Preliminary Bibliography And Prospectus Outline

Prospectus and Annotated Bibliography

Summary: Consider how you will use your potential sources to address your research question.


  • Carefully examine each of your potential sources.
  • Plan how you will use ideas and evidence from the sources in your paper.
  • Develop a tentative structure for your paper.

Due: 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 18


Although the assignment for the prospectus is given before the assignment for the annotated bibliography, you may wish to do them in the opposite order, or work on both side-by-side. Implicit in this: You will need to read (or at least browse or skim) all your sources.

Part A: Prospectus

Draft an introductory paragraph for your paper. This introductory paragraph should include your thesis, which is likely but not required to be an answer to your research question.

Below the introductory paragraph, write a topic sentence for each supporting paragraph. Please write these sentences in a numbered list. Your papers will be around 7-10 pages, so I would expect to see at least 7 topic sentences after the draft introduction. 

These sentences should give your argument in capsule form. Be sure to write complete sentences, with at least a subject and a verb, so that I can understand your point.

You will not be required to use these exact sentences in your final paper---you can revise and reorganize as you see fit. I am just trying to get you thinking about how the pieces of your paper will fit together and hopefully make it easier for you to start writing.

You may want to discuss your prospectus with your study team during week 8. Explain your argument to members of your study team, and see how they respond. Just trying to explain your ideas out loud can help you to understand them better.

Part B: Annotated Bibliography

For each of your sources, you should have already written a short paragraph addressing the following points:
  • how you found the source (Google, library catalog, Academic Search Premier, reference from another source, etc.);
  • why you believe it to be credible;
  • why you think it might help you address your research question.
As you browse/skim/read your sources, please add an additional one or two paragraphs briefly addressing the following:
  • Describe the content of the source, if you have not already done so.
  • Explain how you plan to use ideas or evidence from the source in your paper. Or, if you decided not to use the source after all, explain why.

You may add sources that were not in your previous bibliography. (In fact, I may have encouraged you to do so.) If you do, be sure to annotate the new reference with your evaluation of the source's credibility, as well as how you plan to use it.

Finally, add at least once source from the official class readings that will help to support your argument. You need not give a full annotation - just explain how you plan to use the source.

If you realize that your argument requires a piece of information you don't have, make a note of this as well. You should try to find it out ASAP!

What to turn in

Type a document including the following two components.
  1. Your prospectus from part A.
  2. Your bibliography from part B, in a recognized citation style, with the required annotations addressing the credibility, the content, and your planned use of the source. Be sure to include at least one source from the official class readings.

Format as for an essay. Be sure to put your name and a title on the assignment and to acknowledge any help you received.

Turn in your document via PWeb by 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 18.


I will evaluate your assignment on 

  • the appropriateness of your thesis;
  • the clarity and apparent amount of effort put into your prospectus;
  • whether you have identified an appropriate variety and quality of sources to help you address your question;
  • whether you have given a correct list of references for those sources and annotated them as required.

Janet Davis (

Created March 12, 2009
Last revised January 19, 2011

Writing a Research Prospectus

A prospectus is a formal proposal of a research project developed to convince a reader (a professor or research committee, or later in life, a project coordinator, funding agency, or the like) that the research the research can be carried out and will yield worthwhile results. It should provide:

  • a working title for your project,
  • a statement of your research question or issue,
  • an overview of scholarship related to this topic or to the this author,
  • a brief summary of your research methods and/or your theoretical approach.

A prospectus is normally accompanied by a bibliography, often annotated, which lists sources you have consulted or plan to consult for your research. In cases where the texts studied exist in multiple editions or in translation, the bibliography should normally state which edition, text, or translation you will be using and why. You also should include a Prospectus Cover Sheet, complete with the signature of your director and second reader.

Contents: In most cases, a prospectus will begin with an overview of existing scholarship, summarizing basic arguments relevant to the project. It will then position the project with reference to this scholarship. For this reason, the prospectus will demonstrate that you have conducted enough preliminary research to be able to design a relevant project and carry it through relatively independently. Since at this stage much research remains to be done, a thesis statement usually does not follow this introduction. Instead, include a statement of hypothesis or of the central research questions. The prospectus should then offer an overview of the project organization. If the project is large enough for chapters, include a breakdown of them. If special skills or assistance such as foreign language competency, access to archives or special collections, technical skills, or access to technical equipment are needed to complete your project, the prospectus should address your preparation in these areas. Part of your goal is, in essence, to "sell" your research supervisors on both your project and yourself as a researcher. Cover the ground well, presenting yourself and your project as intellectually convincing.

Developing an initial prospectus will help faculty understand where you are in the research process and help you bring focus to your research throughout the experience. Because it lays out a framework for your project, the prospectus can provide you with direction during the inevitable moments when you feel overwhelmed or lost. And because you have already clearly demonstrated your ability to carry out your research project, the prospectus can serve to reinforce your confidence and help keep you on track for a timely completion.

Beyond its relevance to your current research project, a prospectus helps you sharpen several important skills. Because a good prospectus demands concise, informative writing, composing one will help hone your writing style. In asking you to persuasively describe a compelling project and establish your ability to carry it out, it draws on abilities applicable to a variety of situations in and out of the academy, such as scholarship and funding applications, proposals for research forums, conferences, or publications, job applications, and preparation for larger and more complex research projects such as those found in Ph.D. programs and a variety of professional settings. The skill is so important that some people—grant writers—make a profession out of writing prospectuses.

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