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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Final Capstone Guide

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The Masters in Public Administration (MPA) program in the Department of Government offers three different capstone experiences:  1) Research and Writing Capstone class (POL 693), 2) Alternate Plan Paper (APP) and 3) Thesis.  Students pursing the Certificate in Public Management (CPM) but who are not planning to continue for an MPA do not need to complete a capstone project.

Each of these three capstone experiences vary considerably.  It is very important that students follow these guidelines for completing their capstone project.

Research and Writing Capstone (POL 693) -- 3 credits

Who should take the Research and Writing Capstone?

The Research and Writing Capstone is recommended for most MPA students.  Historically, this method of completing the capstone project has the highest rate of success for students.

What is the Research and Writing Capstone?

This is a capstone experience where students complete their final research project in a class setting (usually the class is held on-line).  It provides students with a sense of structure and deadlines to help keep them on-track.  The guidelines for the final project are defined by the class instructor (format, style guide, required number of pages, etc) though they are more rigorous than a standard term paper.  The Research and Writing Capstone also typically involves students reading each other's project drafts and providing feedback and comments.

What is the deadline for the Research and Writing Capstone?

The deadline for project completion is set by the course instructor, but at the very latest must be completed by the end of the semester.

Alternate PIan Paper (APP) -- 1 or 2 credits

Who should take the Alternate Plan Paper?

It is unusual for MPA students to take the Alternate Plan Paper capstone option.  Students must obtain permission from their advisor to do an Alternate Plan Paper.

What is an Alternate Plan Paper?

Ordinarily, the Alternate Plan Paper (APP) is oriented toward the use of secondary research. Writing this paper should enhance the student's knowledge and ability to integrate ideas.

Students preparing to work on an Alternate Plan paper are encouraged to work very closely with their advisor and other examining committee members at all stages of development. 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.

In a typical Alternate Plan Paper, 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 provide the background for the student to summarize and draw relatively 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.

In addition, a portfolio of materials (e.g. materials assembled for use in a classroom) may be accepted in fulfillment of the Alternate Plan Paper requirement (with advisor permission). This requirement also may be satisfied by restricted original research, a research paper, a collection of research papers, an individual creation, or by a paper accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed  professional journal (with advisor approval).

With advisor approval, an extended internship which has been specifically approved by the academic unit involved and the Graduate Dean also may be accepted for the Alternate Plan Paper requirement. In such cases, a thorough analytical account of the internship experience, one which evaluates the academic and practical impact of that experience on the individual, shall constitute the Alternate Plan Paper.

Research for the Alternate Plan Paper also may resemble, but be less extensive than that for a Thesis. However, the research should be more significant in quality and greater in quantity than that for the standard graduate term paper. Finally, individual programs may have a specific requirement for an Alternate Plan Paper - one not covered in any of the above scenarios.

The length of the Alternate Plan Paper will vary according to topic and/or the availability of previous research in the area. Typically, an Alternate Plan Paper contains at least 35 pages of evaluative material. If the Alternate Plan assignment is not text/paper based, the project materials should be accompanied by at least ten pages where the student evaluates the process and outcome of the project.

In the final analysis, it is the responsibility of the individual professor who supervises the writing, the student's major adviser, and the student's examining committee to require projects of acceptable quality and sufficient scope. Students should work closely with their advisor at all stages of the development of the Alternate Plan Paper.

An Alternate Plan Paper does not require that a proposal be accepted and endorsed by the Graduate Dean; however, students need approval for all Alternate Plan Paper projects from their advisor (and from the student's examining committee if required by their advisor).

The examining committee for an Alternate Plan Paper consists of the capstone advisor (this may or may not be someone different from the student's regular advisor), and a second reader from within the department.  The examining committee is formed based on which faculty members sign the student's Plan of Study.  Examining committee and capstone advisors can be changed by filing a Change of Committee form.

What is the deadline for the Alternate Plan Paper?

Deadlines for Alternate Plan Papers are determined by the student's APP advisor.  Students should expect at least one week from their advisor and committee members for feedback on drafts.  Students should also allow members of the APP committee at least two weeks to read the final version of the APP.  Students do not need to submit Alternate Plan Papers to the Graduate College.

Thesis -- 3 to 6 credits

Who should take the Thesis?

Students planning to continue graduate coursework in a doctoral program after completing their MPA degree should take the thesis option.

What is a Thesis?

The Thesis is an extensive original research paper that should result in a significant contribution to new knowledge in the field; the exact nature of original research may vary by discipline.

One type of Thesis demonstrates the student's ability to conceive and develop a research problem, to couch 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.

Under certain circumstances, extensive use of library materials or secondary research (e.g. secondary analysis of existing data) may meet the research requirement for the Thesis.

Any Thesis that is not text/paper based (for example, an art portfolio or a computer software project), should be accompanied by at least ten pages of material where the student evaluates the process and outcome of the project: influences, methodology, program notes etc. - whatever is appropriate to the discipline.

All Thesis projects require a Thesis Proposal. If data collection is part of the Thesis, this proposal must be approved before any data collection is started (see the next section on Research Involving Human Participants). Students should work closely with their advisor in preparing the Thesis Proposal. The proposal requires acceptance and endorsement by the student's thesis (evaluating) committee by defending the proposal before the committee. Please note: If the Thesis Proposal is not approved before data collection is started, or if the research process is substantially different from an approved proposal and/or if there are ethical concerns about the research, the completed Thesis may be rejected.

Students must also defend their Thesis before their entire committee (with advisor permission).  Students typically prepare about a 15 minute formal presentation and will then field questions from the committee and any others in attendance.  After the Thesis defense, students may need to make revisions to their Thesis draft, the Thesis may be approved, or the Thesis may be rejected completely.

What is the deadline for completing the Thesis?

The College of Graduate Studies and Research governs the day of the semester that the Thesis must be completed by and can be found here:

What should a completed Thesis look like?

The completed Thesis must follow a recognized and recent style guide appropriate for Public Administration (recommended are either the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association or the Style Manual for Political Science).  In addition to following a style guide, students are also required to follow the Thesis Guidelines for the College of Graduate Studies and Research which can be found here:  Any discrepancies between the style guide and the Thesis Guidelines for the College of Graduate Studies and Research should be resolved in favor of the Thesis Guidelines for the College of Graduate Studies and Research.  Note that it is the student's responsibility--not the faculty's responsibility--to make sure that the thesis conforms to these guidelines.

Theses can be submitted on-line here:

If not submitted on-line, four Thesis copies must be printed with a laser printer, printed on opaque, white, 20# or 24# paper of at least 25% cotton content, with a visible watermark. The submitted copies must contain a visible watermark indicating the paper quality required. 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.

Research Involving Human Participants or Animals

The Thesis proposal includes an item requiring the researcher to specify whether or not the research involves human participants. If it does, the project must be reviewed by the Institution Review Board (IRB). Any IRB materials must be completed and attached to the Thesis Proposal Form. Occasionally, Alternate Plan Papers or Capstone Projects may include research or data collection involving human participants; in such cases, appropriate IRB materials must be completed; these, along with a clear explanation of proposed project, must be approved by the students advisor/examining committee and submitted to the College of Graduate Studies and Research for IRB assessment.

Information about the IRB process and important IRB forms can be found here: Students should allow extra time for review and approval by the Institutional Review Board (IRB). All researchers are expected to be sensitive to and minimize the potential for physical, social and psychological risks to human participants. Voluntary Participation and Informed Consent are essential.

If a Thesis, Alternate Plan Paper, or Research Capstone Project involves the use of animals, an appropriate protocol must be approved by the MSU Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. Information about the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and guidelines relating to animal research can be found here:  Students should allow extra time for this review.

Please note: Violations of recognized research ethics may result in the rejection of a completed Thesis, Alternate Plan Paper or Research Capstone Project.