Graduate Studies

Project Overview

What is a Project?

In many departments, graduate students have the option of producing a project instead of the traditional research thesis. A project is defined by the California State University Education Code as:

A significant undertaking appropriate to the fine and applied arts or to professional fields. It evidences originality and independent thinking, appropriate form and organization, and a rationale. It is described and summarized in a written abstract that includes the project’s significance, objectives, methodology, and a conclusion or recommendation. (Title V, Section 40510, p. 473)

Whereas a thesis is an empirical scholarly research study, a project is distinctly more creative in nature. Often, projects will be based on a compilation of comparative analysis of the works done by other researchers. Although such material provides the study with substance, culminating projects must evidence originality, critical thinking, and reflect the scholarly or artistic capability of the candidate. While requirements for various creative projects will vary, there will be certain elements common to each project.

Types of Projects

The type of project is limited only by the creativity, capability, and budget of the graduate student. The graduate advisory committee will be most concerned with the manner in which the material is researched, organized, developed, and presented. The content and format guidelines are much more flexible for a project than for a thesis. Often, as in cases where the project is a manual or handbook, the project itself is placed in the appendix, while sections in the main body of the text are tailored to introduce, justify, and validate the study or creative effort.

Organization of the Project


An abstract must be submitted as part of every project. The abstract should contain all the essential information about the project and provide the reader with an overview of the study. It should be written in complete sentences and include statements of the problem, procedure or methods, results, and conclusions. The abstract should include accomplishments, the most pertinent facts and implications of the study, and a brief explanation of the work, and should not exceed 250 words (approximately 1½ pages in length). Mathematical formulae, citations, diagrams, footnotes, illustrative materials, quotations, and acronyms may not be used in the abstract.

Because of the uniqueness of projects, the introductory sections in the main body will vary in number. The following presents some of these sections and their respective elements commonly found in master’s projects. This outline is only a recommendation and should be adapted as necessary. As a general rule, howeverprojects will contain at least some descriptive sections selected from the following:

Chapter 1

Introduction to the Project

The primary function of this initial section is to provide a comprehensive overview of the project.

Purpose of the Project
A statement of the purpose of the project explains why the project was attempted. Include personal interest as well as other identified needs that the project will help satisfy. Why is the project significant?

Scope (Description) of the Project
Define what the project is in terms of content and format. Include specific information regarding the subject matter, the intended audience, how the project is to be used, and the results or effects expected.

Significance of the Project
Explain the significance of the project in the field of study. What new dimensions or concepts have been presented? Emphasize the importance of the project in its use of techniques and specify the intended effects. If the project is designed to be informational, persuasive, or instructional, specify the effects in terms of behavioral objectives. 

Limitations of the Project
If applicable, present and discuss the content limitations with regard to resources, time, and so forth.

Definition of Terms
Define any special terms and establish standard abbreviations that will be used throughout the text. 


Review of Related Literature

This section constitutes the major research effort of the project. It provides the source material for the content and puts the present project in context of existing infor­mation in the field.

Review and cite related studies and discuss their strengths and weaknesses pertaining to the purpose of the project. Discuss the theories or techniques examined and their respective implications for the present study. Summarize the review with a synthesis of the literature identifying the various approaches and themes. This section ultimately justifies the need for the project.

Please click here for the thesis editor’s workshop on the Literature Survey and Review (PDF) (PDF).

Chapter 3


This chapter describes in depth how every aspect of the project was con­ducted, compiled, or created. It should be significantly detailed and should describe the format and technique used in presenting the material. Techniques, questionnaires, inter­views, study sites, and material used to accomplish the study should be described here.

Chapter 4


There may or may not be a results section, depending on the type of project. If there are findings to report, they should be synthesized for inclusion in this section. Material too detailed to be included in the body of the text should be presented in the appendices.

Chapter 5

Summary, Conclusions, and Recommendations

This concluding section should summarize the entire research effort. A suffi­ciently comprehensive overview should enable the intended audience to understand the entire study. At this point, it is appropriate to reacquaint the reader with the conceptual framework, the design of the investigation, the methodology, and the results of the study.

Present an overview of the previous sections and how the final project addresses issues that have been raised. Reacquaint the reader with the conceptual framework and the design of the study. This section summarizes the entire project effort.

The conclusion presented should validate both the need for the study and explain how the present study responded to that need.

Recommendations should include comments regarding content, technique, and the process of creating a master’s project of this type.

Cite references according to the department style guide, and be sure to include every source cited in the study, including material that has been adapted for use in tables and figures. 

As a rule, the project itself is placed in Appendix A. This will allow more freedom in the format of the work. In addition, material too detailed for inclusion in the body of the text may be placed in the appendices.