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Capstone conquest

by EliSabeth Bancroft Wessel Meindl


We’ve all heard it, a lot of us know it as an old friend, or sordid enemy. And regardless of your relationship with it—whether you’re just getting to know it, talking about it, or already heavily involved with it, it’s a big deal. The secret that I want to let you in on is that (come closer)—it’s not. That final capstone product is made up of a dozen (okay, or more) little things that are completely in your grasp, even through blurred vision of sleepless nights.

Here are ten tips to help the process!

  1. Stay focused, go back to that contract and your advisor as many times as you need to make sure you’re not veering off the path of intent. You will find many tangents that could easily become their own capstones, so remember to keep your topic and purpose in focus. When I was first attending Principia I was in a class where there was a huge assignment due at the end of the term. We had been working on it the entire semester, and about three weeks out I was still unable to pull this thing to a manageable paper. So I met with my professor, who was kind enough to be blunt and tell me that I was ignoring the assignment. That’s why I was struggling. It happens, we get side tracked, so be aware of this pitfall and don’t waste your time.
  2. Be honest—with yourself and with your advisor. There is no person out there who is looking for you to fail, especially your capstone guide, so be willing to let go of the fear that you haven’t done all he or she has asked and keep recognizing that you are doing God’s work just as much as your own work. It’s our job to be obedient to the one Mind, and part of that is humility. If you’re struggling, talk to your advisor!
  3. Write what you know. That can’t be said enough! Write down all the things you know, and when you get stuck, sit down and write what you know again.  This will help you break writer’s block and give a fresh perspective or tone to your own “voice” in the writing, because there on the paper will be all those facts you’ve picked up during this project in your own words.
  4. Outline. The same five-paragraph paper outline they taught me in high school was where I started my 60-page capstone, and you know what? It totally helped. It gave me a simple starting place, and kept me focused in a logical direction. Point, sub-point, sub-point, repeat. There will be more than five paragraphs, and more than two sub-points, but creating a simple “form” to plug your information into it will help you organize your thoughts and all those factoids you’ve learned.
  5. Don’t pre-edit; it doesn’t help anyone. If you’re so distracted by the sentence you just typed that you’re not paying attention to the next one you’re putting down, you are pulling focus from every good idea you’re reflecting.  Just put the words down and let them sit together. Stay attentive to the ones you are writing and get through the whole idea before returning to check your commas or seeing if there’s a different adjective you would prefer to use. These are all important things, but they come later.
  6. Save multiple drafts. Label them any way you want, but don’t limit yourself to just one draft that you change again and again, because tomorrow you may realize that the silly idea you typed today was actually brilliant, but you can’t quite remember it. I went through 20+ drafts of my capstone. No, you don’t need 20 versions, but for me it was helpful to just “Save As” every time I went in to make changes or continue writing.
  7. You do have enough information. Don’t over-research. Write! So what if you have some holes—get the paper down and see what kind of Swiss cheese you’ve made and then go back and look for specific answers. But what if you don’t have enough information? Go back to your main sources: who are their sources? Go find them. It’s a good place to start if you haven’t already been there, but get it all down on paper first to find out
  8. Take breaks. Writing for 16 hours is impressive but highly unproductive. Set timers, use other homework as the balance, and tell yourself, “I’ll do 30 minutes of capstone, then 30 minutes of [blank].” After a 45-minute session with your capstone, stand up, walk around, and stare at something farther away than your computer screen. It will help you stay focused, and you won’t feel like your trapped under the never-ending project.
  9. Use technology for good. Install a blocker on your search engine that gives you five minutes to surf the Web in-between 25-minute blocks of Internet lockdown.
  10. Breathe. You’re going to do this.

Elisabeth Meindl resides in Bellville, Texas, and is a current MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts student at Goddard College. Last semester she completed and turned in her religion major capstone at Principia College.

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