Preparing a Prospectus
Your prospectus should begin with the newest iteration of your topic, your question, and the significance of your research. By the time of writing your prospectus, you should have refined the complexity of your research into a clear and articulate thesis statement. You should understand the rational basis and the significance of your project. Oftentimes, many professional researchers say that they have a one-page explanation of their work, a one-paragraph explanation of their work, and a one-sentence explanation of their work. Your prospectus should share both your one-sentence version and your one-paragraph version.
An Exercise to Help You
To assist you in articulating the one-sentence version of your research to date, you might consider the following formula.
1. Topic: I am studying __________
2. Question: because I want to find out what/why/how __________,
3. Significance: in order to help my reader understand __________.
Explain to the instructor the necessary background information he needs in order to position your thesis logically.
Identify and briefly introduce the important literature on your topic. Explain how your research and the interpretation you will offer relate to the work of those other authors.
Identifying an Animating Question and Research Problem
Once you have articulated a field and a topic, you will work to transform your topic into an animating question and then a research problem.
We research because we are driven to answer questions. Skillful researchers often inadvertently fool us by stripping away the complexities of their research when they explain their projects. In fact, they often simply introduce their projects by just citing their general topic. You might hear, for instance, “I study the end of the Cold War,” or “I study political applications of social media,” or “I study Iran’s nuclear program.” Each of those three introductions merely offers a topic that the researcher studies, but each is driven by a question.
Topic: End of the Cold War
Possible Question: What role did Germany play in peacefully ending the Cold War in Europe?
Topic: Political applications of social media
Possible Question: How did the use of Facebook and Twitter lead to an Obama electoral victory in the 2008 U.S. presidential election?
Topic: Iran's nuclear program
Possible Question: To what degree does Iran's potential nuclear program represent a threat to U.S. national interests in the Middle East?
As you engage your topic and the relevant literature, you will need to work conceptually to turn your topic into a question to investigate. As one scholar explains, “you can’t jump from picking a topic to collecting data: your readers want more than a mound of random facts. You have to find a reason better than a class assignment not only for you to devote weeks or months to your research, but for your readers to spend any time reading about it. You’ll find that better reason when you can ask a question whose answer solves a problem that you can convince readers to care about. That question and problem are what make readers think your report is worth their time. They also focus your research and save you from collecting irrelevant data.”