There are a number of steps you’ll need to take in order to complete the capstone project for your doctorate.

A man studying contents in a notebook.Are you interested in earning a doctorate? Holding a PhD or professional doctorate can help you advance your career, boost your earning potential, and achieve your personal goals. But earning a doctorate takes work. Specifically, you can’t earn a doctorate until you complete a dissertation, or, what in some programs is called, a capstone project.

If you’re asking, “What is a capstone project?” don’t worry. Many of those who want to enroll in a doctoral program aren’t familiar with what a capstone project is or what it entails. In short, it’s a major, lengthy research project you must complete in order to earn your doctorate. However, the specifics of your capstone project depend on whether you’re earning a PhD degree or professionally focused doctoral degree.

What is a PhD degree exactly and what is a professionally focused doctoral degree exactly? A PhD is an academic degree focused on original research, data analysis, and the evaluation of theories. A professional doctorate, on the other hand, is more of a practitioner-focused degree aimed at applying research to practical problems, formulating solutions to complex issues, and designing effective professional practices within your field.

For a PhD, your capstone project will be a dissertation. For a professionally focused doctorate, your capstone project will be a doctoral study, sometimes called a doctoral dissertation. While the two types of capstone projects are different in focus, they both follow the same process:

Step One: Select a Topic

During the coursework phase of your doctorate—before you officially become a PhD or doctoral candidate—you will be expected to select a topic for your capstone project. If you’ll be writing a PhD dissertation, you’ll want to ask an academic question that allows you to conduct research into an area no one in your discipline has fully explored before. If you’ll be writing a doctoral study, you’ll want to identify a real-world problem within your professional field and research it thoroughly with the intent of uncovering new understandings that can lead to new solutions.

Step Two: Recruit an Adviser and Capstone Committee

To earn your doctoral degree, a PhD or professional doctorate committee must sign off on your dissertation or doctoral study. In many instances, you will be paired up with a faculty member in your program who will act as your advisor and as your capstone committee chairperson. They will help you identify and possibly recruit the other members of the committee.

Step Three: Get Approval for Your Project

In order to ensure your topic is worthy of a dissertation or doctoral study, the capstone committee will review your topic and give you approval to continue on to the next step.

Step Four: Write and Defend a Proposal

Once you have an approved topic, you will write a dissertation proposal or doctoral study proposal. Your proposal will include a description of the unanswered question/unsolved problem you wish to research, along with a description of the methodology you plan to use in your research. Your capstone committee will review your proposal and decide whether or not you can move on to the actual dissertation or doctoral study.

Step Five: Collect Data

At its core, a capstone project is the collection and interpretation of data. It will be your job to collect that data. While the exact data you collect will depend on your topic, the data collection phase typically requires you to thoroughly review existing literature on the topic and conduct original research.

Step Six: Write Your Findings

After collecting and analyzing your data, you’ll be expected to present your findings in a written document. For many PhD and professional doctorate candidates, this document ends up being several hundred pages long. The key is to follow the approved dissertation/doctoral study format for your field and present your problem, data, analysis, and conclusions clearly.

Step Seven: Solicit Feedback

It’s highly unlikely that the first draft of your dissertation or doctoral study will be adequate. That’s why you’ll be expected to let your advisor provide feedback. Once they do, you’ll need to make revisions, which could include gathering more data and/or rewriting entire sections of your dissertation/doctoral study. In many cases, you’ll go back-and-forth with your advisor in order to perfect your work and meet all your field’s standards.

Step Eight: Defend Your Project

The final step before you earn your doctorate is to orally defend your dissertation or doctoral study in front of your capstone committee. If you’ve done excellent work and are well-prepared, the committee will approve you for your PhD or professionally focused doctoral degree.

What’s the Best Way to Earn Your Doctorate?

Earning a PhD or professionally focused doctoral degree takes a lot of work, but there’s no reason to make it more difficult than it needs to be. If you’re worried that enrolling in a doctoral program may require you to move cities or leave your current job, you should take a look at online education.

When you enroll in an online PhD program or online doctoral program, you can stay right where you are and complete the majority of your degree from home. Plus, both an online PhD and online doctoral degree program are offered on a flexible platform that lets you attend class at the time of day that works best for you. This means you can complete the coursework for your PhD or professional doctorate while you continue to work a full-time job. The best online universities even offer an all-but-dissertation track that you can enroll in if you’ve completed the coursework portion of a doctorate but still need to complete a capstone project.

A capstone project takes a lot of time and effort. But online learning can give you the conveniences you need to complete your project and earn your doctorate.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a wide number of PhD and doctoral degree programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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