Topic Proposals (Eng. 272G)

As you continue on in the academic world, 300, 400, 500, and graduate-level courses will ask you to do several types of preparatory assignments prior to a major research paper. The longer the paper, the more detailed the topic proposal should ideally be. The types of these preparatory assignments are as follows: a topic proposal, a literature review, the precis and an annotated bibliography. Since the last three are relative to extensive research, say a twenty to thirty page research paper or beyond, I'd rather focus our attention to the art of the topic proposal.

Topic Proposal

The topic proposal's main goal is to lay out a game plan for an essay. Its main goal is to ideally fixate upon a stable theme, often in the form of the thesis statement. In general, here are some basic guidelines related to topic proposals:

Your proposal should answer the following questions thoroughly, but it should be written in an essay-based format, not a list of your answers.

You are welcome to be creative with this topic proposal. Maybe you can create a visual map of concepts with pictures. Perhaps you can select pictures off of Google Image search that stimulate your imagination, then follow up with explanations and analyses of why those pictures are particularly provocative. Perhaps you can use a mind-mapping software to generate your ideas. Perhaps you'd like to attach your notes and ideas and doodles. Perhaps you can write a reflective journal to think clearly about what directions you are taking with the essay and why.

1. What is your thesis or research question (the thing about your topic you want to find out).? Your topic must be opinionated and well-phrased and formulated, rather than a petty observation about your topic: "The symbol of the yin/yang indicates duality" (poor thesis) versus "The symbolism of the yin/yang possesses a duality, one that demonstrates the distinct forces of chaos and order in our world." (a bit better)
2. How do you plan on supporting this thesis/research question? This question doesn't really focus on the sources you will use, but it is a question of the techniques, types of paragraphs, style you plan on employing. It's like an analysis of your analytical style. You can briefly outline your paper here, if you'd like.
What (2-3) outside, scholarly sources do you plan on using? You don't have to have read all of them yet, but try to have at least 3 good sources ready by the time you turn in the proposal. Such an approach attempts to ensure that you don't go about getting sources at the last minute. It also enusres that you steer clear of topics of which you cannot find adequate resources.
What's the whole point of this topic? What motivated you to pursue this topic? So what?
Why do you care about this topic? Why should your readers? (Don't be fooled by how short this question is - it's of vital importance!)

Option Two: Letter to a Mythic/Archetypal Scholar

Write a FORMAL letter to a fellow "archetypal" detective explaining what you've learned to date about your subject, and what you still need to find out.  Ask for feedback on the path you have taken, and solicit advice for the journey ahead.  Share any fascinating and unexpected discoveries.  You could even express your frustrations since this is someone who could sympathize with your struggles.  Try to identify anything that would make the search meaningful to you.  How does knowing more about this topic alter your understanding of our modern world?  Since this is a letter, you may use first person references (i.e. I, me, my).  You will be graded on organization, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. 

(This option is different than the one depicted first, since it allows you to express frustrations and pose questions to this scholar).


Option Three: Start writing your essay

If you have a particularly strong sense of what you want to write, start writing your essay. At the end of the essay, you might still want to add questions, directions, and comments, attempting to figure out what you still need to pursue in the future.



Sample Topic Proposal


Marvin Kubonera

Davin Kubota

Eng. 257 G

915-1030 am, MW

Topic Proposal

Tentative Title: The Dark Tresses: The Use of Hair in Hideo Nakata's Ringu

At this stage, I'm interested in pursuing this thesis statement: As a powerfully-coded symbol of a woman's sexual identity, the use of hair in Hideo Nakata's Ringu suggests the raw power of Sadako's malevolence.

I plan on supporting this thesis by initally summarizing the major scenes in which we see Sadako or her mother's hair: we see (presumably) Sadako's mother brushing her hair in front of a mirror; we see Sadako's corpse and its mass of hair in the well, and we also witness the long mass of hair covering her face when she kills Ryuji. After this summary, I will assess the archetype of hair as it exists in Japanese and possibly in Western culture. I'm interested in the way how hair says so much about femininity and gender these days; even in modern culture, I'm intrigued as to why power is such a powerful indicator of sexuality and status. We use phrases like "bad hair day," but it's also a clever disguise for how we feel about the quality of our hair messing up our general appearance. There's a lot I can say about hair and how important it is in society today, but I want to connect it back to the movie.

The resources I plan on using are as follows: information about the film from the official Ring website, discussion on the Ring chat forum (I saw an entry about hair), and the DVD itself (my main resource).

I'm intrigued by the Ring, and primarily horrified by the scene in which Ryuji and the main character are sploshing about (well, at least the woman is sploshing about)...there seems to be a connection as to why the woman had to go into the well so as to discover Sadako's body—perhaps it was a connection or an identification of genders/sisters/mothers and daughters...whatever it was, the scene in which the main character begins to pull up clumps of Sadako's wet, nasty hair, attached to her skull—that was scary and strange, but utterly fascinating.