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Final Research Project

This page takes on two important questions about the final research project for this course: what and what for; it also includes an assignment sheet for the preliminary proposal (due Wednesday April 4, 2001) and for the project itself (due Thursday May 10). My goal is to make this page as useful to you as possible, so let me know if it can be improved. If anything is badly worded, unclear, or missing, please contact me with constructive criticisms and suggestions. Ditto for any questions you may have about any of the options listed below. Thanks.


Your final research project can take the form you find most useful for your intellectual growth as you focus on the topic or question that has most interested you in the course (subject to my approval, of course). Typical options include writing a nine-to-twelve(-plus)-page research paper on at least one reading from the second half of the course (in effect, a longer, research-based critical essay); developing and justifying a lesson plan on a topic related to the course and at least one of the readings in the course; or creating an analytical web site that advances a particular perspective on at least one of the readings from the second half of the course. Whatever kind of research project you choose, you must choose and use at least three of the critical studies on reserve and find and use at least two additional print secondary sources, in addition to whatever additional non-print research you want to do.

Suggested research topics follow; feel free to modify any of these as you write your preliminary proposal (see below).

For further possible focuses for your final research project, see the various assignment sheets for the critical essays and the "suggestions for future exploration" sections of the race, culture, identity, country, city, nation, and world pages on the course web site.

What For

So far this semester you've already done a good deal of writing--ranging from the informal free writing on specific topics in class, to generating discussion questions, to writing analytical, persuasive essays. You've gotten good practice at noticing things about literary texts and asking questions of them; we've focused a lot on making connections between texts and identifying tensions within and between them, as well as interpreting significant passages and image patterns. You've gotten a chance to develop sustained arguments on specific topics in your critical essays. What the final research project allows you to do is to pull together all the skills you've developed in these smaller assignments and move through the entire research and writing process: from considering what texts and questions interest you the most, to identifying a research topic or inquiry, to developing your own perspective on that topic or question though critical reading of primary and secondary texts, to conveying your perspective in the form you feel would best showcase your research and critical skills.

The other major purpose of the final research project is for me to indicate clearly what I see as the central questions or issues of the course. This should provide you with something of a framework for understanding and reviewing each unit and the course as a whole. Hence, it is highly recommended that you consider carefully each of the suggestions listed above as you try to develop your own focus for the final research project. It's easy to miss the forest for the trees, especially when there were so many different "trees" we were analyzing each day, so seeing the range of questions I think are most important to consider when looking back on the course can give you a new, better perspective on what we've read, as well as lay out possible directions for the final research project.

Assignment Sheet: Preliminary Proposal for the Final Research Project

Due: by 5 pm Wednesday, April 4, 2001.

Format: 1-3 pages, double spaced, with reasonable fonts, font sizes, and margins; title that indicates main thrust of inquiry; heading that includes your name, the course name or number, and the date; a description of the focus or focuses you are most interested in for your research project; an explanation/justification of the focus(es) you're most strongly considering; a preliminary research plan; and a bibliography in MLA style (see links page for explanations of this style of citation) of sources you're planning to use.

Requirements: Your proposal must make a case for your project; it must describe the research you want to do, explain why you want to do it, give a rationale for why you think it's important that research like yours should be done, and lay out a preliminary plan for your research. It should be written as a persuasive essay: your job is to convince me to approve this topic--that the line of inquiry you want to pursue is worth pursuing. To do this, you will not only have to choose a line of inquiry (my advice on that is to be as specific and focused as possible: in the 6 weeks left in the semester, you will only have time to research and write on a very small question), but get a sense of what has already been done with that line of inquiry (by doing some very preliminary research--talking with me, making use of the reserves, using the MLA Bibliography and WorldCat on-line, familiarizing yourself with library resources, putting in inter-library loan requests).

The Summer Undergraduate Fellowship program at SUNY Fredonia gives a detailed explanation of what a proposal entails; I reproduce it here (with some modifications) to help illustrate the expectations of the "proposal" genre:

Obviously, the first draft of your proposal does not need to be as long or as fully articulated as this formula calls for (sections III and IX are less important for the first draft of your proposal than for the SUF program)--in fact, for our purposes now, I'd rather see equal emphases on justification and description in your equivalent of sections II, IV, and V in your preliminary proposal. But hopefully the SUF format illustrates that the skills you develop in proposal-writing through this research project can benefit you after college.

Conference: Within a week of getting comments on your proposal back from me, you must schedule a conference with me--either face-to-face (office hours) or virtual (e-mail)--and turn in a revised and more fully articulated version of your proposal that reflects the research you have done since your initial proposal within a week after that. We need to stay in close contact as your project evolves--and I fully expect that you will make radical changes to your preliminary proposal as you get a better sense of where you want to focus your inquiries and your research in this project. Don't feel that you are going to be bound by what you choose to focus on for April 2, but put as much thought as you can into this proposal. The more work you put into conceptualizing the project, the more focused your research and easier your writing will be.

Grading: I will grade your proposals on an "approve (A)/reject (R)/incomplete (I)" basis. That is, I will either approve your project (sometimes when I do this I will require significant revisions), reject it, or decide you didn't give me enough on which to base my decision. If you get either of the latter two responses on your preliminary proposal, you must meet with me immediately and turn in a revised proposal as soon as possible after our meeting. I will give you a fuller explanation during our meeting of why your proposal got the grade it got, give you a better sense of what it will take to get your project approved, and give research and revision suggestions. Those whose proposals were approved (fully or provisionally) may choose whether to meet me or email me a response to my comments during the month of April.

However, don't wait for feedback from me to continue refining your project and begin doing the research you feel will be most essential to it. For instance, you can use WorldCat and the MLA bibliography immediately to help you get a sense of what's out there on your topic and to begin considering what works to request on inter-library loan. I can help you narrow down your research, but it's important you get in the habit of learning how to do that on your own, as well. Also, make use of your contacts with other professors on campus who have expertise that can help you formulate, refine, and implement your research project. And don't forget the very helpful folks at the reference desk at Reed Library, who have put together this wonderful web site full of pertinent advice--just click here to get to it!

Revised Proposal: You must turn in a revised, polished proposal to me by the first week of May. This should reflect the narrower focus and further developed justification for your project that your research during the month of April and meeting/discussions with me should have given you. It doesn't have to follow the SUF format given above, but it should address all the requirements above.

Assignment Sheet: Final Research Project

Due: by 5 pm Thursday, May 10, 2001.

Format: 9-12+ pages, double spaced, with reasonable fonts, font sizes, and margins; title that indicates main thrust of inquiry; heading that includes your name, the course name or number, and the date; a bibliography in MLA style (see links page for explanations of this style of citation); and attach a copy of your polished proposal along with the paper itself.

Requirements: For those who turn in a research paper, your job is to come up with an argument that you are trying to support by using textual and other evidence to persuade your readers of your interpretation's validity. For those who turn in a pedagogy paper, your job is to persuade your readers of the interest, importance, and value of the unit you have designed by explaining and justifying the choices you made about objectives and methods. Whatever kind of research project you choose, you must choose and use at least three of the critical studies on reserve (in either of my courses this semester) and find and use at least two additional print secondary sources, in addition to whatever additional non-print research you want to do.

Grading Criteria: For those who turn in a research paper, I will use the same criteria I used when grading the critical essay--the debate-ability, precision, and relevance of your main argument, the effectiveness with which you developed and supported it (your analysis and interpretation of textual and other evidence, your anticipation and forestalling of counterarguments, your ability to organize and structure your paper in a persuasive manner), your command of language and the conventions of college writing in English (sentence-level prose preciseness and conciseness, grammar and syntax, punctuation, formatting, citation style, and so on)--along with one other criterion: how well your research is integrated into your argument. For those who turn in a pedagogy paper, I will analyze your teaching unit in terms of how well you explain and justify your choice of subject matter, teaching/learning objectives, and teaching methods, materials, activities and assignments; of how well chosen the subject matter and teaching/learning objectives are; of how likely it seems to me that your methods, materials, activities, and assignments will lead to the students' learning what you want them to learn; of how persuasive, well-organized, and well-written the paper itself is; and of how well your research is integrated into the design and explanation/justification of your unit.

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ENGL 240: Intro to African American Lit and Culture, Spring 2001
Created: 3/26/01 4:18 pm
Last modified: 5/7/01 3:03 pm