What supporting materials can I use in strengthening my understanding of cultural artifact/technology/text/person/institution/community I am researching?


As you know, your research proposal for your term paper is due on October 20. Please email your proposal to me as a word attachment. Please note that I will not accept your proposal without first having met with you to discuss your topic.

Writing out a research proposal is designed to accomplish several things:

1) It will help narrow down an amorphous research topic to a set of specific ques- tions you will be asking about said topic

2) In so doing, it will force you to think very specifically about the various ap- proaches available to you in answering any given question.

3) It will also force you to think about why these questions matter and what can be gained, beyond personal edification, by asking them.

The best types of questions are always going to be ‘How’ and ‘Why’ type questions, be- cause they allow you to investigate processes and contexts as well as products. For ex- ample, asking “What makes J.K. Rowling an author?” suggests that a shopping cart list of items can be assembled. Asking “How is J.K. Rowling’s authorship articulated?” opens the question up to potential struggles, negotiations, and competing discourses that work together (even if antagonistically) to construct knowledge about Rowling’s authorship.

In writing out your research question, you should also be able to answer:

A) What types of materials will I need in order to answer this question? B) How will I be able to access these materials? C) Once I find these materials, what sorts of questions will I ask of them? (yes, there

are more questions to ask, because “evidence” is not “proof.” It too needs to be interrogated)

D) What supporting materials can I use in strengthening my understanding of cultural artifact/technology/text/person/institution/community I am researching?

E) What else has been written about it? What theoretical and methodological ap- proaches might I borrow/extend in order to shine a fresh light on my object of study?


Your research proposal should include:

I) Your primary question as well as TWO sub-questions that will help flesh out your primary question (i.e., if “How is J.K. Rowling’s authorship articu- lated?” is your primary question, your secondary questions might include, “How do fan community articulations differ from those of literary reviewers and why?” and/or “How has this articulation shifted over time and why?”). Please note that the best questions are narrow, not broad. Narrower questions allow you to dig deep and get to root causes. Broad questions offer surface- level answers that are often too general.

II) A plan of action for answering this question: what materials will you look at, how will you find these materials, what questions will you ask of them (i.e., I will be analyzing Harry Potter fan message boards following the release of the final book. These sites will be located using Google Analytics to deter- mine the three websites with the highest visitor traffic. Once located, I will be doing a discourse analysis, asking how fan communities construct knowledge about Rowling as author and/or use Rowling to construct knowledge about authorship/ownership/authority intersections. I will initially take an inductive approach by searching for the search terms “author,” “auteur,” “genius,” and “hack” and looking for moments of disagreement within these results. Once I have narrowed my cache of evidence I will also use a deductive approach to identify unanticipated themes within this data set

III) A list of ten scholarly readings – at least TWO should be drawn from class, the others from your preliminary search into what has been said on your topic – that you will incorporate as part of your literature review. You should ad- dress how these works might help you to situate and support your re- search within a larger body of scholarship (i.e., I will draw on current schol- arship on fandom and its complex relationship to authorship and ownership, and I will be applying Foucault’s work on the “author function” to the fan community I am studying)

IV) Why this research matters – how does it further and/or complicate our un- derstanding of culture/society/power relations, etc. (i.e., When fans grant Rowling the status of ‘author’ they also legitimate her claim to the scriptural economy when it comes to the Potterverse and the possible stories that might officially be told within it thus diminishing her need to take legal action against them)


Think of the proposal as a recipe. Your research question is a mixing bowl, but what in- gredients do you need to bake your research cake? Beyond assembling the ingredients, you also need to be cognizant of proportions and ordering. Too much flour will make the cake dense. If you put the chocolate frosting at the bottom of the cake pan you might be baking an upside-down cake.

As such, your proposal should also include a preliminary outline for your paper.

A basic template would be:

Introduction Background and literature review Case Study/Analysis Conclusion

What goes into each of these sections? Go beyond the generic cake recipe. What does YOUR paper need to do in each of these sections? What questions does each of these sub-sections need to answer for your reader in order for them to understand your argu- ment and for you to establish that this is your argument, not an opinion or a summary of someone else’s argument?

This is an interactive process. An outline is not a rule book; it’s a map (or, if we stick with our recipe metaphor, its a suggested way for you to bake a cake upon which you can in- novate and deviate: you thought you were baking a carrot cake because you inductively believed that digging into your evidentiary garden would produce carrots, but as it turns out, they were beets, so now your baking a beet cake. Beets require brown sugar instead of powdered sugar and chocolate instead of vanilla frosting, but they still bake at the same temperature and use the same amount of eggs and flour to make your dough. Your recipe outline needs adjusting).

At this point, I don’t expect you to have an argument formulated. That requires an inter- rogation of the evidence you have identified in order to answer your research question. However, based on your question, you should be able to hypothesize certain areas of in- quiry into this evidence as well as identify secondary research that you believe will in- form your analysis.

The more detailed your proposal, the further ahead you will be in being prepared to write.