Preparing a Research Prospectus or Proposal

What is a proposal?

A prospectus or proposal is a systematically organized plan for a research project.  Prospecti are an important part of dissertation or thesis preparation, but are also characteristic of applications for grants and other developmental support, submissions for attendance at important academic conferences, and for book length publications.  They are also invaluable when you simply want to establish a focus for your ideas on a research project.

A proposal serves two basic purposes:  it forces the researcher to organize his/her thinking prior to writing the paper, and it enables others to evaluate the project and make helpful suggestions at a relatively early stage of development.

What does a proposal include?

There is no standard format for a proposal; the structure will vary depending on the character of the research question, the outlet for the project, and even the preferences of those asking for the proposal.  In general, the proposal will contain the following elements in some sort of structure:

Selecting a topic for the current project

First of all, select a target outlet for your work.  You may wish to begin thinking tentatively about a dissertation project.  (It doesn't matter if you wind up doing the dissertation on something else; the exercise is the point here.)  Or you may wish to think in terms of some conference or special volume that you might want to propose an essay for.  Any motivation is fine with me.  (Your choice can even be some research project that you are doing for another class that you are currently taking.)

Then select a topic and specify a research question that you will do to pursue this opportunity.  Notice that to a large degree your choice of outlet will determine the scope of your topic selection.  A proposal for a book or a dissertatation may propose more scope than a proposal for a paper to be presented at a conference.  Getting the right scope is an important consideration and we will work on it.

The assignments

There are two lead-up assignments that will take you to the final rewrite.  These preliminary assignments will be graded "OK"/"R". After preparing these two parts you will rewrite them into a finished proposal.  Two additional elements will be added in the rewrite: The final project after revision should be 2000-4000 words.

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