What Is the Difference Between a Capstone and a Thesis?

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The main difference between a capstone project and a thesis is that a capstone project addresses a specific problem, issue or concern in your field of study, and a thesis attempts to create new knowledge. A capstone project focuses on a narrow, specific topic, whereas a thesis addresses a broader, generalized issue.

1 Capstone Project: Coursework Application

A capstone project tests your understanding of core concepts in your field of study and requires you to apply them to current situations. For example, a capstone project might require you to produce a solution to a business or scientific problem. Capstone projects don't require original research, but you must perform background analysis, conduct library research, examine similar projects and review best practices, according to the University of North Carolina. Capstone projects may be completed individually or in small groups. Some undergraduate and graduate programs require students to complete capstone projects to graduate. Consult your adviser about specific capstone requirements.

2 Capstone Project: Select a Narrow Topic

Choose a narrow topic for a capstone project, for which you can provide expertise and a comprehensive analysis. For example, your capstone project might address how a lack of protein affects elementary students' classroom learning or why some consumers are more likely to buy impulsively. In some cases, a capstone project deals with a specific company that's trying to improve productivity or solve a workplace concern. Most capstone projects require a written paper of approximately 15 to 25 pages, according to the University of Colorado. Your adviser may require you to present your project in public and complete a self-reflective evaluation.

3 Thesis Paper: Create and Prove or Disprove a Hypothesis

A thesis paper differs from a capstone project because you must create new knowledge by developing a hypothesis, conducting data analysis, assessing your results, drawing conclusions from your research and comparing your results to others. "A thesis paper feels more like the scientific method than a field project," according to the University of Wisconsin. You must work independently on a thesis instead of doing group projects. Thesis papers are generally reserved for graduate students.

4 Thesis Paper: Professional Considerations

A thesis paper is beneficial to students who plan to enter a Ph.D. program or conduct individual research related to their postgraduate studies or long-term careers. It's more time-consuming than a capstone project and is worth more academic credit hours. A thesis paper can be completed over several semesters, but a capstone project is generally a single-semester requirement. Course instructors and faculty advisers grade capstone projects, but a larger thesis committee grades thesis papers.

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.