Why is a proposal important?
The first step in writing a good research paper is identifying its essential elements. A research proposal is an excellent way to do this. The proposal helps create a road map for research and writing. Requiring you to submit the proposal as a graded assignment will allow me to reply to you with suggestions for improvement. Things I might be able to help you with include but are not limited to:
- Identifying potential source material, thus saving you valuable time.
- Suggesting ways to either narrow or expand the focus of your research. For example, some students choose broad topics unsuitable for a short research paper. By contrast, some students often choose very narrow topics, thus making it challenging to locate source material.
What must the proposal include?
The syllabus briefly outlines the required elements in your proposal and the grading rubric. What follows below is meant to explain each of those elements in more detail. Please consult the syllabus for more information.
1. A general description of the paper’s topic
Write a two-paragraph description of your chosen topic. In the first paragraph, provide a general description. Are you researching a particular Supreme Court case? Are you studying a specific piece of legislation (state or federal)? Are you investigating the activities of a specific religious interest group? In the second paragraph, explain why this topic is relevant to our course. In other words, how does it fit into the scope of the class as defined by the course description and learning objectives (consult the syllabus for these details)?
2. A review of literature
Researchers do not work in a vacuum. Even the most accomplished and seasoned researchers understand that their research exists in the broader context of extant academic inquiry. In short, you are not the first person to produce research on your chosen topic.
To help the reader understand where your paper fits within existing scholarship, it should include a review of literature. The review included in your proposal can be a draft version. You can revise and edit it in the final version of your research paper. Use the following guidelines:
- One paragraph that includes:
- A description of three peer-review journal articles related to your topic. For each journal article, explain the author’s argument and conclusions.
- One paragraph that includes:
- An explanation of how your research advances the reader’s understanding of the topic.
- A one-sentence statement of your argument (a.k.a. thesis). You might write, “This paper will argue….”
Stating your argument/thesis at the end of the literature review is essential. Most of your essay will provide information and evidence to prove or defend your argument. A clear thesis is what makes your paper worth reading.
3. A description of the source material you will likely consult
In addition to the three academic journal articles outlined in your review of literature, what other source material might be useful? You don’t necessarily have to provide a bibliographic reference, but you should provide some details. The types of sources you examine will depend on your course ( ). It will also depend on your chosen topic. Examples of potential sources include, but are not limited to:
- Historical documents that fit into the nature of your course and research topic.
- The works of important political thinkers, theologians, philosophers, and other thinkers.
- Government documents
- Traditional print media such as books, academic journals, newspapers, and magazines
- Political party websites and documents
- Interest group websites and documents
- Supreme Court, lower federal court, and state court decisions
- Legislative documents, bills, and statutes
- Member of congress websites and documents
- Executive branch agency websites and documents
- Presidential speeches and executive orders
- State governor websites and documents
- School board websites and documents
- Local government (city & county) websites and documents
- Professional association websites and documents (labor unions, teachers’ associations, medical associations, etc.)
Selecting a Topic Relevant to Our Course
Unlike the Topic of Focus Paper, you are at liberty to choose the topic for your research paper. The only restrictions are that it must not be a paper you previously submitted for course credit in this or any other class, and the topic must be related to the general scope of this class.
Equally important, choose a topic you are interested in. This might be something related to your major field of study (criminal justice, political science, history, sociology, business, etc.). You might also choose a topic related to your future career (teaching, nursing, social work, ministry, the military, etc.).
- A short biography of a central political thinker, theologian, philosopher, or other important individual associated with the material covered in the course.
- Religion’s impact on some aspect of American society.
- Religion’s impact on elections.
- State or federal legislation that might impact religious institutions.
- Religious interest groups and their lobbying activities.
- A specific Supreme Court case or set of cases.
- A historical conflict in American history in which church and state issues were present.
- A historical conflict in American history in which civil religion played a role.
- A historical conflict in American history in which religion and politics collided.
- Religion and/or civil religion and its impact on one’s career (medical professionals, social workers, teachers, police officers, business executives, etc.).
- Religion in the public square (religious monuments and symbols on public property).
- Church involvement in politics (elections, lobbying, etc.).
- The activities and impact of a specific religious leader on American politics.
- American foreign policy and religious conflict around the world.
Having difficulty locating a topic?
- Consult the assigned books for this class. Thumb through them to see if any topic jumps out at you.
- Contact me for advice. I’d be glad to help.
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