The curriculum of DePaul’s School for New Learning requires SNL students to complete an “Advanced Project,” similar to a capstone or thesis project that concludes your academic journey. And it’s also true that completing the Advanced Project (or AP) has become something of a rite of passage not only for SNL students, but the Writing Center tutors who often help them. The AP is a big deal, and it can be a challenge at first to wrap your head around it.
Recently I got to sit in on an Advanced Project Forum hosted by the UCWbL’s Writing Groups initiative. If you’re an SNL student, or even if you’re a tutor who finds yourself working on AP’s often, I definitely encourage you drop by one of the forums. Here are 9 things I picked up that can make the difference between a strong project and a struggling one.
1. Go with what interests you
These are big projects, and it’s likely you’ll spend a lot of time reading and writing about your topic. For the sake of your own sanity, but also for a better end-product, make sure your topic is interesting to you. Don’t just go with something because you think it’ll sound good or it seems challenging (or easy for that matter). Choose a topic that genuinely captures your passions.
2. Think about your argument
You’re not here to inform your readers about something. I’ve worked with writers in the past who struggled with this point: for instance, one student who worked in IT chose Oracle as her topic and began researching the software’s history–something that is difficult to argue about, because the history is what it is. But the AP is meant to have a practical component–and it needs to take a position on something, too. So I recommended she think about new ways to train administrators in using Oracle, and find support for why her training regimen was an improvement on the old way of doing things.
3. Start with a question
If you’re having trouble formulating an argument, then start with a research question. Suppose your topic is child nutrition, and you plan on creating a brochure for low-income mothers. Even if you don’t know enough yet to make an argument, you can guide your research with a question like, “Do certain foods affect a child’s mood?” or “What are the effects of processed food on child development?” The question helps your research from spanning out too broadly.
4. Think about lenghth
How much time will your research take? How long will your paper be? The answer to both of these questions is easier than you might think: as long as is necessary. Envisioning the length of your project is a good way to begin planning, as it helps you visualize the parts and pieces and where they belong.
5. Talk to your faculty advisor early and often
Don’t hesitate on this one. You want to make sure your research is staying on the right track from beginning to end. If you delay meeting with your faculty advisor, you might sabotage yourself down the line and waste precious time. Make a plan with your advisor and stick to it. Scheduling regular check-ups will give your project specific mile-markers, encouraging you to stay apace with your timeline.
6. Construct the competence statement
Speaking of mile-markers, this is where your competence statement fits in. The competence statement is part of the Advanced Project Proposal & Contract and the point is to give your readers a clear idea about what your research question (or if you have one, your thesis) will be. The learning outcomes that you list are the goals you hope to achieve with your project: what do you hope to understand about your topic by the time you’ve finished? Remember, well-designed goals are specific, measurable, and action-oriented. Successful students use these learning goals to brainstorm possible directions for their research.
7. Don’t sweat the small stuff… yet
In the early stages of your AP, you might be tempted to try to make every sentence in your introduction perfect, to get the grammar and punctuation down pat. But we at the UCWbL would argue against this approach: if it’s been a while since you’ve written a paper of this size, then you don’t want to put too much pressure on yourself. When we say writing is a recursive process, we mean it’s fine to be messy at first and revise what you have later. Focus on getting the larger chunks of writing out first, and then, once you have them, begin the process of putting them together in a sensible way. Make an appointment with a Writing Center tutor to piece together the AP’s flow.
8. It’s all about database-driven research
If you’re cruising around on Google for most of your resources, then your research is heading toward trouble. The AP is meant to get you familiar with scholarly voices in your field, and a haphazard Internet search isn’t going to get you very far. You should meet with DePaul’s research librarians, who can help you pinpoint the databases, academic journals, and peer-reviewed articles that will be most appropriate for your AP’s topic.
9. Think about your artifact
I think one of the coolest things about the AP is that students are required to produce an “artifact,” that is, something concrete that represents a practical application of the research they’ve done. For example, one student I worked with researched age-based discrimination in the workplace. For her artifact, she decided to create an informational pamphlet about the legal rights of older workers to distribute at community centers and employment offices, so that possible victims of discrimination could know their protections under the law. Pretty cool, right? Whatever your artifact is, it should be something representing your research in action.
10. Familiarize yourself with the sample Advanced Projects
The SNL website has handpicked sample Advanced Projects for you to peruse. If you’re in need of some inspiration before you get started, then make sure you spend some time reading through these award-winning works.