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Preliminary Bibliography And Prospectus Format

Writing a Research Prospectus

A prospectus is a formal proposal of a research project developed to convince a reader (a professor or research committee, or later in life, a project coordinator, funding agency, or the like) that the research the research can be carried out and will yield worthwhile results. It should provide:

  • a working title for your project,
  • a statement of your research question or issue,
  • an overview of scholarship related to this topic or to the this author,
  • a brief summary of your research methods and/or your theoretical approach.

A prospectus is normally accompanied by a bibliography, often annotated, which lists sources you have consulted or plan to consult for your research. In cases where the texts studied exist in multiple editions or in translation, the bibliography should normally state which edition, text, or translation you will be using and why. You also should include a Prospectus Cover Sheet, complete with the signature of your director and second reader.

Contents: In most cases, a prospectus will begin with an overview of existing scholarship, summarizing basic arguments relevant to the project. It will then position the project with reference to this scholarship. For this reason, the prospectus will demonstrate that you have conducted enough preliminary research to be able to design a relevant project and carry it through relatively independently. Since at this stage much research remains to be done, a thesis statement usually does not follow this introduction. Instead, include a statement of hypothesis or of the central research questions. The prospectus should then offer an overview of the project organization. If the project is large enough for chapters, include a breakdown of them. If special skills or assistance such as foreign language competency, access to archives or special collections, technical skills, or access to technical equipment are needed to complete your project, the prospectus should address your preparation in these areas. Part of your goal is, in essence, to "sell" your research supervisors on both your project and yourself as a researcher. Cover the ground well, presenting yourself and your project as intellectually convincing.

Developing an initial prospectus will help faculty understand where you are in the research process and help you bring focus to your research throughout the experience. Because it lays out a framework for your project, the prospectus can provide you with direction during the inevitable moments when you feel overwhelmed or lost. And because you have already clearly demonstrated your ability to carry out your research project, the prospectus can serve to reinforce your confidence and help keep you on track for a timely completion.

Beyond its relevance to your current research project, a prospectus helps you sharpen several important skills. Because a good prospectus demands concise, informative writing, composing one will help hone your writing style. In asking you to persuasively describe a compelling project and establish your ability to carry it out, it draws on abilities applicable to a variety of situations in and out of the academy, such as scholarship and funding applications, proposals for research forums, conferences, or publications, job applications, and preparation for larger and more complex research projects such as those found in Ph.D. programs and a variety of professional settings. The skill is so important that some people—grant writers—make a profession out of writing prospectuses.

Dr. Debora B. Schwartz
English Department, California Polytechnic State University

 Research Paper Prospectus and Working Bibliography 

Depending on the course in which you are enrolled, the Prospectus and Working Bibliography for your Research Paper are due between weeks 5 and 7 of the quarter (see course homepage and/or Calendar of Assignments for specific date).  This date has been set to allow you to receive meaningful feedback on your research project early enough in the quarter to be able to make a significant difference in the quality of your final research paper.  Additionally, the Prospectus and Working Bibliography must have been submitted prior to the midterm exam, as I use them to grade the Paper Preview section of the midterm.

The Prospectus is normally ungraded: if it is submitted on time, it will be used solely for feedback to help you write a stronger final research paper.  If however no prospectus is submitted or the prospectus does not fulfill therequirements of the assignment, it will be graded andwill count for 10% of your final course grade. In that case, the weight of the research paper will be reduced accordingly.  (Note: this means that failure to submit a prospectus will result in 10% of your final course grade = F.) 

The Paper Prospectus should consist of the following components:
  • a working title which clearly identifies the work(s) you will discuss and gives some indication of the topic you will explore and/or the thesis you will argue in your paper (a two-part title separated by a colon often does the trick nicely); 
  • a fully articulated thesis, i.e., an explicit statement of the interpretation of your text(s) which you will argue in your paper (what you will argue about your topic, not just a statement of the topic itself); 
  • a tentative outline of your paper mapping out its paragraph structure (to ensure you will make your points in logical order) and indicating what, specifically, you will argue about the evidence you will introduce in each paragraph

The Working Bibliography should provide correct and complete citations for at least eight secondary sources on your topic (the specific primary reading[s] which you are researching).  List the sources on your Working Bibliography alphabetically by author; do not provide annotations (as you must do for the Annotated Bibliography distributed in class on the day of your Oral Presentation).  Be sure to format your bibliographic citations correctly; consult the citation guidelines on Dr. Schwartz's Guide to Research Tools (fuller details are found in your MLA Handbook).  Each citation should be followed by a parenthetical indication of the mode of access which you used to obtain the resource in question.

In choosing your sources, be sure to include at least one of each of the following kinds of sources: 

  • a book written entirely by an individual or joint author(s) (i.e. not an edited collection); 
  • an essay from an edited collection published in book form (what the MLA Bibliography refers to as a "book article");
  • a scholarly journal article.
Additionally, the sources must include items obtained using all of the following modes of access: 
  • at least one item from Cal Poly library's print collections (indicate "Cal Poly" and provide call number in parentheses after citation); 
  • at least one item obtained through LINK+ (e.g. an essay in an edited collection or other book not in Cal Poly's collections; indicate LINK+ in parentheses after citation); 
  • at least one item obtained through ILL (e.g. an article from a journal not avilable in Cal Poly's collections or a book not available through LINK+; indicate ILL in parentheses after citation); 
  • at least one REPUTABLE SCHOLARLY SOURCE accessed electronically (typically, an article from one of the online journal databases or an ebook from NetLibrary; bibliographic citation will include indication of database used).
Remember that I will consult your Working Bibliography when grading the Paper Preview section of your midterm exam.

Contents of this and linked pages Copyright Debora B. Schwartz, 1999-2006

Click here for Dr. Schwartz's Guide to Research Tools

Return to Home Pages for ENGL 430; ENGL 439 "Gender in Medieval Literature"; ENGL 439 "Love in Medieval Literature"; ENGL 459 "Medieval Arthurian Literature"; ENGL 459 "Modern Arthurian Literature"; ENGL 512 "British Literature: Medieval" 
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