The Proposal: Short form, part 2:
Are you writing an essay or a report?

In designing your research project, consider whether you'll be writing a report or an essay.

A report is a well-organized summary of information the writer has gathered on a given topic.

In contrast, an essay is a sustained argument in which the writer assembles evidence to support an original conclusion that goes beyond the sources he or she draws on. To give a very simple example: "given a, b, and c, it seems that the situation may be described as x." The writer of the essay might find points a, b, and c in the literature, but x is an original idea arising from careful consideration of the available data. An essay, then, is a more advanced and sophisticated form of writing than a report.

If you plan to write an essay, remember that early in the semester you probably won't be able to state your conclusion. But what you can and should do is to identify the questions you'll be trying to answer. Below is an example of an "problem statement" written by an outstanding student whose semester project was a long form proposal:

To discern how American artists were influenced by French Impressionism, with particular focus on Edmund Tarbell, who was the only artist to successfully transform the painting style into something genuinely American.

This long-form "problem statement" is more complete and compact than a short form project statement can be. But notice how the student has obviously done a lot of research and uses good strategy: she asks a question rather than boxing herself in by stating a premature conclusion.


© Jan Mainzer