A capstone project is a research assignment that many students must complete as part of their undergraduate or master’s degree. It differs from other types of final papers such as a thesis or dissertation because it has a practical nature. Capstone projects call for a student to review a certain problem, often specific to the writer’s interests or experience, and conduct research to evaluate or resolve the detected issues. The goal of such assignments is to involve students in their future professional sphere (Weaver 2). Moreover, capstone projects assess how students use critical thinking skills and the knowledge they have acquired during a course.
Choosing a Topic
It is clear that your selection must be connected to your sphere of education. For example, if you are a medical student, your capstone project will likely be focused on health-care interventions. For future biologists and chemists, chosen topics will reflect their field of expertise. Nevertheless, these assignments can be made more personal as follows:
- Search for a topic that interests you. Selecting a theme that does not spark your interest can negatively affect your attention and the quality of your writing. You may neither be able to concentrate on your paper nor conduct in-depth research. Think about your experience, both educational and professional. Has there been a problem or issue that you noticed and wanted to solve? This capstone project may be your chance to do that.
- Consider the format of the assignment. What does your instructor ask you to include in the project? Anticipate the composition of the future paper and the various components it should contain. Do you have to conduct research, and do the results have to be measurable? Adjust your topic to reflect the instructions. Since in most cases students have to confirm the topic with their advisors before writing, you will be able to get some help if you are struggling to find suitable subject matter.
- Take into account the project’s length. Depending on the number of requested pages, you may need to broaden or narrow your topic. Try to estimate how much space each part of the project will take up, and choose a research area that has enough information.
- Research existing literature on the topic. If your topic is too narrow or too recent, you may not find enough academic literature to support your research. In contrast, if the topic is too broad, you may be overwhelmed by the amount of available information.
Capstone projects usually follow a specific structure:
- Abstract. Although it is located at the beginning of the written project, the abstract should be written last. It is a summary of the entire study; you can approach it as soon as you are sure that every other part is complete. Do not confuse the abstract with the introduction of the paper—abstracts contain enough information to interest the reader in the entire project. Thus, they must capture the essence and relay main concepts, hypotheses, research methods, and findings.
- Introduction. In this section, you will acquaint your readers with the topic you have selected. Sometimes, an introduction is split into multiple smaller categories such as “Purpose of the Paper” or “Research Questions,” but they can be located in this part since they present the topic. Here, you should introduce the issue and connect it to your sphere of academic knowledge or course. In addition, you may discuss why this research problem is significant. Next, list the formulated research questions or hypotheses that will guide the investigation. State the objectives that you wish to achieve with the help of this project. Finally, if it is required, include a thesis that succinctly describes the aims and beliefs of the capstone project.
- Literature Review. A review of the existing literature is a vital component of any research endeavor. Here, you will search for academic and other reliable sources that are connected to your topic. These articles, books, trials, and studies will be used as a foundation for the research. Sources can contain pertinent findings, discuss well-examined methodologies, present new ideas, and confirm or refute earlier findings. Document the results of your search and analyze them; look for gaps in knowledge. What themes are not explored well or missing altogether? What should or can be researched in more detail? You can attempt to fill in these gaps with your findings.
- Methodology. In this section of the project, you will talk about how your research is to be conducted.
- First, describe your research design; it can be qualitative, quantitative, or mixed (a combination of the two). Each type also has many subcategories. Choose one, and explain why it works the best for your topic.
- Next, state your independent and dependent variables if needed for your selected design. Independent variables are what you choose to investigate (for example, different training programs for employees). Dependent variables are affected by independent ones (for example, employee performance after training).
- Describe the sample for your project. Who are the participants, and how many of them are involved? What are the inclusion and exclusion criteria for research?
- List the materials and tools you used in conducting research. Here, you can introduce questionnaires, online tests, and other media created for this project.
- Write about the process of conducting research, discussing all the major elements of the procedure. What were the participants asked to perform? How were the results collected?
- Discuss how you analyzed the results, listing measurements, tests, and calculations. Explain why you chose each method, and support your selections with previous research.
- Results. This is a significant part of the project, where you show the results of the conducted research. Refrain from making any assumptions or conclusions here—state the results without interpretation. You can use graphs, tables, and images to illustrate findings. Remember to present data that will answer all the research questions and hypotheses you introduced earlier. Check the findings’ validity and significance if required by the chosen research style.
- Discussion. Here, you should analyze the revealed results—be critical and attentive. Try to find patterns or show correlations in the findings. Talk about the context. What does previous academic literature tell you about this study? Does it contradict or align with your findings? Think about the importance and implications of your results. Does this study add something new to the sphere of knowledge? Do not forget to consider the limitations of your project—what could make the research more reliable? Finally, introduce some questions for future research and encourage additional investigation.
- Conclusion. Some papers include a conclusion in addition to the discussion. Restate all major information from the study here, presenting it concisely. Do not propose any new ideas or data in this part. The function of a conclusion is to wrap up the project and talk about all important judgments.
In addition to adhering to the structure described above, you should also remember to pay attention to your writing process. Do not be afraid of making drafts before writing the final version; they will help you structure your arguments and findings. After completing the paper, be sure to proofread it as mistakes and inconsistencies can make the written project difficult to read, confusing, or even incorrect. If you think you need someone else’s opinion, ask for it—turn to your instructor, writing center, or other knowledgeable persons that will help you revise the text if necessary. Check all tables and graphs, and make sure that a reader can understand them as well as you do.
Capstone projects give students an opportunity to apply their knowledge in practice. They are designed around a narrow topic that investigates a real problem, using a specific structure that is followed in the majority of cases: an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, and discussion are essential elements of every capstone project. These assignments use a scholarly voice and require in-depth knowledge of previous scholarly literature. Like all academic papers, they need to be substantiated with evidence and be clear and unbiased. Lastly, proofreading is an important part of scholarly writing as well. This paper shows the writer’s level of preparedness after completing a course. Follow the provided guidelines and remember to be attentive—these rules should help you complete a high-quality capstone project.
Weaver, K. F., et al. “The Benefits of Peer Review and a Multisemester Capstone Writing Series on Inquiry and Analysis Skills in an Undergraduate Thesis.” CBE—Life Sciences Education, vol. 15, no. ar51, 2016, 1-9.