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How to Write a Research Proposal

Marshall Soules


In a proposal for a research paper, you should include (1) an expressive title; (2) a thesis statement; (3) an abstract or outline description of your topic; (4) a works cited. Your proposal is a starting point: after you start writing your research paper, you might discover that you want to change something, and this is to be expected.

Thesis Statement

The thesis statement defines the purpose and scope of your topic in one or two sentences. You can begin your thesis statement with the phrase: "The purpose of this project is to [describe, explore, prove, argue, show, demonstrate etc]..." The remainder of the sentence should establish your central topic and the focus you intend to bring to your discussion. An example might be: "This project argues the case for greater use of the personal pronoun and first-person narratives in contemporary discursive writing." In this case, the thesis specifically limits the scope of the project to the use of the personal pronoun and first-person narratives within the wider context of writing. Anything which does contribute to this argument should be excluded from the project to preserve the unity of your writing. To give your project increased focus and interest, adopt a point-of-view about your subject and make a case, or argument, in its favour.

Abstract or Outline

An abstract is a short description of the content of your project written out in complete sentences. It includes the main topics of discussion and the conclusions you will reach. Make it as specific as you can. An outline performs the same function as an abstract in point form. Again, try to be specific and avoid generalizations that contribute little in the way of detail. An abstract is preferable if you want to emphasize the argument of your project; an outline tends to emphasize the structure of your argument.

Works Cited

You should list the works you refer to in your essay in a Works Cited. In the final works cited for your project, only list those works that you refer to directly in your text; don't include those sources that you consulted but do not refer to. However, in a proposal, list all the works that you intend to consult -- you want to show your reader what materials you have found for possible use, and some of these items will not be included in the final works cited. Please use the MLA style of documentation and referencing.