ENG 123: 5.1 Topic Proposals

Today’s Plan

  • Attendance
  • Topic Exploration Paper Turn in Issue
  • Review Topic Proposal Assignment
  • Types of Research & Proposals
  • Roadmapping Your Project
  • Homework

Review Topic Proposal Assignment

First, let’s look over the criteria that I introduced in our last class.

Now that you have completed the Topic Exploration assignment, it is time to develop your ideas a bit more. In a 750-1,200 word essay, present your opinion on a focused issue or controversy within your chosen topic, and discuss your purpose for research, your proposed audience, and your research plan.

We are going to follow USC’s Proposal Guide to organize our proposals. According to the USC site, proposals have:

  • Introduction (what problem will you address? why is it important?)
  • Background and Significance (a more extensive history of the project, extends the introduction)
  • Literature Review (What research have you already done?)
    • For the proposal, this should be a minimum of five sources or 125 pages
    • Additionally, the proposal should include the next four sources you need to read. These will be four sources in your Annotated Bibliography
  • Research Design and Methods (What will you do? How?)
    • I will discuss this more on Tuesday, but you should be thinking about what you might *do* beyond reading sources. Can you conduct interviews with local experts? Can you examine local policies? Can you conduct a survey? Can you visit a site and document important stuff? Can you watch 10 episodes of the news in order to track something? Can you etc etc etc.
  • Hypothesis / Preliminary Conclusions / Conclusion

Your papers, then, should be in either MLA or APA format and include these headings.

These papers require a Works Cited or Reference Page.

These papers are due Thursday, February 9th at midnight.

Types of Research and Proposals

Part of what I am asking for in this project is to think about what contribution you can make to an ongoing conversation: that is, beyond conducting secondary research into what others have said, what primary research can you add? There is no one way to answer this question; in fact, I think the answers will be very different based on the communities you are engaging and the kind of research you want to do. But I want to begin by making a distinction between two kinds of intellectual work: scholarship and research. I don’t agree with Southern Utah University’s claim that research is the creation of new knowledge and scholarship the application of that knowledge (particularly in teaching). Rather, I see research and scholarship as two different ways of creating knowledge.

  • Research is empirical in its approach and methods. It measures, tracks, identifies, something in the world
  • Scholarship is hermeneutic in its approach and methods. It defines, interprets, traces, something in texts

I highlight this distinction to try and help you think about what it means to write a methods section for your paper. If you are planning to do “research,” then you need to be as detailed as possible in what you collect, how you will collect it, etc. For instance, if you tell me you are going to do a survey, that is an empirical project. You need to make sure you are crafting good survey questions. I would like to know what those questions will be. If you are interested in tracking media representations of Obamacare, then I need to know how you will locate those representations–where will you look? At what time? For how long? How will you classify these representations? How are you developing your categories for classification? If you are developing an interview, then I want to know what questions you would ask your subject and how you generated those questions.

However, if you are planning to do scholarship, you still need to think about methodology. I often frame hermeneutic scholarship in terms of “lens” (a way of seeing) and “object” (what you want to look at differently). I’ve created a handout to try and get at how this works, though in simplest terms it is something like I will use X in order to analyze Y.

Road mapping

As you finish your projects, you should think about how you can break your longer paper into a series of stages. I call this road mapping your paper. This is a series of sentences, generally after the thesis, that lays out the parts of the paper, giving the reader a sense of what to expect. I do this in a lot of articles. It looks something like this:

This chapter begins by briefly unpacking Latour’s Non-Modern Constitution, tracing its development through his earlier writings to its explication in Politics of Nature. We then review two of Kant’s critical pieces on the role and scope of higher education, his early essay “An answer to the question ‘What is enlightenment?’” (1996) and his later, and more controversial manuscript, Conflict of the faculties (1979). Our analysis contextualizes Kant’s call for the separation of public and private duty in light of the snarly religious/political field of late 18th century Germany. Then, we detail contemporary politics’ increasing encroachment upon curriculum and funding across all levels of education. While contemporary scholars might not face the same “unpleasant measures” that Kant did, there are clear risks associated with reintegrating academic labor into the public sphere. However, despite these risks, academics must commit themselves to political action. Academics cannot remain idle; they must act before it is too late. We close by offering strategies and tactics (de Certeau, 1984) for instituting Latour’s Non-Modern Constitution. As a strategy, we present the University of South Florida’s recently approved Patel College of Global Sustainability, an interdisciplinary college dedicated to increasing scientific knowledge’s impact in the public sphere.

I do this in a number of articles:

In essence:

First, this paper examines X. Then, it turns to consider Y. Finally, it proposes Z.

Of course, you can really only write this sentence *after* you have finished your paper. Chances are if you can’t summarize your paper this way, then you don’t really have a comprehensive, logically-developed argument. That’s why I want you to try and imagine this sentence now: it should help you think about the logical cohesion of all the work you have to do. This kind of road mapping could appear in your introduction, or it could conclude your methods section.


We will be meeting in the computer lab, Ross 1240, on Thursday. I have some feedback from the first set of papers that I want to give and have you fix some common structural issues.

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