So here it is: Ashley’s guide to writing your Capstone and surviving. If you’re a Master’s student, you’ve heard this term (“Capstone”) since you started. It’s the terrifying “thesis” project you have due at the end of your Master’s career. You might think: “40+ pages!? I can’t do that!” Newsflash: You can! It’ll be the most time consuming thing you’ve ever written, but it’s completely doable. I’ll tell you how!
1. Pick A Topic You Love
You’ll hear this a thousand times from your professors before you begin your Capstone, but it’s completely true. Make sure you pick a topic that is interesting and engages you. It needs to be a topic that you don’t mind 20+ articles on, because that’s the commitment you have to make. If you have a disorder/population that you want to specialize in, I suggest you pick something relating to that. You’re going to be working on this project for at least one semester, if not two. Make sure you can stand it, because you’re about to become a master of it.
2. Start Writing Your Topic in Research Class.
As I said before, you will be engaged in this project for one semester or two. Yes, two. This is because you’ll be taking a Research class before your Capstone begins. I began writing my Capstone topic in Research, which completely benefitted me when I moved into Capstone and was able to pull the work I did from my Research paper. You’ll definitely thank yourself for getting ahead on that 40+ pages.
3. Begin Searching for Articles Early
The best thing I ever did was print out articles the semester before Capstone began. I did a lot of exploring on PsycARTICLES (via the MSPP website) for topics relating to my Capstone. I printed out way more articles than I ended up needing, but this two things for me: 1) Informed me about my topic and the different avenues the literature explored on that topic, and 2) Helped me narrow down my topic so it would be more manageable when I began writing it. My suggestion would be to print out anything that is remotely interesting in regards to your topic and read about it.
4. Look at the References in Articles
When you finally found articles related to your topic, look at the author’s reference list. You’ll find invaluable sources among those references that will provide you with more information about your topic. You may find that the literature provides you with new ideas to write about in your Capstone, as well.
5. Plan Ahead
Sometimes (most times), it’s going to feel like Capstone is a huge burden on your daily functioning. It’s a lot of time to dedicate to one project, especially when you have other classes, Capstone, and a potential job to attend to, as well. My biggest problem has been trying to make time to write anywhere from 5-15 pages for class the next week. It can be daunting and overwhelming. Plan time in your week to do nothing but Capstone, and stick to it. It’ll feel exhausting, but you’ll be glad you sectioned off a few hours a day, or even a full afternoon, just to work on this project. Don’t leave work for the last minute, because you’ll just end up having to rewrite and edit more often. Make sure what you write is not rushed.
6. Get Organized
If you’re typically not a person who is well organized, it’s never too late to start. Between the various assignments that you have to complete before beginning the actual project, all the articles that you’re reading, highlighting, and taking notes on, and the actual writing of the Capstone, you’ll need to come up with a system that works for you. This may consist of using different color labels, posters, or highlighters to identify specific points. Maybe you like having a thousand binders. If your idea of “organized” is throwing your articles all about your desk, that’s fine, as long as you know what you’re doing when it comes time to write.
7. Make Time for Yourself
At the same time, you want to make time for self-care. With a billion things going on in your life, it’s important to make sure you have time to breathe. However you usually take care of yourself, block off time to do that during the week. This might mean going to the gym, listening to music, reading or writing, taking a nap, seeing friends, or just having a few hours where you watch your favorite TV show. No one can dedicate themselves to school and work 24/7. We all need a mental break sometimes. Make time for it.
8. Get Help When You Need It
Not everyone has an easy time writing a paper, never mind a huge project like Capstone. Your professors are more than willing to help you write your paper and give you suggestions about how best to get your work done. There are also great resources that MSPP offers, such as the ARC, which is dedicated to helping students write and edit papers, manage time, and succeed. Most important is that you communicate with your professors when you’re having difficulty. Life happens, whether its illness or family issues, and you shouldn’t assume that your professors won’t understand. Advocating for yourself is important.
9. Save, Save, Save
Save on everything. Buy a external hard drive. Invest in a thumb drive. Use drop box. E-mail yourself every draft. Your worst nightmare will be your computer crashing and you have nothing saved. And I’ll tell you, MSPP has no tolerance for this. I can’t tell you how many e-mails I’ve received, how many lectures I’ve had, that remind me to back up my projects. If you lose your stuff, don’t expect your professors to feel sorry for you. It’s your responsibility.
10. Be Patient With Yourself
I can’t count the number of times I’ve just wanted to throw my hands in the air and say “screw it! I’m done!” Between my personal life, my job, and school-related things, I have had days where I just feel overwhelmed and “over” this whole school thing. I think every person feels this way at one point, whether you’re in the Masters program or Doctorate program. My tip would be to just take a breath and remember that you don’t have long to go. If you’re working on Capstone, you have only one semester left. Writing this in mid-March, I am completely shocked that I only have a month and a half of school left. Give yourself the space to realize that. It is a sobering experience to realize you’re on the cusp of finishing this phase of your life.
So that’s it! Those are my tips for getting through Capstone and surviving. If you take any of this advice, the process should be easier for you! Below I’ve listed a series of links that are important for helping write Capstone. Hopefully these will be useful to you!
Until next time, folks!
MSPP's ARC - MSPP's resource center, aimed at helping students with various difficulties in writing!
OWL - A website dedicated to providing accurate information on how to cite in APA!
APA Publication Manual - The Amazon link to the APA Publication Manual, which you should already have, but if you don't, get it.