CS 510: Advanced Information Retrieval (Fall 2017)

Instructor: ChengXiang Zhai

Course Project


The purpose of the course project is to provide students an opportunity to study and work on a topic in-depth so as to obtain experience with either (1) research in IR, (2) practical experience in implementing advanced IR algorithms in a real system, or (3) application of advanced IR technologies to develop an interesting novel application system. Group projects with a team of up to 3 students are allowed and encouraged. Larger groups are also possible with approval from the instructor.

Grading Criteria

Your project will be graded primarily based on the following weighting scheme:


There are three distinct project topic tracks. They differ mainly in the proposed end goal of the project.

  1. Research Track. This track should culminate in a research paper that could be suitable for submission to a journal or conference in information retrieval or related areas (like SIGIR, KDD, ACL, WSDM, etc.)

    When picking a topic in this track, try to ask yourself the following questions:

    • What is the main research question? A research contribution is generally in the form of providing an answer to a new question that has never been addressed by any published work or a better answer to an old question than the previous answers. A research question can be of many different forms. In engineering, a common form of question is: how do we build X? Another common form is: how can we build a better technology to do X than the current technologies available? Sometimes, however, a question may be a “why” question such as “why is algorithm A better than algorithm B under condition C?”

    • What is the expected novelty of your work? Is your research question a new question or one that has been studied by others? If it has been studied before, why should we expect your new solution to be better than the previous ones? What’s your new idea?

    • How important is your question? Why do we have to address the question? What if we don’t address it? Who will benefit from studying the question?

    A good topic is one that is novel, that you like to work on, that people care about, and that you have some idea about how to carry out the proposed work.

    Check out this tutorial on research.

    We’ll post some sample research topics a bit later.

  2. Software Track. This track aims to contribute a major piece of open-source software to the community. This may be in the form of a brand new software package, or as an extension of an existing toolkit or library.

    We will post some sample software track topics a bit later.

  3. Startup (Business) Track. This track is application-oriented, and should result in a demo system that clearly demonstrates novel useful functions from a user’s perspective. Think of this as a “minimum viable product” for a startup idea.

Project Proposal (Tuesday, October 17 at 11:59 pm)

You must write a one-page proposal before you actually begin your project in-depth. These will be submitted via Compass and are due Tuesday, October 17th at 11:59pm.

In the proposal, you should (1) indicate the track of your project (i.e., research track, software track, or startup track), (2) address the following questions, (3) include the names and email addresses of all the team members, and (4) identify the coordinator of the project in case the team has more than one member, who would take the primary responsibility of coordinating the work of all team members; the coordinator is also our primary contact for providing feedback about the project.

As long as these questions are addressed, the proposal does not have to be very long. A couple of sentences for each question would be sufficient.

If your project is aiming at the research track, you should focus on the following in your proposal:

If your project is aiming at the software track, you should focus on the following in your proposal:

If your project is aiming at the startup track, you should focus on the following in your proposal:

Project Progress Presentation (Tuesday, December 12 at 11:00 am)

At a time close to the end of the semester, each group is required to record and submit a voiced PowerPoint presentation (or a similar video) to report the progress of the project up to that point and discuss your plan for finishing the project. If you don’t know how to record a voiced PPT, please search in Google. There are many tutorials on this. For example, this youtube video may be helpful.

Your presentation will be submitted via Illinois Media Space. Please follow the following instructions.

First, go to the Illinois Media Space Channel for our course at https://mediaspace.illinois.edu/channel/channelid/82300792. You may need to use your Active Directory account to login. After you see the channel page, click on “Add to Channel”, which should bring up another page where you can click on “Add New” and then select “Media Upload”. You can then upload your recorded voiced ppt file. After you upload the file, you will be asked to fill in a form with basic information about the uploaded file. You should then do the following: 1) In the “Name” field, fill in the title of your project, or an informative abbreviation of the project title. 2) In the “Description field”, briefly explain what your project is about using a couple of sentences. 3) In the “tag” field, type in “cs510f17” (it is possible that the system would suggest “cs510f17” for completion as you type in the prefix part of this tag once the system has registered this tag after seeing this tag being used the first time). Feel free to fill in any other field that you want to fill in. 4) Click on “Save”, and then click on “Go to Channel”. 5) You should now see your uploaded media. Click on your uploaded presentation to test it. At this point, you should also be able to obtain a web URL to your presentation. Post a note with this URL on Piazza using your project title as the subject line and make sure to choose the folder/tag “project_presentation”. This is very important because the folder allows other students to easily access your presentation and post comments or feedback about your project on Piazza.

The presentation should be between 10-20 minutes in length. Your presentation will be available to your classmates so that you can all learn about others’ projects easily and provide comments if you want to.

The purpose of this presentation is to: (1) give the instructor and TAs an opportunity to know about the progress of your project and provide timely help if needed; (2) let you learn others’ projects easily and provide feedback or suggestions so as to help each other finish the project smoothly; (3) give you some opportunity to practice presentation skills, particularly how to convey a message effectively and efficiently, which are very important for a successful career.

To make efficient use of the short time period you have for the presentation, we suggest that you take advantage of visual display (e.g., showing a demo of a preliminary version of the system that you might have already completed by the time of the presentation, screenshots, diagrams to illustrate an algorithm, or plots of sample experimental results). It’s up to each project group to decide how to organize the presentation, but in general, you should try to make your presentation cover similar content to what you would cover in your project report (see below for more detailed instructions on what to include in your report for each track). For your convenience, we have created separate PowerPoint templates for the three tracks. They are available here: Research Track Template, Software Track Template, Startup Track template. You should attempt to have each group member involved in presenting some part of it.

Your grade for this portion of the project is divided into three parts:

Project Final Report (tentatively, Tuesday, December 19 at 11:59 pm)

At the end of the semester during the final exam week, every project team must submit a project report (tentative deadline is Tuesday, December 19 at 11:59 pm). The form of your final report will differ depending on which project track you choose.

Each project group needs to submit a single report. Please make sure to include, for each member of your team, a couple of sentences to describe what he/she did exactly for the project.

In general, all the members of a team will get the same grade for the project unless the report indicates that some member(s) only superficially participated in the project without doing much actual work; in that case, I will discount the grade. Note that it is every individual student’s responsibility (not the responsibility of your team leader) to ensure that he/she makes substantial contributions to the project.