The paper proposal is a document that takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride, in a manner of speaking. A classic proposal begin with general, abstract ideas, higher order abstractions, that the writer uses to help orient the reader into his/her subject. The writer then moves the reader down the ladder of abstraction to the lower levels by writing some very specific points or questions that are intended to serve as the focus of the reach, just as a roller-coaster drops from a high point to build excitement.
In the example below, notice how one writer, yours truly, ties to move from the general, vague ideas of the opening (a mention of a variety of subjects) to a specific subject in general (literature). Notice then that I try to become yet more specific by moving the discussion of literature to the issue of writing style ? the issue that interests me. I then finish by detailing most specifically the exact problems and questions I have about Orwell''s writing style in the novel.
The best, most productive proposals will finish by getting very specific about a particular point, puzzle, or question that the writer has about a subject. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, a very specific proposal will actually help me as I write the paper since it will guide me through the wealth of information I will uncover in the research process and enable me to decide quickly if a particular article, website, or book has something that will help me answer my questions. Only a very specific proposal can do that. By contrast, an overly general proposal will make too much information seem relevant to my topic and therefore slow down my research project.
An Example of a Paper Proposal
The Expression (and Suppression) of Agency in 1984
The critical response to George Orwell''s 1984 covers an enormous span of issues: sociological, political, cultural, historical, literary, and linguistic. The linguistic criticism of 1984 has focuses primarily on Newspeak as a language and on Orwell''s ideas about the relationship between language and thought. Literary and linguistic critics of 1984 have largely ignored, however, Orwell''s literary language, i.e., the language Orwell uses in writing 1984. Indeed, the few critical remarks about Orwell''s writing style and use of language have generally been negative ? attributing the dull, monotonous, dry writing style to Orwell''s career as a journalist.
I believe that those critical responses to Orwell''s writing style are wrong-headed. Orwell was keenly sensitive to writing style and to the emotive and persuasive power of language, as can be seen in his essays ? particularly "Politics and the English Language" . In this article, I want to show (1) that Orwell''s writing style was a carefully constructed complex of various linguistic features of English (manipulating specifically the semantics of agency in his writing) and (2) that his writing style contributes importantly to the underlying themes of repression in the novel.
Orwell''s is a novel rich in ideas; people from all walks of life with a wide variety of experiences and viewpoints have found much to admire and think about in his work. In fact, it is an interesting testament to his wide appeal that Orwell is often quoted and championed by both liberal and conservative thinkers and writers alike. The possible topics that you could choose are wide in scope: the novel itself covers everything from religion and psychology to politics and criminal justice.
Irving Howe''s edition of the novel has more than two score of suggested topics for papers in the appendix at the end, and over the years, students themselves have added several more. The novel is expansive enough so that no matter what your interests may be, history, law, sociology, family, child rearing, politics, psychology, religion, cults, Nazism, Communism, Hitler, Stalin, authoritarianism, South Africa and apartheid, or literature and language, there is probably something in the novel to spark your interests. The following list is a collection of favorite topics from students of yore:
advertising as mind control, e.g., Virginia Slims
television as mind control
television as propaganda spreading official information leading to mind control
alcohol/substances as mind control
cults of personality
Sexual repression, Sexism, and Pornography as mind control
notice the effects of ''free speech'' and ''free press'' in the USSR after Gorbachev: a boom of pornography
utopias, dystopia, and antiutopias
heroes and antiheroes
the role of guilt in Smith''s character development
the religious allusions in the novel
comparisons to Animal Farm, Brave New World, 1985, The Time Machine, We, The Handmaid''s Tale, The Giver, and others
autobiographical origins of 1984
the relationship between Orwell''s politics and his art
Invasion of Privacy and/or Prior Restraint
Oceania and the USSR
Oceania and Nazi Germany
Big Brother as Hitler or Stalin or the cult figure of your choosing
the Cold War
1984 as a warning to democracies
Requirements for the Research Topic Proposal
The proposal topic itself must be relevant to 1984, i.e., must relate directly to 1984 and must require library research.
The proposal must be at least one page, typed, double spaced.
The contents of the proposal include your (a) general area of research or (b) a question that you wish to research and (c) any specific goals you have for the paper.
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Bloom, Harold. "George Orwell." New York: Chelsea House, 1987.
Davis, Robert Gorham. "Ten Masters of the Modern Essay: Forster, Lawrence, Huxley, Orwell, Auden, McCarthy, Baldwin, and Gold." New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1966.
Gross, Miriam. "The World of George Orwell." New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972.
Orwell, George. "The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell." New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1968.
Orwell, George. "The Orwell Reader; Fiction, Essays, and Reportage." New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956.
Steinhoff, William R. "George Orwell and the Origins of 1984." Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1975.