The main purpose of a proposal is to prove each of the following:
- the problem is significant enough to warrant investigation;
- the method one plans to use is suitable and feasible;
- the results are likely to be fruitful and will make an original contribution.
The proposal will provide a general idea of what one is proposing to research, but it does not have to be a final, binding commitment. It can serve as a starting point for discussions with one’s supervisor about topic, methodology, and mechanics of research. While the structure of a standard proposal is not set in stone, a typical proposal includes the following:
- aims and objectives
- review of previous research in the area and justification for further research
- proposed methods
- expected outcomes and their importance
- requirements for equipment, materials, field trips, and funding (if applicable)
- approximate time by which each stage will be completed
The length of one’s proposal can range from 3-4 pages to 30-40 pages, depending on the requirements of a particular department in a particular university.
This page is assigned Roman numeral “i,” although the number should not appear on the page.
Each copy of a project submitted to an academic institution should include a signature page. This page should be the same size and type of paper as the remainder of the project. The font should also be the same size and face as the remainder of the project. Although the duplicate signature pages may be copies, the signatures must be original. The number of signature lines must equal the number of signees. The major and/or degree to be awarded must be exactly those to which the student was admitted officially by the school. The signature page is not numbered or counted in any way.
Each copy of a project submitted to an academic institution should include an approval sheet. This sheet should be the same size and type of paper as the remainder of the project. The font should also be the same size and face as the remainder of the project. Although the approval sheets may be copies, the signatures must be original. The number of signature lines must equal the number of signees. The major and/or degree to be awarded must be exactly those to which the student was admitted officially by the school. The approval sheets are not numbered or counted in any way.
For most Master- and Doctoral-level theses, the Permission Statement allows the library at the student’s university to provide academic copies without securing further permission from the student author. Unlike dissertations, theses are not transferred to microfilm, so access to them is limited to library hardcopy. Each copy of the thesis submitted to the college must include a Permission Statement, which should be the same size and type of paper as the remainder of the thesis. The font should also be the same size and face as the remainder of the thesis. It follows the approval sheet and is not assigned a page number.
Preface (Acknowledgements page)
A personal statement about the project may be included in the preface. The tone of a preface, however, must be academic and appropriate to a scholarly work. The preface can also be used to thank those who have helped the student in the research process. In addition, the student may list permissions to quote copyrighted material here, as well as acknowledgments for grants and special funding. The month and year of submission should be included at the bottom of the page. This is the first page on which Roman numerals should appear.
Acknowledgements page (Preface)
A personal statement about the project may be included in the acknowledgements page. The tone of an acknowledgements page, however, must be academic and appropriate to a scholarly work. The acknowledgements page is also used to thank those who have helped the student in the research process. In addition, the student may list permissions to quote copyrighted material here, as well as acknowledgments for grants and special funding. The month and year of submission should be included at the bottom of the acknowledgements page. This is the first page on which Roman numerals should appear.
If the student wishes to dedicate the project to an individual or group of people, this is the appropriate place for the student to do so. The text of the dedication page should not exceed two or three paragraphs.
Table on Contents
The table of contents must accurately reflect the exact organization of the project. It may vary in style and amount of information. However, Chapter or Section titles, the Bibliography (and/or Works Cited), and the Appendix(ces), if any, must be included. Page numbers given for the Bibliography and Appendix should be those assigned to the separation sheet preceding each of those items. It is not necessary to include all levels of headings, but there must be consistency. If a particular level is included at any point, all headings of that level must be included. Pages with Roman numerals should not be included; the Table of Contents entries start with page 1.
List of Tables, Charts, & Figures
If there are five or more tables, charts, and/or figures, this list must be included. A List of Plates must be included if plates are used. There must be separate lists for tables, charts, figures, and/or plates. Any tables or figures appearing in the appendix should be included in the appropriate list. Each title must be different from the other titles. Each title must appear in an appropriate list with the exact wording that appears on the corresponding table, chart, figure, and/or plate.
The abstract should be a concise statement of the content and significance of the project. It should consist of continuous, coherent summary, not disconnected notes or impertinent jargon.The student must include an abstract with each copy of the project submitted to the college. Although the content of the abstract is determined by the student and his or her professor, the following information should be included:
- short statement about the area of investigation
- brief discussion of the methods and procedures used in gathering data
- condensed summary of the findings
- conclusions reached in the study
Any mathematical formulas and words in foreign languages should be identified clearly and accurately. There must be no errors or inconsistencies.The title of the abstract must be the same as that of the finished project.
A brief outline or general view of the main points of the argument or theory behind a project; similar to an abstract or a summary.
The Executive Summary is aptly named—it summarizes the project in a clear, concise, persuasive manner. It provides the reader with an introduction to the purpose of the project. Ideally, it will also serve to spark the reader’s interest. The Executive Summary should always be written last.
The Introduction should identify the topic and explain why it is important. It must be adequately informative, yet easy to follow. It should state the problem as simply as possible, taking into account the broader view of the discipline as a whole. The student should not overestimate the reader’s familiarity with the topic. The Introduction will be read by those who are somewhat acquainted with the general area, but not all readers will be specialists in the particular topic. The student should write in an intelligent, logical, concise manner, but the Introduction should be presented in such a way that one who knows little of the literature or particular topic will gain a solid understanding of the project’s purpose and subject matter. The Introduction must be interesting, as well. If the reader becomes bored while reading the first section of the project, he or she is unlikely to regain interest in the following sections. In fact, the reader may stop reading altogether! To prevent such disaster, tradition permits prose in the first few paragraphs that is less dry than the formal, scientific, or literary norm.
Statement of the Problem
There must always be a clear rationale for a student’s hypothesis. Such rationale is typically presented in the form of a problem statement that explains what issue or controversy needs to be resolved. The writer’s hypothesis will make a prediction about the problem’s likely resolution.
The hypothesis section of a project identifies the problem to be explored and its importance to the field of study. It asserts that the student’s research may help to solve the problem under investigation. The student’s hypothesis is essentially a statement of what he or she believes the study will prove and/or solve.
The rationale for a study is based on the writer’s belief in the need for additional or completely new research on a unique problem in a given field. The rationale should explain, defend, and/or prove that the current literature (if any) and current findings (if any) on the given problem are inadequate, outdated, and/or inaccurate. Basically, the rationale should identify the student’s reasoning and justification for writing a project on the particular subject.
The Literature Review is a thorough summary of the recognized facts and information in academic literature about a given subject. Most cited sources in a project are listed in the Literature Review. The student must locate previous research studies (usually found in professional journal articles) that have contributed to the field in a manner similar to what his or her own project proposes. If little academic writing exists on a given subject, composing the Literature Review will be a very difficult task. The standard Literature Review should:
- justify the reason for the student’s research. The student must convince the reader that his or her research is important and beneficial.
- allow the student to establish his or her theoretical framework and methodologicalfocus. The Literature Review often becomes the basis for the entire project.
- summarize each piece of literature in a few sentences and identify the approach taken by each author.
- evaluate the approach of each author and put it into a context.
- explain why each piece of literature was chosen as reference material for the project.
- demonstrate the student’s knowledge of the field. The student should not merely report what he or she has read. Instead, the student must show that he or she has a thorough, deep connection to the area of study; knows what the most important issues are and their relevance to his or her investigation; understands the controversies; recognizes what has been neglected; knows where previous studies have gone and anticipates where the field will go as a result of his or her study.
The Methodology section can vary significantly in length and content, depending on the subject matter, type of experiment being conducted, and particular requirements. Most academic institutions require this section to include a detailed explanation of the subject population, procedures, timelines, objectives, limitations, instruments, data collection, ethical considerations, tools, and statistical analysis. The writer must be extremely thorough and detailed.
Included in the methodology section should be a thorough explanation of data and the methods by which data was obtained. Instruments of data collection vary, but common methods include surveys, interviews, questionnaires, and case studies. The writer must show methodological expertise through analyzing the benefits and limitations of every method of data collection used in preparing the project.
Data collection must not conclude until a sufficient number of subjects are evaluated, establishing a solid basis for assertions and the applicability of findings for the subject population. The writer must display knowledge and understanding of the differences between qualitative and quantitative data.
A set of interview-style questions designed by the student to obtain pertinent data from the subject population or anyone with a connection to the subject population.
The group of people, places, or things under research.
The conclusion may be the most important part of the project. The writer must not merely repeat the introduction, but explain in expert-like detail what has been learned, explained, decided, proven, etc. The writer must reveal the ways in which the paper’s thesis might have significance in society.A conclusion should strive to answer questions that readers logically raise–“Why are you telling me this? Why do you think I need to understand your main point?” The conclusion may place the paper in a larger context, serve as a call for action, set forth a warning or hypothesis, intentionally complicate the issues already introduced, raise a question or questions, introduce a relevant quote, or tell an appropriate anecdote.Again, the writer should not depend on the conclusion to sum up the body paragraphs. Paragraphs should flow naturally into one another and connections should be made among them. Summary can be an important function of a conclusion, but this part must be brief; readers know what they’ve just read. The writer should point out the importance or implications of the research on an area of societal concern. The writer could also mention the lack of conclusion in the field. This demonstrates understanding of the subject’s complexity. The writer may choose to propose what may be the natural next step to take in light of what the argument is attempting to convince. The conclusion should not end with a quotation or statement that could very well be the subject of another paper. The former deflects attention away from one as writer and thinker; the latter deflects attention from what one is conveying in the paper.
The results section is not the place for opinion or conjecture. The writer should limit this section to clear, concrete facts. The findings and results should be completely and accurately stated, regardless of whether or not they support the writer’s hypothesis.
The writer must critically analyze the unbiased results of the research. One should present statistical data and analyze the resulting figures in an attempt to judge the suggestions inherent in his or her findings. The writer may also reference the Literature Review in order to show how his or her research builds upon previous work in the field of study.
This section should be included in a report when the results and conclusions indicate that further work must be done or when the writer needs to discuss several possible options to best remedy a problem. The writer should not introduce new ideas in the recommendations section, but rely on the evidence presented in the results and conclusions sections. Via the recommendations section, the writer is able to demonstrate that he or she fully understands the importance and implications of his or her research by suggesting ways in which it may be further developed.
Endnotes and Footnotes
Endnotes (citations and reference lists gathered at the end of each chapter or at the end of the paper) have been popular among academic writers, primarily because they make the transition from a submitted manuscript to published resource so much easier. Even so, parenthetical documentation styles (and their corresponding “Works Cited” and/or “Bibliography” list) have supplanted both footnotes and endnotes in most academic disciplines. Because of its relative ease in both writing and reading, parenthetical documentation is greatly preferred by most instructors. For writers in some disciplines, however—most notably in some of the humanities disciplines such as music, art, religion, theology, and even history—footnotes are still widely in use. A student must check with his or her instructor to make sure that parenthetical documentation is an acceptable method of citing resources. If used, the placement of footnotes can be at the bottom of the page, the end of the chapter, within the text (e.g., Johnson, 2003), or combined at the end of the text of the thesis, depending on the manuscript style. The writer must be consistent, however. An advisor or professor should approve of the footnote style. Remember, if consistent with the style sheet, footnotes or endnotes can be single-spaced. Footnotes and endnotes appear with their corresponding superscript number and are written with the first line indented.
Bibliography or Works Cited
The bibliography lists books, articles, or other works consulted in preparing the paper. It must be included even if endnotes or footnotes are used. The arrangement of the bibliography and the information in each entry is determined by the chosen style (MLA, APA, Harvard, Turabian, Chicago, etc.). In the Works Cited section, all cited sources should be listed in alphabetical order. These sources may include books, articles, magazines, newspapers, electronic resources, audio-visual materials, etc. Within the text of the paper, parentheses should show readers where the writer found each piece of cited information. These textual citations allow the reader to refer to the Works Cited page(s) for further information.
Materials that are peripheral but relevant to the main text of the project should be placed in appendices. These may include survey instruments, additional data, computer printouts, details of a procedure or analysis, a relevant paper written by the student, etc. Appendix material must meet the same requirements of page composition, pagination, legibility, and paper quality as the text itself. On the first page of each appendix the page number is placed at the bottom of the page, centered between the margins. Appendices should be designated A, B, C, etc. If there is only one appendix, it is simply called Appendix, not Appendix A. Each appendix and its title are listed in the Table of Contents. A separate display page, giving the appendix designation and title, may precede each appendix. If used, the page number of the display page is the one listed in the Table of Contents.