Capstone Essay Guidelines
The MES essay should be a research project based on six to eight primary sources in addition to secondary material. Students must adhere to the Academic Code of Honor when writing their essay and must therefore include citations in all appropriate situations, as well as corresponding bibliographic end material.
Students should follow these style guidelines in writing their essays:
- 15 to 20 pages, double-spaced
- 1-inch margins on all sides
- 12-point Times New Roman font
- page numbers in lower right corner
The paper must include a cover page with the following pieces of information, also in 12-point Times New Roman font:
- title of the essay
- student’s name
- essay director’s name (e.g. Directed by . . . )
- course information (AL 48007—Area Studies Essay: Europe)
- term information (e.g. Fall 2015)
- Citations and corresponding bibliographic material should be formatted in one of three accepted styles—MLA, APA, or Chicago—as agreed upon with the essay director.
- Students may include notes, illustrations, or appendices in their essays, but this end material may not be used to reach the required length.
- The essay director may have additional expectations in addition to the above. Students should clarify these with their directors as soon as possible and should follow them as required.
- The essay is due on the last day of classes. Students should submit one copy to the essay director (for grading) and one copy to the Nanovic Institute offices (file copy).
Choosing an Essay Topics and Thesis
Writing a good essay depends on having a strong interest in the subject matter, so it is important that students give timely consideration to what they want to research and write about. The best research papers begin with a compelling question or problem. If the question does not interest the writer, there is a good chance it will not interest the reader either.
Determining a Topic
- Consider topics that capture your interest, then brainstorm and list a series of questions to “ask and answer” about the subject chosen.
- Think about the courses you have most enjoyed. Where there any questions addressed in the course about which you are particularly curious?
- Avoid a topic that is too broad or too simple. For example, consider a particular period of history or limit the historical time period in question.
- Identify a faculty member who works in a research area that interests you. He or she might be willing to assist you in narrowing your interest to a workable topic (and, even better, also agree to be your essay director!)
Successfully completing a capstone essay such as this requires good time management. Students should set up a project work plan or calendar to help them make progress at a manageable pace. This work plan may vary, depending on the professor who is directing the essay, but generally should include consultation periods, reading and research time, and the various stages of writing.
- Students should clarify with their essay director what he/she requires in terms of submitted material at each stage—a proposal, research or literature search results, an outline, paper drafts, etc.—and agree on a schedule for submitting them.
- Students should also agree on a schedule of meetings with that director in advance. It is recommended that students meet with their essay director at least three times during the semester to discuss the project’s progress and the professor’s evaluation of any submitted work. Additional contact via email is both likely and expected.
- Early on, students should conduct a literature search to see what has been written on the subject, as well as how much of it is available. This will indicate how difficult it may be to track down both primary and secondary sources for the project. Conducting a literature search at an early stage also gives a sense of the theoretical concepts that need to be mastered in order to treat the essay with the appropriate care.
- Students should then begin thinking about possible responses to the thesis question. They should propose and discuss their possible resources and the varying ways to organize their research. As the research is conducted, students should develop an outline of information that will help guide their writing.
- Once they reach the writing stage, students should plan a clear introduction that presents the main problem (or question) and a thesis statement directed at addressing (or answering) it. The paper body should provide the textual, historical, and other examples that support their ideas and conclusions, with all sources cited in an approved style (see paper guidelines above).
- Students should give their essay a descriptive title that encapsulates the thesis, avoiding titles that are poetic, and should turn in a nearly-final draft about two or three weeks prior to the due date. This will allow them adequate time to revise the paper prior to submitting the final draft.
The Nanovic Institute also encourages using The Notre Dame Writing Center as a resource for your writing process.