Preparing a Prospectus

From Gerald R. Lucas

A crucial step in completing this project is the preparing of a prospectus — a clear, concise statement of the argument you propose to explore in the paper. Sometimes it is helpful, at first, to phrase the statement in the form of a question. Such a prospectus should include the following parts.[1]

Purpose of the Paper or Project

Define as explicitly as possible the particular topic to be investigated or demonstrated in the paper. Express the topic in a clear, concise sentence — no questions — and then offer a brief paragraph (5–6 sentences) which elaborate the pertinent and related aspects of this topic to be developed in the paper or project.

Justification of the Topic

Justify the selection of this topic in terms of

  1. what it will reveal about the meaning of the work (literary text, medium, art work, philosophical topic, theory, etc.) and what it will add to an understanding of the work studied, and
  2. what it will contribute to your own intellectual development.

Your justification should include both the critical and personal dimensions to which the topic will contribute.

Preliminary Plan (Methodology)

Define the procedure and methodology you will use in exploring this topic. Will you use biographical criticism, textual analysis of passages, comparison and contrast, etc.? How will you organize and structure your paper? To what extent will you need to refer to secondary (critical) sources? How much will be your own ideas? What critical / theoretical vocabulary will you use?

Preliminary Bibliography

List the primary and secondary sources which will be the most useful, or necessary for a study of this topic. Follow the Modern Language Association (MLA) Style Sheet in listing your sources. Entries must be exact in terms of punctuation, spacing, etc.[2]


  1. For a more detailed overview, see: "Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Writing a Research Proposal". USC Libraries. Research Guides. December 18, 2018. Retrieved 2019-01-02.
  2. See "MLA Works Cited Page: Basic Format". Purdue University OWL. 2016. Retrieved 2019-01-02.