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How to Write a Research Proposal

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  • 0:04 What Is a Research Proposal?
  • 0:56 From Topic to Thesis
  • 2:59 From Thesis to Argument
  • 5:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

In this lesson, we'll walk through the process of writing a research project from topic to preliminary proposal. We'll explore ways to construct a thesis, build an argument, and find sources.

What Is a Research Proposal?

Let's say you're taking a course in English literature and your teacher has assigned a research paper on an author from the syllabus. The current unit covers topics in literature, science and 20th century society, including readings by Aldous Huxley, Philip K. Dick, and George Orwell. You particularly enjoyed reading Brave New World, so you decide to write about Huxley. Here's a tip to get started: choose a topic that ignites your passion. Brave New World is a fascinating novel set in a dystopian future where technology, industry, medicine, and government control the free will of British citizens.

In this lesson, we'll walk through the process of writing a research proposal. We'll learn how to move from the initial topic to a thesis statement, and then from a thesis to an argument. We'll also look at how to put together a bibliography of possible sources.

From Topic to Thesis

Once you have a topic, however general, it's your job to whittle it down into a research question, or what your paper sets out to answer about its topic. Continuing with the topic of English author Aldous Huxley, we could formulate our research question in a variety of ways. Let your curiosity guide you.

After some preliminary research, refine your topic by beginning to ask questions. Sketch out your areas of interest in a way that makes sense to you. If you're naturally organized, use a list format. If you're more visually inclined, create a mind map, or a graphic depiction of information arranged spatially on a chart. Some common ways to define your topic include:

  • Literary analysis. What are some important themes?
  • Historical connections. What historical circumstances led to the creation of the work?
  • Biographical investigation. How does the author's personal experience reflect in the work?
  • Social aspects. How does the author deal with the social aspects of gender, race, and class difference?

Returning to our example, you might find some inspiring aspects of Huxley's real life intriguing. Or perhaps you gravitate towards the story of Brave New World and want to investigate its social connections further. Perhaps you want to learn about allusions to Shakespeare and the works it later inspired, like Orwell and other works of dystopian literature. Pick whatever most interests you.

The thesis statement restates your research question by incorporating a possible answer to the question with an arguable claim. For example, if you settle on writing about the allusions to Shakespeare in Huxley's Brave New World, a possible thesis might sound something like this: 'In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley draws on Shakespeare's The Tempest to found his future in a reputable past while also alluding to the play ironically to critique his dystopian society.' Huxley's title, borrowed from one of Miranda's lines in The Tempest, indicates the ironic discrepancy between an outsider's utopian hopes and the reality of a depraved society.

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