposal and help the graduate student to find a supervisor.


  1. The mini-proposal (and each of the steps that lead to the completion of the research) is the individual graduate student's responsibility and the onus is on the graduate student to demonstrate that the proposed investigation is worthy of being considered for a thesis route.
  2. After the supervisor approves a mini-proposal, the content of the mini-proposal, such as methods, tasks or goals etc can be modified through discussion between the graduate student and the supervisor.
  3. The supervisor shall meet with the graduate student either video conference or in person at least once per year. At the time of these meetings, the graduate student shall submit to the supervisor by email attachment an annual progress report in which the graduate student discusses the achievement of goals during the past year, expresses goals for the subsequent year, and provides dates for significant milestones in the program, such as proposal completion date or commencement of data collection. The completed report must be forwarded to the Dean, FGS at

Step 2: COMP 676: Research Proposal Writing

COMP676 Thesis Proposal Writing (3 credits): Decision Making, Research Methodologies, Literature Review, and Proposal Writing is the first element of thesis work. This course focuses on current research methodologies and on the suitability and applicability of these methodologies to information systems research, committee formation, and oral defense for the proposal and ethics/access approvals.

Step 2.1: Selection of the supervisory committee

During this course (COMP676), the graduate student and the supervisor should work together to form the supervisory committee. "The supervisory committee consists of a minimum of two people, one being a supervisor, plus a maximum of two other members". For the details about Selection, Composition, and Approval of the Supervisor and Supervisory Committee, please refer to the guidelines in the FGS website Section 1.3A.

When individuals consent to the committee membership:

i) the graduate student informs the supervisor;

ii) the supervisor obtains the Master's Thesis Supervisory Committee Approval form from the FGS website or MSc (IS) Administrative Assistant;

iii) the supervisor and graduate student complete the necessary sections;

iv) the supervisor ensures the committee members sign the form indicating their consent to become a committee member;

v) the form is sent to the MSc (IS) Program Director for signature with any accompanying documentation for committee members who are in the 'other' category' (Sec 1.2). Accompanying documentation "should include the member's CV and a memo indicating the reasons for, and the benefits of, having such a colleague as co-supervisor or on the proposed supervisory, candidacy, or examining committee" (Sec 1.2);

vi) the MSc (IS) Program Director submits the material to the FGS for approval;

vii) the FGS provides the MSc (IS) Program Director with a copy of the form with approval;

viii) a copy of the form is stored in SCIS's graduate files database.

For the details about the roles and responsibility of the supervisory committee, please see the FGS web site:

Step 2.2: Thesis Proposal and Oral Examination

When the supervisor and supervisory committee, in conjunction with the graduate student determine that the proposal is ready to be formally presented to the supervisory committee and undergo adjudication, the following activities need to occur:

i) the supervisor (or MSc (IS) Administrative Assistant) arranges the date and time for the proposal presentation along with the necessary technology;

ii) the supervisor obtains the form Master's Thesis Proposal Final Report form from the FGS website or the MSc (IS) Administrative Assistant, completes it and submits it to the MSc (IS) Program Director and FGS;

iii) the committee must follow the procedures in the Conduct of Oral Examinations, available from FGS;

vi) after there is a recommendation arrived at by the committee, the form is circulated among the committee members for signature;

v) the supervisor ensures the form is complete and submits it to the MSc (IS) Program Director;

vi) the MSc (IS) Program Director signs the form;

vi) the form is sent to FGS for final approval;

viii) FGS can send copy of the outcome or an email to Registrar;

vii) FGS gives copy of completed form to MSc (IS) Program Director and the MSc (IS) Administrative Assistant for SCIS's graduate files database.

For the details about the adjudication, adjudication categories, and procedures of the proposal and oral examination, see section 2 of the guidelines of FGS:

Step 2.3: Ethics/access approvals

After the proposal is approved by the committee the ethics application can be submitted to the Athabasca University Research Ethics Board. It is up to the supervisor and the graduate student to discuss the necessary approvals that are required. The supervisor must ensure the graduate student does obtain the necessary approvals prior to any data collection. They should estimate the length of time it will take to complete the forms, obtain the approvals before data collection can realistically occur, e.g. many AU committees and external committees do not meet during July, August, and December. Any approvals (ethics and access) should be included as an appendix in the thesis. For the details about the ethics/access approval and oral exam thesis proposal (please see Section 3 Ethics/Access Approval)

Step 3: COMP 677-678-679: Research

COMP677 Thesis Part I (3 credits) is the second element of thesis work. Graduate students can register in this course any time after they have successfully completed COMP676. Upon completion of COMP677, one-third of the research should be done and confirmed in writing by the supervisor. Generally, a graduate student taking this course will continue to work with their supervisor and supervisory committee that were assigned before the graduate student registered in COMP 676.

COMP678 Thesis Part II (3 credits) is the third element of thesis work. Graduate students should register in this course when the thesis work is well underway and have the graduate student has passed COMP677. Upon completion of COMP678, the graduate student should have completed two-thirds of the research as confirmed in writing by the supervisor. Generally, a graduate student taking this course will continue to work with the supervisor and supervisory committee that were assigned before the graduate student registered in COMP 677.

COMP679 Thesis Part III (3 credits) is the fourth element of thesis work. Graduate students should register in this course when their thesis work is well underway and the graduate student has passed COMP678. Upon completion of COMP679, the graduate student should have completed 90~100% of research work. Generally, a graduate student taking this course will continue to work with the supervisor that was assigned before the graduate student registered in COMP 678.

Step 4: COMP 680 Thesis Writing and Oral Defense

COMP680 Thesis Writing and Defense (3 credits) is the final element of thesis work. The aim of COMP680 is to produce the final thesis 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 register in this course when they have passed COMP679. In this course the graduate student will complete their thesis and conduct their final oral examination. The graduate student will continue to be supervised by their supervisor and the supervisory committee.

For the preliminary approval by the supervisory committee prior to the final oral examination, the formation of the Examination committee, and for the details on the process for the final oral examination and the formation of the examination committee see sections 4 and 5 of the Guidelines of FGS and the Conduct of the Oral Examination. Once the thesis has been submitted for examination, the graduate student must not make changes to the Thesis unless requested by the examination committee. The graduate student should follow the section 6 "Timeline for Submission of Master's Thesis to the Faculty of Graduate Studies" and Figure for the workflow on thesis and oral examination.

Step 4.1 Thesis Writing

Graduate Students must produce a thesis that conforms to the MSc (IS) Thesis Style Guide. Athabasca University has support to assist with the writing of theses. The Write Site's URL is: . During the thesis-writing, the graduate student and the supervisor should ensure that all copyright issues have been solved. Please refer to the copyright information in the Appendix B.

Step 4.2 Academic Honesty

Plagiarism is a serious offense. All material the graduate student submits as the graduate student's work for the thesis must be "plagiarism free". This is an issue which is always faced when using any kind of reference to learn from, since the easiest way of expressing a given piece of information is in the words of the source. The graduate student can quote from the source and include a reference in one of the standard forms, but the graduate student cannot have chapters of the thesis consist mainly of quotes. This means the graduate student must find ways of re-stating or paraphrasing the source. Once in a while the graduate student may naturally say something in the same way as someone else, there being no other direct way of stating it, but if this occurs too often you may be suspected of "excessive borrowing", a euphemism for plagiarism. For more details on plagiarism offences, students can refer to the Academic Misconduct Policy:

Step 4.3 Oral Examination, Thesis Revision, and Thesis Submission

The supervisor and supervisory committee, in conjunction with the graduate student decide that the graduate student's thesis is ready for the final examination. The following activities should begin at least 4 weeks prior to the oral examination:

i) the supervisor obtains preliminary agreement from the committee that the thesis is ready to be reviewed by the examination committee; the form Preliminary Acceptance of Thesis Prior to Distribution to Master's Examination Committee should be completed by each committee member (Section 4.1 & 4.2);

ii) the supervisor, after consultation with the MSc (IS) Program Director, submits the Master's Thesis Appointment of Examination Committee to the FGS for approval (Sec 4.1);

iii) after approval from the FGS, the supervisor or MSc (IS) Administrative Assistant makes arrangements for the final oral examination; announcements on the SCIS's and FGS websites, teleconferencing facilities, selection of a proctor/IT person if it is needed and the graduate student is at a remote site, and inform FGS of the date and time;

iv) the graduate student provides each of the examination committee members with a copy of the thesis - this should occur approximately 3 to 4 weeks prior to the anticipated oral examination date;

v) the committee is given about 3 to 4 weeks to review the thesis after receipt;

vi) the oral examination will be open (Section 5.3);

vii) the SCIS and FGS will publicize the oral examination on their websites; Please see the Notice of Oral Examination form and Announcement of Final Oral Examination form to be completed by the supervisor.

viii) FGS provides the supervisor or MSc (IS) Administrative Assistant with the necessary forms for completion at the oral examination:

-- Conduct of Oral Examinations

-- Master's Thesis & Oral Examination Final Report

-- National Library copyright forms;

ix) FGS provides the proctor with the Report of the Proctor form and instructions on their role and responsibilities. For more details about the Guidelines and Procedures for Oral Examinations, please see

x) the supervisor will chair the oral examination following the Conduct of Oral Examinations procedures;

xi) the supervisor submits the completed Master's Thesis & Oral Examination Final Report forms to FGS once the committee members have indicated their adjudication decision and comments;

xii) the graduate student is given a time frame by the supervisor and committee to complete any revisions;

xiii) the supervisor and/or examination committee approve the revisions;

The graduate student is responsible for completing all revisions identified by the Examination Committee at the final oral examination. The supervisor and/or the MSc (IS) program director must approve/validate the revisions before the thesis is considered completed. The graduate student will not be recommended for graduation at Academic Council if the revised thesis is not validated.

A copy of a .pdf version of the approved thesis and supporting materials must be submitted by the supervisor to the School of Computing and Information Systems Program Office at as described below before graduate students can be authorized for graduation.

The student is required to add her/his thesis to the Digital Thesis & Project Room. If you have any concerns with having your publication of your thesis let the program office know. A link to the Digital Thesis & Project Room is available from our SCIS website:

Follow the instructions below and complete the personal information and load the thesis. To upload the final copy of the thesis please go to the following website:

The student will then complete the AU Library Digital Thesis and Project Release Form for Master of Science - Information Systems. Here is a link to a sample copy of this form that contains further instructions: . The program administrative assistant will then enable the thesis so it can be added to the collection.

xiii) the graduate student submits a final copy of the thesis to the FGS;

xiv) the FGS provides the graduate student with a letter of approval of Master's Thesis which is inserted in the first few pages of the thesis report.

xv) the FGS and/or MSc (IS) Administrative Assistant notifies the Registrar's office of the graduate student's fulfillment of the final requirements for the degree.

Step 5: Application for Graduation

Once the program requirements have been met and the student has been advised in writing by the MSc (IS) Program Director, it is the responsibility of the graduate student to contact the Registrar's Office to register for graduation Staff at the Registrar's Office will explain the administrative steps that must be completed in order to graduate.

Appendix A: Mini-Proposal for MSc IS Thesis (Template)

Thesis Title: ____________________________________________

______________________________________________(less than 20 words)

Graduate student Name ______________________

Graduate student ID # ______________

Perspective supervisor: _____________________________

Co-supervisor (if applicable) _______________________

  1. Problem and Research Goal: Describe the research problem(s) and objective(s).
  2. The methodology: Outline the main research methodology (qualitative, or quantitative or mixed methods/approaches) you will use.
  3. Rational for the research: Use this section to say why the research is significant, (Justification of why it will be done -- novelty, relevance); what the opportunity and challenges are.
  4. Timelines: Write concise paragraphs that describes your planned research. This should include details of making hypothesis, obtaining references, comparison planned, experimental analysis planned if needed, etc.
  5. Anticipated Results and Contributions: Describe the likely contributions (e.g. new architecture, or new algorithm(s), or new system) of your research to other researchers, potential users, and the world.
  6. Possible dissemination: Describe possible publications from the research.
  7. Hardware and Software, Organization Support Needed: List the expected research environment, sponsors, research ethics approval if necessary, and tools you need to use and the materials you need.
  8. List of references: (Articles, books, Internet links)

Note: the length of the mini-proposal should be no longer than two A4 pages (12 font, single space) including references.

Click here to download in MS Word.

Appendix B: Copyright Information

Copyright permission is required when you want to include a substantial amount of work that is not your own in your MSc (IS) thesis.

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.

Copyright permission is NOT required for: Anything you write or create short passages or quotes that are cited according to APA Style, items in the public domain, links to websites, ideas, titles. 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:

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

  1. 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.
  2. For materials taken from a website: submit your permission request to the website administrator.
  3. For unpublished works: submit your request to the author.
  4. For photographs: submit your request to the photographer.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 (specialization 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. 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 thesis 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 thesis 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.

Inserting Copyright Acknowledgments: All copyright permission statements (credit lines) must appear on the first page where the reproduced material appears in your thesis. 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 must be submitted to the MSc (IS) Administrative Assistant along with the final version of your thesis. 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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