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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Capstone Projects

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MA degree students in technical communication complete a thesis, an alternate plan paper (APP), or the Capstone Course (Eng 696).

Research and Theory of Technical Communication (Eng 673) is a prerequisite for the Capstone Course as well as for the Capstone projects.

Capstone course

Students research and write an article-length document that may serve as the basis of a professional publication or presentation. All documents will go through a formal review process including peer review, SME review, and editorial review. Prerequisites include Research and Theory of Technical Communication (Eng 673) and at least 28 credits completed in the technical communication MA degree program.

Capstone project requirements

The College of Graduate Studies and Research posts deadlines related to capstone projects. In addition, graduate students must submit the following forms in addition to the capstone project itself:

  1. An [PDF] application for graduation (175 KiB)
  2. The [PDF] recommendation for awarding the certificate/degree (123 KiB)

Formatting guidelines
The College of Graduate Studies and Research provides basic guidelines for page layout, formatting, and typography for theses. Note that those guidelines trump guidelines provided within the specialized or general style manuals listed. Since the Chicago Manual of Style is required reading for the Editing Technical Publications (Eng 575) course, you are encouraged to follow it or to follow APA style or an appropriate specialized style guide selected in consultation with your advisor.

APPs should be formatted similarly to theses.

Specifications for documents required for the Capstone Course (Eng 696) will be provided by the instructor of the course.

The final draft of APPs and theses must be submitted to all committee members. In addition, theses must be submitted either online (for publication by ProQuest/UMI Dissertation Publishing) or in print form (to the College of Graduate Studies and Research), in which case students must provide four copies and pay a fee to have the copies bound.

Once the examining committee has approved the thesis or APP and prior to their signing the [PDF] recommendation for awarding the degree form (123 KiB), the author must give a formal presentation (typically online) of his or her research. Such presentations are open to the public (announced on the technical communication website) and must be scheduled two weeks in advance.

Capstone project FAQ

What is the difference between a thesis and an APP?

The College of Graduate Studies and Research distinguishes between a thesis and an APP. The primary difference noted is that a thesis typically involves substantial primary research, demonstrating the writer's ability to formulate a research problems, to gather and analyze data, and to provide a "significant contribution to new knowledge," whereas an APP typically focuses on extensive analysis and synthesis of secondary research. A thesis (50-100 pages of text) tends to be a more substantial document than an APP (30-50 pages of text). A long research paper for a course often serves as the genesis of an APP, but research for the APP should be significantly greater in terms of both quality and quantity.

Graduate students are well advised to develop a proposal for either a thesis or APP. If you are conducting primary research, you must develop a proposal which your examining committee approves before you begin data collection. If you are using human subjects, you will also need to submit an IRB proposal to which you will append your thesis proposal.

How do I choose a topic for my capstone project?

Faculty frequently identify potential research topics or encourage students to develop course projects into their capstone projects.

Students are encouraged to develop projects of practical or professional use into their capstone projects; for example, recent students have developed capstone projects involving the development of manuals or (web and software) applications; the usability testing of procedures, documents, or websites; the recommendation of best practices for desktop publishing and electronic publication; and analysis of students' learning styles and group interaction within online classes.

How do I choose an advisor for my capstone project?

Your thesis/APP advisor should be that technical communication faculty member with the greatest expertise on the topic of your research. Your advisor, then, guides your development of your proposal, helping you focus your topic, serves as the primary researcher if you must complete an IRB proposal, and may suggest appropriate second and third readers.

If your thesis/APP advisors differs from your academic advisor (who was assigned when you entered the program), submit a [PDF] change of advisor form (19 KiB).

How many committee members do I need and how do I choose them?

Your advisor is your first reader. Your second reader must also be from the technical communication faculty. Thesis committees must have a third reader, preferably from outside the technical communication faculty. APP committees may consist of only two readers but preferably of three.

How many credits of Thesis (Eng 699) or APP (Eng 694) do I need to take and how is my work graded?

You may take as many credits of Thesis and APP as you like; however, only 4 credits of Thesis and only 2 credits of APP count toward your degree. You must take a minimum of 3 credits of Thesis and 1 credit of APP.

Best to talk to your advisor about how your work will be graded; however, in general, capstone projects are graded much as long research papers are graded. You will want to demonstrate a clear sense of audience and purpose, strong organizational skills, a keen awareness of the conventions of academic and professional prose, excellent research and documentation skills, and a clear, concise writing style. Although your advisor may read a number of drafts, your advisor should advise you—guide your research and revision—not serve as an editor for you.

You must be registered for at least one credit (though not necessarily a credit of Thesis or APP) the semester that you graduate.

How long will it take me to complete my thesis or APP?

When managing your capstone project, you will be best served to start with date that your capstone project (and presentation) are due and then to work backward.

Typically, your advisor (first reader) reads and 'approves' an entire draft of your document before passing it along to your second reader, who does the same before passing your document to your third reader. Each reader may want to review more than one draft; furthermore, your first reader will want to review any significant changes required by your second and third readers. As a general rule, though, once you have satisfied your first reader, you are well on your way to completing your project. Readers have two weeks to respond to a draft.

Whom do I contact if I still have questions?

Please contact your advisor.