Research Prospectus


What is a prospectus?   /   What are the parts of the proposal?   /   To whom is a prospectus written?   /   What writing style should be used for the prospectus?   /   How long should a prospectus be?   /  How are prospecti assessed?  /  Why should you do this?  /  The Assignment

See especially this selection from Ballenger's The Curious Writer.

What is a prospectus?

A prospectus is a proposal to undertake a research project. It is a statement that briefly describes the questions, materials, and methods a researcher will use in the research. A prospectus indicates that the research project fits the required parameters of the assignment, or the call for proposals. In short, it clarifies, for your instructor, your classmates, and you, what you intend to research, why, how you intend to research, and what purpose your work serves.

Why should you do this?

    Writing a prospectus is a useful way to formalize the choices you have made to this point.  Think about it.  You have selected a subject and narrowed it down to a specific topic.  You have asked a key research question and a sub-set of questions that will help you to answer the primary research question.  You have considered what kinds of resources would be the most useful, by using the library, the internet, and the local community.  You have begun to evaluate your sources.  In short, you have completed the preliminary stages of your work.  Applied researching, planning, and writing await you.  So what better time is there to describe your research plan?

    The research proposal allows you to pause in the middle of your research to describe and perhaps re-evaluate your choices (Remember the recursive nature of the research process?).  It provides you with an opportunity to get a response from your professors and colleagues (This is your prospectus should be posted on your web site.).


What are the parts of the proposal?

1.  A prospectus contains a clear, concise introduction to the topic of the research.  Provide a context for your research by answering several questions: 

  1. Why do you want to research your chosen topic?
  2. What special experiences have prepared you for the research (work experience, reading, classroom work, hobbies, personal experience)?
  3. What will you learn through your experience?
  4. How much can you expect your classmates and instructor to know about your topic?

By answering these questions you clarify how and why you began your work.

2.  A prospectus includes the main research question(s) that the researcher wishes to answer.  Include also the sub-set of questions you may need to ask in order to find the answer to the research question.  These will help you to organize your research and ultimately your final research presentation.

3.  A prospectus includes the basic arguments that surround the research topic.  These will likely reflect the research questions, but will be a discussion of the questions.

4.  A prospectus includes the basic research materials. For EN111 (LSSU) and ENGL1502 (AUC), this should be presented as a formal Proposed Bibliography, in the format required for this project.  If you will be using any special techniques (such as surveys, interviews) to gather information, these should by discussed also.

5.  The prospectus usually does not include the researcherís thesis, except as a basis for the research questions. For example, if the researcher believes a certain thing to be true, but has no substantive evidence to support that belief, then the researcherís belief drives the questions that must be answered in order to demonstrate the validity of that belief.


To whom is a prospectus written?

The audience for the prospectus is the reader who will determine whether or not the research project should be undertaken. This reader may be a professor, a research committee, a graduate degree committee, a funding agency, or the management of the company or agency for whom the researcher will conduct the study. In the case of EN111 and ENGL1502, the prospectus is written for your colleagues as well.


What writing style should be used for the prospectus?

A formal style generally takes place over an informal style. I other words, the prospectus should be written in the third person, using active voice verbs, and a writerís voice that demonstrates confidence that the research has merit. A prospectus that "sounds" dubious or not well considered typically indicates the research project itself is dubious and not well considered.


How long should a prospectus be?

A prospectus needs to cover the basic points to assure the reader that the researcher plans a substantive project. The length of the prospectus fits the parameters of the project. In other words, if the project is very involved and has many questions to answer, the prospectus will be longer than if the project seeks to produce a 20 page persuasive essay. The research assignment way specify an optimal or maximum length.  (See The Assignment for specific information.)


How are prospecti assessed?

There are a variety of ways in which professors and committees asses prospecti, and usually the call for proposals or the assignment will contain a description of the process. However, there are a few standards that are universally applied:

Salience: Is the research pertinent to the field? Would the results be an important addition to the body of knowledge in the field of the research? Is the research interesting?

Clarity: Is the research question clearly stated? Is it clear why the researcher has chosen to address this question? Have they considered alternatives?

Doability: Is there a reasonable expectation of completion in the time allotted, the length required, and the resources available?

Sources: Is there an explicit listing of resources? Is there a broad range of resource types (i.e., internet, publications, interviews, etc.)?


The Assignment

    Prepare a formal research proposal of approximately 750 to 1250 words (three to five pages, double-spaced).  Follow the manuscript style required for the assignment  (MLA for the first research essay, APA or other as negotiated for the second).  The hard copy should include:


For actual Calls for Papers and information on proposal writing, go to


[Research Prospectus.doc]