Guidelines for Research Essay Proposal and Research Essay
1. Essay topics must be cleared with me before writing, preferably through a meeting
2. The overriding purpose of the Research Essay is to demonstrate your capacity to to understand a debate on an important, and very specific question, digest a good amount of writing on it, take a reasoned position in it by making a coherent and specific argument.
3. You must clear the topic with me by
4. Good essay proposals and good essays can only be written if you have completed a very substantial portion of your research for the essay including locating your sources, reading them and arriving at an idea of what you will be arguing
before writing the proposal.
5. It is imperative for good essays that your topic take the form of a question and that this question must:
i. Be specific: with a clearly identified phenomena under investigation, in a clearly identified place and time. Good essays
cannot be written about vast topics like ‘globalization’ or even
‘China and Globalization’ or even the World Bank and or the IMF. They would require multi-volume works. Here is an example of a specific topic: Was the lifting of capital controls the cause of the
1997-98 financial crisis in South Korea? Specific country, time and event and highly specific questions about it. An essay on South Korea’s 1997-98 financial crisis would also be too general. it has to be further specified, in this case, to the matter of capital controls
ii. Arise from debates that are already taking place among the scholars who are writing in that field or questions that are already being treated by them.
Let me elaborate on this critically important point: Arriving at an essay topic is not a question of thinking but of reading. One of the key reasons why you must complete most of the research for the essay before you write the proposal is that you must discover the question through your reading and understanding of a given literature, not invent it. In other words, a viable essay question must be one, or a modification of one, that is already being addressed in the literature. For any viable topic, there is a literature typically organised around a series of debates/questions which have exercised scholars working on the subject. Once you encounter these, your task is easy: find the debate that most interests you, assess the various positions taken on it and take your own. Voilà! You have a question, an argument and, more or less, an essay!
6. You can also look at it another way: The questions in the literature are ones that seasoned writers in the field consider the interesting and important ones.
Without reading as much as they have done, you are unlikely to come up with one that is more interesting or important. And given that this is an essay and not a
thesis, originality is not a criterion. What you have to demonstrate is your ability
to understand the issues, facts, evidence, arguments and underlying politics and make a coherent argument about them.
7. This implies that if there is not a literature and a set of debates, you do not have a
8. How to find the right topic for you:
a. First identify, from the course outline, the general area in which you are interested.
b. Do the readings on the subject. Please do not leave out the
footnotes/references: they are not there for decoration. They can lead you to literature on related questions. Following up references on topics that interest you remains the most efficient way of finding material predating the article or book you are reading.
c. Identify the themes which you find most interesting. Following the
references will also tell you if the theme has been widely and interestingly
d. Now begins the task of finding further sources: if following the footnotes and references has not already lead you to interesting material, search in the electronic databases, first for the latest articles by specific subject or keyword. Articles are best because they tend to be more up-to-date than books and lead you to the most recent and relevant material faster.
e. Keep track of the authors who occur most often in footnotes: they have usually written other books and articles on related subjects which you might find interesting. Find them!
f. Document delivery. This excellent resource means that you are never far from all the books and articles you may need, even if our library does not have them. Please start using it now. All it requires is that you start your research early, at least 4 weeks early.
g. Articles will usually lead you to the more important of the books but you might still want to do a search on BISON for book through keyword and/or subject searches.
9. I shall be available for consultation on any or all of these stages of your research and conceptualisation.
10. This outline should NOT be in point form. You should use full sentences and
paragraphs and reference the key claims. .
11. The Essay Proposal shall be no longer than 500 words + bibliography. The
bibliography should be as long as you need. The proposal should contain the h. outline of the question you have posed,
i. why you think it is important or interesting,
j. how you propose to answer it and
k. what you hope to argue in your answer, i.e. your argument.
12. The essays must be typed and double-spaced and between 2,000 words or 8
double-spaced, typed pages minimum to 2,500 words or 10 double-spaced typed pages maximum. This page length is indicative. If you are a little higher or lower, it’s no matter. Best not to try to simply fill pages. It is harder to write a shorter essay than a longer one. Pithy essays embodying a lot of substance and research will be best rewarded.