Guide: How to Write a Capstone Paper
A capstone project is in many ways similar to a thesis paper; the most obvious similarity is that the capstone project accumulates and presents the knowledge you have obtained during the entire degree course. A capstone project usually introduces and solves a certain problem (unlike a thesis, for example, where your task is rather to conduct a research in order to prove or refute a hypothesis), and is assigned to students in the end of the final year of their degree course. Here is what you need to know about capstone projects before you actually start to write one.
The alternative opinion to viewing capstone project is that it is basically the same as a thesis paper, coursework, and term paper. Which does not cancel the necessity for you to do proper research and write it well.
- A capstone project is usually written in a volume between 30-40 pages (given that each page is 275 words long). You should check with the requirements of your educational institution before you start writing. It is important, because it might affect your choice of topic; some topics are either too large, or too small to fit in this limit.
- You cannot write a capstone project paper based on just several general-purpose sources; on the contrary, you will need to use no less than 15 sources, which should preferably be highly specialized and directly connected to your topic.
- One of the most difficult aspects about writing a capstone project is neither research, nor writing itself, but rather the choice of a topic. Most of the topics you can possibly come up with are the variations of the classic process: “find info on the subject and present it to your readers.” This is boring. The key to a worthwhile capstone project lies in the juxtaposition of two co-related topics. As in a short story, where the main conflict/problem is the driver of a whole plot, the relationship between the two topics you choose will fuel up your whole paper. For example, if you major in political science and want to write a paper on authoritarian political regimes, choose another subject from your field that would not repeat or derive from the first one; for example, it could be the influence of mass media on mass consciousness. Now, combine these two topics in one, and you will get something like, “Propaganda techniques authoritarian political regimes use in mass media,” or “The role of mass media in supporting and justifying authoritarian political regimes”; or even, “Mass media as the key factor of the longevity of the authoritarian political regimes.”
- When you start the research for your topic, you can significantly boost your speed and efficiency if you do not try to read through the entire materials that you come across; usually, it is enough to look at the introduction to understand what the whole material is about.
- As in any other research paper, a proper organization is the key to a successfully written capstone project. Therefore, whatever information you find during your research, make sure to: 1) cite the sources you have obtained it from properly; 2) keep track on which source you have obtained certain data from; 3) keep your notes organized in a logical order, so that you could navigate them easily.
- You should conduct the research using only the most recent sources; also, all of the sources must be credible. In general, it means that you should use peer-reviewed monographs, scientific journals, and websites (preferably ending with .gov and .edu) not older than 1-3 years.
- Before beginning to work on the paper, you should submit the capstone project proposal. It is a brief overview of what your future project will be about, written in the maximum of 1200-1500 words. More specifically, it should contain an introduction, a description of the problem you are going to work on (and the description of your project itself), and literature overview and references. Check with the requirements of your educational institution for more details, but usually a capstone project is written in Times New Roman, 12 font, double-spaced.
Now that you know what to keep in mind when writing a capstone project, it is time to actually start working on one. The structure of a capstone project paper is slightly different from other “big” research papers.
- Title page
As usual, this is a brief summary of what your paper is about. You should make it no longer than 250-350 words, and briefly sum up the contents of every section of your paper in it.
- Table of contents, including all the headings and subheadings.
Description of the problem/Introduction
This is a very important section of your paper, because in it you need to do the following: 1) show what you are going to research, and why it is worth your (and others) attention; 2) clearly state the problem standing behind your research; 3) describe the problem in details; 4) provide any other relevant background information. Note that sometimes INtroduction and the Description of a Problem go as two different sections, so you should better check with the requirements of your educational institution before writing this part.
- Literature review
Description of the project
This part should explain to the readers what you did, including the methods you used, details and samples of the studied/observed objects, descriptions of used procedures and equipment, tables, graphs, charts and figures, analysis of the results, and so on.
This section shows what you learned as a result of your research, and focuses on summarizing your main findings and their significance.
There should be at least (!) 15 credible and relevant sources listed in this section.
- Appendices (if any).
This is basically all you need to know in order to write a nice capstone project paper. Good luck!
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