ES 191 - Research in Ethnic Studies

Components of a Research Proposal

Choosing a topic.


The research question that you pose should allow you to make an original and generative contribution to the subject. In addition, you must find the topic interesting or you will never manage to put in the work necessary to sustain the research or complete the project successfully.


Your goal for the final project (during subsequent quarters) is to produce a 20 to 50 page research paper. You may start with a very broad and ambitious topic area. As you begin to identify and sift through secondary literature and potential research materials you should quickly and continually refocus and redefine your research question so that you can do an adequate job in the time you have available.


After identifying a general topic area, locate a scholarly journal in the library that has articles relevant to your interests. Look through a few issues until you get a feel for how authors frame their topic and organize their writing. You may find a good article that you can use as a model of what your finished project might look like.

Identify research materials and/or resources.

Assembling bibliography:

Reference librarians often complain that students do not make use of their services. Make a reference librarian happy today! The object of your literature search is to find the published work that relates to your topic area. Understanding the shape of what has been done already will help you to refine your research question. See the Sample Bibliographic Entries sheet for an indication of what information you need to collect as you accumulate references.

Locating materials and resources:

In addition to the secondary literature on your topic, the primary sources will provide the critical information that will allow you to critically evaluate or interpret the fruits of your research. Resources may take any forms appropriate to your topic, e.g.: historical documents, film, photographs, people to interview.

Practicality of project:

Soon after you begin to assemble the resources that will make up the bulk of your research you must evaluate whether you have enough relevant material and the skills necessary for a feasible project.

Preliminary research.

Work ethic:

Research takes a lot of work! Do not underestimate the time it takes to read, design interview questions, schedule and transcribe the interviews, and the like.

Taking notes:

Good note-taking habits are crucial to successful research. Back-tracking to locate that crucial piece of information that you did not document yields nothing but frustration and wastes time.

You need to take different kinds of notes for bibliographic references, secondary literature, and primary research materials and resources.

Writing the Research proposal.

Statement of research question:

This should be a concise summary of the core purpose of your research project.

Review of the literature and how it relates to your topic:

The literature review contains an interpretive synthesis of other studies tat relate to your topic area. It should contain a discussion of how your research question raises or resolves issues that the available literature does not address.

Discussion of sources, resources (locations), and methodologies used to address research question:

This section should summarize the materials your research will utilize, where they are located, and how they will be used in your project.

Outline of research plan:

This may be in the form of a list of research tasks or an actual schedule of research activities. In either case you must pay attention to the limited time available in one UCSD quarter.


The accompanying Sample Bibliographic Entries sheet show one of many formats for different types of bibliographic materials. The sheet shows two styles of entry for a monograph (book with one author). The first follows the system defined by the Modern Language Association. The second follows the American Sociological Association guidelines and is similar to other social science formats. Your faculty mentor may have a particular recommendation about what bibliographic format to adopt.

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