Writing Academic Proposals: Conferences, Articles, and Books
This resource will help undergraduate, graduate, and professional scholars write proposals for academic conferences, articles, and books.
Contributors: Martina Jauch, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2018-02-14 03:33:31
An important part of the work completed in academia is sharing our scholarship with others. Such communication takes place when we present at scholarly conferences, publish in peer-reviewed journals, and publish in books. This OWL resource addresses the steps in writing for a variety of academic proposals.
For samples of conference proposals, article abstracts and proposals, and book proposals, click here.
Beginning the process
Make sure you read the call for papers carefully to consider the deadline and orient your topic of presentation around the buzzwords and themes listed in the document. You should take special note of the deadline and submit prior to that date, as late submissions leave a bad impression and suggest poor planning skills.
If you have previously spoken on or submitted a proposal on the same essay topic, you should carefully adjust it specifically for this conference or even completely rewrite the proposal based on your changing and evolving research.
The topic you are proposing should be one that you can cover easily within a time frame of approximately fifteen to twenty minutes. You should stick to the required word limit of the conference call, usually 250 to 300 words. The organizers have to read a large number of proposals, especially in the case of an international or interdisciplinary conference, and will appreciate your brevity.
Structure and components
A conference proposal will typically consist of an introduction to your topic, which should not amount to more than one-third of the length of your submission, followed by your thesis statement and a delineation of your approach to the problem.
You should then explain why your thesis is original and innovative as well as important and interesting to scholars who might be outside your specific area of research. As Kate Turabian states, “whether your role at a conference is to talk or only listen depends not just on the quality of your research, but on the significance of your question” (Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Chicago, IL: U of Chicago P, 2007. p. 128). This portion takes up approximately three to five lines, whereas the rest (approximately another third of the total length) focuses on the conclusion that you will arrive at in your essay and exemplary evidence.
Important considerations for the writing process
First and foremost, you need to consider your future audience carefully in order to determine both how specific your topic can be and how much background information you need to provide in your proposal. Larger conferences, such as regional MLA meetings or the ALA (American Literature Association) will require you to direct your remarks to an audience that might not conduct research on the same time period or literary field at all.
Along those lines, you might want to check whether you are basing your research on specific prior research and terminology that requires further explanation. As a rule, always phrase your proposal clearly and specifically, avoid over-the-top phrasing and jargon, but do not negate your own personal writing style in the process.
If you would like to add a quotation to your proposal, you are not required to provide a citation or footnote of the source, although it is generally preferred to mention the author’s name. Always put quotes in quotation marks and take care to limit yourself to at most one or two quotations in the entire proposal text. Furthermore, you should always proofread your proposal carefully and check whether you have integrated details, such as author’s name, the correct number of words, year of publication, etc. correctly.
If you are comparing and contrasting two different authors or subjects, you should clearly outline the process at which you arrive at your conclusion, even in a short proposal. The reader needs to realize the importance and legitimacy of comparing these two themes and get a sense of cohesion.
Types of conference papers and sessions
As a scholar, you may encounter the following presentation types; they cannot be sorted into either the humanities or the sciences. On a general note, however, humanities papers are usually read aloud at a conference, sometimes with the use of audiovisual equipment, and can look at fairly specific aspects of their research area. Social scientists tend to summarize their longer projects and works in order to introduce them to a larger audience and emphasize their usefulness and practical application.
Panel presentations are the most common form of presentation you will encounter in your graduate career. You will be one of three to four participants in a panel or session (the terminology varies depending on the organizers) and be given fifteen to twenty minutes to present your paper. This is often followed by a ten-minute question-and-answer session either immediately after your presentation or after all of the speakers are finished. It is up to the panel organizer to decide upon this framework. In the course of the question-and-answer session, you may also address and query the other panelists if you have questions yourself.
Roundtables feature an average of five to six speakers, each of whom gets the floor for approximately five to ten minutes to speak on their respective topics and/or subtopics. At times, papers from the speakers might be circulated in advance among the roundtable members or even prospective attendees.
Papers with respondents are structured around a speaker who gives an approximately thirty-minute paper and a respondent who contributes his own thoughts, objections, and further questions in the following fifteen minutes. Finally, the speaker gets that same amount of time to formulate his reply to the respondent.
Poster presentations are not very common in the humanities and ask participants to visually display their ideas as either an outline of findings, an essay of several pages length, or, preferably, charts, graphs, artwork, or photographic images.
Reasons proposals fail/common pitfalls
Depending on the conference, acceptance rates of proposals might range from about 10 percent to almost 100 hundred percent of submissions. Accordingly, you will receive some rejections to your submissions in the course of your career, which, in contrast to book proposals or fellowship applications, do not come with an explanation for the rejection.
There are common pitfalls that you might need to improve on for future proposals.
The proposal does not reflect your enthusiasm and persuasiveness, which usually goes hand in hand with hastily written, simply worded proposals. Generally, the better your research has been, the more familiar you are with the subject and the more smoothly your proposal will come together.
Similarly, proposing a topic that is too broad, can harm your chances of being accepted to a conference. Be sure to have a clear focus in your proposal. Usually, this can be avoided by more advanced research to determine what has already been done, especially if the proposal is judged by an important scholar in the field. Check the names of keynote speakers and other attendees of note to avoid repeating known information or not focusing your proposal.
Your paper might simply have lacked the clear language that proposals should contain. On this linguistic level, your proposal might have sounded repetitious, have had boring wording, or simply displayed carelessness and a lack of proofreading, all of which can be remedied by more revisions.
The Basic Format for a Research Paper Proposal
If you thought you would be able to get through college without much writing, you may find yourself asking, “Isn’t writing a research paper enough?” No. In many cases, you will need to write a research paper proposal before you write your actual paper. Ultimately, your professors will grade your final paper on your ability to interpret and intelligently discuss your topic and be able backup your findings with solid evidence. To be able to achieve this goal, you need to provide evidence that you are on the right path with a well thought out research paper proposal.
Below is a research paper proposal template for you to use. You will need to fill your information into the [ ] brackets where I have instructions and tips for you. Keep in mind that your professor may have some different requirements based upon their preferences. However, the following fields should suffice for most of your needs.
Date: [Add in the date you submit the proposal.]
To: [Add in your professor’s name.]
From: [Add in your name and your email address.]
Subject of my paper: [Provide the broad topic for your paper.]
My Major and why writing about this topic will be beneficial to me: Write why you are specifically interested in this topic and how it will benefit advancing your education. As I state in another post, “Steps to Writing a Winning Term Paper Using Reference Software” you must have an active interest in your subject (amongst other things) otherwise you will struggle writing your paper and your statements will lack conviction.
My thesis: Keep in mind that your thesis should only be a sentence or two long and it is an answer to a specific relevant question; it isn’t a question. Often your thesis will be more effective if it answers a how or why question instead of a who, what, when or where query.
Approach to the subject of my paper: There are several ways you can present material in your paper in support of your thesis statement. Will you have to define certain terms? Will you include anecdotal evidence? Will you include opposing views and comparing and contrasting them to your views? You want to think of a logical, orderly fashion in which you will lay out your research paper so it transitions well from thesis to conclusion. Your choice of target audience should influence your approach.
Intended audience: Selecting a specific intended audience will define the level of education and biases of your readers. It will alter the information you include in your research paper and how you present your viewpoints. When selecting an audience, target a demographic that has your level of education, but doesn’t necessarily have your background or major. While organizing your thoughts, think to yourself, “What do I need to explain to this audience to help them understand this topic?”
Graphs or charts: Graphs and charts are a way to visually support your written analysis and data. They are not intended to be filler to help you reach your page count requirement. Most professors do not count them towards meeting that goal. Make sure you cite your charts and graphs from other sources using the proper formatting style.
Documentation Style: Your professor will usually assign the APA, MLA or other formatting style to you. If you are unsure what style you should be using, ask them. If they don’t assign a style, the type of class you are preparing your research paper for usually will. Don’t forget; when it’s time to write your paper, there are MLA and APA format software products that can greatly diminish your time formatting the document.
Kinds of sources I will use and why they will benefit my paper: Professors like to see a balanced approach to selecting types of sources for your paper. If you are struggling finding good sources for your research paper while creating your proposal, it’s a good indication you should pick another topic. When you state the types of sources you will be using, include how these sources will strengthen your paper.
Tentative List of References: Your professor will often give you a minimum number of references for you to include as a tentative list of references for your research paper proposal. This will be higher than the actual number of references you include in your final paper since you likely will not use all of those on your tentative list. Your professor wants to see if you know how to select appropriate sources within your field. Check with your professor if you need to get their approval to use sources in your final paper that you did not include on your tentative list.
David Plaut is the founder of Reference Point Software (RPS). RPS offers a complete suite of easy-to-use formatting template products featuring MLA and APA style templates, freeing up time to focus on substance while ensuring formatting accuracy. For more information, log onto http://www.referencepointsoftware.com/ or write to:
info @ referencepointsoftware.com
Reference Point Software is not associated with, endorsed by, or affiliated with the American Psychological Association (APA) or with the Modern Language Association (MLA).