The Proposal: Short form

The short form of a proposal is appropriate for most term papers, and consists of four parts.

a) A "problem statement" / statement of topic, which should be at most three sentences. This isn't easy: to do it well you'll need to have a good grasp of your topic and how you intend to handle it. One way to think of your problem statement is as an "executive summary" of your paper or project. Imagine you are at a party and meet a person who might either offer you a job or an internship, who wants to get a sense of your research skills and how your mind works. He or she asks you about your paper. How would you describe your project in a minute or less--before someone interrupts and your opportunity is lost?

b) Statement of the reason for your choice of topic. In at most 2 sentences, explain how your chosen topic relates to your interests. Why did you choose the topic? How does your topic relate to your professional goals, interests you already have, or interests that have grown with the independent reading you're doing? This statement very loosely corresponds to the "need for the study" in a formal (long form / graduate level) proposal. In the INFORMAL, small-scale short form of a proposal, a carefully considered statement of the reason you chose your topic will help to provide focus. A clear understanding of why you chose your topic will affect the way you approach your topic and organize your paper.

c) Outline. In simple outline form, or in one paragraph, explain how you plan to approach your topic. Based on the reading and thinking you've already done, and on the bibliography you've assembled, what is the tentative structure of your paper? This is not intended to be "written in stone," for the project / paper will grow as you work on it. HOWEVER, be sure that your outline rests on the strong foundation of the work you've done so far.

d) The annotated Bibliography is the final part of a short proposal. By the time you write your proposal you should have already assembled a solid bibliography. Look again at the section titled "Assess your Bibliography" and be sure that your bibliography is balanced, and has a wide enough range of appropriate sources.

When you are certain you have a solid bibliography, you may want to organize it in sections. If you choose to do this, under the heading "Selected Bibliography" say something like "I have organized this bibliography under the following headings: a) . . . b) . . . c) . . . " And then under your chosen headings, list your sources alphabetically by author's last name.

  • List your sources in the University of Chicago style (format), noting that the format for a bibliographic entry differs in format from a footnote;

  • Add an annotation for each entry:

    • Why will the source you've listed be useful to you? This might or might not be obvious. And,

    • How are you going to access the source? Is it your local Library? Is it online? Will you buy it or get it through InterLibrary Loan?

© Jan Mainzer