Capstone vs Dissertation? 5 Things to Consider Before Making a Decision - Dissertation Success (2024)

As you begin your doctoral program search or even as you are well into your program, you may be confronted with the option to do a capstone track rather than a traditional dissertation track. Both offer you the opportunity to put “Dr.” before your name, and both require coursework and a report – dissertation vs capstone – at the end. However, that is often where the similarities end. Before you jump into doing a capstone or before you flatly rule it out, take some time to really understand the two tracks that your university offers.

1. Capstone vs Dissertation: Understand what a capstone is

What is a doctoral capstone? A capstone is a report or a research study that a doctoral student produces at the end of their program. Typically, it is done in conjunction with a local research site in which the student has some involvement, such as a local school or business. The purpose of the capstone is to allow the student the opportunity to conduct an action research study where they will identify a process that needs to be changed, design the program or process to initiate the change, and then evaluate the results.

2. Capstone vs Dissertation: Learn how a capstone is different from a dissertation

In a capstone, the writer is working within an organization to bring about some kind of change – to a process or a program. For example, the writer may work at a university where the financial aid office is taking too long to get information to prospective students and as a consequence, many potential students give up in frustration.

The writer might do some background research by interviewing financial aid officers to understand where the bottlenecks are and what policies govern their processes. At that point, the writer then would design, using the theory of change and evidenced-based research, a capstone project that addresses the need for change. This could be done through training that teaches a new process or a new policy, and then the writer would evaluate the results.

In a dissertation, the writer is examining a broader topic and collecting data that addresses a societal problem and helps to fill a research gap. Using a quantitative or qualitative approach, the writer would identify who they wanted to use as participants to further explore the problem and identify key themes and concepts that could be used to collect data from participants. The writer then analyzes that data, determine what the key findings of the data reveal, and forms recommendations for policy, practice, and future research.

3. Capstone vs Dissertation: Review what the benefits are to each

The capstone may be a good option for you if you are already working within an organization that is going through some kind of change and is open to having one of its employees or someone affiliated with it engages in a study of a process that is not working well.

The capstone option can also be a good choice if you are working on a team already conducting research for which you can use the existing data to create your study. Some universities allow this option. Finally, the capstone may be a good choice for you if you are interested in change theory and find process issues fascinating. Remember, the capstone is not about addressing large societal problems, but rather, zooming in and creating a program to train people on a new process in their workplace or within an organization.

The dissertation may be a good option for you if you are not affiliated with a particular organization in which you can get into the weeds of specific processes or organizational policies. This kind of access is essential for the capstone process, so without it, you would need to do the dissertation. But let’s talk about why the dissertation is the best choice for you, otherwise.

If you like to explore broader issues, societal problems, and want to write about those while collecting data from participants who help you form recommendations then the dissertation is for you. Furthermore, if you are anticipating that you want to be a faculty member in higher education, or if you want to continue to conduct research, a PhD program with a dissertation is likely the better path. Finally, the dissertation is widely accepted as it has a much more standardized process than a capstone which can vary by university and by department.

4. Capstone vs Dissertation: Recognize what the downsides are to each

First, explore your motivations. If you are choosing the capstone because you’ve heard it’s easier or it’s shorter or it doesn’t involve research, please know that none of this is true. Ironically, a capstone is often longer than a dissertation because it typically includes two parts: the program you’ve designed and implemented to address the needed change (this might be a 4-week professional development program for faculty, for example) and the final report, which includes an overview of your project, the literature review, the data collection and data analysis, the results, and recommendations.

My capstone students were always shocked to discover what went into the capstone project. It is not shorter and it is not easier than a dissertation. Thus, choose the capstone option based on its better choice for your situation, not because you’ve heard it is easier. It is not.The dissertation, while more straightforward than the capstone, can be the wrong choice for students who want to do more applied work in their field. If a company’s IT Director is interested in examining how staff members at her organization need to be trained to prevent email fraud, doing a dissertation on broader societal issues around email fraud is going to be misaligned to her motivations.

A dissertation also needs to address a unique problem. A dissertation on spam in email is either not unique enough because it is a subject explored widely or it’s going to be out of date as soon as it is published. In a capstone, the writer only has to be as unique as the situation requires in their organization.

Finally, a dissertation often requires more emphasis on the data collection and data analysis, as the results and discussion in chapters 4 and 5 help to justify the rationale for the study and importantly lay out the findings that should in some way address a gap in the literature.

Whereas a capstone writer might conduct brief interviews with staff or administer surveys to 25 people in an organization to gain further insight into a problem, a dissertation writer will either have to use a large sample size for a quantitative study in order to have statistical significance or they will have hundreds of pages of qualitative data to code from the 10 people they interviewed. Without a separate program report to include as in the capstone, the dissertation relies heavily on what the data says and how the writer interprets it.

5. Capstone vs Dissertation: Determine what your long-term goals are

Think about this decision first through the lens of what you want to do with your doctorate. If your goal is to continue in higher education as a faculty member or if you want to continue conducting and publishing research, then the dissertation is likely to be a better option. If you prefer hands-on research and designing processes and the organization you are affiliated with is open to your involvement in it, then the capstone is possibly the better option.

So what will you choose: capstone vs dissertation? One is not necessarily better than the other. One is not easier than the other. Determine what your goals are, what the programs available offer, and what you have access to in the way of a research site. Then make your decision!


Capstone vs Dissertation? 5 Things to Consider Before Making a Decision - Dissertation Success (2024)


What is the difference between a dissertation and a capstone? ›

At Capella, a PhD dissertation involves a quest for new knowledge that is intended to solve a real world problem and be relevant to the field. A doctoral capstone is intended to extend or apply research to deliver a solution immediately to an issue within a real world setting.

What are the five chapters in a capstone? ›

Capstone Project | Explained step by step with examples
  • Chapter 1 is the introduction: ...
  • Chapter 2, the literature review: ...
  • Chapter 3 is the methodology: ...
  • In Chapter 4, your findings are outlined: ...
  • Finally, Chapter 5 is where you draw your conclusions.

Which is harder capstone or dissertation? ›

So what will you choose: capstone vs dissertation? One is not necessarily better than the other. One is not easier than the other. Determine what your goals are, what the programs available offer, and what you have access to in the way of a research site.

Which is better capstone or thesis? ›

They both follow a similar basic format and represent a scholarly effort of high quality. However, practice-based programs can use a capstone project to emphasize preparation of the student for professional practice. In contrast, a thesis is an academic-focused research project with broader applicability.

What is the main difference between thesis and capstone? ›

A capstone project attempts to address an issue in the field by applying existing knowledge toward a real-life problem (often in the form of fieldwork). A thesis seeks to create new knowledge through student research, trying to prove or argue a hypothesis, rather than just investigate a topic.

Which makes capstone different from research? ›

Research projects focus more on developing or proposing theories, whereas capstone projects focus more on achieving tangible or intangible results through research.

What is a 5 chapter dissertation? ›

Dissertation Overview

Chapter I: Introduction. Chapter II: Review of Literature. Chapter III: Methodology (Research Design & Methods) Chapter IV: Presentation of Research (Results) Chapter V: Summary, Implications, Conclusions (Discussion)

Is it possible to fail capstone? ›

Yes, you can fail a capstone course. However, failing a capstone course at some universities could disqualify you from graduating from that particular major or program. Other schools could require you to revise your capstone project until it's approved or you receive a passing grade.

What happens if you fail capstone? ›

Consequences of a Failing Your First Attempt at Your Capstone Course. If you receive a failing grade for your first attempt at your master's capstone course, you will be automatically blocked from registration until the reason for the failure is documented by the Office of the Registrar.

What is the hardest thing about writing a dissertation? ›

Let's take a look at the most common challenges you can expect when writing a dissertation and how you can overcome them.
  • Creating a Thesis Statement. A thesis statement describes the purpose of your research. ...
  • Planning and Time Management. ...
  • Writing Your Thesis. ...
  • Staying Organized. ...
  • Structuring Your Chapters. ...
  • Wrapping It Up.
Dec 31, 2021

What is the benefit of capstone? ›

A capstone increases the stakes, helping students focus their energy towards a final project and the continuation of learning. Hones skills: As you apply skills and knowledge to a self-driven project, you are able to learn what you don't know and ask questions before entering the professional world.

What are the benefits of capstone course? ›

In some cases, it serves to confirm a student's interest in a field and clarifies a degree path. It also allows students to display a wide range of skills to prospective schools: things like critical thinking, writing, research, teamwork, planning, and public speaking.

Do colleges like capstone? ›

The AP Capstone Diploma is increasingly recognized in admissions by higher education institutions around the world. Many colleges and universities offer credit and/or placement for a qualifying score in AP Seminar, AP Research, or both.

What is the main goal of capstone research for the students? ›

The capstone project is designed to consolidate final-year students' learning with valuable hands-on experience to help develop them into well-prepared and well-rounded graduates.

What is the difference between capstone and project? ›

A capstone course has expectations similar to a project. The difference is that the scope of the project is defined so that the results can be achieved within a semester. Also, students work with the instructor of the course (or another faculty member, if required) rather than a faculty committee.

Why is it called a capstone? ›

The term derives from the final decorative coping or "cap-stone" used to complete a building or monument. In higher education, the term has been in common use in the USA since the mid-twentieth century, although there is evidence that it was in use as early as the late 1800s.

What is the purpose and description in capstone? ›

The purpose of the Capstone Project is to: 1) Provide the student who is nearing completion of their graduate program of study an opportunity to conduct research and/or a scholarly literature review on a contemporary topic in their academic or related area that is of particular interest to them.

What are the 4 key aspects in a research paper? ›

Major Sections of a Research Paper in APA Style

A complete research paper in APA style that is reporting on experimental research will typically contain a Title page, Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and References sections.

Which are the four 4 essential elements of a research proposal? ›

Outline for Research Project Proposal
  • Introduction. Explain the issue you are examining and why it is significant.
  • Method and Design.
  • Significance and Conclusion. Discuss, in general, how your proposed research would lead to a significant improvement over the original studies, and how it would benefit the field. ...
  • References.

What are the five 5 steps in writing a research paper which is the first? ›

The only key is to follow a schedule and be regular in completing each task.
  • Step#1: Choosing the subject. ...
  • Step#2: Collecting information. ...
  • Step#3: Evaluating materials. ...
  • Step #4: Organizing ideas. ...
  • Step#5: Writing the paper. ...
  • References. ...
  • Comments.
Aug 22, 2017

What is the most important section of dissertation? ›

Often the conclusion to a long research project like a dissertation or thesis seems rather anticlimactic, but it is, in fact, rather important! Not only are you summarising the most important elements of your findings, but you are also demonstrating how your research can be extrapolated further.

What is the five chapters of thesis dissertation? ›

Content of a Dissertation

In particular, the dissertation is the documentation of complete research paper with five main chapters: introduction, literature review, method, results, and discussion.

What should be included in a dissertation? ›

The most common dissertation structure in the sciences and social sciences includes:
  • An introduction to your topic.
  • A literature review that surveys relevant sources.
  • An explanation of your methodology.
  • An overview of the results of your research.
  • A discussion of the results and their implications.

What is the 5 concept of research? ›

While there are a number of skills, techniques, and concepts you'll want to be familiar with, I think it's essential to master these five: reliability, validity, statistical significance, experimental validity, and correlations—the main factors that affect the quality of your findings.

What is the 5th step in the research process *? ›

Step 5 – Report Research Findings

The final step is to report the research findings to those who need the data to make decisions. The findings should be presented in a comprehensible format so that they can be readily used in the decision-making process.

What is research give 5? ›

Research is a process of systematic inquiry that entails collection of data; documentation of critical information; and analysis and interpretation of that data/information, in accordance with suitable methodologies set by specific professional fields and academic disciplines.

Can you retake capstone project? ›

Students may retake AP Research; however, they may not resubmit the work they produced in previous AP Research courses as part of their through course-assessment(s).

What is the pass mark for capstone? ›

There will not be any grading on your final letter of completion. The pass rate for each of the assessments is 65%.

How long is a typical capstone? ›

A capstone paper may be 25 pages, where a thesis could be 100 or more, and is a more demanding research paper. If an undergraduate student chooses to further their education and enter into a doctoral program, the capstone project could be an invaluable tool in preparing for a thesis.

Are capstone projects graded? ›

Capstone Project grading

Some Capstone Projects are peer-graded using Coursera's standard peer grading system. Other Capstone Projects are automatically graded or graded by experts. In some Specializations, you will be evaluated only on your final project submission.

Can you graduate without a capstone? ›

These final projects are mostly required for graduating with a Masters Degree. There are, however fields of study where students are given a choice of completing a capstone project, or enrolling in an additional course. Whichever they choose, they will still get the degree.

What makes a successful dissertation? ›

Outstanding dissertations include detailed analysis, critical evaluations and discussions of concepts, theories and ideas. These make the excellent dissertations stand out from the mediocre ones. If you want your dissertation to be fantastic, provide more than simple descriptions.

What should you avoid in a dissertation? ›

10 Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Your Dissertation
  • Selecting too broad or too narrow a topic. ...
  • Selecting a topic you aren't interested in. ...
  • Starting too late. ...
  • Research before writing. ...
  • Lack of cross-referencing chapters with one another. ...
  • Using too much jargon. ...
  • Lack of probing respondents when collecting data.
Jul 28, 2021

What is the most difficult part of dissertation? ›

The lit review section will include a brief introduction to your topic, introduce key concepts and review the existing literature. But be prepared: The lit review often is the most difficult part of the dissertation, Foster maintains.

Can you get a PhD without doing a dissertation? ›

Not always. In the past a dissertation was required for a PhD, but a growing number of institutions have started to offer online doctoral programs no dissertation. Instead, students may complete a capstone project to demonstrate their knowledge and provide new contributions to the field.

Can you get a doctorate without a dissertation? ›

Do all doctoral degrees require a dissertation? Not all doctoral degrees require a dissertation, but most. While dissertations are still the norm for most fields, certain degree programs, such as JDs (law degrees) or DPTs (Doctor of Physical Therapy degrees), do not require dissertations.

What qualifies as a capstone project? ›

A Capstone Project ​is a multifaceted body of work that serves as a culminating academic and intellectual experience for students.

Is a dissertation harder than a thesis? ›

Some students may find a dissertation harder than a thesis. A dissertation requires students to develop an original research idea, which can sometimes be harder than building upon existing ideas. Though, the difficulty of a thesis or dissertation depends on your personal skill set.

What is a doctorate without dissertation called? ›

ABD simply means you have completed all required doctorate coursework, but have not written and defended your dissertation. While ABD brings you one step closer to completing your doctorate, achieving ABD status doesn't mean you can take your foot off the gas.

What is the easiest doctorate to become? ›

Generally, education, humanities, and the social sciences are considered the easiest fields in which to pursue degrees.

What happens if you fail your dissertation? ›

If you fail a dissertation, you will usually be given an opportunity to re-submit it by an agreed-upon date. As with a module failure, the marks awarded for a re-submitted dissertation will usually be capped at a bare pass level.

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