Monday, October 25, 2010

How to Write a Prospectus

Due: on blog, Monday 11/1

A prospectus is a proposal for a research paper, written in advance in order to demonstrate your grasp of the topic and your vision of the research paper. In terms of the writing process, a prospectus gives you the opportunity to focus your thoughts in a finished piece of writing before you get started. Writing a prospectus can help you to develop a sense of what questions will guide your research, what the major points your argument will be, and the order of those points; in a persuasive essay (such as the one you will be writing for this class) the prospectus can also help you to clarify your position before you get started; and finally, it can help you to arrive at the tone of your work and some language for your position early in the process. In terms of class work, the prospectus allows your professor and classmates to give you feedback and suggestions before you begin the research paper itself.

The prospectus is a brief assignment (300 words) intended to provide an overview of your essay. For our purposes, the prospectus will have three parts:

1. Introduce your topic and discuss its importance. A topic is a general area of research such as "genetically-modified seeds," "mercury levels in seafood," or "the locavore movement." Topics tend to be broad, and they can be thought of as the general "field" in which you will ask specific questions. This section of the prospectus should introduce your research topic to your readers in a way that will allow them understand it even if they've never heard of it before; it should be like a summary or overview of your topic, providing specific information without overdoing it. In addition, this section of the prospectus should try to catch your readers' interest by convincing them of its importance -- why it matters to you, why it matters to them.

2. Introduce your questions and a working thesis. Here you provide specific questions that you will be asking about your topic: the questions that will guide you in your research and argumentation. For example, "What are the health effects of high mercury levels in freshwater fish? Why the mercury levels so high? What, if anything, is being done about this problem?" Think of these questions as possible topics/major points for your essay. Introduce them in an order that makes logical sense so that there is a sense of organization and "logical flow" to this section of the prospectus; say a bit about each question, why it matters, how it grows out of the previous question or leads to the next one. Conclude this section with a 1-2 sentence statement or your working thesis for the research essay -- the thesis that you think you will use in your final paper, given what you know right now.

3. Discuss specific tools and sources that you will be using to conduct your research. Don't just say "the web": tell your readers what sites or kinds of sites will you be looking at, who they are written by or written for, and why you've chosen them. Similarly, tell your reader what specific databases you will be looking at and why; what specific subject areas, fields of study, or authors you will consult in your book research. Doing this portion of the assignment well will help you to strategize about your research, making it easier to do that research.

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