Research proposals are used in a wide variety of disciplines and professions as a means of developing agendas for specific projects, securing funds for a study, or testing the interest of potential audience in a given project. The proposal is also a crucial genre in the world of English Studies. In the proposal itself, you will describe your project, offering the reader a sense of the research conversation you are entering, and also articulating what you hope to add to that conversation.
The proposal should be 400-500 words long, and it should have a formal header and proper MLA formatting (see MLA Chapter 4). More specifically, you should organize your proposal along the following lines:
- First, come up with an intriguing title for your proposal. This may not be the final title, but it’s important to start formulating a title that is both informative and attention-grabbing. As you know from our in-class, hypothetical-research-paper activities, I like the template the pivots around a colon offering a more compact or even creative formulation followed by an explanatory statement after the colon. Lee does this in her article quite nicely: “‘We Are Not the World’: Global Village, Universalism, and Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange.”
- At the start of the proposal itself, craft an effective, brief, introduction that frames your project more broadly. This might involve summarizing your primary text in light of the conversation you engage, or establishing an important historical or theoretical context for your project, or even tossing us into the middle of the action as Lee does when she describes Arcangel’s wrestling match, which sets up the central tension between the what she calls the “overworked village” and the forces of globalization embodied by the wrestler SUPER NAFTA. It’s all about “framing” the project strategically and effectively–and in an engaging manner.
- Next, offer some critical background on your topic: this is essentially a preview of your Critical Voices in Conversation (CVC) essay. You should make the theoretical or methodological foundation for your paper clear, and also describe the more specific critical conversation surrounding your chosen text(s) in a way that makes room for your own argument. I call this part of your paper the expanded “Conversational Thesis”–essentially a map and mirror of the research conversation you will build through your research. You shouldn’t name actual critics here–just give a sense of the contours of the conversation by using phrases that provide a more general identity for the participants in the conversation. For example: “Some feminist critics argue X, while others more focused on the historical backdrop note Y.” Here’s it’s all about giving the reader a sense of the contours of the conversation and the characters who will take part in it.
- Next, formulate a tentative—but pointed and specific—hypothesis. The goal here is both to join and extend an ongoing conversation related to your chosen text. A tentative hypothesis–a preview of what you hope to argue–will be a tool you use to direct and refine your subsequent, and to help guide your own contribution to this conversation. Be ready to change and mold your hypothesis as you research and think more deeply about your topic. Together, the conversational thesis and the hypothesis form what I call “Dueling Thesis Statements“–which form a crucial building block for your project over the coming weeks. Refer to the templates for building your Dueling Ts.
- At the end of your proposal, articulate, in a fresh way, the purpose or goal of this research. Do your best to convey a sense of urgency and importance and interest. How does your project ask us to think–or even act–differently? What are its broader implications? What is at stake here? You can also be personal here: what drew you to the project? Why is it exciting to you? What qualifications do you bring to the project?
- Aim for ~3 paragraphs.
A Final Word: This assignment does not have a dedicated “drafting” stage, which means that you will have to take more care to submit a polished and complete assignment up front. That said, I still see this as a document in flux. Certain sources will change as you continue to think about, and read the literature surrounding, your topic. And you will, of course, refine your hypothesis as you go forward. Also, make sure you pur some thought into how you organize the proposal. Each bullet point above does not necessarily indicate a paragraph break, so please devise an effective organizational strategy (one long paragraph will not do).