You’ve decided to become a graduate student. You have figured out what you wanted to research and have created the first draft of your thesis proposal. Your mentor has returned that draft and is awaiting your edits. Hopefully you aren’t like me and have started thinking about it sooner than I did. See, I had this fear that I would screw it up, so I have put it off way longer than I should have. I am now frantically trying to put it together before my first semester of thesis credits is over. Don’t be like me! To help us both out, I figured writing a short segment on how to edit your thesis proposal would force me to finish mine, and help you get started in a reasonable time frame. Without further ado, here are my tips:
Step One: Read Your Mentor’s Suggestions
Promptly throw your proposal somewhere where you won’t look at it for a long time (Really though, you should probably look at it immediately). I put mine away and it has been haunting my mind since I got it back. Speaking of that, I should go get it. Let’s do this together.
Okay, my mentor suggests that I replace one of my committee members. That’s easy, I just have to erase one name and type another. Let’s start with that.
Page 1, Project summary: My mentor likes my project summary but suggests I speak more broadly about my subject and make the connections between two subtopics. My example is Bike trails and neighborhood development. I interpret this as I should talk in general about how bike paths come with neighborhood development. Further I should talk about how the neighborhood development leads to gentrification. Gentrification is my overall topic. Now that I know how to approach my project summary, I should go back and make that edit. It’s a simple one. My summary was too specific, I just have to make it more broad.
When you are writing your project summary, broadly speak about your topic. The specifics come in the next section. The project summary is basically like an abstract. My IUPUI guidelines actually suggest that you write this part last. I wrote my first, but if it helps, do what works.
Page 2, Project description; Introduction: I know it sounds exactly the same as project summary, but obviously it’s different. My first draft of the introduction section is barely a page. My mentor wrote that I was broad in a few of my paragraphs and these should have been talked about in my opening summary. Now I have some content for the summary. Easy fix. According to the IUPUI Anthropology Department’s guidelines for writing a proposal, my introduction section is supposed to explain where my research will take place and why it is important. Reading my draft, I think I can expand on that.
When you are creating your Project Description, think of it as the outline for your entire project. In the introduction of this section you have to explain why your project is important. The research questions provide an explanation of how you will show new insight to your subject. Your research should be valuable to more than just you. This description and its subsections show the reader (your committee) why it is important. Your Project Description will also contain a methodology section. Think of that part as a way to work out how you will accomplish answering your research questions.
Page 3, Literature Review: My mentor suggests I have a more complete literature review. After all, this is the section where I am supposed to explain how my research is different than all the other research conducted on this topic. My mentor suggests I look at other readings on the topic of gentrification and its effects more broadly. So what I will do is look at the impacts of gentrification in the most general and largest cases. My mentor also suggests that I contextualize my project my showing the impact of bike paths on property values in Indianapolis.
When completing your literature review section it can be daunting to think about giving a comprehensive review of all the bodies of work on your specific subject. Don’t think like that! Think of this section as a way for you to further understand your subject and to better address your research questions with new and interesting approaches. As my mentor said, this is also a way to contextualize your project within the broader scope of its impacts.
Step Two: Edit Your Proposal
This step is hard. You want to make this draft version better. I suggest you read the comments your mentor has left you and only fix what they have addressed. This will make the process simpler than dwelling on things that your mentor didn’t mention as problematic. That is not to say the things you need to address will not be complex. I have to complete a more thorough literature review. To me, that is my hardest task. Making sure I have touched upon all relevant research related to my subject seems impossible. I knew what I was signing up for though. Get to it, edit that beautiful proposal of yours!
Step Three: Read your new draft
It seems obvious, but I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve submitted papers without rereading them. This is a chance to catch obvious mistakes and fix semantic issues. If your writing is more readable, the content doesn’t necessarily have to be groundbreaking.
Step Three: Drink a beer or twenty
Celebrate that you have accomplished a task that few people have. You have made the first step in completing a graduate degree. Relieve your stress and take a break, you deserve it.
Step Four: Wait patiently. Drink more beer.
I suggest a nice hoppy IPA. It will really get your mind in a good place. Try to complete other important tasks while you wait for your committee’s comments. Finish a paper for another class, study for an exam, or read class readings. Don’t forget to take little breaks, all work and no play make you a dull boy.
Step Five: Get your proposal draft two back. Start the process again.
Your proposal should be coming together nicely. You have had suggestions from your mentors who have way more experience at this than you. Take their advice, they are the ones you will be defending it to later.