Collaborative Research Project Proposals
Successful proposals can be written many ways, but they'll all need certain essential elements if they are going to help the instructor determine whether the project has a good likelihood of success. Please make sure your proposal has the following parts which will perform these important tasks for your reader.
1) A bibliographic survey of the previous research: show your reader that you at least have begun to see what others have done in your field: You may discover that your initial conception of the project was incorrect, but can be repaired by shifting your emphasis, or you may discover that experts all find a certain set of tools necessary to continue with the study. You may find that you need a source that will take a few weeks to get via Interlibrary Loan. You could realize that you'll have to learn a new skill like survey design, interviewing strategies, observation and coding of social behaviors, etc. Make sure you let us know you have seriously, energetically begun to assemble sources which will help guide your work. Don't try to reinvent the field you're working in--play by its rules, but play creatively. Especially remember to consult the previous English 221 sections' collaborative research project reports in my office, the annotated bibliographies for this year, and the annotated bibliographies of previous 221 researchers. They contain extremely valuable information and helpful interpretation which your colleagues have labored hard to make available to you. Make sure you give the class this bibliographic information in your handout. That way we can tell what you already know about, and we can offer suggestions of we know of sources you have not yet discovered.
2) An introduction that lays out what your most important sources tell you about the problem you're investigating, and what opportunities for research you have discovered there: What limits do you think you'll have to place on your study? Do you have any logistical problems that your reader might help you solve (e.g., getting sources, learning sub-skills, etc.)? Make clear what your focus will be, as well as you can at this time. If you have needs that I can meet, including contacts with faculty or researchers at other institutions, and books or other materials we could buy using the Writing Program budget, please don't hesitate to ask!
3) A discussion of the probable methodology you'll use to conduct the project: For instance, you might intend to more completely survey previously published research in the topic you've chosen, so the project would not involve any original research, but would draw conclusions by comparing and contrasting the methods, evidence, and conclusions of other scholars. Some projects seems naturally suited to surveys of writers, teachers, tutors, etc., and others might supplement that survey with interviews of willing survey takers. Some projects might study a body of completed writing to look for specific traits to test a hypothesis based on our reading. Another approach might involve observing writers or tutors or teachers as they work, perhaps combined with survey or interview, either preceding or following the observation. These are common examples of project methodologies that have been used in the past. Think carefully about the scale and complexity of your methodology--don't take on a larger project than you can finish in less than one month. Big projects nearly always can be scaled down to manageable size while still producing very important conclusions. Remember, just determining that something is possible can be as important as demonstrating certainty in your conclusion. If you are still interested in your project after the end of this semester, it can be pursued as an independent study or even a Senior Honors Thesis. Just do what you can do now.
4) An explanation of why this project will help students in English 221, this year and in years to come: This could address any of the course's three main foci, teaching writers, tutoring writers, and learning to write. If your project seems peripheral or even disconnected from these main course goals, either redirect it or consider changing your topic.
Remember these are only "proposals" and your thinking probably will not be complete at this early stage in the project. Just try to see as far into the project as you can at this time, and I'll respond with questions, suggestions, and offers of source or logistical support.