How to Write a Research Proposal
Methods of Media Research
Professor Christopher Anderson
Department of Communication and Culture
A proposal should be approximately 20-25 pages and should be structured to answer the following sets of questions.
1.) Describe the phenomenon.
What is the phenomenon you plan to study? Be specific and describe its relevant features. Be as engaging as possible in describing it.
Why is it of interest? Is it of interest to a particular scholarly field, to a multidisciplinary scholarly audience, to people with particular political or social identities, to 'general' readers, etc.? Don't assume that your phenomenon is intrinsically interesting. You are responsible for convincing the reader that it merits attention.
Why are you interested? Are you specifically interested in the phenomenon, or is it a vehicle for exploring the implications of theory and/or method? Your decision about addressing this question depends upon whether you think a researcher should account for his or her social identity, motivations, interests, and objectives. Depending upon your intended audience and/or the conventions of your particular field, this question may not be discussed explicitly.
How is this phenomenon implicated in larger questions (e.g., about society, culture, politics, etc.)?
What sort of scholarly questions does it raise?
2.) Review of literature.
Identify and reconstruct the scholarly "dialogue" about this subject – about the phenomenon itself, the theoretical frameworks used to study such phenomena in particular scholarly fields, or the methods that have been employed.
How has thinking about the subject developed in the particular scholarly field within which you are constructing your professional identity? What are the key concepts, terms, methods, etc. recognized by this scholarly community for the study of a phenomenon such as this? How has the dialogue about this subject developed over time?
If your field has not addressed this subject adequately, can you find theoretical or methodological insights in the literature of other related fields?
For the purposes of analysis, break this complex phenomenon into components and explain how the literature offers strategies for analyzing each component separately and, then, for integrating them in order to draw conclusions.
3.) Establish your role in this dialogue.
What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses in the literature -- as you have organized and presented it?
How will you locate your work in relation to the scholarly dialogue?
Which concerns will you take up? Which are less important? How will you adapt, revise, or redefine these concerns?
4.) Researching the phenomenon.
How do you propose to study this phenomenon? Which questions will you ask and where will you look for answers?
How will you attempt to answer these questions? How will you define the phenomenon in order to make a study of it manageable? Will you use a case study? If so, how can you be certain that the case will enable you to answer your research questions?
How will you gather evidence? What kind of evidence will you seek? Where will you search? How will you know when you have gathered enough evidence to carry out an effective study or to make a convincing argument?
What strategies will you use for analyzing the evidence? How will you deal with the areas in which you have an information deficit and can't locate evidence (e.g., responses of past audiences, proprietary business information, etc.)? How will you deal with the areas in which you have an information surplus and need to make sense of a huge body of evidence (e.g., Internet discussion groups, episodes in a TV series, etc.)?
How will the act of conducting empirical research enable you to answer the questions that you've asked?
5.) Significance of project.
Ultimately, it all boils down to the question, so what?
What will your study contribute to an understanding of the phenomenon itself?
What will it contribute to the scholarly dialogue that you've identified above?
What will it add to an understanding of larger issues related to communication, culture, society, etc.?