The Capstone Project: Converting Your Research Work into a Written Product

The Capstone Project: Converting Your Research Work into a Written Product

Writing the capstone research paper is a major undertaking so it’s helpful to think of it in terms of key ingredients and how to assemble those ingredients. Based on the most common pitfalls and difficulties graduate students have encountered in constructing their papers, I’ve outlined below a set of guidelines and tips to the writing of your paper.

If necessary, review the APA standards in one or more sources I referenced in the Capstone Project Resource Folder [under Weekly Materials in our online course]. Among other things, remember that using personal pronouns is not permissible in a professional, graduate research paper. [This includes, of course, both singular and plural . . . “I”, “we”, “our”, “me” etc.]

1 – The Abstract
For purposes of the Capstone paper, your abstract should be approximately one-half page, hitting the ‘high points’ of your research findings. Start off with a few sentences [one paragraph max] that provide the reader a bird’s eye view of the context of your project. Then, provide just a glimpse of your key, most essential findings/conclusions. Think of these as a kind of teaser for the reader. [Reminder: This is to be submitted with your “full” draft near the end of Week 6. Do not submit in Week 4.]

2 – Introduction
See the one-page overview in the Capstone Project Resource Folder. This lays out the particulars of “how to construct” the Intro. . . in 2 pages or so [2.5 max].

3 – The Literature Review
This constitutes the results of your secondary research and is written as a synthesis of the relevant literature pertaining to your research purpose and objectives. It should be largely in your words, but a modest amount of paraphrasing and/or quotation of reference sources is expected [provided, of course, that you provide an in-text citation].

Organize the topical material logically. Think about not only what “you” may regard as logical, but consider your readership as well. Logic stems in part from your objectives, and one way to organize the presentation of material in this section is to follow – from your Outline hopefully – a sequence of topics that have a direct bearing on the objectives of your project. Logic may also relate to the assortment of content areas that you’ve researched, and how these areas are connected or related. The main thing is to try to incorporate into your Outline a sequence of topical ingredients that have some semblance of ‘order’, and then to follow that outline as you develop the literature review.

Transitions. Your literature review must “flow”, and to do this, it must not only be presented to the reader with a sense of logical sequence, but it needs to incorporate transitional phrases and sentences. In some instances no transition is needed, because the essential nature of the content you’re presenting carries an obvious relationship either to the overall topical nature of the “section” you’re writing or to the paragraph that precedes it. But, in other instances it’s helpful to provide the reader a transition. To do this, a paragraph might begin, for instance:

“Therefore, it is essential for policy-makers to assure that . . . .”
“Based on this study . . . “ [be sure, of course, that the antecedent to “this” is clear from the preceding paragraph]
“Each of these writers drew parallel conclusions, confirming that . . .” “In view of these studies . . . [again, be sure the antecedent to “these” is clear]

These examples focus mainly on paragraph-to-paragraph transition. But, transitions are also important as you leave one topical section or sub-section of the lit review and move on to the next. You always want to keep the reader with you . . . and the more you can make your paper flow, the better job you’ll be doing. And, again, ‘flow’ occurs via both “logic” and effective use of “transitions”.

[By the way, notice how the preceding paragraph began?]

4 – Heading Format
Headers, also known as headings or captions are essential to effectively formatting your paper. I mention this because some students develop their initial rough draft as a kind of “flow of consciousness” . . . writing sentence after sentence and paragraph after paragraph without ever inserting a header to show that a main or secondary topic area has been covered and that another one is now starting! This is tantamount to not allowing one’s reader to take a breath [in between segments or topical facets of your content presentation]. So, be absolutely sure to incorporate – where and as appropriate – topical headings and sub-headings as you begin each new topic/sub-topic. These serve as road signs for your reader, and they should also help keep you organized [and following your Outline] in the process!

The headers should be short, but descriptive [sometimes easier said than done!]. Work for a simple descriptor of the relevant content/topical area, and avoid phrasing as a question. Also, your headers should use a font and style that follows a hierarchy [see APA style guidelines in this regard]. One variation on the theme is what I’ve used here – with a main header in bold-face at the top of these guidelines [first page], and with side-headings in italic [non-bolded].

5 – In-Text Citations
Use in-text reference citations judiciously throughout your literature review. If a paragraph draws exclusively from a single reference source, use a maximum of 2 in-text citations [even if the paragraph is lengthy]. Quite often, just a single citation is enough, perhaps at the end of the paragraph. You should expect to incorporate, throughout the entire body of the literature review, no fewer than 20 different reference sources. [There are few exceptions to this – one being the development of a business plan.]

6 – Intermediate Summary
Owing to the length, depth and breadth of your literature review, it’s desirable to provide the reader with a high-level synthesis of the most important findings that grew out of your secondary research. Think of it this way: You’ve taken the reader down a rather long path, perhaps with some twists and turns, in the ‘space’ of 25 pages or more. That’s a lot to digest, right? So, in this intermediate summary tell the reader what you regard as the most salient findings of your research . . . the “high points”. This kind of wrap-up will also serve an effective transition into your next section – whether it’s your primary research or other sections relating to analysis/recommendations/conclusions based on secondary research.
Length? Two pages should be ample [one may be okay, but it would need to be tightly crafted].

Special note: You won’t actually call [or name] this section “intermediate summary”. Use an appropriate header – a brief descriptive that encapsulates the main thrust of your research topic.

7 – The “Methodology” sections
If your project involves a primary research component, you will develop several sections describing the nature and results of your research activity. As you begin the initial section, be sure you’ve provided an effective transition from the preceding [literature review] sections by telling the reader why you, as researcher, believed it essential to conduct a focused study [via survey or interviews]. Was the purpose to fill in certain gaps in knowledge/information not available via secondary research? Or to obtain more current, updated data? Or? Either way, be sure that the essential purpose of your primary research is made clear to the reader.

When you get to the point of laying out the findings from your research, provide these in summary form only; avoid excessive detail [e.g., “Interviewee X said thus and so . . . while Interviewee Y said something else, and . . . “] In other words, when summarizing the findings try to identify patterns – similarities, differences, areas of agreement/disagreement etc. And, if data can be quantified use a table, chart or exhibit [since “a picture is worth a thousand words,” quite often].

Depending on the nature of the study, it may be [and usually is] appropriate to analyze the results of your primary research, so as to draw comparisons or contrasts, to examine the extent to which the study’s results confirm [or refute] any of the findings from your secondary research, and the like. Work for a clear, in-depth analysis of results, avoiding generalizations.

8 – Recommendations
In most instances, it’s appropriate [if not necessary] to develop a set of recommendations. Based on all that you’ve discovered in the course of your research – and have presented and analyzed in the sections of the paper preceding this – you’ll want to outline your thoughts as to what ought to be done, what changes are needed, what policies need to be developed [or etcetera], as related to the context of your paper and your objectives. Think about the potential readership or ‘constituency’ here. . . . Who are the most likely and relevant parties to whom your research should be addressed? Top management of your organization [if your research topic focuses on some facet of your firm’s operations, for instance]? State or federal policy-makers or legislators? Executives [at large] in the banking [or other] industry, or the leadership of a professional association? Etcetera. Not that you’ll be sending your final paper to any of them, but the important thing is to think creatively and broadly regarding the “institutional” connecting points that the findings/results of your research are related to. You’re not making recommendations in a vacuum, in other words. As you develop your recommendations, think of them in real terms, i.e., related to some kind of professional, managerial and/or institutional context.

Two other things to remember: In presenting recommendations, find a way to make each of them stand out . . . such as using a bold face short caption preceding each of them, as you begin a paragraph. [There are variations on the theme, of course.] And, also be sure to discuss the rationale for each recommendation, i.e., what aspect(s) of your research findings support what you’re recommending? The reader needs to know this.

Length and coverage: Variable, but typically 2 pages or so [maximum of 5]. Ordinarily, given the nature/complexity of a Capstone project, it’s expected that you’ll end up with at least 4 or 5 solid recommendations. There is no “maximum” per se, but if you end up with 10 or more, you might consider consolidating some of them, or eliminating those that don’t carry high priority.
9 – Conclusions
Many students have as much difficulty with this section as with the Introduction. . . and for a parallel reason [i.e., deciding on the best way to start, and deciding on the best way to finish!] Naturally, you want a “strong finish” to your paper, so be sure to avoid blandishments, sweeping generalizations, and broad-brush statements that don’t really convey much to the reader.

As you develop this section [it can typically be 2 pages or less] think carefully about these questions: “Based on the sum total of my research, what have I concluded about the most salient aspects of my research? What did I find out that’s really vital and significant? And beyond this, to what extent did I accomplish the key objectives that I started out with?” Regarding the latter question, give the reader a sense of this – either in summary terms or in reference to selected objectives [perhaps a few of the more significant ones]. If there were certain objectives that were not achieved, say so. And for those which you did accomplish to one extent or another, tell the reader how or to what extent, in other words.

10 – References
A typical Capstone paper will end up drawing upon 25 to 35 solid references. [20 is the bare minimum – with the possible exception of a paper that revolves around a business plan]. Do not cite dictionaries of any kind, nor Wikipedia – a truly outstanding reference for many things in life, but not for the Capstone paper however! Follow the APA guidelines in preparing your bibliographic references, of course, and if there is a gray area – in terms of how to format a certain type of reference, feel free to adopt what you think is a reasonable approach and then – for all similar types of references, use the same format. [There is virtue to consistency in this regard!]

12 – Appendices
This is where you’ll include lengthy tables, charts, or exhibits as needed or appropriate [i.e., data gleaned from your secondary and/or primary research]. Also, include a copy of your survey/questionnaire in the Appendix [i.e., if applicable to your project]. Any table/exhibit/chart exceeding a half page must be shown in the Appendix, not in the body [i.e., narrative sections] of your paper.

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