How to Write a Thesis or a Capstone

The capstone project is often the culmination of an educational experience.
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Thesis or capstone projects offer students the opportunity to fully explore a specific area of their discipline over one or more semesters. Often occurring in the senior year for undergraduates or as the final requirement to complete a master’s program, the thesis and capstone are considered the tour de force of educational achievement. Writing one effectively requires a solid foundation of research, clear focus and proper execution, often guided by mentoring faculty along the way.

1 Initial Research

Regardless of a student’s discipline, the successful written capstone requires an enormous effort in research. Initial investigation requires a broad look at an area of study within a discipline. For example, a sports management student might begin looking at player salaries in major league baseball. Art students will likely need both a written and artistic component to their project, but even this effort will require investigative study.

2 Thesis Statements and Research Questions

The singularly most daunting part of the thesis project may be choosing a topic. In its advice to students, the Endicott College writing center offers a few solid points on how to select topics. It urges students to identify the requirements of the discipline before beginning to skim scholarly articles as initial research. Brainstorming with advisors and professors to focus on an idea and looking to current events in the field also help to develop a topic. It is also important to choose a topic in which you can remain interested for months -- even a full academic year.

3 Approval and Further Research

Once you have selected your research focus, you need to submit the topic for approval. The sports management student might have decided to consider how player salaries affect a team’s win-loss ratio and championship play. With that in mind, he will look again at peer-reviewed research materials and delve more deeply into the authors' processes, methodologies and conclusions. Professors often suggest students have at least one source for each page of written work. A 20-page paper should, therefore, have no less than 20 corresponding resources.

4 Synthesis

Unlike the earlier research of high school and lower-level college courses, capstone projects are not merely summaries of other people’s work. They require the synthesis of research materials and independent student investigation. The sports management student might begin looking at the work of sports analysts, but should then draw his own conclusions.

5 Structure

You must produce your final project in conformance to the writing style of your discipline. For example, students conducting research for a psychology major would adhere to the guidelines of the American Psychological Association style guide. Their papers will have a title page, abstract, main body, references and appendix, and follow APA instruction for margin size, style and citations.

Linda Emma is a long-standing writer and editor. She is also a digital marketing professional and published author with more than 20 years experience in media and business. She works as a content manager and professional writing tutor at a private New England college. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northeastern University.