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.
Research Paper Proposal
(http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/writ-pap.htm ) before you begin brainstorming about topics or writing your paper. Your final product will be judged on how well you succeed in producing a well though out, clear paper which shows you can interpret and intelligently discuss the issue and how well you can backup your findings with evidence. If you can't find sufficient sources you may have to rethink your subject. If you are taking a course in your major this semester, you can research a topic for that course (with my permission and the other professor's.) See me about the submission form.
Science and technology rapidly advances; therefore, "old "stuff," other than as background information, can be misleading and lead to wrong conclusions. Look for possible topics and background information in specialized encyclopedias, such as McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, Magill's Survey of Science: Life Science Series, Encyclopedia of Computer Science and Technology, American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine. Encyclopedias should not be your main sources, but can give you good background information and clarify concepts.
Approach: Your paper does not have a chance to be substantive unless you have substantive sources. Out of the 15 possible sources you found for your proposal, you should end up with 7 to 10 VARIED (NOT all Internet sites, for example) sources - including professional journal articles and professional publications, Internet sources, and possibly (but not required) an interview. It is a balancing act to find sources that you can understand - that relate to your level of study in your discipline, and, at the same time, challenge you intellectually. Be prepared at all times to show me the hard copies of your sources. Keep good notes. Be sure you have records on the title of the article, the title of the journal, the author/s names, date of publication, page numbers and other information required on your reference page and in your in-text citation, plus the key points from the source. Identify whether you are paraphrasing or quoting.]
Below is the format for your Research Paper Proposal. I must approve your topic and sources. I will not accept any papers that have major changes in topic or sources without my prior approval. Your paper must be your original work, fitting the guidelines in your research paper assignment. Please - no papers on global warming or marijuana. Those have been done ad nauseum and will only bore me to death.
Review the Honor Code and Plagiarism Guidelines (http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/plagiarism.htm). Fortunately, most students do their own work. For anyone tempted to pass off someone else's work as his or her own, I am a sophisticated user of the Internet and can easily spot papers gotten from paper mills, Internet or otherwise. Please do not jeopardize your college career or your grade in this class by using papers that are not written by you.]
[ The information between the brackets [ ] is to guide you. Here is a proposal template(http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/prop-res-template) without the explanations. You can save it as an html file and/or text file and insert your text.
To: Professor Virginia Montecino
From: [name and email address]
Subject of my paper: [The subject is the broad topic]
My Major and why writing about this topic will be beneficial to me: [If you are not vested in your topic, chances are your incentive to write about the subject will be weak. If you are interested in the topic you will probably write a better paper.]
My thesis: [The thesisis generally a sentence or two, which comes after the introductory material and states the main point/s in your paper. It is NOT a question. If your subject is fertility treatments, for example, your thesis might be "The high number of multiple births is forcing society to examine the ethical issues that are caused by fertility drugs and invitro fertilization. ]
Approach to the subject of my paper: [Try toenvision a logical way in which to present your material. In what order will you present your material to best address the issues? Will you have to define any terms? If so, which ones? Will you have to clarify terms and concepts? Do you think that inserting anecdotal evidence, for example, high profile stories of people who have had multiple births, as in the case above, will help your reader understand your paper? Will you show opposing viewpoints? Will you discuss the plusses and minuses of different platforms that perform similar functions? Will you be comparing and contrasting? Will you be categorizing some information? Perhaps you will be using a number of these approaches in your paper. Let me know where you think you are headed.]
Intended audience: [Your readers should not be specialists in your field. Assume that your readers have, in general, your level of education, but are not necessarily majoring in the same subject. You will have to define terms and explain concepts. But beyond these obvious ground rules, discuss what people or group of people might benefit from reading your paper. For example, in the multiple birth example, might prospective users of fertility clinics, childless husbands and wives, benefit from the information in your paper? ]
Graphs or charts: [Graphs and charts will not impress me unless they truly help the reader better understand some aspect of your paper. Be sure to document charts and graphs from other sources. Charts and/or graphs should not stand alone. They should compliment textual descriptions. Refer to the chart or graph in the text where you discuss the information. Charts, graphs or other appendices do not count toward the 5 to 7 pages of required text.]
Documentation Style: [APA is preferred, but if you want to use another scientific style, such as CBE, or Number, Date style, you must ask for approval. See on-line style guides at http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/stylgui.htm.]
Kinds of sources I will use and why they will benefit my paper: [ Do you have a balanced variety of sources? What strengths will they lend to the paper? How will they help clarify points you want to make?Use a combination of sources. Do not use all Internet sources. Some of your sources must be from a professional journal in your field, such as a nursing journal, a computer science or engineering journal, such as IEEE Spectrum. Some high end general audience publications such as Scientific American, or PC Computing can be used. Internet sources can be used if they are from credible sites such as the National Institute of Health, The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). See a list of Internet resources by discipline (http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/disciplines.htm) and do your own searches for other resources.]
Tentative List of References: [You should have at least Fifteen (15) separate sources listed in the proper APA format. This information should be on a separate page called References. Abide by all of the APA format guidelines for the reference page. The sources should be varied - not all Internet sources, for example - and be appropriate for a college level research paper. Peoplemagazine, Readers Digest, and others of that ilk are not satisfactory. Show me that you know how to find and can analyze data from sources within your discipline. Your final reference page in the Research Paper should have a minimum of 7 to 10 sources, each of which must be used as a source in your paper. Do not put any sources in your references that you have not used in your paper. It is possible for some of your sources to change as you become more deeply involved in writing your paper. Advise me of changes in references. ]
Virginia Montecino| firstname.lastname@example.org