Overview: Before embarking on any intellectual project, a person must first have an idea. From this initial thought sprouts new ideas, possibilities, as well as the means of executing them. The term “prospectus” – in which you might recognize the word “prospect” – refers to a document that describes a forthcoming enterprise. To put it another way, a prospectus gives its reader a taste of what’s to come, a hint at the ideas that underlie an intellectual project. This is a crucial step in the writing process because it forces the author to begin building toward an outcome, to see the purpose behind the twinned acts of research and writing.
Getting Started: This assignment is designed to get you started on the process of reading, thinking, and writing critically about literature. As a reminder, I do not expect you to “master” all of the readings we have explored, or will explore, this semester. Thus, the prospectus is not a means to demonstrate that you have an in-depth knowledge of a literary piece so much as explore your initial thoughts and subsequent ideas about how you will help those thoughts to “sprout.”
Exploring the Prospectus: As this may be the first time you have encountered this type of project, perhaps it is wise to examine what is – and what makes for – a good prospectus.
First and foremost, understand that a prospectus is not the same thing as a critical essay. You are not arguing your position, your thesis and using sourced evidence do so (as you would in a full-on research paper). Rather, you are simply talking about the argument as a whole.
In short a prospectus is an overview, an outline of your project that does a number of things:
Provides a clear statement of the goals of the project – In other words, what is your research question(s), your thesis at this point? For example, perhaps you were attracted to how Oates uses vivid description in “Where Are You Going…?” and want to explore why she chose to write it that way (when it might have been easier to write less description). The prospectus then would state what issue you are exploring (how and why Oates uses descriptions) as well as how you came to decide upon that issue (your thought processes) and what you “see” the thesis becoming, a “working thesis statement” (“Oates uses vivid description to not only to make the events feel ‘real,’ but to lull the reader into a state of calm, thereby heightening the impact of the horror at the end.”)
Identifies the primary texts to be studied – Primarily for use in a compare and contrast essay, this aspect of a prospectus identifies, explains and justifies why the author (meaning you) are choosing multiple texts. For example, you are bugged by questions relating to Hamlet and A Marriage Proposal. After some thought you realize you are most interested in the “lovers” in each story and then develop a question or thesis. Your prospectus then would not only mention those two texts as being the central focus of the research essay, but why. (Continuing with the example: “Both plays’ romantic plots center around lovers who have communication issues.”)
Indicates major secondary works to be studied – In a way this aspect describes the “work you’ve done so far” and can address multiple topics, such as:
– What secondary sources have you looked at so far?
– What ones are you thinking about that may help prove your thesis/central idea? (Your “battle plan,” such as: “I plan to read a couple more of Oates’ short stories and see if the description is unique to ‘Where…’ or if it is her writing style in general;” “I intend to search the library’s databases to find people who criticize how O’Brien talks about Vietnam.”
– What concerns you have about finding sources for your topic and any steps you plan to take
– How you are evaluating the credibility of your sources
As well as thoughts on
– How your perspective on the topic/thesis has changed since you’ve started researching it
– What alternate perspectives – ones that may disagree with your assumptions about a text – have become important to your thoughts and further research
To kind of summarize, a prospectus mirrors the title of Joyce Carol Oates’ short story, “Where are you going, Where have you been?” – except in reverse. That is, a prospectus tells the reader where the author has been in their thinking (what have they thought about, as well as what their goals are) and where the author is going (how are they going to prove their idea, what is their “plan of attack” for research).
Your prospectus should, ultimately, suggest a direction for your project, but remember that it is not a contract; you are not obligated to stick to the topic you suggest. Of course, I highly recommend you do, as it can be difficult to change gears and start over once you’ve invested significant time and energy.
Format: Although it is not required at this point, you should try to come up with a unique, original title that supports the topic you select. At the very least, you should have a clear thesis that presents an argument in relation to the text(s). Do not use work generated from another class in this assignment! The minimum length for this assignment is one (1) page. Do not exceed two (2) full pages. A page is defined as text that goes from the top to the bottom of the paper.
As always, follow MLA format as detailed in Writing Matters. This includes (but is not limited to) using 12-point Times New Roman font, having 1” margins, double-spacing your writing, and inserting an MLA-style header. Do not forget to staple your work – if necessary. Projects that do not meet the assignment criteria can expect to lose a letter grade for every infraction.
Although this project has a firm deadline (the week of March 17, 2014), I welcome students to submit their prospectuses early if they wish to receive feedback on their topics more quickly.
And finally, if you need any help, please feel free to ask.
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