Master of Health Administration (MHA) Resources: MHA 698: Applied Health Administration Capstone Project

This guide is a collection of library-related resources relevant to the MHA program. URL:

Capstone Project Guide

This guidebook has been provided as a tool to help you 1) understand what is required, 2) to offer examples of Capstone structure and content, 3) indicate key milestones to achieve, and 4) clarify the role of your Capstone advisor and members of your Capstone committee. As such, you are encouraged to familiarize yourself with the contents of this manual and follow the guidance provided. Even though your Capstone advisor will work closely with you throughout the process, an effort has been made, via this guidebook, to answer typical questions and clarify how to traverse the applied graduate Capstone requirements.

As a note of encouragement, please consider that the process of designing, executing, analyzing, and communicating your Capstone study is much more than a challenging graduation requirement. Instead, it is a guided opportunity to practice a collection of administrative skills that you will encounter daily throughout your health administration career. In this sense, a Capstone is a problem-solving exercise very much like problem-solving approaches used in today’s healthcare facilities.

The MHA Capstone process is also first-hand exposure to an experiential template very much like the requirements of a doctoral dissertation. For those of you desiring to pursue a doctoral degree, this graduate applied Capstone is an excellent “dress rehearsal” for a dissertation capstone. You will be surprised and pleased with how well prepared you are should you encounter a dissertation requirement later in your academic endeavors.

One final appeal to consider. Significant attention in this manual is given to APA style requirements and writing standards. In many ways, the ultimate Capstone outcome is a written product. Thus, the quality of writing is a very important evaluative factor. Equally so, a strong professional writing skill is a proven health administration career success attribute. As a result, you are urged to use the Capstone as an opportunity to strengthen this administrative quality. As you prepare your proposal and Capstone draft, please be conscientious about grammar, spelling, punctuation, proof reading, sentence structure, paragraph development, argument logic, and readability.  

Sincere wishes for your success.

MHA Program Director
Central Michigan University

May 23, 2018

At this point, all course work and related assignments have been successfully completed. Thus, the final graduation requirement in the form of a health administration Capstone needs to be fulfilled. Through the Capstone one is asked to demonstrate that he/she can conduct a research project largely independently, yet in consultation with one’s Capstone Advisor.

The Capstone is to have the qualities of being conducted independently; is original in nature; is a rigorous study; and has the potential to advance the profession of healthcare administration. The following table provides a definition for each expected attribute of one’s graduate Capstone endeavor.

Capstone Attribute Definition



Research is designed, carried out, and documented primarily by the MHA student, yet in consultation with the Capstone.

Project Management;
Analytical Thinking


Refers to the uniqueness and creativity of the research, which distinguishes it from a replicated study. It does not simply reproduce what someone has already done or discovered

It is not an applied work project nor a coursework term paper.

Innovative Thinking;
Analytical Thinking


The research is accurate, thorough, complete, precise, exact, logical, and honest. The research purpose and question is worthy of research. The literature review is comprehensive and supports the purpose. Underlying assumptions are identified precisely. Research methodology is supported and relevant. Findings are exact whether research is qualitative or quantitative. Results can be verified and applied. Makes logical conclusions. Limitations and biases are identified and dealt with honestly. Is applicable.

Analytical Thinking


Contributes to the field of healthcare leadership, management, delivery of service, health policy, global health or administration.

Creates new knowledge that has potential to improve policy, systems, operations, procedures, or practice.

Professionalism; Performance Measurement; Communication Skills

The Capstone provides an opportunity for you to develop your ability to undertake research on an issue which confronts senior healthcare administrators. As a result of completing your Capstone project, you will be enabled to:

  1. Conduct applied research in the field of healthcare administration.
  2. Analyze administrative issues and problems critically and creatively.
  3. Identify and use primary scholarly research sources to generate research questions to examine a profession administrative work-related problem.
  4. Apply quantitative and/or qualitative research methods to examine a professional work-related problem.
  5. Develop research findings and make recommendations based on literature and data analysis.
  6. Effectively present findings and recommendations to solve or improve upon professional work-related problems.
  7. Present and defend your research when it come under scholarly and/or professional scrutiny.


The information in this section is considered the best starting points for moving forward with your Capstone. There are two key questions that you will need to answer – decisions that form a foundation for upon which you will build and complete your Capstone study. Question 1 is – “What is your research question?” Once you’ve answered Question 1, Question 2 becomes – “What methodological approach will you use?” These are two essential questions that you will need to review with your Capstone Advisor before you prepare your proposal

Research Question – “What is Your Research Question?” 
Once formulated, your research question is an essential guide for the rest of your capstone project. In ways, it is the question that your research is designed to answer. Most health administration situations or issues involve a number of variables that are interacting with each other to produce the process or issue of interest. The Innovative Thinking that occurs during your literature review research will stimulate ideas about your topic of interest. In turn, these ideas will enable you to begin asking questions about the behaviors of variables – questions that prompt a decision, e.g., “This is what I want to research!”  

Accepted Capstone Research Approaches 1, 2 
A valuable feature of the capstone research project is the guided freedom to a) concentrate on a topic of interest and b) select from a “menu” of research approaches. This section provides a summary of research approaches to consider in support of your need to build an appropriate method section in your proposal. 

Students will not conduct human subjects research. 

Strictly speaking, there is no one required methodology that you are expected to use. Instead, the critical thinking decision regarding methodology is determined by an answer to a question such as, “How do you believe your variables relate?” or “What do you want to determine about the variables in your study?” That is, once you know what you want to know about your study’s variable(s), you will have a clear idea about the type of methodology is needed.  

To that end, the following approaches are presented in terms of the key steps involved and a general summary of the methodology:  

1. Hypothesis Testing

a. Formulation of the hypothesis
b. Research design

c. Operational definitions and data
d. Statistical methods
e. Findings
f. Discussion and conclusions
g. Significance 

Hypotheses are formal statements about the relationship of two or more variables, events, or concepts. They are expressed in the form of conditional statements such as: “If X increases, then Y will decrease, other things being equal.” To test hypotheses, the terms (such as X and Y) must be clearly defined and measurable. Data must be systematically collected and analyzed. Statistical analyses are then typically performed to help decide whether expected relationships are supported by the data. The techniques of inferential statistics may be used to draw conclusions about a population on the basis of data from a carefully selected sample. 
2. Cost/Benefit Analysis, Effective Performance 

a. Alternatives
b. Accounting perspective
c. Identification of benefits and costs, including direct/indirect, tangible/intangible, programmatic, opportunity, etc.
d. Measurement of the above
e. Valuation of benefits and costs
f. Discounting
g. Consideration of equity
h. Decision criteria
i. Choice
j. Treatment of uncertainty 

A formal cost-benefit analysis is the evaluation of a program, project, treatment, or other course of action in terms of the relationship between its costs or the resources it consumes, and the outputs or benefits it produces. These costs and benefits are typically translated into dollar values. This allows for the comparison and ranking of alternatives on the basis of economic efficiency criteria. Such an analysis may be prospective: undertaken before an investment decision is made, based on estimates of anticipated costs and benefits, and thus useful in making future decisions about resource allocation. Or the analysis may be retrospective: undertaken after a program has been implemented, based on empirical data on actual program operations and impacts, and thus useful as a type of impact evaluation.  
Cost-effectiveness analysis is used for comparing the productivity of alternative courses of action having similar objectives. In this approach, costs and benefits are quantified in commensurable terms, but only the costs are assigned monetary values. Benefits are expressed in terms of efficacy in correcting a given problem or reaching specified goals. This allows for the comparison and ranking of alternatives in terms of their costs of reaching given goals, or in terms of their costs for different levels of goal achievement. The assumptions and procedures for measuring costs in this approach are the same as those used in cost-benefit analyses. 
3. Feasibility Study

a. Assumptions
b. Business history and future
c. Demand for product or service
d. Market
e. Management
f. Financial information, including supplies balance sheet, income statement, loan conditions, cash flow information, estimated sales, operating expenses, taxes, ROI, etc.
g. Appendices, including product description, maps, land, appraisals, building estimates, sampling techniques, etc. 

The feasibility study also includes much thoughtful introspection. The internal functional analyses need to cover management, marketing, and finance. The management analysis should include the strategic management plan and how it will be implemented. The marketing analysis includes product identification, pricing, distribution, and promotion along with the firm’s position in the marketplace. The financial analysis covers startup of the business and maintaining viability. The researcher must estimate the monthly and annual cost structure along with developing a revenue schedule. This may be analyzed using a “best case scenario,” “worst case scenario,” and “most likely case scenario” approach. A five-year pro forma income statement, balance sheet, and monthly cash flow statement should be developed for each year. If stock is involved, the compensation for major stockholders is to be discussed. There also needs to be discussion of the feasibility of the business including the probability of success and possible threats and opportunities. 
4. Policy Analysis

a. Definition of problem or opportunity
b. Previous responses
c. Criteria for choice  
d. Description of alternatives, to include capital and human resources, organizational activities, size, sponsorship, time to implement, etc.
e. Consequences of alternatives
f. Evaluation of alternatives, including political feasibility in areas of institutional factors, interest group factors, and potential factors
g. Choice 

A policy analysis specifies, and provides evidence for, the pros and cons of various options facing policymakers. It involves drawing together and evaluating facts and informed judgment regarding the causes and consequences of alternative strategies for dealing with a specific problem or opportunity in the delivery of human services. The focus may be on private or public policy. Previously-considered options may be compared, or one or more new options or new combinations of options may be formulated and included in the analysis. 
5. Program Design

a. Program or setting
b. Needs assessment
c. Objectives
d. Target population
e. Design specifications, including frequency, duration, and form of activities or services, personnel, equipment, location and structure of delivery sites, time-frame for implementation, coordination with other programs, lessons learned from similar programs elsewhere, design materials (charts, procedural manuals, lesson plans, catalogues, job descriptions, forms, detailed budgets, etc.)
f. Sources of required resources
g. Program benefits/costs
h. Financial feasibility
i. Political feasibility
j. Monitoring and evaluation plan 

A program design is a detailed plan for a human services delivery program, accompanied by arguments supporting implementation of the program by a particular organization. The proposal may be for a significant extension or modification of an existing program, the adoption of a program as it has been in operation elsewhere, or an original creation that calls for a new approach or a new combination of familiar elements. The design should be specific to an actual site; real data should be used, and the advocacy should be directed to an identified audience. At the same time, the design should be a vehicle for demonstrating administrative knowledge and skills applicable in various settings. 
6. Operations Research

a. Problem definition
b. Model construction
c. Model validation
d. Data collection
e. Model testing and analysis
f. Evaluation of alternatives and recommendations 

Operations research (OR) is a method of problem solving involving the use of mathematical and/or computer-based models to evaluate or predict the consequences of alternative courses of action on an operating system. OR techniques can be applied to certain well-structured decision situations in the planning and administration of health services, including cost minimization and output maximization problems, simulation exercises, scheduling and inventory control questions, and much more. 
7. Program Evaluation

a. Statement of Purpose
b. Description of Program Inputs 
c. Description of Program Activities 
d. Performance Criteria
e. Operational Indicators
f. Research Design and Data Analysis
g. Conclusions and Recommendations  

A program evaluation, or evaluation research, is the use of systematic methods of empirical investigation to produce information useful for making a judgment about a program’s worth or performance, according to specified criteria. It may be an investigation of how and why a program operates as it does, and/or the measurement of the extent to which it has achieved certain objectives or has had certain other outcomes, and at what costs. It may include recommendations about the continuation, modification, or termination of the program.

Building a Capstone Proposal 

Once you’ve formulated a research question and identified the requisite methodology, the next step is preparing a proposal. An essential feature of completing a capstone research project is building and submitting a proposal. The proposal is one step in which you demonstrate an ability to use critical thinking, professional writing, and APA formatting to communicate the purpose and methodology of your intended study. The study’s proposal is to contain the following elements:

  • Title Page
  • Table of Contents
  • Chapter 1: Definition of the Problem
  • Chapter 2: Literature Review
  • Chapter 3: Methodology
  • References
  • Appendices 

Even though this structure seems detailed for a proposal, keep in mind that all these elements will migrate into your final capstone paper. That is, your proposal efforts will be used as you build your final paper. Each proposal element is defined and clarified as follows: 

Title Page. The title page contains the following essential information: title of the proposal project, name of the student, date of submission, and the instructor’s name. The title should be brief, but descriptive and suggest the project’s purpose. An example of a title page is given in Appendix A - The Research Proposal. 

Table of Contents. The table of contents shows the location of all the structural elements of the report, that is, the location of chapter headings and major topics within chapters, the references and various appendices. If a section continues for a number of pages, only the initial page is given. An example of the Table of Contents is found in the Appendix A – The Research Proposal.

Chapter 1: Definition of the Problem. The administrative problem, its organizational context and its significance should be described. The problem statement is a description of the organizational problem or issue the student is studying. Generally, it is accepted that if the researcher cannot state the issue or problem clearly and succinctly, she or he does not understand what she or he is attempting to study. It provides fundamental direction to the project. Chapter 1 focuses on WHAT is to be researched.

Chapter 2: Literature Review. The proposal should contain all major research studies that are relevant to the student’s research question(s). Literature that can be used falls into three categories. One is information from published articles in academic and trade journals and from books. Most issues are not totally new and other managers have encountered and coped with them. The published literature gives their experiences and prevents duplication of effort. Another source is the organization’s formal and informal written documentation. This includes policy and procedures manuals and the correspondence and various papers which, in one form or another, set the norms, policies and practices of the organization. A third source, which should be used sparingly, is preliminary interviews with experts on the topic.

Chapter 3: Methodology. The methodology chapter addresses how the researcher will study the problem that has been identified. Organize this chapter in a logical manner. The chapter includes, as a minimum, the research approach, procedures, decision criteria, and reliability and validity of instruments. Some studies may require a hypothesis statement. These topics include the respondents, how and why these were chosen, the type of data that will be collected, the sources of these data, and how the information collected will be analyzed. Descriptions are chronological and so detailed that, if someone wishes to do so, she or he can replicate the study exactly. Also, if a questionnaire or survey is utilized, the reasons for inclusion of each question and the reliability and validity of the instrument are described. The section usually concludes with a scope and limitations statement. A timetable for completing the work can be given if the student or instructor so desires. Chapter 3 focuses on HOW the research is to be done.

References. Each proposal must have a list of references — a listing of the books, articles and other sources that the researcher has used, and which are cited by name within the proposal. Endnotes are also occasionally used to give additional information or explanation. Endnotes may be incorporated at the appropriate point in the text. Where these are placed should be governed by what would be most convenient to readers. All MHA 698 students must use the current edition of the APA Style Manual for references. (see this web site for APA assistance;, click on APA Style).

Appendices. Anything which might be distracting, or which is not needed in the body of the proposal, is placed in the Appendices. Included are copies of permission letters, approvals, questionnaires, models, computer programs designed for the researcher’s study, analytical formulas and calculations, and detailed descriptions of tests or equipment used. 



1. The following information is taken from Master’s Thesis: Procedures and Approaches Manual (1993) by John T. Cirn, Ph.D., with the assistance of Bruce C. Stuart, Ph.D. Reprinted by permission of John T. Cirn, Ph.D. The section dealing with feasibility studies was developed by faculty from CMU’s Global Campus.

2. The information in this section is taken from The student guide to the MSA capstone project, Part 1 (2016), Mt. Pleasant, MI: Central Michigan University. Additional information on each research approach is available in this manual.

The Capstone is to be constructed according to very specific structural elements with each element having required content. The following is an outline and summary of the elements and associated content that must be in your Capstone:

Capstone Structure and Content

Title Page. The title page is the first page of the project read by the reader. It identifies the title of the paper, purpose for which it is submitted, institution to which it is submitted, name of monitor, student’s name and affiliation, concentration, and date of completion. Material that appears on the page should be centered horizontally and vertically. (See example in the Appendix)

Abstract or Executive Summary. The abstract appears first. It is a one or two-page description of the research that was undertaken, the findings and the recommendations. The abstract provides the busy executive with a comprehensive synopsis of what the research covers so that he or she may determine whether to give additional attention to the paper. Because it sells the paper, all important details should be described. To do this, planning, condensing and a number of rewrites often are necessary. Because the abstract is not a direct part of the study undertaken, it is neither numbered nor counted as a page. Because of the focused, objective purpose of the Abstract, no more than 200 to 250 words in length is sufficient.

Table of Contents, List of Tables, List of Figures. The table of contents shows the location of all the structural elements of the report, that is, the location of chapter headings and major topics within chapters, the references and various appendices. If a section continues for a number of pages, only the initial page is given. The list of tables and the list of figures state the page on which each table or figure can be found.

Body of the Paper. The body of the paper contains five main components which are listed below. These or similar headings are always used. Each chapter starts on a new page. Consult the APA Style Manual for further direction on handling headings and subheadings.

Chapter 1: Introduction. Chapter 1, “Definition of the Problem,” is often a rephrasing of Chapter 1 from the research proposal. Since the research is now complete, the discussion is either in the present or past (rather than future) tense and the coverage reflects a completed rather than a planned action. Some fine-tuning of the issue definition also may be required.

Chapter 2: Literature Review. Chapter 2, “Literature Review” presents a summary of the information/concepts derived from the published literature and from the review of organizational documents. Of central importance is a demonstration of the literature’s relevance to the study.

Chapter 3: Methodology. Chapter 3, “Methodology” includes the research strategy, data collection methods, rationale for questionnaires and interviews, information about respondents or participants, methods used in the quantitative and/or qualitative analyses, and methods of evaluating alternatives. This chapter is an objective statement of the action steps and materials that were used to capture, tabulate, and report your findings. If well written, this section would enable any objective reader to replicate your study by repeating the actions defined as presented in this section. 

Chapter 4: Data Analysis and Results. In Chapter 4, “Data Analysis,” the information derived from interviews, questionnaires, documents, observations, analysis of symptom — cause or chain sequences is presented and analyzed. Tables, charts, illustrations and other visual means are used to present the information and analyses in a meaningful and persuasive manner. Usually the chapter begins with a description of the sources of data, such as the personnel interviewed and/or surveyed. This is followed by summaries of the results of the data collection.

The data analysis chapter contains a summary of the collected data and its technical interpretation. Sufficient background information is given to allow the reader, should he/she wish to do so, to make calculations and draw conclusions. Generally, too, pertinent data are given in the body of the report. If these are excessive, less relevant materials can be placed in the appendices. Charts, tables, illustrations that are pertinent to the analysis generally appear within the body of the report on the next page following their first mention. These, however, do not take the place of the written description. In fact, the data should be described so comprehensively that if the tables and charts were removed, the reader could understand the analysis and its interpretation.

Chapter 5: Discussion (Summary Recommendations). Chapter 5, “Summary, Conclusions and Recommendations,” provides the essence of the study. First, the summary gives the context (introduction), the problem, research objective, methodology, the decision criteria (if applicable), and the findings. The conclusions section discusses the root causes of the problem and the bases for opportunity. While no data or analyses are presented in this chapter, references are made to the information and technical conclusions that were determined in Chapter 4. All conclusions should grow out of the data presented in Chapter 4.

The recommendation section highlights the proposals that the researcher has for resolving the problem that was stated in the first chapter. The recommendations are based on the analysis of the data and the literature that was reviewed and should be related to the conclusions that were drawn from the analysis. They should be specific, realistic, practical (possible to accomplish) and measurable to the extent possible. An action plan follows each recommendation. They must have reasonable likelihood of implementation and result in solving the researched problem. Recommendations and action plans are usually addressed to the various bodies or levels within the hierarchy of the organization which are empowered to act upon them. In providing recommendations, the researcher should have considered all opposing views and be prepared to stake his or her professional reputation on the feasibility and “implementability” of the recommendations and the action plans.

Appendices. Anything which might be distracting, or which is not needed in the body of the proposal, is placed in the Appendices. Included are copies of permission letters, approvals, questionnaires, models, computer programs designed for the researcher’s study, analytical formulas and calculations, and detailed descriptions of tests or equipment used.

References. Each proposal and final paper must have a list of references — a listing of the books, articles and other sources that the researcher has used, and which are cited by name within the proposal. Endnotes are also occasionally used to give additional information or explanation. Endnotes may be incorporated at the appropriate point in the text. Where these are placed should be governed by what would be most convenient to readers. All MHA 698 students must use the current edition of the APA Style Manual for references. (see this web site for APA assistance;, click on research and writing help)

Summary. A common error made by students preparing the paper is to assume the reader knows as much about the topic as does the student. This, of course, is not true. Care must be taken to use a systematic and detailed approach to describing all facets of the report, including interpreting and analyzing the data. An effective technique for testing understanding and readability is to have an uninvolved but interested third party, such as a friend, read the report and provide feedback on its meaning. 

No page requirements have been set for the final report but the student will have difficulty meeting substantive requirements if the presentation is less than 30 written pages excluding tables, graphs and appendices.

An essential presentation feature of a project is the evidence that attention has been devoted to aligning the final effort with required formatting standards and that the content is an example of quality professional writing. This section and the examples contained in the Appendices will guide your through those standards and expectations.

If you have questions about the required format, it will be helpful for you to consult a copy of a completed, approved Capstone. It is possible also to retain the services of an approved typist who will format your Capstone in accordance with Graduate School standards. As you prepare your first and subsequent drafts, it is important to consider the following formatting requirements:

CMU Writing Center Information. Online service is available for students enrolled in online or off-campus courses.
For questions about this service:

  1. Email
  2. Call 989-774-4371 in Mount Pleasant or toll free at 877-268-4636
  3. Additional information can be found at
  4. Main campus students can schedule face to face assistance at

The Writing Center’s web page is a comprehensive source of information about the Center, its services, and how to secure feedback on your written assignments and projects. Also, instructional videos are available on using the Center’s services and applying APA formatting standards to your work.

APA Style. In addition to watching the Writing Center’s APA style instructional video, consider purchasing a copy of the current edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.)

Margins. Margins for the text are - top, bottom, and right margins should each be 1 inch; the left-hand margin should be 1 ½ inch. No running head is used. Margins for the preliminary pages are – top 2 inch; bottom and right should be 1 inch; and the left-hand margin should be 1 ½ inch. If multiple pages, then the second (continuous) pages will have a 1 inch top margin.

Pagination. Because of the Graduate School requirements, page numbers cannot fall within the 1- inch margin at the bottom of the page. Prefatory materials (i.e., anything prior to the first page of the introduction) are numbered using Roman numerals at the bottom center of the page. As previously mentioned, the title page is not numbered, while the approval page is numbered ii. All subsequent prefatory pages are numbered consecutively. Pages of the text are numbered with Arabic numerals starting with the first page of the first chapter.

Spacing. The entire body of the paper should be double-spaced. The references are to be single-spaced within citations and double-spaced between citations. Refer to the Guidelines for the Preparation of Theses, Doctoral Projects, and Dissertations for a complete description of the spacing requirements.

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