4341 Research Proposal

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4341 Research Proposal

DUE DATE: March 23, 2014 @ 7:59 am


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.

The overall purpose of the research proposal and (its related) annotated bibliography is 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.


Follow the skeleton below exactly (and, again, you can find a similar template in the Semester Project folder). I ask for the rigid template for a reason: I will not read proposals that vary the format in any way. I want separate sections. I wanted them under the headings provided below. I want all the sections in the order listed 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 Doubting and Believing Responses, you’ve been asking questions and reflecting on terms, concepts, and ideas of interest in our discipline. Now I want you to transform those musings into ideas and a forward looking question.

What do you still need to know about a particular term, concept, practice, or issue confronted by current theorists? What do you want to understand about theories of rhetoric and composition as you prepare to leave St. Edward’s?

To frame this question, you will obviously need to begin by writing about a theorist and an idea we’ve discussed this semester. Help me see how work we’ve already done is providing the context for your question. You should (likely) then describe what you know about where you are going and how your ENGW degree will help you get there.

When I read this section, it should be clear (a) why you are interested in the issue you describe below and (b) what we’ve already read this semester that started your thinking and why that piece stands out for you.


In this project, we will work on developing your research question and on finding relevant, high-quality sources. For this section, you will write up your initial question in a structured way. If you have never written an inquiry-based project proposal and/or never completed a project driven by empirical research, I highly recommend you complete the Topic > Question worksheet provided to you in the Semester Project folder in GDrive.

In your final proposal, this section will contain only the following skeleton with you filling in the necessary blanks:

Using ____________ , 

You should begin your research statement by first describing your particular research methods here, which will likely include interviews, surveys, digital data corpus gathering, library research, rhetorical analysis, etc. 

I am investigating ____________ 

Your opening clause should outline the general topic or area of your investigation, which needs to be 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 ____________

Your second clause should explain what you want to learn with your research; tell me what it is that you don’t already know about your topic.

so that ____________ 

Tell me who the audience will be for this project; this cannot be you, and I am also not a suitable audience. Who else will care about this question?

can better understand ____________ . 

End your research statement by articulating the “so what” for your project. Specify (or speculate) what you believe will  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 will list the articles you will use to answer your question. These are the articles that you will include in your Annotated Bibliography. Obviously, you may wish to use some of the readings we’ve completed in class (they are, after all, the required 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, list no less than five (5) new articles for me to approve. You will need a total of eight (8) for the Annotated Bibliography, but you need only locate five for the Research Proposal. Each article should be cited 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, 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 total of five you need for the proposal. Also, for the paragraphs following articles we read in class, tell me what claims the authors made 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. I do, however, 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? Be very specific here. I want exact names, titles. You cannot be vague here.

(2) How are you going to get access to this person? to this place? to this thing? Be specific here. If you are using your networks and connections, explain that to me. What is your relationship to the person, place, or thing?

(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 your preliminary time table: I want to see dates and a formal schedule for completing this work. This will help later when you’re sending me Accountability Reports.

(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. These must be fully formed and complete if you are to be approved.

(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, or consult the samples in GDrive.

(b) You need to include all the questions exactly as you intend to ask them. If you are interviewing someone, I want to see the sequence of questions and your plan for recording the interview. If you are analyzing documents, explain the questions you’ll be trying to answer as you read. I even want to see the forms you’ll complete as you read. If you are going to sit, watch, and listen, then tell me what you are looking for. Show me how you’ll collect your data.  If you don’t write it down, you can’t ask it.


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 _______________.

Fill in the above blanks. 


Write this section last because your hypothesis will forecast what you think you will learn from the research sources you just described. The point of this section is to show that you’ve considered the relationship between your primary and secondary materials. 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

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

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