The Final Project

Your ENG 675 project represents the culmination of your work in the MS program in Technical Communication. It should not only solve a communication problem for someone--maybe even a problem that nobody knew existed--but also demonstrate to the faculty the best work you are capable of and how you can apply academic knowledge to practical problems as a "reflective practitioner."

Projects for this course basically divide into two kinds (these are not meant to be exclusive or all-inclusive categories; sometimes they overlap or the division simply breaks down):

  1. Your project may be a practical communication product designed for use in the workplace or elsewhere by some specified audience or user group and meant to institute a procedure or solve a specific problem or set of related problems. The problem may be already exist or may represent a fresh insight and/or new initiative on your part.

  2. Your project may be a research-oriented article intended for publication in a journal or other publication appropriate for the topic, and will need to be fully adapted to subject matter, specs, and style of the specific journal you have chosen to target. The article may be based on research you have done or will do, but should represent a reasonable next step or contribution to the field represented by the publication.

The contents of a research-oriented project might consist of:

  • a qualitative or quantitative analysis
  • an experimental research project or proposal
  • a case study
  • a usability study

The contents of a workplace-oriented project might consist, in addition to any of the above, of the writing, design, and production of an online or print document such as:

  • a website
  • a help system
  • a procedures manual
  • a technical report
  • a protocol

(See Sample Projects on the homepage for a few examples.) In either case, you should have sufficient background and knowledge to produce a professional-quality deliverable and to explain and justify from theoretical as well as practical standpoints the decisions you made in producing it.

Generally speaking, projects may grow out of work experience, coursework, or a new interest. Your project may be your own creation or related to your work with others in an organization. It may be a substantial revision of an existing document (electronic or hardcopy) that will produce specific improvements or benefits, or represent an advance in existing procedures or current knowledge. It may be an adequate series of justifiable small products that constitute a coordinated series or campaign. Or, it may be something else entirely. As noted below, the MS faculty will evaluate the suitability of your proposed project for this capstone course.

Contexts and Audiences

While the project can be and often is thought of as roughly "equal to" a very large term paper in terms of it's ambition and scope, in all cases the project for this course must be consciously and carefully developed within a well-defined and clearly articulated rhetorical context (even if only for us/you, i.e., in your proposal, and at your defense, in which the MS faculty is the intended audience). In almost all cases, the "real context" for your project, and thus the "real audience" for it, exists outside the course, outside the MS program, and often outside the university.

This is an important point that is sometimes confusing to 675 students. The MS faculty is the "immediate audience" for your project: we receive it, review it, and evaluate it. But the MS faculty is ultimately not the "primary" or "intended" audience for your project, which likely will be a particular supervisor and/or part of an organization, or a journal editor and/or its readership. Thus, the MS faculty review and evaluate your project not only in terms of academic standards (the concepts, methods, and materials you have learned in the program, as well as writing and design skills), but also in terms of how well your project is adapted to and meets the needs of a real situation/audience. (There may be important "secondary audiences" as well.) As it is in all communication, audience adaptation is one of the major pedagogical goals of the course!

In this guise, the MS faculty ensures QA, and in effect becomes quality control managers. The same issue applies to the defense of your project, except there, as with your project proposal, the MS faculty is the primary or intended audience of your oral presentation, in which you explain your project and justify decisions you have made. In your defense you will talk about and defend your project in all its contexts.

Role of the Faculty

The MS faculty has the responsibility of approving the proposal for each project, attending the oral defense at the end of the semester, and determining whether the student passes ENG 675. The ENG 675 instructor will assign one to two faculty members to each student as project "consultants"; they will review project drafts in detail during the semester and serve as the primary questioners during the defense. ("Affiliated MS faculty," or other faculty members inside or outside the Department of English, may serve as consultants when appropriate and approved by the ENG 675 instructor.)

You should plan to meet with your consultant(s) several times during the semester to

  1. make sure you understand their expectations

  2. help resolve any differences of opinion about your work

  3. help you stay on track for completing an acceptable project

It is not the responsibility of any faculty member to find a project topic for you, although faculty may be able to make suggestions to help you find one. It is not the responsibility of any faculty member to participate in or do the work of the project, but only to advise.

The instructor of ENG 675 serves as coach, coordinator, and first reviewer of your work. He/she will direct you to appropriate faculty, review drafts, work with you on oral presentations, and guide you along a rigorous schedule of milestones to what we hope will be the successful completion of the project, the oral defense, the course, and the MS Program. Since the decision about your success in this course is made by the entire MS faculty, no comments made by the ENG 675 instructor during class or conferences can be construed as any guarantee of success.

Schedule and Deliverables

Since you must produce and defend a major project in the course of the semester, the focus of the entire course will be on the production and defense of those projects. ENG 675 will proceed in stages, as outlined below:

Class Sessions

Class sessions will often be conducted as workshops in which the entire class will:

  • discuss progress on and problems with projects
  • share strategies for working with faculty consultants, researching, and writing/revising
  • develop, practice, and troubleshoot oral presentations of the project
  • anticipate and answer potential defense questions

In addition, the ENG 675 instructor will be available for individual consultations when needed.

Submission of Drafts for Review and Consultation

The work that you do on the project is under the direction of your consultants and the 675 instructor. At two scheduled times during the semester, you will deliver a draft both to the 675 instructor  and then to your consultant(s) for review. Whenever you submit a draft to the 675 instructor and the consultants, you must use the following formula for both the subject line of the email and the name of the file you send:

Your last name_675draft-X.doc, where X is the draft number. (i.e., draft-1, draft-2, draft-3). This formula greatly facilitates the review process by helping us identify your work and find it later on our hard drives. Submissions not following this formula will be returned to you unread.

Final Draft for Defense

You must have a complete draft of your deliverable to your faculty consultant(s) one week before your scheduled defense date at the end of the semester. Students who do not deliver their complete draft to their faculty consultant(s) one week before their scheduled defense may not be able to defend their project, in which case the pass/fail policy for ENG 675 applies.

For a sample of final projects, please see Professor Covington's page.

Oral Defense

Length: 20 minutes + 10 minutes for questions

The Audience for the Defense

The audience for the defense is not the same as the audience for your deliverable. The audience for the deliverable consists of the people whose lives you have improved by doing your project. The audience for the defense will be sitting right in front of you!

So you want to talk to the audience in front of you about the other audience. The audience for the defense will include the MS faculty, ENG 675 students, other MS students, MS alumni, and any friends and relations you care to invite.

Note: The ENG 675 instructor submits your course grade after your capstone advisor approves your project and after you've completed your capstone presentation and submitted your project electronically to the Graduate Services Coordinator for record keeping purposes.