Generic Proposal Template

This text is intended as a guideline for you to use as you begin to plan a proposal.  It should be of some use whether your proposal is a 20-page dissertation proposal or a two-page MA project proposal.  All proposals have two communicative burdens: they must describe what you are planning to do, and they must convey why this is a reasonable, important, and interesting plan.  The six parts of the generic proposal template described below serve these purposes.

Particular types of proposals (a dissertation prospectus, a proposal to a federal granting agency, a plan for a comprehensive paper) will have special features that are responsive to their own particular purposes and requirements.  However, in any of these types, each of the parts described below will be found at some level.  In some proposals the section on what is already known about your questions may take ten pages; in others it may be represented by a sentence or two.

1)      What is the general area in which your study is located? This section requires that you locate your project with respect to a larger area of research.  For example, “stress rules in Spanish,” “discourse markers,” “non- manual marking in ASL syntax,” or “language development in Williams Syndrome” are general topic areas that do not, in themselves, constitute research questions.  But it’s a good idea to briefly introduce the reader to the general area in which you’ll be working.

2)      What previous work in this area has led you to your specific question? In this section, you will set the stage for your research question.  Indicate what important problem(s) previous researchers in this area have identified, including what has been discovered or agreed upon.  Then move to what has NOT been successfully solved, or what gaps remain, or what questions have not been asked.  This section may include a discussion of research that deals specifically on the question you are posing, or it may be more general, depending on the state of research in your topic area and on the type of proposal you are writing.

3)      What specific research question(s) do you intend to address about this topic? In this section, you will introduce your specific question(s), making sure to include enough detail so that the reader can get a clear sense of what you want to find out.

4)      Provide a rationale for looking at your research question. Why should we think that your questions deserve to  be looked at?  Why are your questions interesting?  Who will care about the results?  This section may seem redundant with section 2, but here is where you put together all the reasons, theoretical and practical, that make your question an important question to ask at this point in the history of research on your specific topic.

5)      How specifically, will you address your research question(s)? What data will you use?  How will you get the data?  What methods of analysis will you use?  What theoretical constructs will you rely on?  What will you do first?  What will you do next, etc.?

6)      What is the potential broader significance of your proposal? When you have answered your question, what will we know that we did not know before?  Will this enable us to ask or answer any further questions?  If so, what are they?

What format should the proposal take?

The six questions above can be covered in a proposal in a number of ways.  A traditional format is to start with an “Introduction/Overview” that includes a brief overview of the context for research and the research question, as well as a mention of the methods and approaches you will use.  Next is “Review of Relevant Research,” which covers question 2 above.  Next is “Methodology” or “Plan of Inquiry” in which you lay out how you will answer the questions you are asking.  Finally, many people include a section called “Broader Significance,” as discussed in (6).  However, you and your advisor may prefer another format.

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