?The Research Project Proposal

The Research Project Proposal

Assignment: In a formal proposal of 3-4 typed pages:

  • Define a specific challenge or problem or challenge caused by or significantly aggravated by the Internet
  • Using relevant information from your preliminary research, define your initial position on the issue. (It’s OK if your position changes as you do more research).
  • Explain what kinds of solutions may be available
  • Cite at least five high-quality sources that reflect a variety of viewpoints on your subject. At least three of these should be academic sources. List your sources at the end of your proposal in a Works Cited list written in MLA format. (See MLA Guide under class files in Canvas). In this Works Cited list, be sure to include all research materials used in your proposal.

Structure of Assignment:

Spend no more than a page defining your challenge or problem. Be as specific as you can, explaining why it is a cause for concern, and how the Internet has created or exacerbated it.

Follow this on a separate line with your tentative thesis. Your thesis is the sentence that lays out the position of your argument, telling the reader what you will be arguing. Your thesis anchors the rest of your writing, and everything else you write should connect back to your thesis. This thesis often changes as you continue your research.

Next, spend about a paragraph on each of your sources. Introduce them, explaining (very briefly) what they are about. If it is a research paper, briefly explain the authors’ research and their conclusion. If it is an opinion piece from an expert, explain the expert’s background briefly, and then their argument. Tell your reader why you selected these sources. Explain how they might serve your argument as you continue your writing.

Finally, spend about a paragraph assessing the strengths and weaknesses of your proposal. Try to head off future problems here. Will you have enough sources for each stage of your paper? Will you have enough to say about your topic, or will you need to expand your thesis? Maybe your thesis feels too broad, and you anticipate narrowing it. What’s working well so far?


The Research Project Proposal is meant to assure that you have chosen a topic that can be successfully applied to each of your papers this semester. Choose your topic carefully. Conduct preliminary research to make sure that you will be able to complete your project, because you absolutely will not be allowed to change your topic once your proposal has been approved. (However you will be able to change the position you take, as well as narrow or enlarge your focus).

**You must complete this proposal as described before any future essay will be graded.**

Suggestions: Your argument in this proposal should define and explain 1) what the specific problem or challenge you are addressing is, 2) why it is important enough for you to address it in this project, and 3) why your readers should care about this problem.


Your proposal’s most valuable contribution to the success of your final paper is this: it should help you develop a sufficiently limited and narrow focus so that you can adequately deal with your problem and proposed solution in your final essay. You will want to find a topic broad enough that you can build an argument at least 16-18 pages long, and there is sufficient research material to support it, but narrow enough that you can give it a detailed and thorough examination in that space. Avoid cliches, avoid obvious problems and solutions, and do the research necessary to provide yourself a unique point of view.

The final paper seems long now. But once you fit in your argument, analysis of other arguments, the history and causes of the problem, a refutation of another position, and all the support you will draw from background sources, that page length will start to feel small. When you take all of this into account, a topic like, for instance, the role of social media in American society is far too large a problem to be adequately dealt with in 18, or even 100 pages. But the tendency people have to isolate themselves from other opinions through social media (echo chambers) might be possible in a paper of that length.

The Plague of Too Many Problems

What you do not want to end up with, most of all, is a series of loosely connected gripes about the Internet. To avoid this, you will need to choose one specific, central problem you wish to address. Take time to think about the main problem, and to make it specific. Cyberbullying is too vague, and too general. What separates it from other, similar problems? How can you make a topic like this more specific?

This can be trickier than it seems. A lot of our social/technological challenges are related. A paper about social media influences and their impact on teenage mental health could slip into a conversation about smartphones. Although you may need to briefly discuss smartphones in such a paper, you will need to watch out that other problems don’t overwhelm the conversation.

Sometimes the best way to know what aspect of a problem you want to address is to begin by asking questions. For instance, if I wanted to write about the way YouTube celebrities promote products, this could lead to several interesting questions and potential problems. How are product promotions regulated on YouTube? Are the regulations effective? Is the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) involved? To what extent? Who gets product endorsements, and why? Are these the most deserving celebrities? How do we decide who is deserving, anyway? Are people being tricked by these endorsements into thinking they’re watching entertainment instead of advertising? What potential consequences can you foresee if that’s true?

Avoid Generic Problems and Responses

We all have a general suspicion about something or another involving the Internet. Maybe we think online advertisers are using too much of our personal information. Maybe we believe hate speech is too widely distributed online. Maybe we suspect social media is depressing its users.

These are fine positions to start from. But to write a truly engaging and thoughtful paper you will need to go beyond a general starting point. These are often quite generic, and without careful research our opinions stay in this uncritical place, and all we can offer are predictable and bland responses.

The solution is twofold: 1) Do your research. Putting in some extra work in understanding your problem now will help you see what the experts see, and it will help drive your paper further from the uncritical assumptions that we start with. 2) Focus on the details. If online advertisers use too much personal information, how exactly are they acquiring that information? Why is it upsetting that they use it? Are some kinds of personal information more dangerous in the hands of advertisers than other kinds? By getting to know the details of the issue you discuss, you can push your paper beyond the generic.

Pick Something Interesting

It’s important that you choose something that interests you, and not just a generic research topic. Start on this right away and bring your initial thoughts and research to class next week. We will be discussing this project in small groups as you develop your research plan.

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