How to Write a Capstone Project
A capstone project is more demanding than any work you’ll write, or have written, in college. It’s based on independent research, and is probably one of the most valuable and rewarding academic works available to a student.
The first step always seems to be: “choose a topic.” Getting a little tiresome, right? But as with all big projects, once you register for a research course, they give you the independence to show your knowledge, skill, and creativity. Moreover: you register for a capstone project because you have interest in a topic, not because you were forced to do so.
Each college and university has a registration process mapped out for you, either on the university’s website or in hard copy form at the office. So, we won’t delve into technical details that may differ slightly. Instead we’ll focus on writing (and assume you’ve already registered for the course and completed your proposal).
First, let’s get the simple things out of the way. Choose the correct citation style and follow it throughout the paper. Be mindful of grammar tenses. Use an active voice whenever possible. Take your time, of course. There are numerous writing tips, and probably know a lot of them by now. Here are a few good ones:
- Scheduling is always important. You should stick to a weekly plan at all times, but to write a successful research project, you need a separate, integrated schedule. You need to dedicate time to three major tasks: researching, writing and resting.
- Edit and proofread the finished paper separately. You can catch some grammar or punctuation errors while you edit, but the structure, format and the overall feel of your paper should be the main focus. You are bound to fix, rewrite or even delete some phrases and sentences, so proofreading afterwards will make the paper look good and polished.
- Use primary sources. You need to analyze and interpret these references, which require more time and effort than secondary sources. Using primary sources shows that you’re familiar with the topic. Also, it’s better to present your own interpretation of data, than to rely too heavily on outside research.
- Consult the grading rubric. It lists everything you have to address and include in your paper and is a reliable checkpoint.
Show the examiners what you’ve learned in the course of your studies, what skills you’ve acquired and how well you can use them.
Generally a capstone paper is about 20-25 pages long, but no longer than 45 pages. You should submit a draft to your Capstone advisor first, before editing and submitting the finished project. The paper usually consists of the following sections:
- Title page. Make sure you don’t miss any important information that usually goes onto the title page, as it identifies your work.
- Abstract. It goes after the title page and provides an overview of the capstone project. Basically, it’s a summary of the main sections. Here you can state your reasoning for choosing your research problem.
- Table of Contents. This will also be your outline. Include all major headings and subheadings.
- 4. Introduction. Here you present your research problem and explain how you got interested in analyzing it.
- Problem Description. Expand on the problem, its background, why you think the problem exists, and how you’ll address it.
- Literature review. In general, you should analyze at least 15 sources. The majority of sources should be no older than 10 years, unless it’s a fundamental study or source related to your research.
- Project description. In this section, include everything you’ve done to research the problem statement: the type of research design you employed, the parameters and methods, as well as your analysis and results. If you have tables or figures, include them in this section, and also, state you IRB status.
- Findings and conclusion. Summarize your discussion and explain why your findings matter.
- References page. Include every source you’ve cited.
- Appendices. A section for information that is supplementary but provides a deeper understanding of the research problem and analysis.