English 669: Methods and the
Assignment 6: First Draft, Research Proposal
printed out, Wednesday, October 11 in class
Requirements for First Draft (3-4 pp) of Proposal:
1) a draft title for the proposal
2) 3-4 pages text for the whole proposal
3) 2 page-draft of the narrative explanation section
3) 5-item Works Cited, with Works in proper MLA Handbook 8th edition form. Put entries in proper alphabetical order. Write a one-paragraph annotation for 3 entries out of the 5.
Although the final version of the proposal's Works Cited will not be an annotated bibliography, for this first draft you will annotate 3 secondary/critical entries, with one paragraph for each. The annotation will summarize the argument of the secondary/critical work cited.
This is a first draft but it needs to show some time and care. Over several drafts your proposal text will be revised for grammar, clarity, style, and concision by you and through peer reviews.
For all drafts after the first one you will omit the 3 annotations you did for the first draft. None of the 15 final entries will be annotated.
A good title provides the reader with more than just the general domain of the paper (e.g. something about Howard Hawkes, a reading of Middlemarch etc.), it includes one or more key terms from the thesis of your argument. For example, "A Blurred Materialism: Technologizing Memory in Beckett and Crowley," lets us know that memory and technology will be key terms in the argument. Imagine your title having to help convince a reader to look at your one argument about, say, Faulkner, out of the many thousands of other arguments in print about Faulkner. For example, John Irwin entitled an excellent book on Faulkner Doubling and Incest/Repetition and Revenge: A Speculative Reading of Faulkner. Your title need not follow the typical academic formula (title: subtitle) but your title needs to be cogent and enticing. Something unexpected for the topic, and pithy, as in Richard Kroll's "Pope and Drugs" can make a title both memorable and useful.
3 different works from your Works Cited will be cited in MLA style, in parentheses (author page) within in the narrative text of the proposal, showing that you've in fact read them and can cite something in detail. Remember those 3 annotations you wrote earlier?
You are to propose an interesting question, one requiring some research to discover a plausible answer to it. The topics can be about scholarship, teaching, anything intellectually serious and worth exploring. The sources you cite in this part of the proposal will help show others that you know what you are talking about, and that even though you might not have your own answer to your question yet, you are aware of some other authoritative answers to questions similar to it or otherwise related thematically or topically to it. If you can hypothesize an answer to your question based on your research thus far, by all means do so. However, the most important thing is to frame for your readers a question that is cogent, interesting, and not obviously answered without some systematic research. Use your developing knowledge of academic style(s) to choose a writing voice that is suitable serious, but also suits you. Why does your question matter? What is novel about it, and why might others besides yourself and outside your particular circle of knowledge and care about it?
You will need to situate your work within a world of scholarship, as represented by those works with which we can see your ideas involved in a kind of conversation. This situation of ideas within fields and traditions of research is vital to graduate-level research, and essential to eventual publication of even the best ideas. A narrative truly informed by what you've read, especially what you can cite directly, is the measure of your mastery of situation. Scholarly citation of others' work is the foundation of strong research and makes a good Works Cited far more than an exercise in form.
Even though you are writing about what you are doing, make the main subject of the narrative the project idea itself rather than yourself as autobiographical subject. It is generally unnecessary to say, "I believe that x, I think that y." For example, note the difference between, "I believe that current Hawthorne studies are woefully inadequate" and "Recently, studies of Hawthorne have failed to address..." The state of Hawthorne studies, not you as individual, is the real focus of interest and therefore better merits being the subject of the sentence. It is, however, perfectly fine to use first-person in academic writing where it is rhetorically appropriate.
Remember your audience: educated lay people. Do not talk down to them, but be vigilant about kinds of jargon that do not translate well across disciplines or fields. Define and explain terms as necessary. Remember that even abstract ideas do not demand abstract terminology to be comprehensible.
Be sure to proof this section; nothing sinks a proposal sooner than bad proofing and careless errors. Don't just rely on spell check.
Technically, many of your works might more properly be listed in a Works Consulted section, but to simplify list all works, whether or not cited in your own narrative, under Works Cited
This section is the backbone of written scholarship. It both continues to help convince others that you know what you're talking about, and demonstrates your mastery of proper MLA entry form. This section is often the most useful to others, because they can see, at a glance, how you arrived at your brilliant ideas. Each bibliography must have a minimum of 15 items. Items may be books, articles, reviews, interviews, a discussion thread from a social network, a posted electronic text, a menu from a web page, a blog, an email--whatever was necessary to your research. If you're working in truly uncharted territory, you may find that you'll need to turn to more broadly defined studies that parallel or complement your own specific ideas. It is also a very good rule of thumb to include in your bibliography those works in your field from the past 5-10 years that are most relevant to your project, because that's the working definition of the current knowledge in your field, the ideas to which your project is ultimately expected to respond and contribute.
Feel free to ask more questions live, or via email.
To read examples of complete prior passing proposals come to my office and borrow some.