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Senior Research Projects




Overview: In their final year of study, students at Penn State New Kensington must successfully complete a senior project in communication to fulfill the prescribed COMM 494 major requirement. Although these are individual projects, COMM 494 will be scheduled as a seminar-style course (2hr, 40 minute session, once a week) and will meet semi-regularly (although in many weeks group meetings with be replaced by individual meetings with the course professor). Students may only fulfill the requirement by registering for and attending the COMM 494 class when it is offered and by completing course assignments as determined by the presiding professor. Students should consult with their advisor as they approach their senior year regarding their options for completing the project requirement.  Students may also elect, in consultation with their advisor and the COMM 494 professor, to complete the project over the course of two semesters.

In the context of the COMM 494 course, each student designs, implements, and completes a research project dealing with a sophisticated and complex set of questions, concepts, skills and abilities. The completed project must demonstrate the student’s ability to perform advanced work. Students are urged to undertake projects that relate to their professional and academic goals.


Course/Project Requirements: In order to complete the COMM 494 Senior Research Project requirement, each student will:

  1. Identify an appropriate research topic. 
  2. Compose an approved research plan which identifies:
    • an appropriate research question or set of questions (what s/he wants to know)
    • the relevant literature on the topic
    • a clear statement of procedures (how s/he plans to find out).
  3. Create an original document which is the logical outcome of that fully executed research plan (typically a 15-20+ page research paper).
  4. Offer a 10-minute oral presentation that details her/his research question, approach, and findings.


Evaluation: The project topic, research plan, final paper, and project presentation will be evaluated and must be approved by both the presiding COMM 494 professor and by one “outside reader” designated in consultation with the presiding COMM 494 professor.  To warrant faculty approval, the topic, final document and presentation must demonstrate proficiency in: (1) research and critical thinking skills (2) effective writing and (3) effective speaking/oral presentation.


Criteria for Approval of Topics and Research Plans: In order to gain approval, research project topics must be reasonably related to the academic discipline of Communications and serve as a logical extension of the student’s undergraduate training. We also encourage students to select topics that might serve as a bridge to their post-graduate careers. Topics must also hold an obvious possibility of feasibility and represent original intellectual inquiry.

In general, the research plan must begin by identifying a question or set of questions that the student seeks to “answer” or explore for further insight. The research plan is formulated after preliminary research on the topic has been conducted, and must include a substantial bibliography of published scholarly research that will serve as a foundation and launching point for the project.  In addition to identifying the relevant scholarly literature, the research plan must also identify whatever original material the student intends to work with and how s/he intends to work with that material.   


Final Project Paper Grading Criteria: The final project paper will be evaluated first and foremost upon the extent to which it evidences and reflects a full and complete execution of the approved research plan and the additional effort required to transform that plan into a substantial final product. We expect that many final project papers will also reflect discoveries or perspectives that were not anticipated at the planning stage – that where the student “ends up” may not always be exactly where s/he thought they were going at the outset. The paper and presentation can justify and explain such shifts as the positive outcome of scholarly inquiry and research. The connection between the plan and the final outcome must, however, be abundantly apparent.

Final project papers must also, of course, be coherently structured and presented, properly sourced and documented, and stylistically impeccable. Papers sufficiently lacking in any of these standards of advanced composition will not be approved. 


Final Presentation Grading Criteria: At the end of the semester (after the paper has been submitted), a 10-minute research project presentation will be delivered to the Communications faculty and anybody else who wishes to attend. Presentations should provide a formally organized representation of the project questions, research process, and conclusions. There will also be a 10-minute Q&A session. Formal quality, organization, effective use of supporting examples, presentation style, and a sufficient display of authority and confidence in the Q&A session will all factor into the final project grade. After the Q&A session, faculty will meet privately with the student to discuss the outcomes of the research project.