Fall 2019
Guide for Proseminar Research Proposal
***First and foremost, please read the The Guide to ALM Thesis, pp. 32-43, for fuller explanations and examples of each part of the research proposal. Also, look at the sample proposals that we read earlier in the semester for potential models for your own research proposals. PLEASE NOTE THAT YOU MUST ONLY DO SELECTED PARTS OF THE PROPOSAL LISTED HERE FOR OUR PROSEMINAR. DO NOT INCLUDE PARTS NOT REQUIRED IN THIS GUIDE***
Drafts of Proposals are due by 3:30 pm EST on November 30 on Canvas. NO EXCEPTIONS OR EXCUSES. I will assign your peer review groups on that day so that you can send your draft to your peer group. Thus, turning in the draft research proposal on time is IMPERATIVE.
Your research proposal should be between 10 (min) and 15 (max) pages in length, double spaced (Do not go under the min or over max limits). Please follow the formatting requirements detailed in the syllabus for assignments. Please include a title page in the format of a thesis proposal (but do not include your address). For your research proposal for this seminar, please include the following required sections organized in the following order:
I. Tentative Title
The first section, the tentative title, probably should be written last. A successful title will emerge only after it has been determined, often by trial and error, just what the investigator hopes to accomplish. The title should be specific and clear; you may want to accompany it with a subtitle. Ideally, it should summarize the research problem with efficiency and style. Avoid titles that are pretentious, vague, or wordy, or that repeat the hypothesis statement or the main question of the study. Expressions such as “An Investigation of” are redundant and should be omitted. Titles of just one or two words, on the other hand, are too brief to indicate the scope of the research problem. An overall rule is that the title should be explanatory but concise when standing by itself. Your big topic will serve as the basis for your tentative title.
II. Research Problem
This portion should be 2-4 pages in length and sub-divided into the following subheadings:
1. Question (What is the question you seek to answer? HINT: Big question)
2. Hypothesis (What is the tentative answer or claim that your study will test?)
3. Evidence (What source material will you use to test your hypothesis?)
4. Conclusions and Broader Implications (What are the implications of your research for further study?)
The statement of the research problem must include a clear question, a suggested hypothesis, supporting evidence (that is types of sources with which to test and/or validate the hypothesis),
Fall 2019
and the conclusions and broader implications of your research. It cannot simply present a description, like a book report. It should begin by asking a significant question, such as “Why did John F. Kennedy win the 1960 presidential election?” It should then present an answer to that question—an answer referred to as the “hypothesis,” from the Greek word meaning “to suppose”—such as “John F. Kennedy won the election because of his superior performance in television debates.” Next, it includes the evidence in favor of the hypothesis and shows logical flaws in alternative hypotheses. Finally, the conclusion of the study shows that you have considered the further ramifications of your hypothesis, in light of the evidence: “Kennedy won the election principally because of his television performance but also because of superior campaign polling—a dual emphasis that would reshape the nature of all subsequent US presidential campaigns.”
III. Definition of Terms
In this section, all important terms and acronyms should be explained, especially those that may be ambiguous, not readily understood, or used in a special way. Examples include such terms as “romantic revolutionary,” “embargo trope,” “aggression,” or “negative reinforcement.” Often when you have worked closely with a topic for a while, it becomes difficult to believe that any terms could be ambiguous, since you think you have a clear idea in your own mind about what they should mean. If you are unsure which terms need definition, show your proposal to a friend unfamiliar with the topic or to your research advisor. In the social, biological, and behavioral sciences it is especially important to establish operational definitions. “Crime,” for example, might be defined by police reports, victim reports, vital statistics, arrest reports, self-reports, or direct observation, or it might be defined as some composite measure of these instances. “Old age” would be defined as twelve years for dogs, but twelve days for the mayfly. How you define such operational terms will considerably affect the conclusions you reach in your thesis
IV. Background of the Problem (Historiography or Scholarly Literature Review)
This section should explain the origins of the research question or problem, drawing on your preliminary reading. All cited materials should be presented with specific references, prepared according to one of the three methods shown later in this section of the Guide. In the background section, you should review what has been done already in this area of research and the way(s) in which the proposed project will differ from earlier work. You should show that you are familiar with the major current opinions or interpretations concerning the problem you have chosen so that you do not simply duplicate existing or outdated research. The background section, usually several pages in length, must be directed specifically to the research problem and must indicate the carefully documented views of experts. The aim is not to provide simply a general overview of the topic or to present a string of references to others’ works. Rather, it is to demonstrate that a specific problem has been identified and to show its relationship to the research of other investigators. If, for instance, you were writing about George Orwell, you should mention the work of his principal biographer, Bernard Crick, and show how your views about some aspect of Orwell’s work differ
Fall 2019
from, corroborate, or extend Crick’s views, as well as those of several other recent critics of the Orwellian texts on which you intend to write. Longer than the statement of the research problem itself, this section must be well organized. Others’ research should be considered in a systematic fashion, according to topic, date, perspective, or some other logical means. It cannot be an unorganized mass; it must have some obvious flow, a sense of continuity, and an overall theme or point(s). In order to write the thesis itself, you will have to impose order on large amounts of material. Here is your chance to show your research advisor—and ultimately your thesis director—that you have mastered the organizational skills required for the job. Once you have established the focus of your own research in relation to this prior scholarship, one or more detailed examples should be presented that illustrate how your approach to the subject will illuminate it. These examples also demonstrate that you have begun to envision the kind of precise analysis expected in the thesis.
V. Research Method(s) and Sources
Depending upon the research problem, the two sections on methods and limitations might be combined. These parts of the proposal describe the procedures in the investigation, as well as their limitations. What kinds of materials will be used? Are they readily available? Can you read written materials if they are not in English? Are translations available? What kinds of difficulties will there be in sampling or collecting physical evidence? What standards of certainty can be expected? Is your sample size adequate? Will you need statistics? If so, which statistics? These are the issues you should address and answer here. Especially for empirical research, you might wish to treat these sections separately, describing in detail the proposed subjects, apparatus, and procedures. Your proposal will be judged not only on the basis of its hypothesis but also on the proposed methods of data collection. Will you be using questionnaires? Observation?
VI. Research Limitations
Without exception, all research is limited in several ways. There are internal or formal limitations, such as the materials and procedures used, the ways in which critical terms are defined, the scope of the problem explored and of the applicability of the results. There are external limitations as well, governed by constraints upon one’s time or pocketbook; the inability to travel to special collections, museums, or libraries, or to speak or read other languages; or to consider an evolving political situation beyond a certain date. These limitations should be acknowledged; indeed, identifying them may help you to focus your topic. However, problems such as time and money difficulties do not relieve you of the responsibility of designing a study that can adequately test your hypothesis and measure its results. Proposals that include no mention of limitations suggest that the candidate has not really gone beyond a superficial consideration of the subject. This section of the proposal, therefore, will require considerable thought. But close attention now to these and related questions will save you much time and discomfort in later stages of research and writing.
Fall 2019
VII. Working Bibliography
The working bibliography should be selective. It should not simply include all the materials that might conceivably be used in the finished research. Rather, it should demonstrate that you have actually read the sources you cite, know which further sources you will need to consult, and why. The bibliography, in other words, represents an interim tally of your progress.
The working bibliography should include most of the materials that will actually be used in the finished research project. It should list under separate rubrics:
-all works cited as footnotes in the proposal (Works Cited)
– all secondary works consulted in preparation of the proposal (Works Consulted) but not cited in the footnotes
– all works that the student intends to consult in further research and writing (Works to Be Consulted) but hasn’t read yet.
Sources within these various rubrics should be further divided into primary and secondary works. Sources included under Works Consulted should be in Annotated Bibliography form. In the Works Consulted section, you should have a minimum of four (4) primary sources (no annotation needed) and 8-12 secondary sources (including articles, monographs, and chapters in edited volumes). The Works Cited section should include a minimum of two primary sources and eight secondary sources. The Working Bibliography (along with the entire proposal) must be in Chicago-Style, note-bibliography format.