Capstone Guide

On this page: Capstone Project | Learning Objectives | Norms & Expectations | Capstone Proposal | Capstone Style & Format | Capstone Project Listing

Capstone Project

The Master of Arts in Policy Studies curriculum culminates in BPOLST 515 Capstone in Summer Quarter.

See Dates and Deadlines for Capstone Pre-proposal and Capstone Proposal due dates.

The capstone project is a significant element of the Policy Studies curriculum. It integrates students’ learning experience in the program and gives them an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to apply the tools of policy research, analysis, and engagement to a contemporary policy issue. While the capstone project is not intended to involve extensive original investigation, any conclusions reached must be so supported that their proof is considered well-established.

The entire Policy Studies curriculum scaffolds the development of your capstone by providing critical and analytical skills, as well as methods and frameworks for research and engagement. Students’ capstones may contribute to a pre-existing and on-going research project, and many students’ capstones will directly serve community partners’ needs. All students should be working in partnership with faculty, primarily through the Capstone Advisor.

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Learning Objectives

In fulfilling their capstone requirement, Policy Studies students demonstrate their abilities to:

  • Read and interpret published research in a policy area of inquiry
  • Research questions of interest in applied, real-world settings
  • Draw conclusions and recommendations based on research findings
  • Communicate ideas and research in writing

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Norms and Expectations

The capstone is an in-depth research project. As such, it has a developmental arc that includes identifying a research area, reading in the relevant literature, refining a research question, applying for and receiving IRB approval for any human subjects research, identifying appropriate methods and relevant data, analyzing results and reporting findings.

Note that Institutional Review Board approval must be received before conducting any human subjects research. Learn more and apply here.

Your capstone advisor will be your guide in this process. To help you execute your project successfully, you are:

  • encouraged to commit to process and the project that you have proposed. Significant changes to your capstone plans, particularly after the proposal is finalized, can extend your time to degree.
  • discuss difficulties you are encountering with your research with your capstone advisor, who can guide you in strategies and adaptations. Research can be full of unexpected surprises: that is part of the process of discovery.

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Capstone Proposal

The Capstone Proposal is submitted toward the end of Spring Quarter. (See Dates and Deadlines for the precise due date.)

Note: Students must apply for and receive Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval BEFORE conducting any human subjects research.

Capstone Advisors must approve students’ capstone proposals before students can enroll in BPOLST 515: Capstone. Students should enroll in BPOLST 594 Research Design during Spring Quarter to aid in the development of their Capstone Proposal, unless they have approval from their capstone advisor to satisfy their research methods requirements by other means.

There is no single required format for the Capstone Proposal, but the topics listed below should be included. Appropriate sub-headings are permissible. The primary consideration is that the proposal be complete and specific.

All proposals should be 2-3 pages double-spaced, unless otherwise noted, and should conform to acceptable style requirements.

Submit your completed Capstone Proposal via email (in pdf or Word format) to your Capstone Advisor. Then complete and submit your Capstone Proposal Submission Form (UW NetID required) and upload a copy of your Capstone Proposal.

Statement Of Problem

The statement of the problem should be concise. The problem may arise from a theoretical question about policy making or from a specific circumstance that presents empirical, consequential questions for policy implementation. Indicate the significance of the study to the specific policy area being addressed: What is the policy question you want to research? And, why is this an interesting or important policy question to investigate?

The statement will indicate in brief the general purpose of the study, and relate the problem to general theories and accepted bodies of knowledge. Wherever appropriate, the proposal should specify how it could benefit policy professionals or particular interest groups and/or the public at large, how it is related to an institution or organization (if applicable), and what contribution it will make to your professional development.

Introduction of Literature

Include a brief introduction of the literature that cites 8-10 peer reviewed publications that highligh the importance of your research question, and/or address prior research or writing pertinent to the problem at hand. It is not necessary to conduct an exhaustive review at this time but you should address prior work on the subject, indicate the novelty of your research question, and clearly definekey terms in your proposal. You will want to indicate the essential difference(s) between your proposed study and prior research explicitly. What has been studied and researched about the subject by other scholars? How do their findings help you develop your own question, or do you disagree with their findings or research methods? Why?

Selected Bibliography

This bibliography may be different from the bibliography that will be included with the final project, but it should include those references discussed in the Literature Review section above.

Proposed Methodology

What kind of data do you need in order to research your policy question? If you are using secondary data, are you sure the data exist, are complete, and available by mid-Spring Quarter? If you want to interview people, are you sure they will talk to you? This section of the proposal should be approximately 1 page and demonstrate how the objectives of the study will be accomplished. You should indicate specific steps to be taken to answer the questions or to test the hypotheses. Data should be provided that will indicate what sort of information will be obtained, how it will be obtained, and how it will be analyzed. Where appropriate, sampling procedures should be indicated, measuring instruments fully described, and statistical analyses identified. If instruments are to be developed during the study, the procedure for their development should be described; if instruments have already been developed specifically for this study, they should be attached.

Limitations of the study should be indicated in this section of the proposal. This may be accomplished by indicating such factors as the population to be studied, the time period considered, the origin and composition of information to be used, and any other information that might indicate potential sources of error for the design or limitations of the framework within which the study will be conducted. The approximate time schedule anticipated for the completion of various phases or aspects of the project should be noted.

Timeline for Project Completion

As an appendix, please include a timeline to indicate how you expect to proceed with various aspects of the project (i.e. literature review, data collection, data analysis, Capstone writing and revising) in order to complete it by the end of the summer. Keep in mind that if you chose to collect your own data, then you are expected to complete data collection by the end of Spring quarter, in order to produce a final product by the end of Summer Quarter.

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Capstone Style & Format

Style of the Capstone

  • Audiences for the Capstone may consist of academics or professionals who are doing research work in same area or may be a particular partner organization. The style and format of the manuscript should be tailored to the audience you and your advisor have identified. See format section below.
  • APA (American Psychological Association) Style and Publication Manual are required for capstone manuscripts.
  • Opt for simplicity, clarity, directness, and precision in presentation, and consistency in terminology.
  • Avoid personal or unsupported judgments. Make sure that all conclusions and recommendations are based on evidence presented in the capstone. Include only what you can prove, not what you “know.”
  • Identify and acknowledge in the manuscript the limitations of your data and analysis.

Report Formats

Weimer and Vining (2017) distinguish four types of policy knowledge creation based on two underlying dimensions: audience and focus. They distinguish between studies for a specific client or partner and those for the broader academic (or epistemic) community. They also distinguish between studies that focus on the substance or content of policy (what) and those that focus on the process that produces policy (how).

 Primary Audience: ExpertsPrimary Audience: Clients
What (policy substance)1. Policy Research2. Policy Analysis/Evaluation
How (policy process)3. Policy Process Research4. Stakeholder Analysis

The capstone project may take any of these four modes and report formats will differ, especially between research reports and evaluation/analysis reports (left and right columns). Traditionally, MAPS capstones have followed the Policy Research mode and an academic report format. Capstone projects in which students partner with community or government agencies may be more likely to engage in Policy Analysis or perhaps Stakeholder Analysis, depending on the needs of the partner and students’ interests/expertise.

Before making a decision about format, students should consult with their faculty Capstone Advisor and, if applicable, internship supervisors. Provided they meet with the Capstone Advisor and second reader’s approval, formats such as PowerPoint presentations or videos that suit community or faculty partners’ needs can be appropriate. In general, however, Capstones will take the form of a written report.


Research Report Format

This is the traditional format for a Capstone Manuscript and one most appropriate for a policy research report as well as a policy process research report. It follows a more traditional academic format described below. Almost all of the MAPS Capstones completed in past years have followed this format.

Chapter 1 – Purpose of The Study

The first chapter should contain information necessary for a reader to place the general area of study. The problem statement should be located near the beginning of the chapter and should indicate the who, what, where and when of the study. There should be some information to indicate the scope of the study, including definitions of terms, and justification of importance of the study.

Chapter 2 – Review of Literature

This chapter presents previous research informing this project. The literature review should locate this Capstone project in existing research and should set up the tools or methods you plan to use as well as any implications or policy recommendations you plan to make. The review of literature may contain both conceptual and research literature. The review should be in the form of an integrated presentation of all material. It should not contain a simple listing (annotated bibliography). Students should include only those references that have some immediate implications for the study. Be explicit in demonstrating or stating the relevance of all cited literature.

Chapter 3 – Methodology: The Who, What, When, Where of Data Collection

This chapter is a statement of your research methodology: What kind of data collection procedure will you use? What type of sampling procedure do you propose? What type of data analysis is most appropriate? Any data describing the sample are not results. They should be included in this chapter rather than in a “Results” chapter. The section describing measurement techniques should include some treatment of validity and reliability. For quantitative studies, this chapter should provide operational definitions of the dependent and independent variables in your study Provide information about the statistical analysis techniques that will be used and why those methods were chosen.

Chapter 4 – Results and Discussion

The content of this chapter is usually arranged around headings related to the specific findings of the study. What did the research find with respect to proposed hypotheses? How do these findings relate to the previous results reported in the review of literature? The term “results” refers to the actual data of the study. The term “discussion” refers to the interpretation of the data. The discussions must be based on the data, not on the experience or background of the investigator.

Chapter 5 – Conclusions

This chapter should summarize the study and its findings. The conclusions should be stated in terms of the original research questions or hypothesis. It should identify any limitations of the study, provide suggestions for future investigation, and discuss implications of the study. Any implications and the suggestions for future research should be based on the results of this Capstone study.

Policy Analysis or Evaluation Report Format

Because the primary audience for policy analysis, policy evaluation and stakeholder analysis are specific clients or community partners, the format of Capstone reports using these modes will vary according to partners’ needs. In general, policy analysis and evaluation reports will have a more professional and less academic format. Rather than “chapters,” these reports will have sections. Final reports will likely include Executive Summaries and Appendices, and may include PowerPoint presentations, brochures, briefs, and website content. Fitzpatrick, Sanders and Worthen (2011) recommend the following format, though again the final format should be tailored to the client or partner’s needs.

1. Executive Summary

Typically 1-2 pages, this summarizes the contents in the main body of the report. It should very briefly describe the purpose of the study and how data were obtained. The summary should also include the most important findings, conclusions, and recommendations, often with major findings or recommendations bulleted or numbered.

2. Introduction: Purpose of the Study

The introductory section should thoroughly describe the rationale for the evaluation or analysis. It should address: Why did you conduct this study? What is it intended to accomplish? What questions was it intended to answer? There should be some information to indicate the scope of your study, including definitions of terms, and limitations that affected the collection, analysis or interpretation of information.

3. Focus of Evaluation or Analysis

This section describes the program to be evaluated or policy to be analyzed. It should present a brief history of the program or policy (when and why it began and who initiated it), program/policy goals and intended outcomes, a description of the staffing or resources for the program or policy, a description of clients served and their characteristics, and any important contextual issues, such as location, oversight, legislation, and regulations.

Any previous evaluations or reports of the program or policy should also be summarized, including how these previous efforts differ from your own.

This section might also include a logic model or program theory, or a summary of one (with the full model in the appendix). It may also be useful to include a list of the information needed for the evaluation or analysis.

4. Brief Overview of Evaluation/Analysis Procedures

This section describes your methodology: What kind of data collection procedure? What instruments were used? What type of sampling procedure? What type of analysis or interpretation is most appropriate for your study’s questions and goals?

Summaries of the procedures and methods are sufficient. In this section, generally explain where the data came from and how they were obtained and analyzed. Specific instruments (surveys, questions) or protocols (focus groups, observations, interviews) should be included as Appendices.

5. Results and Discussion

This section provides a complete summary of the study’s findings and provides a basis for the conclusions and recommendations in the next section. Any tables, figures, quotations, and/or lists should be included.

Often, this section is organized around headings related to the specific findings of the study. These findings and headings should follow from the questions posed/purposes of the study.

6. Conclusions and Recommendations

This section should summarize the study’s major findings, often listed at the beginning of the section. These conclusions must follow from the results presented in the previous section.

The section should also synthesize and discuss the study’s findings. What do they mean? How do these findings correspond to the program’s or policy’s goals or intended outcomes? How do they compare with findings from previous, related studies?

Fitzpatrick, Sanders and Worthen (2011) recommend providing both Strengths and Weaknesses of the studied program or policy.

Finally, the report should conclude with Recommendations. These should build on findings and conclusions to recommend next steps for clients/partners. They may include recommendations to continue or expand the program/policy or perhaps to revise or discontinue. These recommendations should be general in nature. Specific recommendations to specific individuals or units should be directed toward those individuals in a side report or memo. They may be summarized here, but the audience is broader than just one person or unit.

7. Appendices

More detailed information about sampling, data collection methods, and analysis should be included to help those who are interested in replicating or doing further study. This should include discussion of what specific statistical or narrative analysis was used and why.

Complete transcripts of interviews, observation logs, data tabulations, survey instruments, interview protocols, or other information not included in the main body of the report should also be appended.

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Capstone Project Listing

The University of Washington Libraries maintains an accessible, institutional repository of all capstone research projects completed in satisfaction of the Master of Arts in Policy Studies degree.

This archive is intended to make program research available to policy researchers and practitioners as part of ongoing policy inquiry and debate.

Capstone manuscripts are catalogued in the University of Washington Libraries catalog and can be accessed digitally through the ResearchWorks Archive. You will find that projects are organized by the following policy arenas:

Economic Regulation and Development
Environment and Energy
Human Rights
Labor and Human Resources
National Security
Social Change and Welfare
Urban Planning

Example Policy Studies Capstones

Tosin Dada, 2015
Why can’t I have an Orange? Public-Private Sector Policy and Fresh Produce Production in Nigeria

David Doyle, 2015
Open Government Data: An Analysis of the Potential Impacts of an Open Data Law for Washington State

Elizabeth Theaker, 2015
Reframing “Pedophile” to Combat Child Sexual Abuse: A Content Analysis of Public Response to Luke Malone’s “Help Wanted”

Melissa Watkinson, 2015
Tribal Capacity for Climate Change Adaptation: Identifying the Impact of Fractionated Land for a Coastal Community

Laurie Tuff, 2014
Court Appointed Special Advocates: Is their impact effectively evaluated by current research methodology?

Michael Irons, 2013
Promising Artists in Recovery Program Evaluation

Jason Malinowski, 2013
Campaign Spending in City Council Elections: A Comparison of At-Large and District Contests

Mariah Chrystal, 2010
Collaborative Social Change: A Transformational Approach

Brandon Mayfield, 2010
A Qualitative Analysis of Digital Literacy and TechREACH Program’s Curriculum Training and Implementation

Jefferson Ketchel, 2008
Information Asymmetry as a Market Failure: Household Chemical Labeling and Children’s Health

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