Posted: September 22nd, 2022
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This week, you want to focus on a thorough search in the APUS Online Library for scholarly and professional articles and databases related to your topic. Major projects build on what is already known and then add to it.
Your project proposal is due at the end of this week and it should include a discussion of multiple sources so that the reader can immediately understand major concepts and multiple perspectives in your area of research. Use several databases and a variety of search terms to discover the important authors and concepts in your topic area over time, including cutting-edge work written in the past year or two. You will also need to think through how your project meets with the major course objectives of the course as outlined in the syllabus. The proposal is a short version overview of how you plan to proceed with your topic. The format is in the syllabus and the assignment section. Its contents are described in detail in the syllabus and he Capstone EOP Manual. Please be as thorough with source materials and as accurate with citation and reference style as possible. Don’t forget you need the correctly formatted title page on all submissions. When you have submitted the proposal, move ahead with writing the Literature Review.
Information about future assignment (Thesis)
A formal creative project proposal is required and shall be prepared in accordance with the standards of the academic discipline. The formal proposal must provide a clear and lucid description of a creative project and must include a discussion of how that project is situated within the discipline. The proposal should explain the goal and intent of the project and convince the professor that the project fits within the discipline, can be completed in the allotted time, and comports with discipline standards. Proposal publishing is considered a learning process and helps the student avoid oversights and possible mistakes. It should show that the student has read the relevant and recent literature on the subject, and it should contain a list of materials consulted during the preliminary stages of research. In general, the creative project proposal should include background information related to the project topic, the purpose of the project, and investigatory procedures to be used. The formal proposal should not exceed five pages (title page and references not included). An overview of the required components can be found on page 15 of the Capstone Manual.
Part of the goal of this project is to provide a service to a public entity. If at all possible you should be working with an organization that will benefit from your project directly. You should attempt to present your work prior to the end of the class to the organization so as to be able to include the feedback in the final paper as an appendix. Please keep in mind you need written permission to work with an organization and should secure that at the very beginning of class. Remember you may work with an organization on process and presentation but you may not do human behavior research or access non-public data of those results without IRB approval.
The proposal should be in narrative form with the intro stating the project you plan to do, the literature review section is a small version of the next assignment but should demonstrate you have done an overview and you are on the right track with your proposal, and the rest should say what the process will be for you to complete the project, with whom you have consulted at the organization to gain approval, if you plan to do any human behavioral research and your progress on IRB approval, a timeline for the next 14 weeks that will put you presenting the project to the agency around week 14/15 of the class so feedback can be included, and your proposed format – in other words will it look like a white paper with final project as an appendix or will the bulk be a training manual, grant proposal, etc. Also are you working with an organization that has requested your findings be presented in a particular format, if so, what is that.
ATTENTION: BE ADVISED THAT FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO COMPLETED AN UNDERGRADUATE CAPSTONE, YOU MUST SELECT A DIFFERENT RESEARCH TOPIC FOR YOUR GRADUATE CAPSTONE STUDY. RESEARCH TOPIC PROPOSALS ARE CROSS-CHECKED AGAINST YOUR UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAM RECORD TO ENSURE COMPLIANCE.
Your capstone project must be aligned with the requirements for obtaining the MA Degree. There are certain criteria which your paper must meet. The essential criteria follow:
Possible study constructs follow:
Identification of a construct, regimen, or systemic tool(s) of utility to your current organization or to another organization. Analysis of the usefulness of the construct and if so, the steps necessary to implement it successfully.
Identify a specific issue or problem. The student researches the problem, assesses various potential solutions, and selects the best available option for implementation.
Acquire substantial information resources on a particular organization or department concerning its culture, decision-making principles, its practices, and crucial decisions over the long-term. Ensure the organization’s institutional knowledge has widespread applicability to other organizations. The institutional knowledge base is analyzed and critical lessons learned are explored.
Identify an exploitable and potentially lucrative (if applicable) related business or organizational opportunity. Conduct extensive research, determine the viability of the opportunity, and reflect, in detail, on what must be done to ensure its success.
Examine a current issue or problem in your academic discipline.
Compare and contrast the selected issue or problem with past, present, and potential future trends or solutions, or
Compare and contrast the experience of organizations affected by the trend or who have developed solutions to the problem and conduct analysis of their success or failure.
Topic selection may be difficult. Typically, a capstone candidate has a general idea of an area within his/her discipline they wish to explore. Students are encouraged to select a topic which they are interested in, but that also has applicability to their organization. In this instance, personal enjoyment is coupled with the satisfaction of potentially improving an organization.
Conduct a review of previous studies: Begin your research with the tools and capable librarian/archivists available to you in the APUS Online Library. Please utilize the many resources available in the APUS Online Library Portal and the services of our assigned librarian accessible from the Portal.
Discuss with Faculty and Mentors: Faculty members have a wealth of practical knowledge in the fields of law enforcement, security management, homeland security, military security, intelligence, law enforcement operations, local government, state government, federal government, international governments, and both governmental and private sector security management challenges and solutions. Discussions with them may create in you a focus for a particular topic which you wish to address in your capstone project.
Ensure the availability of ample research resources: Initially, conduct research to ensure your proposed topic is one which benefits from ample research resources. These may be in many forms including: books, papers, manuscripts, theses, doctoral dissertations, magazine and professional, peer-reviewed journal articles, web-based resources, etc.
Feasibility assessment: Ensure the research study goal is attainable within the established parameters. Typically, students initially decide on a capstone research topic which is too broad. Conducting preliminary research should serve to narrow the focus considerably.
Social science focused: Ensure the topic is focused on some aspect of academic discipline. The topic can be management focused. The topic may be focused on rapidly-changing technologies. You have a high degree of flexibility bounded only by your interest, enthusiasm, and the agreement between yourself and your capstone faculty.
Take a multi-disciplinary approach: Convergence of many disciplines and approaches is a key factor in the 21st Century security and global studies environment. You will find yourself incapable of writing a capstone project on a specific academic discipline topic without some discussion of related disciplines such as homeland security, counter-terrorism, intelligence analysis, law enforcement, etc.
Seek Innovation and unorthodox solutions: It is normal, while exploring a topic, to find “school solutions” based on prevailing trends, thought processes, analysis, etc. The key to a great capstone project is to apply your outcome, your personal experiences and background, and your analysis to create an innovative solution or outcome. This is the true essence of exciting learning and the highest attainable goal in writing a great capstone project.
Project statement: The project statement is composed once you have selected a topic and narrowed your focus to a useful degree. It is a clear and concise statement of the purpose of the capstone project. It must be a statement capable of being proved or disproved through your work and the capstone process. It is, in effect, the path for your journey through the capstone project experience.
Examples of Unacceptable Topics
Over-generalized topics such as “homeland security.” Of course, this topic is highly relevant if not so generalized.
Topic conflict, for example a discussion of both Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) and Targeted Crime Reduction (TCR). They are not the same, but similar enough that they are to be avoided (in tandem).
Small technical topics, for example, a comparison of the utility of the .40 S&W cartridge with the .38 S&W Special cartridge for use by law enforcement and corrections departments.
Topics which do not require challenging and innovative research, i.e., over-generalized. For example, the history of intelligence in times of conflict. In this instance, there is no point to be proved or disproved.
Topic Selection Self-Quiz
Answer the following self-graded quiz questions to assist in focusing your thoughts on a topic selection:
What are your one year, five year, and ten year professional career goals? What do you require to achieve them in terms of experience, education, certifications, etc?
Write down your potential topics, topics of previous papers, organizational challenges in your workplace, etc. Consider pros and cons of the listed topics. Eliminate those which are irrelevant, that you have over-used, in which you are not interested, etc.
List your topic choices in order from most to least relevant. Assess them in terms of how you believe they will be viewed by the capstone study advisor.
Writing and Style Guidance
Review the information in the style manual related to your academic discipline as an initial step before beginning to write your capstone project.
Formatting Your Capstone
APUS/AMU requires a specific format for the capstone, which is discussed in the current EOP Manual.
The capstone project is a formal document and must follow traditional conventions accepted in formal writing including:
Do not use personal pronouns, such as I, us, you, etc. Use the third-person.
Do not use contractions such as don’t, shouldn’t, didn’t, etc.
Use abbreviations sparingly. Commonly-accepted abbreviations are Mr., Mrs., etc. You may also abbreviate discipline-specific titles such as “The Global War on Terror” (GWOT). The proper convention is to spell out the title completely on first use followed by the appropriate abbreviation in parentheses. You may use the abbreviation alone and sans parentheses thereafter.
Avoid clichés and colloquialisms, such as: crystal-clear, out-of-the-box, etc.
Write in the active voice (see “Web Resources” in your classroom for a PowerPoint presentation on this topic).
Common Writing Concerns
Non-restrictive modifiers require commas. Non-restrictive modifiers do not change the meaning of a sentence if they are omitted. The opposite holds true for a restrictive modifier.
Restrictive: All the books that were stolen in the night were never accounted for. (Implies some books remained in-stock).
Nonrestrictive: All of the books, stolen that night, were never accounted for. (Implies no books remained on-hand).
For a more detailed discussion of grammar and punctuation, select on this link. (150 + pp)
Spelling Errors and Proof-reading
Remember that while Microsoft Word and most other major word-processing programs contain a spell-checking function and a function which identifies, and can correct, some grammatical errors, they do not identify all such errors. If a word is incorrect within a sentence but is spelled correctly, it will not be identified as a problem. For example, consider the words, “not and knot.” You must proofread your work manually as well as electronically in order to ensure a quality product.
A free utility you may find useful for proofing is “ReadPlease.” This is a software program into which you upload a document. ReadPlease then reads it back to you as you listen. The free version of the software may be available.
Tips for Developing a Research Idea and Writing the Project Paper
1) Transitioning from coursework to the master’s capstone project is a big jump, and some stress can be expected. The project paper is different than anything you have likely written before, the process of writing it is likely different as well, and it is okay if that makes you nervous or unsure. Stress like that is healthy, as it shows that the task is important. The trick is not to let healthy stress, turn into a “shutdown.”
2) A master’s student is unable to write the capstone project the moment the course starts, but students who graduate are able to write the project at the end of the course, because they just did. Everything in between is a process of not knowing how to write the paper, trying to write it but not quite getting things right, and then through effort on your part and through feedback from the course instructor across a series of iterations, you learn what the paper is supposed to be, and how to write it. Knowing how the process works up front and not being surprised if your first effort or two does not quite hit the mark, should help alleviate unnecessary stress. There will be some necessary stress, but that is manageable by breaking the writing of the project into smaller pieces, writing it a little at a time, submitting the components for review and comment from the instructor several times.
3) The master’s capstone project is a paper that follows the scientific method of your academic discipline, and likely has some application to a part of the field of your academic discipline that interests you. Is important to distinguish the reasons for why you want to do the project from the purpose of project, and it helps up front to think of the project as having distinct parts.
Most of us who are practitioners probably have ideas every now and then on how to fix something that seems broken, or perhaps we simply have ideas of better ways to do things. Thinking about those things during the academic journey is terrific. It likely plays a large role as to why you are getting your master’s degree in the first place. The challenge, though, is to turn your idea into something that provides a solution, rather than something that is simply a position or opinion paper, or something that is just a review of what others already know on the topic. Taking an idea and finding journal articles that discuss the topic is not research; rather that is a search.
4) Students writing the capstone project sometimes do not know how to turn the initial practitioner idea into a project idea that moves beyond a position paper or a literature review paper. One way to do that is to search for a few journal articles on your topic that relate broadly, reading them each, regardless if they relate to the specific aspect you are initially interested in. If you start with your interest precisely, and screen out all of the articles that do not address your topic specifically, you are essentially starting at the end of the process, beginning with the answer instead of the question. A reason that is not likely to be successful is because if there were an exact answer in the body of science of what you are precisely interested in, then there would be nothing to research. Your idea would successfully wrap itself up at the search stage, as you would be provided with the answer. Alternatively, finding nothing in the body of science about your topic in the precise way you envision it does not automatically mean that such is a research problem, rather the absence of literature may mean that others are not interested in that topic. Instead, you want to look for articles that are just a little bit more broad than your idea, and in that way you will read about the things in the body of science that are known about your topic in an umbrella way, and you will find out about the types of things that others do not yet know, but want to know. That is where you will turn your practitioner idea into a solution that is suitable for a master’s capstone project.
By applying the strategy of looking for the broad articles first, you will be working from broad to narrow, starting a little bit above your interest and writing down to your idea. In that way, by not starting at the bottom, you both have someplace to go in your literature review, and you have a better opportunity of understanding what is known in the body of science about your topic, and what is not known, but desirous to be known. As far as specifically coming up with a way to research your interest, one place to look for ideas is at the end of the journal article, usually in recommendations or implications for future research section. A scholarly body of science is simply a collection of information on a substantive issue where understanding grows over time. Each time someone conducts a study and publishes their results, a little more is known about the topic. Each time something more is known, other questions arise, and the researchers often identify the new questions for you. For purposes of the course and the master’s capstone project, the next step from there is to decide which questions interest you, and which ones are feasible to do within the parameters of your skill level, your time deadlines, and your resources.
5) You will likely notice that by now you have done a lot of thinking about your topic and a lot of searching for articles and a lot of reading articles, but there are still quite a few things about the process you are unlikely unsure about, and you may not even know where to start in writing the project. The course assignments break things into small segments, and the first thing to do is write up your project proposal. There is a list of things in the syllabus that need to be covered, and the End of Program Manual provides instruction and guidance. Beyond that, it might be helpful to think of what it is you are trying to accomplish in a project proposal. The master’s project as a paper, presents the results of scholarly and professional research to a scholarly and professional audience, and it likely shows how the results might assist practitioners in some way. That is what that paper does. There are a lot of nuances to it, and there are some technical things you have to do to present those results in an acceptable way, but the project itself is simply showing readers what you learned on a substantive issue of shared interest. That is the purpose of the project. A purpose of the project is to communicate a problem and your solution. Keeping that in mind as you write the various sections should be helpful, for if you know where the road goes, you have a better chance of getting there.
6) The last focus of attention in this quick tip sheet is on writing style, and in-text citation and references more generally. In scholarly writing, in-text citations are needed both to credit an author with an idea and when stating a refutable fact in order to provide evidence to the reader that such is true. Suppose you say something in your paper introduction like, “Society hates crime and devises laws in order to protect citizens.” This type of sentence is what scholars call a refutable or testable statement. There is a truth to the statement that can be tested and determined. How do we know society hates crime, or how do we know why laws are written? In writing a sentence like that, you would need to cite either an author in the body of science who stated something like that (attribution citation), or you would have to cite some articles that provided findings that allow you to draw that conclusion (evidence citation). There can be no unsubstantiated statements of fact in a scholarly writing. Readers do not generally “give the writer” refutable or testable statements as assumption. The writer must demonstrate the accuracy of such statements by showing who researched such in the literature and found such to be the case. The source of all sentence statements of fact must be clear. Students sometimes violate the substantiation of statements requirement in introductory paragraphs; in transition sentences; and prior to, in-between, or following in-text citations that are meant to cover the statement but for a variety of reasons that is unclear to the reader. Not every sentence needs a citation, but the source of every sentence needs to be accounted for and clear.
The writing style utilized by your discipline, for example the APA publication manual is utilized by Criminal Justice, also shows how to precisely write an in-text citation and it shows exactly how to write the reference. Getting the writing style correct is mainly a matter of matching your references up against the relevant example in your academic discipline’s manual. That is a book that is the official depiction of the style. In APA style, for example, every punctuation, capitalization, or not, italics, or not, font color, font size, underlining, or not, and indentation matters. If your reference does not look exactly like the example given in the book, your reference is not correct. A meticulous process is required to check all that, but that is what you have to do as a researcher. You just go through each reference and check them one at a time. There are some quick visual aids, though, that can be used in your reference section. If you have two references in your paper that are the same type of reference yet they are not an exact match of one another, you know at least one of them is wrong. If you have blue font, underlining with hypertext or if your URLs or DOIs end with a period, you know that entry is wrong. If you have entries that say the same things as one another but do not look the same, you know at least one of them is not correct.
In sum, writing the capstone project is hard work that requires a lot of attention, but it is also a manageable task when having an idea of what is expected, and when approaching everything a little at a time. You can expect to make mistakes here and there, and that is okay. You can also expect when done to know more about a topic that interests you, and to have a piece of writing you will likely be proud to have accomplished.
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