Content Requirements of a Prospectus

A prospectus is a description and justification of research to be undertaken. A good dissertation prospectus is clear and concise, and accessible to all scholars engaged in the academic study of religion.  Technical language not widely used in the larger field should be explained (or avoided). The prospectus should demonstrate the student’s control of the issues to be investigated, make clear the boundaries of the inquiry, indicate the method(s) to be employed, and describe the significance of the research. A full bibliography must be included in order to display the thoroughness of the preliminary investigation of the problem, the location of the problem in a field of inquiry, and the present state of the research in the field. The prospectus is limited to 12 double-spaced typewritten pages, plus bibliography and appropriate appendices.


Outline of a Successful Prospectus

  • Statement of the Problem

 The prospectus begins with a concise statement of the problem addressed by the proposed dissertation. This section delimits the topic and provides a preliminary dissertation thesis or the central research question to be addressed.

  • Context and Significance of the Study

This next section explains how the dissertation contributes to the advancement of scholarship and normally includes a literature review that surveys existing research on the topic, identifies an intellectual context, and demonstrates the significance of the proposed study within the established context. The research should be placed not only in a particular field but also within a wider understanding of religion in human history and experience. In short, the question, “So what?” should be cogently addressed.

  • Method(s) of Investigation

Third, the methodology or theoretical framework of the proposed study is presented. This section explains the method(s) used; describes the legacy, in the specialization, of the method(s); and makes a case for the appropriateness of using the method(s) to carry out the proposed research. While it is not possible to know everything about a research project at the outset, the prospectus should demonstrate awareness of some of the difficulties facing the proposed project and describe the ways the project will overcome known challenges.

  • Structure of the Dissertation

The final section describes the structure of the proposed dissertation and should include an anticipated chapter outline.

  • Working Bibliography

The bibliography is a crucial part of a successful prospectus. It indicates how thoroughly the student has investigated the research on the topic, its location within a field of inquiry, and its relation to cognate fields in and beyond the academic study of religion. The bibliography should also include sources and literature published in all the research languages required by the student’s Program of Study. Students should also list and comment, where appropriate, on original sources and secondary literature. The bibliography should be organized by category, and a rationale for the organization should be provided in an introductory paragraph. A good working bibliography at this stage of research is typically at least 15 pages long.

  • Appendices

Any tests, questionnaires, or other such instruments to be used in the proposed investigation should be included as appendices.

Please also include a brief statement of the estimated timeline for completing the various stages of the research and writing, including planned graduation date.

  • Formatting

The prospectus must include a title page with the title of the project, the name of the student, his or her track, the names of the first and other Readers, and the date of submission.

The body should not exceed 12 double-spaced typewritten pages and should use a clear, formal font, such as Times New Roman. Citations should be appropriate to the standards of the field of the student, either parenthetical in-text citations or endnotes. Margins should be 1″ on all sides. Pages should be numbered.

Bibliography and citation formats should match the standards in the field of the student, most commonly the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition. A handy, shorter reference is Kate Turabian et al., A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 7th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007). Note: If the body uses an in-text parenthetical citation system, the student must include a separate bibliography listing only those sources cited in the body; a prospectus that uses endnotes will include all this information in the notes.

It is not necessary to follow the above list to the letter. That is, a particular prospectus need not begin with a section entitled “Statement of the Problem” followed by one on “Context and Significance of the Study,” and so on. Instead, individual prospectuses should follow the contours of the proposed project and field. However, students should keep in mind that all of the issues discussed above must be addressed and within a clear, discernible structure.