General Capstone Guidelines

Selecting an Advisor and Committee

Students should consult with the SMPA director of graduate studies early in their second semester in the program to discuss their capstone option. In consultation with the director of graduate studies, students need to select an advisor from the SMPA faculty.

In consultation with their advisor, students must select the other committee members. Students pursuing a research thesis select two additional committee members. Students pursuing a strategic or media project need only select one additional committee member, a “reader”, although they have the option of including a second reader. At least two members of the committee must be from the SMPA faculty, the third can be selected from other departments at GW.

Capstone Proposal Form

Students must submit the Capstone Proposal form including a brief description of the proposed project topic and timeline with the names and signatures of advisor and reader(s). This form should be completed prior to registering for the first three credits of the capstone project. 

Submit the Capstone Proposal Form »

Capstone Options, Process and Deadlines

  1. Research Thesis

Students register for one semester of thesis credit (SMPA 6998 and 6999) during each of the final two academic semesters in the program.

In consultation with the thesis advisor, students need to develop a short proposal (suggested length 3-5 pages) describing the topic, goals, methodology, and estimated timeline for completion, defense, and submission. This proposal should be completed by the second week of the first semester in which the student is registered for thesis credit.  Students are expected to consult regularly with the thesis advisor and the reader(s).  
The thesis is expected to be an original contribution to scholarly knowledge. It should show the student’s ability to identify key questions and debates in the literature, formulate research questions, think conceptually, critically, and rigorously, and conduct research using quantitative or qualitative methodologies. The thesis should be between 50-80 pages.

The thesis must be defended orally before the committee. The thesis defense should be scheduled with enough time to allow for the completion of any revisions before the date to submit the approved, final version to meet the graduation deadline.  The defense must be completed one month prior to the deadline for submission of the thesis. For January graduates, the deadline for thesis defense is December 1. For May graduates, the defense must be completed by April 15. For summer graduates, the deadline for thesis defense is July 15.

After defending the thesis, the student needs to prepare the final approved thesis for electronic submission. The student must also complete the ETD Approval Form, which must be signed by the thesis director and submitted to CCAS. A bound hard copy of the thesis should also be turned into SMPA.

Details on electronic submission of the thesis
Guidelines for formatting master’s theses

  1. Strategic Communication Project

Students interested in a Strategic Communication Project as their Capstone Project need to take SMPA 6220 (Strategic Practicum) as the first three credits of the capstone experience. This course does not count as an elective course. Students in SMPA 6220 work with a group to complete a strategic communication project. Students then register for SMPA 6298 in a subsequent semester. Students form a committee by selecting an advisor and reader(s) for the individual strategic communication project to be completed in SMPA 6298. In consultation with the advisor, students need to complete a 3-5 page proposal describing the topic, goals and projected timeline for the independent strategic communication. This proposal should be completed near the end of the semester in which the student is enrolled in SMPA 6220. The proposal must be approved prior to the start of SMPA 6298.

In the strategic communication project for SMPA 6298, students will apply their knowledge of the theory and techniques of strategic political communication, as well as related knowledge, to design a strategic communication campaign grounded in real- world, real-time issues and data. The student will be required to research the issues and actors associated with a specific campaign and setting, to identify the critical points in the decision-making process and the key constituencies with interests in each issue, and to develop theory-based communication strategies which s/he regards as most likely to achieve the stated objective. Electoral campaigns for political office are not suitable for this project, though electoral strategies may be included as one component of a broader effort where appropriate.

Working with a principal advisor and one (or two) faculty members selected for their relevant expertise, the candidate will select a cause or issue objective and design a strategic communication plan to achieve it. This plan should include, at a minimum, a contextual analysis of the issue and a statement of the objective; an identification of the key constituencies and decision-makers who might come into play as a strategic plan is implemented and of the interests, significance and points of access for each; a critical review of the available techniques that might be applied to the problem at hand; and, most importantly, a clearly delineated strategy and implementation program that combines all of these elements. Components of that plan should include schedules, budgets (revenues as well as expenditures), sources of revenue, research, media and/or lobbying plans, examples of communication materials, and such other items as the candidate and the advisor may regard as essential to success.

Each campaign plan will be presented in two formats. First, the candidate will present and defend before the faculty committee an oral report of the plan. This presentation should not exceed thirty minutes, followed by a question-and-answer period, and will be judged on both substantive merit and the professionalism and effectiveness of the presentation. Second, the candidate will submit his/her plan in writing to the members of the faculty committee. This submission should be professional in all regards and will be evaluated both on its substantive content and on the style and quality of its presentation. That evaluation will include a review of the conceptual framework underlying the project, which should be stated explicitly, and its apparent utility as demonstrated by the project itself. Members of the faculty committee will determine the acceptability of the project.

The presentation of the project must occur at least two weeks prior to the deadline for graduation. The presentation must be scheduled prior to May 1 for May graduates, December 15 for January graduation and August 1 for August graduation. Once the committee approves the final project, the student will be cleared for graduation.

  1. Media Project

Students register for one semester of capstone project credit (SMPA 6297 - 6298) during each of the final two academic semesters in the program.  The final project may be a short documentary, investigative media project, or any other media project agreed upon with the faculty committee.  The final project must be research-based and adhere to professional norms specific to the project as determined by the advisor and reader(s). The format may be written, web-based or video. For example, a student may choose to produce a short documentary for which they will do all the research, writing, filming, and editing.

In consultation with the project advisor, students need to develop a short proposal (suggested length 3-5 pages) describing the topic, approach, and estimated timeline for completion. This proposal should be completed by the second week of the first semester in which the student is registered for capstone credit.  Students are expected to consult regularly with the capstone project director.

The final work product of SMPA 6298 must be presented in a public session to a faculty committee consisting of the director of the media project and the reader(s).  The project will be judged on both its substantive content and the style and quality of the presentation of the media project.

Presentation of the project must occur at least two weeks prior to the deadline for graduation.  The presentation must be scheduled prior to May 1 for May graduates, December 15 for January graduation and August 1 for August graduation. Once the committee approves the final project, the student will be cleared for graduation.

Graduation Clearance

The graduate director must submit a "graduation clearance" form before the candidate can graduate.

All degree requirements must be reported completed by the school no later than:

  • May 15, for Spring Graduation
  • January 15, for Fall Graduation
  • August 15, for Summer Graduation