Term Paper Prospectus

Writing a Research Prospectus

A prospectus is a formal proposal of a research project developed to convince a reader (a professor or research committee, or later in life, a project coordinator, funding agency, or the like) that the research the research can be carried out and will yield worthwhile results. It should provide:

  • a working title for your project,
  • a statement of your research question or issue,
  • an overview of scholarship related to this topic or to the this author,
  • a brief summary of your research methods and/or your theoretical approach.

A prospectus is normally accompanied by a bibliography, often annotated, which lists sources you have consulted or plan to consult for your research. In cases where the texts studied exist in multiple editions or in translation, the bibliography should normally state which edition, text, or translation you will be using and why. You also should include a Prospectus Cover Sheet, complete with the signature of your director and second reader.

Contents: In most cases, a prospectus will begin with an overview of existing scholarship, summarizing basic arguments relevant to the project. It will then position the project with reference to this scholarship. For this reason, the prospectus will demonstrate that you have conducted enough preliminary research to be able to design a relevant project and carry it through relatively independently. Since at this stage much research remains to be done, a thesis statement usually does not follow this introduction. Instead, include a statement of hypothesis or of the central research questions. The prospectus should then offer an overview of the project organization. If the project is large enough for chapters, include a breakdown of them. If special skills or assistance such as foreign language competency, access to archives or special collections, technical skills, or access to technical equipment are needed to complete your project, the prospectus should address your preparation in these areas. Part of your goal is, in essence, to "sell" your research supervisors on both your project and yourself as a researcher. Cover the ground well, presenting yourself and your project as intellectually convincing.

Developing an initial prospectus will help faculty understand where you are in the research process and help you bring focus to your research throughout the experience. Because it lays out a framework for your project, the prospectus can provide you with direction during the inevitable moments when you feel overwhelmed or lost. And because you have already clearly demonstrated your ability to carry out your research project, the prospectus can serve to reinforce your confidence and help keep you on track for a timely completion.

Beyond its relevance to your current research project, a prospectus helps you sharpen several important skills. Because a good prospectus demands concise, informative writing, composing one will help hone your writing style. In asking you to persuasively describe a compelling project and establish your ability to carry it out, it draws on abilities applicable to a variety of situations in and out of the academy, such as scholarship and funding applications, proposals for research forums, conferences, or publications, job applications, and preparation for larger and more complex research projects such as those found in Ph.D. programs and a variety of professional settings. The skill is so important that some people—grant writers—make a profession out of writing prospectuses.

Term Paper: Prospectus

The purpose of the prospectus is to decide what you want to write about. A "prospectus" is a statement outlining the main features of the paper that you intend to write. We want you to write this so we can provide feedback on your planned paper early in the process of writing it. Here's how you should proceed:

  1. Decide on a topic that interests you and that is about the use of computers and/or computer applications in some field of interest to you. If you have any questions about the assignment, you are welcome to come talk to us (the instructor and the TAs). Then see what information you can find on that topic. Find out where you can look for references in your major department, the library, and other sources that are appropriate for your topic.
  2. Identify your topic and several questions you would like to answer in your paper. What interests you about this particular topic? The more specific you can be, the better.
  3. Indicate what you already know, especially if your previous background helped you define a topic of particular interest. Do you know something about how computers are used in your field of interest? Do you know where to look for references?
  4. What sources do you think will be the most promising to start with? Remember, you are not doing the research for the final paper yet; you are learning where you can find the material to do the research. If you can, list alternate sources so you can use them if your most promising sources turn out not to be as promising as you thought, or if you need more.

You should be flexible in your ideas, because as you learn more about the topic, you will probably want to modify the focus to reflect your new knowledge. But you should have a reasonably good idea about what you want to write. This will help you focus your research.

As always, if you have questions, please come and see the instructor or a TA, or send us email. We will do our best to get you off to a good start!

What to Turn In

Your prospectus must answer the above questions. It should be 1 or 2 pages long. Please follow the instructions in the handout All About Lab Exercises and the Term Papers for printing and submitting the prospectus.


The prospectus counts 10 points toward the 300 points for your term paper (30% of your grade for the course).

Here is a PDF version of this document.


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