Major Project 1: Initial Research Proposal

We’ve spent the recent weeks exploring what Writing About Writing is all about, the conversations taking place in the field, and how writing, rhetoric, and meaning-making influence our lives, our work, and our communities. Now it’s time to launch our inquiries and contribute our research and ideas to the field of writing studies.   

The Initial Research Proposal is all about getting started. As we’ve established, writing is a process—and a journey. Successful journeys are those that start with a destination in mind. We might not know exactly where we’ll end up (that’s part of the fun!) but it’s time to choose our direction.

The Task

Drawing upon our discussion of discourse communities, formulate a research question that investigates how a particular community enacts literacy among its members. You might pay attention to conventions of genre such as rhetorical moves, the texts that the community creates (and how they are created), and/or the languages common to the discourse community.

This topic will serve as your research project for the rest of the semester, which will culminate in your Scholarly Article and the Final Portfolio. With that in mind, this research proposal is still a starting place. The research process is often fluid, and we’ll be refining your research question and methods over the coming weeks and months. This isn’t set in stone. Remember, we will be returning to our research proposals in a few weeks for the Revised Research Proposal.

For this assignment you will 1) pose a writing-related research question to guide your inquiry this semester and 2) describe the initial steps you will take to begin your inquiry.

The Details

A well-developed research proposal will likely run between 500-750 words (+ Works Cited). The length is up to you based on the needs of your research question. I’ll be looking for the development of your ideas rather than the total word count. As long as your thought and effort are evident there’s nothing to worry about.

Your proposal should do the following:

  • Introduce your research question
  • Communicate why you chose your question
  • Connect your question to writing studies
  • Describe how you will go about the research process with both primary and secondary sources
  • Anticipate challenges you may confront in the research process
  • Envision the significance your question and your research could have for the field

I will be the audience for your initial research proposal.

This assignment does not require you to include secondary sources. But keep in mind: it is often helpful to interact with the readings and conversations we’ve already covered this semester to help you articulate your research question and contextualize your topic within writing studies. It’s up to you how you accomplish it. Remember, your revised research proposal will require you to engage with and utilize your secondary sources. If you choose to include them in your initial proposal you may gain helpful practice, and you can even have a head start on fulfilling your future goals. Any secondary sources you do utilize must be properly cited using MLA format for in-text citations and your Works Cited page. 

Tips & Tricks

You don’t need to have answers at this stage. It’s better if you don’t. It might help to approach this assignment as a brainstorming experience. As writing researchers and scholars, we want to learn something new.

While it’s fine for this initial proposal to be informal you’ll want to still communicate depth and thoughtful engagement with your topic. Remember that the process of writing often helps to create knowledge and understanding as we engage in it. You’ll likely see your ideas change and develop as you write out your thoughts. That’s exactly what this first project is intended to facilitate. So be sure to invest the time and resources you need to make this a productive first step. 

Ask a question that genuinely interests you. You’ll be spending a lot of time this semester exploring the question and following up on leads. The research/writing process will be far more engaging to you when you are invested in the topic. Make sure that it is meaningful to you as well as the writing studies conversation. Plus, you’ll end up with something you are proud to share with your audience.

Your discourse community of choice may be one you already belong to or participate in (this is often the simplest path for students). You might also choose to research a community that interests you (just be sure that you will have access to the resources and the community members who can offer you the insight necessary to conduct your research). 

Check out the following questions to help you develop your research ideas:

  • Why have you chosen your topic? What interests you about it?
  • How does your research question/topic connect to the discipline of writing studies?
  • How will this research contribute to writing studies in general? To the discourse community you intend to study?
  • How will you continue to investigate your research question?
  • What research methods do you envision using to investigate our research question? What resources might you need?

The work you do here will lay the foundation for what you will accomplish over the semester. Let’s get off to a strong start!

How Will You Know It’s Good?

I’m not so concerned with the format of this assignment matching set guidelines. It doesn’t have to look like a formal essay. What matters is that your Initial Proposal works for you and sets you up for a successful start to your research. That said, remember I’ll be a member of your audience too. I’ll need to see your thoughts clearly organized (however you choose to do so) in order to best support you as you get started. I’ll primarily be looking for completeness and clarity.

Before you turn in your Initial Proposal, make sure that you can answer these questions about your proposal: 

  • Have you articulated a research question? Will this question lead you towards further investigation? Are you going to learn something new? Is your question going to take you somewhere?
  • Does your question and discussion identify the discourse community you plan to research?
  • How does your question connect with the interests of writing studies? Are you interested in the literacy, genres, texts, rhetorical strategies, or languages of your chosen discourse community?
  • Have you expressed the initial steps you will take to begin your process of inquiry?
  • Are you beginning to think about the possible significance your research question could have?
  • If you interact with secondary sources, have you used MLA format?
  • Does your proposal show that you have been thoughtful and completed a thorough discussion of your developing ideas? (You’ll probably need about 500-750 words to get there.)