Capstone Projects

Throughout and near the end of your graduate program, your advisor will discuss with you your capstone project.  The capstone experience may take many forms.  Sometimes it is just a series of advanced courses and a comprehensive exam. Most often, though, schools intend for students to complete a project. The first aspect of the capstone experience is to choose a premise or topic in consultation with your advisor.  You will have to submit an intent to start your capstone project, in which you will give an introduction to your project, and indicate what you indent to do.

In KSP 609 you will write your proposal. This proposal, which is approximately forty pages or more, will give an introduction to your project. Next, it will delineate the existing theories and state your hypothesis. The paper will give a review of the literature you intend to read in researching the proposal and detail your research methodology. It will also include alternate proposals in the event the one you present is not accepted.

Once your proposal is accepted, you will begin researching the subject in KSP 610. This may involve just reading literature on the subject and assimilating the findings, but it could also mean doing actual individual research. Capstone experiences (listed below) are labor and time intensive. Each of these capstone experiences are connected to courses for which you receive credit and which last a semester.


Thesis  - A thesis or dissertation is an extensive original research paper that should result in a significant contribution to new knowledge. It demonstrates the ability to conceive and develop a research problem; to express it theoretically; to develop alternative methods for testing logically generated hypotheses; to gather, compile and statistically analyze data; to make rational decisions regarding the resolution of the research problem; and to make recommendations for future research.

Ordinarily, the thesis is oriented toward original research, data gathering with statistical analysis, theory testing, and theory building. A thesis or dissertation proposal may be required by the particular department. If the research involves human subjects, the student must obtain approval from the Institutional Review Board. See Research Involving Participants or Animals. Students preparing a thesis or dissertation must work closely with their advisor and other examining committee members at all stages of development.

Another type of thesis may involve original critical work on a particular topic: historical period, literary work, etc. Under certain circumstances, extensive use of library materials or secondary research sources may meet the research requirement for the thesis. In certain academic areas, creative projects may also be acceptable as long as they meet program requirements and are approved by the student's examining committee and the Graduate Dean.

Any thesis that is not text-based (for example, an art portfolio or a computer software project) should be accompanied by documents that evaluate the process and outcome of the project (influences, methodology, program notes etc.), using whatever information is appropriate to the discipline.


 All work must meet acceptable standards of quality in both content and form before being approved by the student's examining committee and the Graduate Dean.  See Format and Style Guidelines for additional information concerning the dissertation or master's thesis.

A final oral comprehensive examination, often referred to as a defense, must be successfully completed. The student's examining committee sets the date, time and place for this examination. All members of the examining committee should be given copies of the thesis/dissertation with sufficient time prior to the oral examination to review the paper. Only after the candidate passes the oral examination and if the paper meets acceptable standards of quality should the committee sign the endorsement/acceptance page of the thesis/dissertation. After the candidate has met all degree requirements to the satisfaction of the committee, the Recommendation for Awarding the Degree Form will be signed.


Alternate Plan Paper (APP) - the alternate plan paper is oriented toward the use of secondary research.  Related literature examining the breadth and length of the problem is critically reviewed and evaluated to provide a thorough, extensive, academic orientation to a problem. The selection, discussion and evaluation of the available literature on the topic should provide the background for the student to summarize and draw sound conclusions, to develop alternative recommendations for the solution to the research problem, to suggest strengths and weaknesses of the available data, and to indicate directions for future research.

Research for the alternate plan paper (APP) may be less extensive than research required for a thesis. However, the research should be significantly greater in quality and quantity than for the standard graduate term paper. Students need approval from their advisor and, if required, an examining committee, for all APP projects. If the research involves human subjects, the student must obtain approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB). Please see research involving human participants.

It is the responsibility of the individual professor who supervises the writing, the student's major adviser, and the examining committee to require work of acceptable quality and sufficient scope. The alternate plan paper is not submitted to the College of Graduate Studies and Research, and a bound copy of the APP will not be kept in the Memorial Library.  Students are therefore encouraged to submit the final approved version of their alternate plan papers to Cornerstone for inclusion in the APP collection.  For information on how to submit an APP to Cornerstone, please visit the webpage or contact the Digital Initiatives Librarian.


Creative project – In addition to a thesis or alternate plan paper, some graduate programs offer a capstone that may include one, or a combination of, the following:

  • Portfolio
  • Internship
  • Manuscript
  • Capstone course
  • Design project
  • Special project
  • Published book*

These capstone experiences are typically not required to be submitted to the College of Graduate Studies and Research upon completion. See a specific program or department for its capstone option.

*Published books may be submitted to the Graduate College in place of manuscript copies if the published book is completed during the student's program, three signature pages are provided with the required copies of the published book, and the student successfully completes the work during the degree program.


Comprehensive exam – the comprehensive exam is an opportunity to demonstrate what you have learned and critically think about the skills that you’ve acquired throughout your program.  In working with your advisor you will identify topics to examine the breadth and length based on literature/research to provide a thorough, extensive, academic orientation on the topic.  Based on these topics – questions will be developed for the comprehensive exam in which you will provide the background, summarize and draw sound conclusions for each question. 


Format and Style Guidelines


Theses and dissertations can be submitted online to ProQuest/UMI Publishing at There is currently no charge to students for electronically submitting a thesis or dissertation. Printed copies are not required by the College of Graduate Studies and Research if the document is submitted to ProQuest/UMI electronically. Whether a thesis or dissertation is submitted as an electronic version or as paper copies, the thesis/dissertation will be available from the Memorial Library.

Preparation of Final Paper (Thesis/Dissertation)

Style Manuals. The style manual to be followed for citations and documentation of sources should be recommended by the academic department. Students should familiarize themselves with the appropriate style manual prior to beginning their research. In most cases, the approved style manual will meet with the approval of the College of Graduate Studies and Research.

Frequently Recommended Style Manuals:

  • Chicago Manual of Style. University of Chicago Press
  • Form and Style: Research Papers, Reports, Theses. By Carol Slade
  • A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. By Kate Turabian
  • MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing. By Joseph Gibaldi
  • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA Manual). American Psychological Association

Whatever style is used, it must be used consistently throughout the entire document. Minnesota State Mankato margin requirements may vary from those listed in the manuals of style. If a discrepancy regarding margins exists between a specific manual of style and these guidelines, the student should follow the guidelines specified below.

Font Size and Style. No particular typescript is required. A 12–point print size is recommended, with a font that is clear and easy to read. With the exception of appendices, the same font and print size must be used throughout the paper. Typing must be on one side of the paper only and double–spaced.

Margins and Page Number Placement. Margins and page number placement should be as follows.

Left margin: 1.5 inches
Right and bottom margins: 1 inch
Top margin: Page numbers should be placed one inch from the top and right, with text beginning a double space below the page number. However, the margin for the beginning of each chapter should be 1.5 inches from the top of the page.

Pagination: All pages of the text should be numbered, including the references pages and the appendices. Page numbering with Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.) should begin with the first page of actual text and continue through the end of the paper.

Tables and Figures. These should fit within the margins if they are part of the main text. They can be a slightly smaller font, but still readable. For printed papers, larger tables/figures may be included if absolutely necessary, and folded to measure not more than 7 by 10 inches, with sufficient margin on the left to allow for binding.

Title Page and Endorsement/Signature Pages. All theses and dissertations must include a title page and an endorsement (signature) page. The title page shall contain the following information: complete title, author, identifying legend ("A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of [Master of Arts in Sociology], for example, at Minnesota State University, Mankato"), location of the University, and month and year of graduation. See Format of Title Page.

The endorsement/signature page shall include the following: the date of approval of the thesis or dissertation, title, student's name, a statement of approval, and signatures of the members of the student's examining committee*. The names and titles of the committee members shall be printed below their signature lines. See Format of Endorsement/Signature Page

  • *For online submission, an unsigned endorsement page shall be included after the title page. The advisor's and committee members' names should be listed, but no signatures. A signed endorsement page is then required to be submitted to the College of Graduate Studies.
  • *For printed copies, each copy of the thesis or dissertation must include a signed endorsement page; placed immediately after the title page.

Abstract Page. This is required and shall be inserted in the thesis/dissertation immediately preceding the table of contents. It does not require a page number and it is not counted when numbering the pages of the thesis/dissertation. The abstract should be no more than 350 words in length and include the following: title, name of author, degree program involved, name and location of the University, year; and, statement of problem, procedure (methods employed), findings (conclusions).

Optional Non–Textual Components Pertaining to Printed Copies.

CDs/DVDs.  Include self-adhesive CD pockets for each copy of the thesis or dissertation.

Photographs. Photographs should be printed on archival-quality paper specific to photographs. 

Postcards and Brochures (typically for art and music students). Affix these to a full sheet of appropriate paper or provide self-adhesive pockets for them to be included in the thesis copies.

Submission of Final Document

All papers, whether submitted online or delivered to the College of Graduate Studies, are reviewed to ensure that margins, paper, typing, printing, neatness, etc. meet University requirements and that all Graduate College policies and procedures have been followed. Visual quality must meet acceptable standards. It is the student's responsibility to carefully proofread and examine all copies of the paper before submitting it to the Graduate Office. All submitted materials must meet the approved manual of style for the student's program. After the examining committee has approved the paper and signed the endorsement/acceptance page, and the Graduate Office staff has ascertained all requirements have been met, the paper will be accepted and approved by the Graduate Dean.

Online Submission of Thesis or Dissertation

Theses and dissertations can be submitted online at There is currently no charge to students for electronically submitting a thesis or dissertation. Refer to the following site for a guide to submitting online: Students can arrange for a bound copy to be printed, but bound copies are not required by the College of Graduate Studies and Research if the document is submitted to UMI via the Internet. An electronic copy of the final approved thesis/dissertation will be stored in the Memorial Library. See for prior theses and dissertations submitted online.

Submission of Printed Copies

If printed copies are chosen as the submission option, a minimum of four copies of the thesis/dissertation are to be submitted to the College of Graduate Studies Office for review and binding. Please visit our web pages to determine deadlines for submitting papers for each semester. The payment for binding, currently $20 per copy, shall accompany the copies when they are submitted to the Graduate Office.

All copies of the paper must be printed with a laser printer. The paper must be opaque, white, 20# or 24# paper, of at least 25% cotton content, with a visible watermark. The watermark indicates archival-quality paper. The original printed copy may be reproduced or photocopied by other processes if copies are legible, permanent, and on the same kind of paper as the original copy. Copies on standard copier paper will not be accepted.

The paper must be submitted unbound with no punch holes or other mutilations. No corrections with pen or pencil are acceptable.

Binding and Distribution of Copies. Binding is arranged by the College of Graduate Studies after the submission is approved. The College of Graduate Studies will distribute bound copies as follows: 1) one copy to the University library, 2) one copy to the University archives, 3) one copy to the major advisor, and 4) one copy to the student. The College of Graduate Studies is not responsible for papers that are lost in the mail or if the address provided is incorrect. Please notify the College of Graduate Studies if you prefer to pick up your final bound copy rather than having it mailed.

Each thesis is bound in a maroon color. Examples of previously approved theses are available on the shelves of the University Library.


Research Involving Humans or Animals

The thesis proposal or alternate plan paper may involve research involving human subjects. Such research must obtain approval from the University's Institutional Review Board (IRB). Please consult the IRB information available in the College of Graduate Studies and Research or on the web page. Students should allow extra time for review and approval by the IRB. Please note that although they may be similar in content, the IRB proposal and thesis proposal are two separate and distinct proposals.

Graduate students should review the Code of Ethics and/or Standards of Conduct developed by the professional organizations of their respective disciplines. All researchers are expected to be sensitive to and minimize the potential physical, social and psychological risks to human participants. Voluntary participation and informed consent are essential.

If a thesis or alternate plan paper involves the use of animals, the thesis proposal and appropriate protocol must be approved by the Minnesota State Mankato Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. Students should allow extra time for this review. For more information, please contact the College of Graduate Studies and Research.

Violations of recognized research ethics may result in the rejection of a completed thesis. Appropriate, early review by the examining committee, the MSU Institutional Review Board and/or the MSU Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee should prevent these problems.