Thesis/Capstone Experience

Independent Research/Creative Activity Option

Students choosing to complete the capstone experience with the independent scholarly or creative activity option begin by identifying a faculty member who will direct the project. Then, in consultation with their faculty director, they identify two additional readers for the project.

There are two possible types of MLS projects under this option: (i) a scholarly project based on research and analysis, or (ii) a creative project with an interdisciplinary dimension. A “process paper,” a written component focusing on the objectives, methodology, and scholarly significance of the creative activity, must accompany the creative project.

Your research project provides evidence of your ability to conceptualize, organize, and produce a scholarly, cohesive work on a subject of personal significance. It should be developed out of work you have pursued during your course of study, and it must be interdisciplinary.

A topic (e.g., comparison of cities that have failed/collapsed) could be approached, interpreted, and enriched through the theory and practice of several disciplines (anthropology, geology, geography, ecology, economics, and history). A theoretical perspective associated with a particular topic or discipline (e.g., feminist film theory) could be applied to a completely different topic or discipline (e.g., Renaissance paintings).

The consideration or combination of theories, assumptions, methods, and conce pts associated with two or more disciplines should, at a minimum, enhance your study and our understanding of your subject matter. Your goal should be to use an interdisciplinary approach to produce new meanings and insight to the issue.

Examples include: a case study; an investigative work based on field research; a feasibility study; an analysis and interpretation of a contemporary issue, trend, or historical event; a critique of art or fiction; an examination and position paper on theories and practices in science and technology; or an essay or series of related essay.

Examples of projects that are not appropriate include: prescriptive “how to” projects such as a simple school lesson plan; a procedures manual; a topic so broad as to offer only very general or superficial discussion and conclusions; or a thesis that consists only of a re-statement of facts without serious analysis.

In terms of writing, your vocabulary, organizational structure, and narrative style needs to be directed to a broad readership including your advisor, your committee, the MLS Director of Graduate Studies, and fellow MLS students. Assume you are writing for people who are well educated, but not conversant with the concepts, terminology, and background surrounding your topic.

The normal length is 50-70 double-spaced pages, including bibliography.

Organization of Research Paper

Most research papers begin by laying out a central issue. You then educate your reader about your topic by providing information and evidence, and you conclude with your personal analysis and interpretation. In effect, the first and middle part tells us “what,” and the last part tells us “why” from your point of view.

Your research paper should address these kinds of questions:

  • What specific issue, problem, question, hypothesis, or goal are you studying and writing about? Why and for whom is it significant or of interest? Be clear and explicit.
  • What kinds of approaches, factual or conceptual underpinnings, theories, methods, etc. are you using, and from which discipline or disciplines are they drawn? Why have you selected these particular ones?
  • What evidence do you have to support your arguments or ideas (the writings or studies by other authors, your own empirical research, fieldwork, personal experiences, insights)? Why is your evidence persuasive and plausible?
  • What are your outcomes or conclusions? How do your own experiences, intuition, perspectives, etc., affect your interpretation of the evidence and the conclusions drawn? Are there shortcomings to your study, and do you have reservations or qualifications about your claims?
  • How do your discoveries connect with your initial hypothesis or intent, and how might they project forward to future, expanding investigations?

An MLS creative project typically joins features of a more traditional thesis with the creative arts, defined broadly as:

  • Literature
  • Music
  • Dance
  • Visual Art
  • Theatre
  • Film and Electronic Media

Examples would be an original work of fiction or poetry, a musical performance, a film, a dance performance that you choreographed, a screenplay, a staged reading of an original play, or an exhibit of your paintings or photographs. These examples are only illustrative. The key criterion is that your “work of art” must be recognizable as an artistic creation. As such, it needs to demonstrate an informed understanding of the medium, as well as fluency with the technical skills necessary to create it.

Creative projects must have a written component, the process paper, which is separate from the artistic work itself. This is typically a 10-15 page double-spaced paper that includes discussion of your creative goals, how the work was undertaken, and the significance of its artistic content to the interdisciplinary character of the MLS degree. This paper is then bound with the artistic work, if applicable, with the process paper preceding the artistic work. A creative project will typically have a bibliography following the artistic work. If the artistic work is not in written form (e.g., a dramatic performance), include photos to document your performance. If you have three-dimensional documentation, such as a CD or DVD, it should accompany the bound copy of your process paper.

The process paper is not a paraphrase or written summary of your creative project. Rather, it is a reflective commentary on your work—its conceptualization, development, and realization. It provides context and states your interpretation of the interdisciplinary character of your project.

Organization of Process Paper

Your process paper should address these questions:

  • What were the underlying causes, motivations, sources of inspiration, etc., for your project?
  • What did you set out to accomplish? What were your artistic goals? Did your ideas change as you proceeded, and why?
  • What resources did you use (formal and informal), and how did they contribute to the development of your project? How did you use these resources to frame your ideas? Formal resources include things like books and papers, theories and constructs, artistic concepts and approaches. Informal resources include the intellectual climate and setting of the University, discussions with faculty and students, and your own creative abilities. As a general rule, the paper should include a review of the literature.
  • What is the desired effect on your audience?
  • What makes your project interdisciplinary?
  • Conclusions: How well do you think you achieved the artistic goals you set out to accomplish? What insights did you gain? This should be a commentary in which you discuss your work from both a critical, objective viewpoint and from a more personal, subjective viewpoint.

Graduate Project Proposal Guidelines

Before beginning work on the actual project, students must first complete a proposal in consultation and with the approval of their faculty director and readers. A proposal approval form must be submitted to the MLS office along with a copy of the proposal and accompanying documents.

The proposal should be between 3 to 5 double-spaced pages (Times New Roman, 12 pt), not including the bibliography, and contain the following information:

  • Project Goal (1-2 paragraphs)
    What is the goal of this project? What question, issue, problem, or creative effort does it seek to explore, answer, or resolve? Your question, issue, or problem should be analytical and open-ended.

    Although most final projects take the form of an extended academic essay, the MLS project is broadly defined. You could, for example, choose a project in literature or fine arts or a project that involves applied knowledge. If you choose to undertake a project other than an extended academic essay, it must include a short academic essay that provides a context for your work.
  • Context (2-3 paragraphs)
    What are the important contexts and literature for understanding this question, problem, issue, or creative work? What in your view makes this project significant?
  • Preparation (1-2 paragraphs)
    How have you prepared yourself, through MLS courses, personal or professional background, or other means, for this project?
  • Method (1-2 paragraphs)
    How will you go about exploring your central question or achieving your goal? What research or creative materials will you use in your project and why are they important?
  • Timetable
    What are the various tasks you will have to complete as part of your project, i.e., review of the literature, a collection of data, completion of the first draft, revisions, defense? What is your schedule for completion of these tasks?
  • Budget
    What, if any, expenses beyond the ordinary costs of copying, paper, and printing, do you anticipate will be required to complete your project? If you will incur such expenses, how will you cover them?
  • Preliminary Bibliography (1-2 pages)
    This bibliography should include some of the key sources for your project and thus demonstrate your awareness of primary and scholarly sources that will be important as you undertake your research. Use an accepted bibliographic format.

Attach the following documents to your proposal:

Proposal Approval Form
Student Checklist
Faculty Agreement to Supervise

If your project involved research using human subjects, attach the document of approval or waiver from the Institutional Review Board, Office of Research.

Requirements for Submission of the Final Project

The requirements of the University Graduate School are relatively straightforward and simple. Individual departments or committees, however, may have additional requirements to which you must conform. The following is just a basic guide to the general standards of the University Graduate School as they apply to the MLS project. For additional information, please also see the relevant sections of the University Graduate School Bulletin. Be sure to check with both the Director and your committee on any additional standards before you submit your final version. You will thus avoid confusion and frustration later.

This section includes a discussion of the chronology in which the last few steps must proceed, as well as information about format and distribution regulations for the project. It also contains several appendices, some of which show how various standardized pages should look. In case of special problems not covered here, please consult with the Director of the MLS program.

A master's project must be approved by at least three members of the faculty, usually the professors who have directed your research and writing. Once three professors have read your final draft and approved it, have them sign the acceptance page that appears right after the title page. After they have signed the acceptance page and your work is in final form, you must have at least two copies (both copies must be on 100 percent cotton rag bond paper) bound in a regular, sewn library binding. You may have bound as many additional copies as you wish for yourself. The binding of your MLS project is coordinated by the MLS secretary. You must provide the copies of the project that are to be bound. However, do not make all of your copies until you have consulted with the Director of MLS to make sure you have met all of the format requirements. One bound copy must include the original signed acceptance page; photocopies of the signed acceptance page may be used in additional bound volumes. File two bound copies with the Master of Liberal Studies program. These volumes are placed in the University Library. Be sure that the Registrar's Office has your correct name and diploma-mailing address. The diploma, which certifies that you have completed the degree, should be issued within approximately three months of the submission of the bound copies to the MLS program. Usually, your degree is dated the last day of the month following the month in which you submitted the bound copies.

The work must be word processed with a letter-quality printer. Generally, laser and ink-jet printers produce such copy. Dot matrix printers are not acceptable. If you have any questions, check with the University Graduate School to see that your printer meets University Graduate School standards.

The material should be double-spaced, on watermarked, 100 percent cotton rag bond paper, 8 ½ inches by 11 inches. The unbound version and at least one of the bound copies must be on paper of this quality. IU Bond is not 100% cotton and not acceptable. The work should be printed out using the Times New Roman 12 pt font. The University Graduate School does not accept script or italic fonts, although italics may be used to emphasize certain words and to denote titles of books or journals, etc. Be sure to correct errors on the word processor, not by hand. You may use either photocopying or the multilith process if the copies are of good quality. Mimeographed copies are unacceptable. If photographs are part of the work, all copies must contain the best possible positive prints, not photocopies (though scanned color photocopies are acceptable). If you have any questions about the acceptability of your format, consult the Director of MLS. A cautionary phone call could save you time and money.

Margins should be at least 1½ inches on the left and 1 inch on the other three sides. Although this requirement may seem somewhat arbitrary, it is nonetheless necessary for successful binding and copying. Most copying processes tend to expand the material by two or three percent, leaving less white space around the text. Binderies sew along the left-hand margin and then trim the other sides. Inadequate margins can result in part of your material being lost after the combination of copying and binding; even if all the material remains, insufficient margins can affect the readability and the appearance of your work. Ordinarily, the text and any other materials will appear on the right-hand page only. If, however, you and your committee agree that it is absolutely necessary to include facing material on the left-hand page as well, be sure to leave 1½ inches on the right-hand side of the facing page. These margin requirements apply to all materials included in the thesis, including figures, tables, maps, plates, the abstract (if you decide to have it bound with the rest of your work), and any preliminary material you choose to include. You must print page numbers on each page (except title page and vita page).

Most of the preliminary materials or front matter will depend on the nature of your MLS project and on your personal preference, but a few items are mandatory. The front matter must include the title page, the original signed acceptance page, and the copyright page (if you decide to copyright your work). Normally a master's project does not include an abstract. In addition, the University Graduate School strongly recommends that you provide a table of contents. Beyond that, other kinds of material are optional. Depending on the nature of your work, you may also wish to include lists of tables, figures, appendices, or abbreviations (include page numbers on these). Depending on your personal inclination, you may wish to include a dedication, a preface, or a set of acknowledgments. The latter are designed to recognize people or agencies to whom you feel grateful for any academic, technical, financial, or personal aid in the preparation of your project; as a matter of courtesy, you would ordinarily mention the members of your committee here, as well as institutions that provided funding, your typist, or anyone else who helped. With the exception of the title page, Roman numeral page numbers must be used for the front matter. The front matter should appear in the following order:

  • Title page (mandatory)
  • Acceptance page with original signatures (mandatory)
  • Copyright page (mandatory if you choose to copyright)
  • Dedication (optional)
  • Acknowledgments (recommended)
  • Preface (optional)
  • Abstract (optional)
  • Table of Contents (strongly recommended)
  • Lists of tables, figures, appendices, or abbreviations (recommended if appropriate)

In addition to this front matter, you must also include a curriculum vita page at the end of the thesis. You may write it in paragraph form, but the standard vita format is preferred.

Page numbers must be clear and consecutive throughout and printed on every page, including appendices, tables, figures, maps, charts, photographs, etc. The title page and vita page are the only exceptions to printed pagination.

Arabic numerals should be used for page numbers in the body of the work, the bibliography, and any appendices, while small Roman numerals are used for the front matter; the vita page at the end is not paginated. The title page counts as page i but does not bear a number. Begin numbering with the acceptance page as page ii, and continue with small Roman numerals until the start of the actual text. That page, whether part of your full introduction or of your first chapter, will be numbered page 1 and every page will be numbered consecutively until you reach the vita page. Ordinarily, page numbers should be centered at the top or bottom of the page, entered midway between the edge of the paper and the text to prevent their loss during the binding process, although some other method may be accepted if you clear it first with your committee and use that method consistently. Before you turn in your copies for binding, make sure that all of the pages are in correct numerical order and that they are right-side up.

Just as the format of the front matter may vary, the format for your text and references will depend largely on your particular topic and committee. In terms of the text, for example, most projects should be written in English. Some works, however, are more appropriately written in other languages. You must check with the Director and your committee to determine which forms they prefer.

A few basic standards are required of all projects. Although all texts should be either double-spaced or on occasion produced at space-and-a-half intervals, long quotations within the text should be typed single-spaced and with wider margins. Footnotes must appear either on the page where the annotation occurs or at the end of each chapter. The University Graduate School imposes no single form for footnotes or bibliographic citations, but it does recommend one of several style manuals as a good starting point. These include The Chicago Manual of Style; Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers; the Modern Language Association (MLA) style sheet; and the American Psychological Association (APA) or American Sociological Association (ASA) style sheets (especially for works in the social sciences). Similarly, the University Graduate School recommends either Webster's Third International Dictionary or Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary as authorities on spelling and usage.

In terms of theses, publication means making your work available to the broader scholarly community. Although both kinds of work represent original scholarly activity, the University Graduate School requires publication through the agency of University Microfilms International (A Division of Bell & Howell Information and Learning) only for dissertations. You may, of course, choose to publish your master's project by this or other means, especially if your committee has recommended this course. In doing so, you would work directly with University Microfilms International.

A final point is that, as a published author, you must conform to the copyright laws in terms of the works that you have cited yourself; in other words, make sure you have permission, written if possible, to quote your sources. The best way to know how the copyright laws apply to your particular situation is to contact the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.