Writing a Research Proposal
A research proposal is the presentation of an idea that you wish to pursue. A good research proposal presumes that you have already thought about your project and have devoted some time and effort in gathering information, reading, and then organizing your thoughts. A research proposal is NOT a project to be thrown together in one night with ideas off the top of your head. Thus, one might say that the research proposal is a second step, following the selection of a broad topic.
The actual proposal will indicate what analytical question you wish to address. The foundation of a good research paper is a good research question. Just a tree needs a good root system to grow to be strong, a good research paper needs a good analytical question.
What does "analytical" mean? An analytical question can take different forms and no one form is necessarily better than others. What all analytical questions have in common is the fact that they are not merely descriptive. That is, an analytical question moves beyond the "what" and explores the "how," and the "why." A good analytical research paper will use "the what" as part of the answer to "the why." But it is obligatory to address a question beyond the "what." For example, a descriptive paper would ask: "What was Gorbachev's economic perestroika policies?" An analytical paper would ask: "Why did Gorbachev's economic perestroika policies fail?" As part of the paper, you would then review what the policies were, but then you would go beyond that description.
The specific parts of the research proposal are as follows:
1. Statement of the question your paper will answer. Again, remember, the point of your paper is to explain something.
2. Brief literature review in which you review the major works on your topic and indicate what the arguments are.
If you are applying a theory to an issue, you can review the theory used
The point is to show an awareness of what has been written on your issue, what evidence was used, what theories applied, and what arguments were made.
3. A statement as to what your argument/explanation will be.
4. A statement as to how your explanation/argument will differ from that which has been made by other authors. How is your explanation original or different?
If you applying a theory, you can explain which theory you will use and why you think that is the appropriate theory to explain the event(s) you are interested in.
5. A brief outline of the parts of the paper.
6. A short bibliography/statement as to the major sources you will use. This can include databases, websties, interviews, etc.
7. The proposal need not be long, but the quality should be high. I would think that 3-4 pages would be sufficient. The more effort you put into your proposal the better your paper will be. Also, the more detailed your proposal, the more I can comment and usefully guide you to a good paper.
8. You should have a proposal prepared and submitted to me No Later than one month after class begins. Start early; the earlier the better.
9. A proposal which does not follow directions is liable to be returned to you for you to re-do.
General Information on the Paper
The foundation of a good research paper is a good research question. Assuming you have your question well-defined, the comments below are intended to help you. If you don't have a question, it is imperative that you define one before beginning your research. The paper is to be analytical, not descriptive. So you MUST have a question around which the paper will be organized. Papers that do not address a research question are subject to being returned ungraded for you to re-do.
Your research paper is intended to be a semester-long project and will be graded as such; hence the early deadline for the outline. In other words, the amount of effort expended is a relevant consideration when evaluating the quality of the paper. Papers that are clearly "rush jobs" or that had been researched and written during the final weeks of the semester will be penalized accordingly.
Below are some general guidelines and instructions that may be of help; for questions relating to your specific paper feel free to consult with me.
1. Writing a research paper is a multi-step process. The biggest mistake people make is not allowing enough time. The process consists of at least four distinct phases: research (gathering materials), reading the materials, synthesis of the materials, and writing the paper. You should start early: most people underestimate how long the first three steps take. These three steps also directly influence the quality of the paper: they are its foundation. Without a strong foundation the paper cannot be strong.
2. In terms of the number of citations I expect, you should shoot for around 10-15 different sources, in some combination of books and academic journals. (Weekly magazines like Time, Newsweek, etc. are not considered academic journals. My experience is that it is necessary to look at 2-3 sources for every one that is actually used, so in the course of researching your question you will look at about 30-45 separate items. Required readings for the class do NOT "count" towards your total; HOWEVER, non-assigned readings from a required text may be used. The point is to get you to expand your exposure by using outside sources.
3. There should be four distinct parts of the paper. The first part, the introduction, should spell out clearly for the reader what the paper is about and what you will do. In this part you should indicate the question you are exploring, the importance of the topic, what the parts of the paper will be, and a summary of your hypothesis or findings. This then will serve as the organization for your paper and you should structure the paper accordingly.
The second part of your paper is the literature review in which you review the major works on your topic and indicate what the arguments are. You will want to write this part so that your paper will add to the literature; that is, to be different and original in some way.
The third part (broadly speaking) is the body, or research you have conducted. And the fourth part is the conclusion, summarizing what you have found and what your answer is to the question you have posed. For organizational purposes, in the body of the paper I like to use sections to divide the paper. I have placed on my website an example of a paper I wrote which uses sections to divide the paper. YOU ARE TO CONSULT THIS ARTICLE AND TO USE SECTIONS TO ORGANIZE YOUR PAPER.
4. You have three options for notes to the paper: notes in the text, notes at the bottom of the page, and notes at the end of the paper. I don't care which option you choose (option one is the easiest and most convenient) but in any case the format must be correct. Failure to render notes in correct format will lower the paper grade by one-half grade. If you have questions as to correct note format, consult Kate Turabian, A Manual for Writers, which is widely available at new and used bookstores. IF YOU DECIDE TO PUT SOURCES IN THE TEXT, THEN IT SHOULD LOOK LIKE THIS: (SMITH, 1992, 36). NOTE: THE PERIOD GOES AT THE END OF THE SOURCE, NOT THE END OF THE SENTENCE. BE SURE TO INCLUDE THE YEAR THE SOURCE WAS PUBLISHED AS WELL.
5. The paper is to have a title page, indicating the title of the paper, the course, and your name. I also want you to attach your original proposal to the final paper.
6. The paper is to have a bibliography, rendered in correct format. Failure to either include a bibliography or, formatting the bibliographical entries incorrectly, will result in a penalty of one-half grade.
7. The paper is to be typed, double-spaced using normal margins, spell-checked, and grammatically correct. YOU SHOULD STAPLE THE PAGES TOGETHER UNLESS YOU WANT ME TO LOSE PART OF YOUR PAPER.
8. NUMBER YOUR PAGES, BEGINNING WITH PAGE TWO, WHICH FOLLOWS THE TITLE PAGE. IN OTHER WORDS,THE FIRST PAGE IS THE TITLE PAGE WHICH IS NOT NUMBERED, AND THEN FIRST PAGE OF TEXT WILL BE PAGE TWO.
9. The paper should use normal font size (12 point) and use regular print (no bold print.
10. For questions about any of the above, or specific questions about your paper, feel free to consult with me during my office hours.
Where People Lose Points
A number of common errors result in the loss of points. Thus, you should pay attention to these pointers to avoid that happening to you.
1. A badly written paper will mask even good research. Leave time to do at least two drafts. DO NOT TURN IN A FIRST DRAFT.
2. A paper that does not follow directions, that is, one that is purely descriptive instead of analytical, does not fulfill the assignment. Therefore, FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS THAT HAVE BEEN GIVEN TO YOU, AND IF YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND, THEN ASK.
3. A paper that does not use the correct format for note and bibliography loses points. Again, I don't care what system you use, but do it correctly. There are numerous guides to consult, and you can always ask me. I consider the failure to render the correct format as laziness, for which there is no excuse.