Writing the Master in Administration Capstone Paper


Congratulations!  If you are reading this it means that you are close to or at the end of your coursework for the MA in Administration degree from Northern Arizona University.  You have worked hard and can be proud of your accomplishment. 


I have put together this short handout for students that are interested in my becoming their capstone advisor.  (That may be cause for congratulations too – or condolences not sure.)  I have found that it is important for students to have a clear understanding of what is expected in the capstone project prior to starting work on the project.


The capstone project is similar to a master’s thesis and has similar requirements.


It all starts with an introduction.  In the introduction tell the reader that the project is about, what it is important and how you are going to do the study (briefly here – there will be more later).


Then there needs to be a survey of the literature – this means you have to read the scholarly articles that have been written on your topic so that you know (and can tell the reader) what the state of knowledge is about your topic and (most importantly) how what you propose to do fits into existing knowledge.  This literature review will be of scholarly journals (not popular press) and the length will depend on your topic.  Some topics (which have had very little written about them) may only have a lit review containing 5-6 articles and no books.  Other topics will require several times as many books and articles – there is no magic number – it depends on what you need to do to understand the state of knowledge on your topic.


Next you need a clear thesis statement (this could be a hypothesis if you are going to test a hypothesis) that clearly states what you are going to try and prove or present.  For example “I am going to test the hypothesis that there is discrimination in Pleasantville by examining all the employment records of the city over the past 10 years and categorizing then by race, education, experience etc…..”  Or “My objective is the provide a comprehensive survey of best management practices for animal shelters and then survey shelters in Maricopa County to see what percentage…..” 


Then you need to discuss methodology – how you are going to do what you want to do.  Will you conduct a survey?  Then what kinds of questions will you ask and how will you tabulate them?  (All surveys have to be approved by the NAU Institutional review Board – its no big deal and it is a hassle but it has to be done.  Their web pages provides instructions.)  Is this a historical summary of events?  Tell the reader that and describe the sources you will use.  The methods section is simply how you are going to do what you plan to do  --  in detail!


Then you will present your study.  Finally a conclusion will summarize everything and present your conclusions and opinions (if any – in any event this is the only place for your opinions – the study itself should – as much as possible – be objective.)


The form for the capstone has specific categories – just be sure the things above are in there somewhere.


I will not read drafts but I will read outlines and writing samples. 


Some practical advice:  Grammar and syntax count.  NAU has people who can help you with these things – call the Learning Assistance center to find out about them.  Most people can get by if they simply read each sentence they write aloud after they write it.  Read it out loud and if it does not sound like something that you would have said there re-write it.  If your grammar is bad I will turn your paper back to you and you may have to hire someone to fix it for you – but it would be better to learn what is wrong so you can write better for the rest of your life.  Also remember transitions between sections, use lots of subheadings, and always tell the reader what is going on “We just completed our analysis on puppy poop in Prescott now we will see that that means by comparing it to the universal PP measurement standard.”


Have fun!