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  1. Research
  2. Proposal
  3. Compiling Notes
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How to Write an Essay

Part 2 - The Proposal

If your essay requires a proposal, do not assume you can whip together something quickly and consider it complete. Chances are, if a professor is requesting an essay proposal at all (which means more work for them to do), they intend to actually pay attention to it. It may even have a grade value as part of the overall essay. You will likely be held to promises made in the proposal, so don't state that you'll do impossible things under the assumption that the professor will be impressed.

You should already be well into your research by the time you hand in a proposal. If your proposal is to sound at all informed, you should have already skimmed through some sources to get a feel for the topic. Your research may not be complete, but you should know some of the sources you will use and where your focus lies.

Proposals are usually very specific to the assignment, so be sure to read the assignment carefully. Ensure that you cover all necessary aspects of the assignment in the proposal. Even if you don't fully explain every section - after all, it's not the full essay - do be sure to include the sections you plan to discuss. Also be sure that your list of resources is comprised of books you can actually get and truly plan to read.

Some proposals can be in point form while others are required to be in formal prose. Whichever is the case, do be sure to follow the rules of grammar where necessary, and stick to the other guidelines in these pages. The exception is that most of the time, it is okay to personalize proposals. You shouldn't use "I" and "me" in the full essay, but since the proposal is your personal statement as to your intentions, it is usually okay to do so there.

Here then, is a pretend assignment and a proposal to go along with it (using the fake science of "widgetry"):


The essay for Honours Widgetry 101 is to be a 10 to 15 page work concentrating on some aspect of widgetry as learned in the course. Appropriate subjects would be:

  • Joe Smith and the widgetiscope
  • Jane Doe, the first woman recognized in widgetry
  • Prehistoric widgets
  • British widgetry versus Chinese widgetry, a comparison of two diverse methods

If you wish to cover an alternate topic, it is recommended that you consult the instructor first.

The essay may cover the personal aspects of widgetry, but it is essential to include some scientific content. This may be in the form of explanations of studies done, archeological indications of prehistoric widgets and their uses, or other scientific data. It is insufficient to merely write about widgets in society. The scientific data must be discussed by the student and not merely quoted from references.

Required elements include:

  • a bibliography of no less than seven distinct sources (meaning seven different authors), no more than 30% of which are web-based
  • a proposal of no less than 250 words declaring your topic, sources, and the nature of the scientific content you wish to include due by Sept. 30 (not in point form)
  • a first draft that is a complete essay but will be graded gently with suggestions for improvement, due by November 1
  • a final draft due by December 15.

All instances of suspected plagiarism will be turned over to the university administration without discussion. If the administration decides plagiarism has occurred, the student will automatically receive an F in this course and may be expelled from the university. This edict applies to all proposals and drafts. No warning will be given; all students are expected to know how to avoid plagiarism by this stage in their education.


Joe Smith and The Widgetiscope
A proposal by Kimberly Chapman

According to Jean Doorknocker, "In the vast field of widget watching, no one person has made more of a dramatic contribution than Joe Smith" (Doorknocker 37). Widget watching began in ancient Sumeria, but reached its scientific peak in the late 1800s when Smith invented the widgetiscope (Diddledum 203-204). My essay will examine Smith's involvement in and contributions to the field as well as his personal life. Since Smith's adult life revolved almost entirely around his studies (Doorknocker 39), I believe his personal story is essential to understanding how he came to invent the widgetiscope.

Born in Scotland in 1856, Smith was orphaned early due to a plague. He was adopted while still a toddler and taken to the U.S. by his new American parents (Superwriter 4-7). He attended prestigious schools, eventually meeting a teacher named Brian Googlebrains who introduced young Smith to widgetry (Bogus 93).

A socially awkward boy, Smith took to widgetry quickly because it gave him an excuse to avoid bullies in the school playground (Doorknocker 37). His social problems never really abated; recent information suggests that he may have committed suicide when, because of his alcoholism, he was threatened exclusion from his dearly-held association of New York Widget Watchers(Doorknocker 38-39).

Smith's devotion to widgetry is evident in his many publications, which will be individually discussed in my essay. It was his invention of the widgetiscope, however, that truly marked his place in the field. The essay will thoroughly cover the invention process (including excerpts from Smith's diary as found in Bogus' book), how it works, a diagram of the parts of the widgetiscope, commentary from Smith's colleagues on the device as found in several sources, and a discussion of how the invention changed the field from a pastime into a science. For this last part, I will include citations from several sources as well as my own analysis of the state of widgetry before and after the invention.


  • Bogus, Michelle: Widget Watching in the Late 1800s, 1968, Publishers Anonymous Inc., New York
  • Diddledum, Frank: Widget Watchers in History, 1974, Frinkle Publishers, Los Angeles
  • Doorknocker, Jean: Joe Smith, Portrait of a Widget Watcher, Widgets Monthly, August 1996, Volume 15, Number 8
  • Driesel, Fran: Widget Watching,
  • Schultz, Patty: The Wonderful World of Widgets, 1982, Publishers Anonymous Inc., New York
  • Smith, Joe: Widgets and the Solstice: An Experiment in Balance 1885, Reprinted in Widgets Monthly, April 1987, Volume 6 Number 4
  • Smith, Joe: The Mysterious Top Widget, 1887, The Journal of Widgetry
  • Smith, Joe: A Treatise on Fnordlization of Widgets, 1889, The Journal of Widgetry
  • Superwriter, Sally: Joe Smith: His Life and Times, 1958, Schlmup Press New York

This proposal is 321 words (not including the Bibliography, which should never be counted in a word or page count anyway), so it falls within the guidelines set by the assignment. Longer proposals may require you to expand on the points to be covered instead of just stating them as I have done here. For example, the instructor may have required that this proposal include specific scientific data instead of just the promise to include it. It is essential that you follow the guidelines for each proposal as set by the instructor. If you are unsure about a requirement, consult the professor well before the proposal is due.

Next Lesson: Compiling Notes

Last updated in February 2005.

Copyright © 2000-2005 Kimberly Chapman. All rights reserved.

This original work is available for distribution, provided the following: it is only distributed in this complete form, it contains my name and copyright, it is not altered during distribution without my consent, and it is not used to generate income for anyone without my consent. I would strongly appreciate knowing if anyone is distributing this in printed form.

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