2. Initial Planning for Your Capstone Project

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter, you will be able to: 

  • Identify general considerations for capstone topic selection. 
  • Compare and contrast approaches to selecting a capstone topic. 
  • Discuss Stage 1 of literature scoping and its role in the capstone experience. 


This chapter will take you through the initial planning phase of capstone projects by describing the importance of selecting a relevant and meaningful capstone topic.   General considerations for capstone topic selection are provided.  The three main approaches to capstone topic selection are discussed and examples of capstone topic approaches are given.  The first stage of literature scoping and its relevance to capstone topic development is explained. 


An extremely important step in the development of developing of a good capstone project is selecting an interesting and relevant topic.  As indicated in Chapter 1, an impressionable classroom or clinical experience along with a review of applicable journal articles can help you identify a potential capstone topic.  Topics for capstone projects should facilitate the development of new knowledge and insights rather than merely providing an opportunity to recapitulate information that is already generally accepted in your chosen field of practice (Martiz, Thielman & Campolo, 2011).  You can consider several approaches to capstone topic selection.   An initial literature review can also help you identify topics of interest, narrow them down, and develop a focused clinical question that can be used to guide your capstone project.  Because educational institutions and programs within educational institutions can differ in capstone requirements, it is important for you to meet with their capstone instructor(s), your mentor, and even your institution’s librarians to brainstorm capstone project topic options and project requirements. 

Selecting a Topic for Your Capstone Project 

The capstone project is an opportunity for you to demonstrate mastery of a specific topic and its relationship to your chosen profession and area of interestWhile each university and program within a school, may have different requirements, initial capstone planning includes selecting a topic of interest, which should be approved by the program and capstone instructorsCapstone projects are developed over several weeks to months depending on the academic program; therefore, you should identify an area of interest that will keep you motivated for an extended period of time.  Not only should a capstone topic be in an area of interest, but it should also cover a real scientific or practical issue. 

When considering capstone topics, you should try not to think about topics that will require a great deal of theoretical information, complicated concepts, or detailed statistical analysis.  Instead, reflect on the challenges you or stakeholders face on a regular basis.  For example, is there an identified need at your workplace or within your chosen profession?  You should also try to organize brainstorming sessions with your peers and write down ideas that can be incorporated into your capstone experience (Bertulino, 2022).  It is also recommended that you begin thinking broadly about a topic and then start to narrow it down.   

It is important to pursue a capstone experience that will hold your interest.  For this reason, you may want to consider issues that are relevant in your workplace, a meaningful classroom experience, or even a topic that addresses your career goals and aspirations.  It is important to keep in mind that a capstone topic should be manageable in size.  If a topic is too broad, you will have difficulty covering all of the necessary material.  Conversely, if a topic is too narrow, it may be difficult for you to find published material and meet project length requirements.  It is paramount to be flexible when determining a capstone topic, have a few options in mind, and always check with your capstone instructor and other relevant faculty to ensure that your chosen topic will meet the capstone guidelines within your specific program of study (Capstone & thesis research: Selecting & focusing your research topic, 2022).  (Refer to Table 2.1: Considerations for Capstone Topic Selection) 

Table 2.1Considerations for Capstone Topic Selection 

Desire to gain experience in a particular field or with a specific technology 
Desire to gain exposure to a specific organization for future employment opportunities 
Previous knowledge, experience, or familiarity with a project or topic specifics 
Being able to envision possible solutions an identified problem or need 
Potential impact of your topic or project 
Topic is personally relevant or important 
Positive or negative social or ethical considerations 
Desire to apply an evidence-based solution to a work-related issue, need, or problem 
Desire to gain exposure to a specific organization for future employment opportunities 
Desire to address a topic of interest noted in a textbook or journal article 

Source:  Hart, R. A., & Polk, T. W. (2017). An examination of the factors that influence students’ capstone project choices. International Journal of Engineering Education, 33(5), 1422-1431. 

Approaches to Selecting a Topic for Your Capstone Project 

There are three main approaches to topic selection for capstone projects (Refer to Table 2.2: Capstone Topic Approaches and Examples). 

1. Inward Deficit Approach 

This method requires you to reflect on your own area of practice and identify some of the challenges and issues you may have experienced in your workplace.  If you are a student who has not had an opportunity to work within your intended practice setting, reflection on a course and course content that has sparked your interest can be something that can be explored further (Burke & Dempsey, 2022). 

2. Outward Deficit Approach

This approach requires you to examine some of the issues your colleagues are experiencing in their practice setting or the gaps in the existing literature that relate to a practice setting or interest.  The outward nature of this method of topic selection indicates that the capstone project does not aim to help you in your area of practice; rather, the purpose of an outward deficit approach to capstone topic selection is to help other professionals within their practice setting.  Consequently, this approach can indirectly impact your own or intended area of practice (Burke & Dempsey, 2022). 

 3. Mixed Abundance Approach 

This approach focuses on what is working in an area of practice instead of what is problematic and needs fixingYou can use this approach to review other people’s practice (outward), your own area of practice or intended area of practice (inward), or as a mixed approach (inward-outward).  This approach emphasizes that when a starting point for a capstone project focuses on what is going well, research may lead to more impactful outcomes rather than focusing on what is not going well (Burke & Dempsey, 2022). 

Table 2:2:  Capstone Topic Approaches and Examples 

Approach  Summary  Example  Possible Topic 
Inward Deficit 

-Reflect on own practice (inward) and identify challenges and problems (deficits) 

-I am finding it difficult to engage my patients during their outpatient occupational treatment sessions.  They don’t seem to engage as enthusiastically as I would like them to and they often question the purpose of occupational therapy.   I would like to come up with a way of introducing occupational therapy that would make them feel more interested and engaged in their treatment sessions -Patient education on occupational therapy in outpatient clinics 
Outward Deficit  -Examine issues (deficits) colleagues are experiencing in their practice setting (outward) -Examine the gaps in literature (deficits) that you have read about in journal articles or books (outward) that relate to your area or intended area of practice  -I have searched journal articles and books and have determined that occupational therapy’s role in community-based mental health settings is obscure -The role of occupational therapy in community-based mental health settings 
Inward  What is good with you/your practice?  -One of my strengths is my ability to explain the benefits of occupation-based interventions to patients in the outpatient clinic where I work  -Using the American Occupational Therapy Association’s Resources and Tools I would like to promote the benefits of occupation-based interventions into emerging practice settings 
Outward What is good with other professionals’ practice?  -Evidence shows that explaining the purpose of occupational therapy in specific practice settings can improve patient engagement and interdisciplinary team collaboration -You are interested in creating information sessions for interdisciplinary team members in various health care settings to increase awareness of occupational therapy 
Mixed What is good with your/your practice and other professional’s practice?  -You have been chatting with your occupational therapy peers about the role of occupational therapy in emerging practice settings.  You begin to reflect on the role of occupational therapy in emerging practice settings and would like to get more input from other occupational therapists  -As part of your research you would like to do an online survey to find out how other occupational therapists define the role of OT in emerging practice settings 













Literature Scoping 

There are two stages of engaging with literature during a capstone experience.  The first stage of literature scoping will be addressed in this chapter, and the second will be addressed in the following chapter.  The first step of engaging with literature entails a succinct literature review.  A brief and focused literature review can help you identify a topic of interest for your capstone project.  Many scholarly articles are accessible via open access.  You can source scholarly articles via Google Scholar or ResearchGate, as well as other open-access platforms.  Because open-access platforms are not exhaustive, it is useful to draw from some of the academic databases available through the library of your educational institution.  Furthermore, your school or university’s librarian can guide you toward the most suitable databases for your capstone topic and order articles that may not be readily accessible.  Lastly, it is important to determine the information management technique required by your school or university and to establish your own-note-taking method so you can best source your literature and engage with it critically.  Effective information management can provide you with a great head start on a capstone project (Burke & Dempsey, 2022). Most importantly, you should keep an open mind.  Because an interest or topic may have limited research within your profession, doesn’t mean it cannot be done.  It is important to also look for articles addressing your intended topic written by other professionals. This can provide you with a great opportunity to address an issue and expand on a concept that has been addressed in a complementary profession but not within your professional area of practice. 


This chapter provided you with general considerations for capstone topic selection.  The inward deficit, the outward deficit, and the mixed abundance approaches to capstone topic selection were reviewed.  Stage 1 of literature scoping, a brief literature review, and its importance to capstone topic selection was explained.  The initial planning of a capstone project:  topic selection and Stage 1 of literature scoping, can help you to develop a sound clinical question. Initial planning will help you begin to develop a focused literature search strategy, which will assist you in determining whether evidence is or is not relevant to your capstone project (Bednarski et al., 2020).   


Case Study:  Initial Planning for Capstone Project

  • Glynn is very intrigued with the topic of health literacy and is going to perform a brief literature review on this topic to investigate existing evidence related to this topic.
  • A preliminary scope of the literature (Stage 1) indicates that a universal precautions approach to healthcare treatment sessions can improve patient care and outcomes (mixed abundance approach).
  • Glynn will meet with her mentor and capstone instructor(s) to discuss and brainstorm this topic as a feasible capstone project option.  If approved, Glynn will begin to work on a sound question to guide her capstone experience.




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