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Writing Project 3: Research Proposal

DUE DATE: March 6, 2013


The Research Proposal is a chance for you to step back, assess, reflect, and plan. The idea of inquiry (asking questions to arrive at answers) seems logical and perhaps even commonplace. Yet, my experience in the classroom tells me that this is not necessarily the case—especially for students enrolled in college classes. Professors don’t always allow students to think by asking questions, and students don’t always think to ask questions or to ask the difficult questions. We don’t always think to ask in order to find (especially when we’re told to conduct research by someone in a position of authority). My hope is that you’ll use inquiry to find answers for a question that matters to you, that you’ll take this opportunity to find your place in the larger conversation about theories of rhetoric and composition.


Like a marriage proposal, your research proposal in this class is an “all or nothing” plan: I must approve the proposal if you are to continue with coursework. Experience also tells me that proposals almost always require at least one resubmission—the extra work on the front end of the project is designed to pay off with a better outcome on the back end of the project, once you move to the research paper. This front-end work means we’ll be taking the proposal in stages, so please remember that you’ll be submitting the document twice.

The overall purposes of the research proposal and (its related) annotated bibliography and then synthesis essay are to focus on what you are attempting to find out, to begin gathering research sources and other evidence, and to get my help early in your research. This is the first step toward your eventual semester research project and marks the moment in this course where you begin to work on your own agenda. It gives you a chance to work out:

  • what you want to try to find out,
  • how you might find it out, and
  • where you might find it out.

Our aim is to arrive at a question worth exploring, conduct secondary and empirical primary research, evaluate our results, and turn them into an argument worth making while using our secondary and primary research results as evidence to support us.


In this project, we will work on developing your research question. This is different from an unmanageably broad topic. For example, a topic is something like “the relationships between technologies and literacies.” If you wanted to cover the “relationships between technologies and literacies,” you’d be obligated to write a fat book or two, not a semester paper. However, you can refine your approach and generate a manageable, do-able, substantive research question.

In this project, we will work on developing your research question and on finding relevant, high-quality sources. Ultimately, for the research proposal, you will write up your initial question in a structured way and you will begin to find and select potential source material. (If you have never written an inquiry-based project proposal and/or never completed a project driven by empirical research, I would recommend you complete the Topic > Question worksheet provided to you in Google Drive.)


Follow the skeleton below exactly. You’ll find a similar template in our Google Drive folder. If you use that template, make sure to use File > Make a Copy option. I am asking for the rigid template for a reason; I will not read proposals that vary the format. I want separate sections. I wanted them under the headings provided below. Above all, remember you are writing a plan not an essay. You should think about this in the future tense (especially after you get to Section 3).

Remember, this proposal is just a plan: your plan to do some research about a question that matters to you. You cannot move forward with the research until I sign off on this proposal.


In your Trading 8s, you’ve been asking questions and reflecting on terms, concepts, and ideas of interest to those invested in undergraduate research. In WP2, you explored some of the materials you’ve seen and used to begin to understand the nature and purpose of research and inquiry at SEU. Now I want you to transform those musings into ideas and a forward looking question. What do you still need to know about research or inquiry? What do you want to understand about writing as you prepare to continue writing at St. Edward’s? To frame this question, you may need to describe what you know about where you are going and how this ENGW course needs to help you get there. For example, when I figured out I wanted to be a college professor, I was halfway through my MA degree. I still didn’t know what it meant to write like “a grad student,” and I certainly didn’t know how college professors kept their jobs. So, for this section, that is what I’d write about. I’d then work to make sure there is a connection between my personal interest and the content of my subject of study.


You will begin drafting the question you hope to answer in this section. Your question will and should change and evolve as you are reading and talking to people. In your final proposal, you should have nothing but the following skeleton included in this section:

Using _______ [describe your particular methods (e.g., interviews, surveys, digital data corpus gathering, library research, etc.)],

I am investigating _______ [something focused and particular having to do with current theories of rhetoric and composition that can be asked and answered]

because I want to find out _______ [what do you want to know?]

so that _______ [specific stakeholders]

can better understand _______ [specify (or speculate, at this point...) what you believe the "so what”? of your project might be. So what? Why is it worthwhile? What will it contribute to the ongoing conversations relevant to your question? Why might anyone besides you care about the answer to this question?].


Secondary Research
This section should begin listing the articles you anticipate using to answer your question; these are also the articles that you will include in your Annotated Bibliography. Obviously, you may wish to use the readings we’ve completed in class (they are the foundation for this project), but you will also be expected to locate, read, and discuss articles that you find on your own. In this section, you will list no less than three (3) new articles for me to approve. You will need a total of six (6) for the Annotated Bibliography, but you need only show me at least 3 new articles for the Research Proposal. These article should be listed in MLA 2009 format unless you make a case in Section 1 to use a different citation style (one better suited to your future discipline/career).

For me to approve these articles, you must include, under each MLA citation entry, a brief paragraph (100-200 words) explaining what you think are the main claims of the article and an explanation of why you think this article will likely help you answer your question. I want to emphasize the hypothesis part of the above task. You are guessing about the content because when you submit the proposal, you are not expected to have read these articles. Yet. If you include articles we’ve read in class, these do not count toward the 3 you need. Also, for these entries, rather than telling me why you think the article will help, tell me what claims the authors made that you know will help you (because you have already read these articles).

If you need help with the MLA citations, use the Purdue OWL.

Primary Research
Sometimes reading articles won’t be helpful, and depending on what you discuss in Section 1, reading what other people say may not be useful unless you have a first-hand perspective. This is why you are required to do some research on your own. I want you to think about people you could talk to, artifacts or materials you could gather and analyze, places you could observe and learn. I don’t expect you to do all three, but I do expect you to think seriously about what you need to know and brainstorm some possible people, places, or things that will help you find those answers.

As you settle on some possible choices, you should answer these questions for each person, place, or thing:

  1. Who are you going to talk to, interview, survey, etc.? What are you going to read, interpret, analyze? Where are you going to sit, watch, and listen? Why do you think this person, place, and/or thing can help answer your question? What information do you think you can learn from this person, place, or thing that you can’t find in other people’s research?
  2. How are you going to get access to this person? to this place? to this thing? Be specific here. Don’t tell me you’ll find them or it. If you are using your networks and connections, explain that to me.
  3. Knowing your schedule and consulting the Calendar about the final deadline for the Final Research project, when will you conduct this research? gather these materials? do your observations? Again, be specific about time table. (This will help later when you’re sending me an Accountability Report.)
  4. What are you going to ask these people? what do you want to observe? what do you hope to read or understand from the thing? Here, be sure you need to include two key parts.

a. If you are talking to human beings, you need to have your consent documents ready to go. Ask me how to prepare these documents.

b. You need to include all the questions exactly as you intend to ask them. If you are reading something, let me know what questions you’ll be trying to answer as you read. If you are going to sit, watch, and listen, then tell me what you are looking for.  If you don’t write it down, you can’t ask it. Again, I want to see a plan from you.



Because I am doing a semester research project and not writing a book, my inquiries are subject to limitations. Specifically, those limitations are _______________. Nevertheless, I think I can work within those limitations to do a project that is substantive because _______________.


Write this section last because your hypothesis will forecast what you think you will learn from the research sources you just described. Ground your specific claims—those key points you think you’ll learn—in (a) what you think your people, places, and/or things will demonstrate and (b) what you think the readings will help you understand. Tell me what you think your answer will be after the research is complete. What will be your final So What? for the larger conversation. Be as specific and thorough as possible here. Again, write this last.


Remember when I repeated the term so-what intentionally in the description of your Short Paper? Your Research Project is no different. I want you to think about who cares about or may be affected by your question. You may also need to think about when this question might matter to them. Use whatever approach makes sense to you, but I want you to begin building a case for why your research will be important to a particular group of people (your potential audience). Be specific about who those people are: how are they like you? unlike you? what do they want that you also want (think about Section 1)?

Scholars don’t keep good information to themselves; they think of ways to share that data with others, and now you need to take a personal need public. What happens to these people if you don’t find an answer to your question? What happens if you do? How will you teach them something? Solve a problem they have? Answer their question?


Content and Focus (85%)

Does the overall proposal follow the criteria outlined above? Does the proposal…

  • Explain what the writer wants to know more about?
  • Explain why the writer is interested in learning more?
  • Explain how and why the writer intends to investigate this subject?
  • Include 5 new sources the researcher will use to answer her/his question?
  • Explain how a person, place, or thing might help him/her better understand the term, concept, or practice under investigation?
    • If required, are the consent materials included?
    • Are the questions to be asked included?
  • Speculate about what might be learned at the end of this research process?
  • Offer an explanation for why other should (or might) care about this research?

Nuts and Bolts (15%)

  • Follows template provided
  • MLA 2009 format
  • Meticulous proofreading throughout

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