Guidelines for Theses / Scholarly Projects
MURILLO METHOD: A GUIDE (Introduction) (Part I) (Part II)
The Project Document (final form)
Scholarly projects typically consist of contributions to the field in the form and may take the form of instructional materials, curricula, proposals, or extensive and detailed literature reviews, but other modes may be acceptable. Graduate students who pursue projects should demonstrate they are willing and able to direct special time and effort to complete a contribution of identified benefit. Although parts of the project format are structured, the sequence of the largest section (Report or Product) is left to the graduate student and the committee, and especially to the committee chair.
You should review any background materials that your committees might recommend. In addition many texts contain useful advice about relevant formats, components, and sequence.
The project sections outlined in this Guide should be connected. There should be a flow of information through all the components, with each section adding new details. However, you should not prepare each section in the final sequence. For example, the Abstract should be written after the Conclusion is complete, and the Title might be composed last. The following chart shows typical components of projects, as suggested by the CSUSB College of Education Guide. Keep in mind that your Chair and/or Readers may prefer varying components–they have the last word.
Copyright page (optional)
Table of Contents
List of Table (if more than one)
List of Illustrations (if more than one)
Chapter One: Front Matter
a. General Introductory Remarks
b. Significance of the Project
c. Statement of Needs
d. General Design
e. Limitations and Delimitations
g. Definition of Terms
Chapter Two: Review of Related Literature
Chapter Three: Design and Methodology
Chapter Four: Project Report or Product
Chapter Five: Conclusion and Back Matter
Program Evaluation Procedure
Components of a Scholarly Project
Descriptive titles are best. This is your reader's first impression of your work; make it as helpful as possible.
An Abstract or executive summary helps the reader get a general idea of all the information that will follow. This section should have no more than 200 words.
Table of Contents
A Table of Contents is an outline of the project, with page numbers indicated. Page numbers must be consecutive (1, 2, 3...); clustered page numbers are not acceptable (I-1, 2...II-1, 2, 3..., or A-1, 2...B-1, 2, 3...). The Contents page(s) display the major sections of your project as presented in this Guide, and any lists of illustrations, tables, figures, charts, and Appendices.
CHAPTER ONE: FRONT MATTER
Front Matter is not a section with its own narrative, but a collection of sections that have narrative or other material. It includes six important parts: General Introductory Remarks, Significance of the Project, Statement of Needs, General Design, Limitations and Delimitations, and Definitions of Terms. These sections help the reader understand what will be presented in the project, and why.
a. General Introductory Remarks
Usually a clearly written page or two will suffice for this section. Use language that can be linked to the literature review and subsequent parts of the project. The page(s) should begin with a paragraph that expresses the entirety of the project. Then provide a general background or context for the project, and a relatively complete summary of the procedure that was applied.
b. Significance of the Project
Address the social importance of the project in this section, from a broader perspective than you will use in the Statement of Needs section that follows. Why is it important to act on the issue now? How has information on it led to a point where the project will be useful now? In what ways may the project lead to important further initiatives? This is the section that will be most useful in explaining the project to interested readers. Although the work may be driven by personal enthusiasm, the Significance of the Project section should be social: community- or field-oriented.
c. Statement of Needs
This is an important section. Provide the best, most specifically detailed information you can obtain to justify project implementation. Needs may include generally accepted assumptions, treated data from the literature, or general background data. Examples of each type appear in the next paragraph. In education it is always important that student needs should be the foundation for all other efforts.
A generally accepted assumption might be that California juveniles are increasingly concerned about violence in their schools, or that community attention has emphasized issues associated with gun control. An assumption of this nature should be supported with facts, perhaps a few direct quotes from news magazines. Examples of treated data might be that 98% of sentenced California juveniles are eventually returned to the same communities from which they were removed, or that 42.5% of the aggregate incarcerated population is reported to have educational disabilities. General background data might include the following: California has embarked on an unprecedented program of prison and juvenile institution construction, but there are no State credential standards for institutional educators.
Present as much useful information as you can in this section; it will be the basis for much of the project. Be sure to inform the reader about the field of education in which you place the Needs: special education, vocational education, correctional education, etc. Many writers find it helpful to present data in tables or charts, with accompanying narrative that explains the most important attributes. You need not reduce all data to numbers; narrative charts are popular, especially to summarize changing ideas or perspectives. If you use tables or charts, make sure that each one is presented completely on a single page whenever possible. Do not ask your reader to page forward and backward to piece together material from the project. Your task is to make useful information available at a single glance.
d. General Design
This is a summary section; additional details will be presented in section 9, "Program Plan" below. For now all that is required is a narrative sketch, with one or two pages about the design and procedures you expect to implement in your project. If it will help to explain the general design, you may also present a simple display(s) of what your project is. Readers of this section should obtain a general description of your plan, sufficient to set the pace for the next section's explanation of what your project is not.
e. Limitations and Delimitations
Begin this section with a brief introduction that reminds the reader about the purpose, scope, and procedures you employed in the project. You may summarize identified Needs if it will help.
Design flaws are called Limitations and they are what you should write about under the first subheading of this section. Briefly and humbly present the flaws in your own design. The alternative, which is unacceptable, would be to leave the task of identifying flaws to others who might be more critical. Be reasonable in your approach to the limitations; nothing will be gained from a defensive or perfectionist orientation. Most projects are limited by constraints of time and resources. Were there organizational concerns that had to be overcome? Were there problems coordinating schedules or personnel? Is there a more attractive way to satisfy the Needs that is economically inappropriate or contrary to expressed community interests?
Delimitations are developed from a different perspective, under the second subheading of this section. Delimitations are how the project topic was deliberately "narrowed." As a hypothetical example, you might have originally been interested in reforming school dress codes and adopting student uniforms in public schools. Your first reader said you should do your project on either dress codes or uniforms, but not on both. As you studied the literature on student uniforms, you learned that different aspects of the issue were evident in elementary and high schools. Then you talked with your second reader and decided to focus on uniforms in elementary schools. Soon you learned that many jurisdictions were considering whether to adopt uniforms to inhibit juvenile gang activities. With the permission of your committee and an elementary school principal you narrowed the project topic to the task of implementing student uniforms at one Southern California school. This was a process of delimitation.
Graduate students can make the personal decision to study related issues at a later time that cannot be worked directly into their projects, such as dress codes. Perhaps those issues could carry over as a Ph.D. dissertation topic. In our hypothetical example, you remember one committee member's comment: "If you had kept the original topic of dress codes and uniforms in public schools, you would have made your project into a lifetime career--probably with enough work left over for your children and their children." The delimitations narrowed the topic to make it manageable. The content under the Delimitations subheading of this particular project can be summarized as follows: the project addressed only official elementary school uniform policies in a Southern California elementary school. It did not address private schools, school district policies, or student uniform adoption practices in junior, middle, or high schools.
Sometimes the Limitations and Delimitations section can be a bit tricky for beginning scholars. Limitations are design flaws that the scholar should explain honestly to readers. The Delimitations part should not be a catalogue of each and every personal decision that resulted in your more manageable project. Instead, Delimitations need only be a paragraph that clearly states what was not addressed. If in doubt, consult your committee.
Assumptions are another strategy to narrow or delimit the scope of the project by expressing accepted ideas forthrightly. For example, one might assume that human beings are capable of learning from their mistakes, or that courses on educational methods help improve the quality of instruction. Make sure your Assumptions are stated with clarity--preferably in a single sentence each--and that they avoid controversy. In this section you will identify assumed concepts that do not need to be justified because they are commonly accepted. As a result, the work required for project completion will be reduced.
This section may be presented in a numbered roster or list format, with complete sentences. It should begin with words similar to "The following assumptions apply for this project..."
Use the Assumptions section to address the theoretical bases of the project. For example, include information about the philosophical foundations, ideological implications of the teaching-learning process, or teaching strategies that support your project. Be sure to reference theorists or contributors that expressed the relevant ideas concisely or persuasively. This information will help your committee decide whether the decisions you made in planning and implementing your project were grounded in theory and research. Is the project consistent with the concepts outlined in the Assumptions? Is it supported with research from the related fields of education, and from the social or behavioral sciences? Spend enough time on this relatively brief section to be certain that the principles articulated here can be applied throughout the other sections of the document.
g. Definitions of Terms
Define any terms that may be new to readers who are unschooled in the area of your project. Include relevant abbreviations and acronyms only if they are absolutely necessary--it is usually best to write out the entire word or phrase. If you must use abbreviations or acronyms limit them to no more than two or three, and always write out the full term the first time it is used, followed immediately by the shortened version in a parenthetic note. If legal definitions have affected the field, use definitions from the statutes or regulations, or include a brief justification about why different definitions were applied.
Definitions should be operationalized, or presented in behavioral terms. For example, "correctional school district" might be operationalized as "a prison education service delivery organization that is recognized by the state education agency as possessing all the rights and obligations of a local education agency." Operationalizing allows one to identify precisely when the definition applies.
Always introduce this section with words similar to "For this project, the following definitions apply..." This is because your operationalized definitions may differ from commonly accepted definitions of the same terms. Each definition should be a complete sentence, with the defined term underlined or in bold print or upper case; you need not always make the defined term the first word in the sentence; do not use colons. The definition from the last paragraph might appear as follows:
"1. A correctional school district exists wherever a prison education service delivery organization is recognized by the state education agency as possessing all the rights and obligations of a local education agency."
CHAPTER TWO: REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE
This section outlines what you learned from previous contributors to the field. It brings the researcher and the reader up to date on what others did relevant to the topic. The Review of Related Literature section can help address the questions "How unique is this project?" "Is it a logical expansion of previous work?" and "Has this already been done?"
Identify gaps in the literature that support or justify the current project. If you are unable to identify primary and secondary sources that address the topic of your project precisely, use sources that address the general topic or its attributes--the "related" literature.
Develop this section according to the natural divisions or subheadings that you find in the literature: trends in the field, schools of thought, patterns of implementation, clusters of elements, or chronological review of the most important studies (early, recent). Organize headings and subheadings to represent these various divisions. If your narrative goes on without natural divisions, the reader may think it rambles.
The literature review should imply reasons why and how the problem should be addressed. Although it is not absolutely required, good form suggests page references should be included within the parenthetic internal citations. This procedure will help subsequent scholars follow in your footsteps, and facilitate practical applications of your project report. Footnotes are not needed in the required American Psychological Association style as it is implemented by the CSUSB College of Education.
A useful literature review is much more than old quotes arranged in a new sequence, or an unconnected summary of previous contributions to the field, presented in a uniform manner. Typically, three or four contributions are especially useful, and the writer compares and contrasts them in the literature review. Other contributions are addressed in a summary fashion, sometimes in a word table or narrative chart that displays their major attributes. The last part of this section often consists of an interpretation of the state of the field in relation to the current project.
Use a concise, summary style in your own words, peppered with paraphrased material, important references, and a few quotes. Write unambiguously; demonstrate a mastery of grammar and spelling; avoid shifts in tense and subject-verb agreement. Readers may be distracted by accidental rhymes, cliches, long embellishments, idiosyncracies, or poetic expressions. Use plain language whenever possible, and write the entire Review of Related Literature section in the past tense, except for quotations (which cannot be adjusted). Use plurals such as "they" or "students" to avoid "he" or "she," or "she/he;" write in the third person--first person should be avoided. If you quote an author who uses special emphasis (underlined phrases, etc.), add the following phrase within the internal citation: emphasis in original.
There is no reason to include actual articles or copies of material that you read, either in the literature review or in an Appendix. Unless a special agreement exists between your committee and yourself, only your summary of the related literature will be needed for the project.
CHAPTER THREE: DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY
The Design and Methodology heading merely announces a major component of the project. No narrative is expected between this heading and the major section that follows, the Program Plan.
This section contains a goal(s), objectives, titles, strategies, and measures. A goal is a purpose or mission statement. It expresses an aspiration for student learning or program improvement, or both, in a single statement. Goals are never really attained. Instead, we make progress toward their attainment. An example of a goal might be "To help Sanderson School students learn by improving staff morale through professional development activities."
Objectives, on the other hand, are explicit statements of concrete expectations. Each objective should pass Ryan's "SPAMO" test: it should be specific, pertinent, attainable, measurable, and observable. Write your objectives in behavioral terms. An example of an objective might be "To develop and pilot the Sanderson School teacher in service needs assessment survey so the final draft can be implemented this academic year." Your Program Plan may have several objectives. Usually goals and objectives begin with the word "To." They are merely statements, but they are constructed to appear like complete sentences.
Scholars are advised to let the entire project develop logically from carefully identified and developed Needs. Goals and objectives are said to "cascade down" from well crafted Needs.
Titles are very concise phrases that summarize the entirety of the objective in a few words, usually two to five. An example of a title that builds from the previous objective follows: Teacher In-service Survey.
Strategies and measures help to structure your project. Strategies are activities that can be pursued to accomplish discrete objectives. An example of a strategy might be "Teachers will dialogue to establish survey parameters and questions."
Measures are criteria that will demonstrate whether the objectives were actually attained, with the anticipated date of projected attainment (usually by month). An example of a measure would be "The survey report will be disseminated to Sanderson School and central office personnel before the end of December."
Program Plan components--goal(s), objectives, titles, strategies, and measures--should not be developed separately, in separate sections that will confound the reader. Instead, they should be integrated into a coherent Program Plan narrative. It would be a mistake to cluster the components, to put all the objectives together, followed by all the titles, and then all the objectives. That sequence would only alienate your readers, because they would have to leaf forward and backward to make sense of your plan. The following hypothetical Program Plan segments are presented in a framework that will allow you to introduce the components in a logical, user friendly way.
Goal 1: To help students learn by improving staff...
Objective 1: To establish a staff development academy...
Title: Staff Development
Strategy: (1) Hire qualified personnel director...
Measure: The report will be submitted by...
Objective 2: To reward faculty who participate...
Title: Salary Increment Plan
Strategy: (1) Obtain budget expansion consistent with...
Measure: The salary increment plan will be in effect...
Goal 2: To extend student time on task in academic...
Objective 3: Hire a cadre of substitute teachers...
These components enhance the usefulness of the project. They are the standards by which the work will be conceptualized, implemented, and monitored. The titles can become headings for discussion of projected implementation schedules for each objective (see Calendar section below). The measures will be used in the Program Evaluation section.
Anyone who can write a lesson plan can probably write a Program Plan. The plan rests on identified Needs, and forms the schema or framework on which the remainder of the project is constructed. Within this section, goals express program improvement aspirations. They are very global. Objectives identify particular initiatives that will be implemented to help attain the goal(s). Strategies are specific activities that will bring the objectives to fruition. Measures are precise criteria to demonstrate how the objectives will be attained. Measures are based on the "show me" approach, and usually answer the questions "when?" and "exactly how will we know it is attained?" They often result in a paper trail that demonstrates that progress is being realized. In sum, the Program Plan articulates clearly what the project is. By contrast, the next section begins the actual "winding down" of the project, by presenting the summative report of all relevant activities.
CHAPTER FOUR: PROJECT REPORT OR PRODUCT
The format of this section is individualized and will be established by you and your committee. Projects may include narrative, computer software, curriculum development initiatives, portfolios, art work, video presentations, craft work, collections of scholarly papers, handbooks, or illustrative artifacts.
Stay in touch with your first reader periodically, and get in the habit of reporting on the project work as you move through the process, answering questions, preparing special summaries upon request, rearranging material to meet unfolding needs, and summarizing problems and progress. One of your tasks is to let your committee know how the project initiative is helping you mature and develop--to dedicate and discipline your mind for current and subsequent work--and to demonstrate this development to others. Do your best. Both analysis and synthesis are expected from a scholar. This is reflective, as well as an active work. Take the project to the highest threshold of which you are capable during this period of your professional life.
CHAPTER FIVE: CONCLUSION AND BACKMATTER
As in all conclusions, limit your discussion to a summary or perhaps a modest extension of information that was presented earlier in the project. Use this section to articulate your main points with clarity, to reiterate and perhaps resequence key information, and to bringing your project to its natural end.
Like the Front Matter, the Back Matter is not a specific narrative. Instead, it is a collection of sections that are developed through narrative: Conclusion, Calendar, Program Evaluation, and Recommendations.
This is a graphic time line, chart, or narrative that displays the planned sequence of objectives attainment. The Calendar is arranged chronologically; it may therefore diverge from the sequence of the Program Plan (which was presented according to the goals under which the objectives appeared). Use the titles from the Program Plan as convenient references or headings to represent the objectives. The titles are shorter and easier to manipulate than the full objectives. Include the monthly dates for accomplishment, as they appeared in the associated measures.
Program Evaluation Procedure
This section builds on the measures that were established for each objective. The Program Evaluation presents a plan for determining whether the Program Plan was implemented as written. This is done by checking on the criteria for adequacy that were described in the various measures. The Program Evaluation section is not usually long.
A good Program Evaluation has formative and summative components, utilizing the services of both staff that are close to the project and outside experts. Typically, "in-house" staff implement the formative evaluation, and outside experts implement the summative evaluation. Formative procedures are implemented while Program Plan activities are still unfolding, often with recommendations that can result in mid-stream modifications. Summative procedures are implemented after the project results or products have been collected, treated, and reported. Summative evaluation can result in continuation, modification, or termination of the activity. Summative recommendations often appear as Needs for the next period of implementation (usually the next fiscal period, after your project is completed).
Reference the name of the Program Evaluation model that will apply in this section, and provide a brief narrative about its perceived advantages and disadvantages for this project. The names of the most popular models follow: decision-oriented, objectives-based, Discrepancy Evaluation Model (DEM), evaluability assessment, and naturalistic evaluation. Scholars should beware: each model represents an ideology, and contains subtle assumptions and emphases. For example, the decision-oriented model assumes that educational decision-makers are able and willing to prioritize student learning needs over other identified needs (those of their own careers, program or community needs, and so forth). It de-emphasizes the role of classroom teachers. At the other extreme, the evaluability assessment procedure assumes that field-based practitioners (usually teachers) are in the best position to interpret program activities. It de-emphasizes the role of supervisors and administrators. Procedures associated with some of the most popular models can be found in texts.
Although an important project task is to articulate a meaningful Program Evaluation plan, it is not required that the graduate scholar implement that plan or oversee its implementation. Instead, the Program Evaluation section may be prepared to demonstrate that the scholar has a vision and an plan for transforming that vision into a reality--complete with a program monitoring and improvement capability.
This section consists of notes about initiatives that might build on your project, for scholars and decision-makers who follow in your footsteps. What policy or program changes can be suggested? What steps might subsequent scholars pursue if they want to build on the foundation you established in your project? Be responsible and comprehensive. After a concise narrative, a short list of tasks with explanations may suffice, written in complete sentences.
Use this section as a "catch all" for anything you think is important but was too long to appear in the ongoing narrative. Interview transcripts, illustrations, catalogued artifacts, and anything else you choose to include in your report can be appended. Many writers use Appendices for long supportive materials that would otherwise interrupt the flow of the project, and for very long quotes, letters of support or permission, lengthy tables, annotated lists of important secondary sources, and so forth. If you have an Appendix, negotiate its contents with your committee. Make sure it appears in the Contents and is introduced or referenced in the Project Report or Product section. Each Appendix is labeled by an upper case letter: Appendix A, Appendix B, etc.
Always reference sources you discussed or used in your Statement of Needs, Review of Literature, Report or Product, and any other sections of the project, according to American Psychological Association procedures. Avoid referencing sources you did not actually discuss or use in the project; it is not permissible to "pad" your References section. Never cite abstracts or data reference services in the References section.
Note: The sequence of the Appendices and References differs in the APA Manual and in the College of Education. The sequence presented in the CSUSB College of Education Guide (Appendices, References) is the one that should be used in graduate projects.
SUMMARY OF THE SCHOLARLY PROJECT FORMAT
A project should be written carefully. Its purpose is to improve the world through specific program
development or an initiative based on identified need(s). The project submission is an assessment of needs, a chronicle, and
a "paper trail" that documents what was done and why. Each section has a function, and there should be a logical flow of information between and among the sections. Writers should consider the needs and interests of prospective readers as they prepare their reports. The minimally structured official project format demands that scholars pursue ongoing communication and periodic liaison with their committees. For most projects, feedback processes and multiple drafts are required. A scholar's credibility will be measured, to a very large extent, by what is committed to paper.