MA Proposal Writing Guidelines

All students pursuing the MA thesis or paper option must complete a proposal. The proposal will reflect the formulation of a research question and the development of a plan for its empirical investigation. This document sets out general guidelines; specific expectations will be set through consultation of the student with her/his capstone advisor/chair and the MA committee. That said, the proposal, about 10-20 pages in length, should generally include the following: 

Introduction and basic statement of the research question:

  • It is very important the proposal set out a specific, researchable, sociological question. You should carefully specify your claims, define the concepts you are using, specify the linkages between causes and effects, and discuss what you would consider evidence to support your claims and what assumptions you are making in this process. It is essentially impossible to complete the master’s paper without a clearly stated central question. 
Detailed literature review:
  • Literature reviews are not summaries of the literature around the research question; rather, they are efforts to situate the research question within a relevant body of research. The literature review should therefore be geared toward setting up the research question by discussing relevant debates and stating what has been done and what hasn’t been done. It should also make clear how the proposed question fits with existing work to fill some theoretical gap within the literature, to answer previously unanswered questions, and to join an ongoing conversation.  
  • This literature review should be state of the art (reflect the most recent developments in the area).  There is no magic number of articles or books that must be read; the writer should aim to be comprehensive.  There are, of course, always more books and articles that can be read but it is important for students to begin writing and use their advisors/chairs as sounding boards regarding coverage of the relevant literature as they go through drafts of the proposal.  It is also very important that students focus their literature searches in established sociological arenas, including the core peer-reviewed sociological journals.  
  • Proposal literature reviews are important in order to anticipate what lies ahead and, when they are strong and well-developed, can serve as the primary basis for the literature review of the MA thesis/paper itself.
Statement of hypotheses (if appropriate), research design, methodology, and data:
  • For some studies, especially quantitative ones, it may make sense to set out explicit hypotheses for the research.
  • All studies require a detailed and specific discussion and rationale for the research design, methods, and data to be used in the research.  This is the student’s chance to lay out a plan of action that will be extremely helpful as the research progresses.  All plans run into implementation problems but the best plans come from proposal writers who are specific as to what they will do, who use models from past research as a guide, and who do their best to anticipate any potential problems ahead. 
Discussion of a timetable for completing the research:
  • It is important not only to plan what to do, but to try to anticipate how long it will take to do it.  Experienced researchers often retrospectively report that it took two or more times as long to do their research as they had initially expected.  Along these lines, it is important to commit to a systematic work schedule.  
Discussion of the importance of the study
  • It is very important to answer the “so what?” question.  Here, the writer must reiterate how and why answering the stated research question will yield new empirical knowledge and provide evidence supporting, questioning, extending, or even generating theory.