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What is a prospectus?

A prospectus is a statement that one writes in order to describe the various elements of a project they hope to undertake. Prospectuses take many forms depending on the context in which they are written, and nearly every profession requires some sort of a prospectus. Someone working in business will have to write a prospectus (or a business plan) in order to attract investors or to obtain a loan to start one’s business.

Similarly, scientific researchers often write research prospectuses in order to obtain both public and private funding for their projects. In publishing, nonfiction writers often write prospectuses (or a book proposals) in order to get a publisher to buy their book projects. And in academics, a doctoral candidate must write a prospectus that is approved by a committee before she can even begin to write her dissertation. In all these cases, prospectuses are usually written in order to obtain financial or institutional support for one’s project, which makes them an absolutely crucial part of any professional’s work. Ultimately, a prospectus can mean the difference between being able to pursue your intended project or not.

What kind of prospectus will you be writing in this class?

You will be writing an academic prospectus, which summarizes not only the topic of your final research paper, but also states your working thesis, what the stakes of that argument are, and how you will go about proving your argument.

Why are you writing a prospectus in this class?

Learning how to write a strong prospectus is essential to succeeding in almost any profession. While

different professions demand different types of project proposals that include different types of information organized according to different conventions, all of them are about the art of being about to articulate the purpose of your longer project in a concise and precise manner. It is likely that you might be asked to write prospectuses or paper proposals in your upper-level college courses, as well. So this is a chance to develop a skill you will most certainly be asked to use later on.

The other purposes of writing a prospectus in this class are

1. To get you thinking seriously about what you want to write for your final major project and whether or not that project is feasible and

2. So that, based on your prospectus, I can help you properly develop your paper. In journalism, this is what they call “front end editing.” Front-end editing is crucial to helping any writer use their time well. It’s often the case that writers without good front-end editing will waste a lot of time pursuing stories that go nowhere. Good front-end editing helps a writer find the path of least resistance when researching and it also ensures that they don’t pursue story ideas that have no legs. There is nothing worse than spending hours on something that you eventually have to scrap because it was simply a poorly developed idea.

What your prospectus needs to include:

1. Topic: The topic is the general area you want to write about. Examples of topics are things like: “Ebola

in America,” “ISIS,” “the Cold War,” or “representations of the legal system on television.” Topics tend to be broad, and are like the “field” in which questions are asked.

2. Question: Topics are not questions. You ask a question within the area of the topic. One topic could lead to many different questions. For example, the topic “Ebola in America” could have the following questions:

“What are the chances of Ebola becoming a real epidemic in America?” “How did Ebola come to the United States?” “What is our government doing to prevent the spread of Ebola?” “What myths are being

spread about Ebola?” or even “Is Ebola something we should truly be worried about?” You can see that there could be hundreds of possible questions.

When you find a question, or a few possible questions that truly intrigue or interest you, you should analyze them. Is your question too vague? Is it too narrow? Can it be answered with a yes or a no, or does it demand a more complex answer? Think about other ways to ask the same question (that is, reword it). Do whatever it takes to become as clear as possible about the question you are asking. Also be sure that your question can produce a complex answer.

It is also important to learn to recognize the kinds of questions asked in particular disciplines. For example, literary scholars often pose questions about what certain texts mean, how they were produced, and what they reflect about the context in which they were produced. Historians, on the other hand, often ask cause and effect sorts of questions—they want to know why certain historical events happened. And legal scholars tend to be interested in how laws have been, are, or should be interpreted.

Remember: A good complex claim will come from good questions; a poor complex claim will come from un-clear questions.

3. Working Thesis: Your working thesis should attempt to answer your question based on some preliminary research. It should not be based on a hunch, but on information you have started to analyze and synthesize. For that reason, you must find at least two sources in order to develop your working thesis.

The way you will find the three sources you need to develop a good working thesis is through the question you are asking. Look for sources that attempt to answer your question. And make sure to evaluate your sources carefully. Ask yourself whether the answers they are providing are sophisticated and complex.

And be sure not to use the first three sources you find. Look at a few sources and then pick the ones that, based on your analytical reading, seem like the richest sources to start building your argument and your research paper.

4. Roadmap: The prospectus needs to make clear how you are going to answer your question, or how you are going to defend your thesis (that’s two ways of saying the same thing). If you have a good question +-and good sources, it should be clear how you need to go about answering it.

5. Works Cited: The prospectus needs to have a preliminary works cited page on which you will build as you continue researching. These should include scholarly sources. It might be the case that you find good sources that are not considered scholarly per say. You may use these sources, but only in conjunction with at least two scholarly sources, which may include entire books, chapters of books, and scholarly journal articles. Be careful, because not all books are considered scholarly resources.

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