In high school students are taught to write a standard essay as follows:

  • Paragraph 1: Introduction, with the thesis as the last sentence
  • Paragraphs 2, 3, 4: One topic each in support of the thesis, beginning with a topic sentence and followed by 3-5 developing sentences
  • Paragraph 5: Conclusion, reiterating the introduction

This gets them through high school and often through undergrad.  It’s formulaic, dull, but at least ensures that they thought the thing out a little.

I would like to think that academic/scholarly writing was somehow different, but it really isn’t.  It’s much longer, wordier and more complex, but every bit as formulaic.

  • Introduction: Summarize case, and finish with a paragraph that lays out, in detail, the structure of the rest of the paper.  Should include a sentence or two about why anyone cares, why studying this is important or what the rest of the world (who will never read it) can learn from it.
  • Literature Review: What other people say about his.  Best if it is formulated as an argument focused on the points you intend to make.
  • Methods: blah blah blah
  • Data: blah blah blah
  • Results: Here you must attempt to explain the findings without interpreting them, which we all know borders on impossible.  Even the charts you choose and the numbers you talk about will imply an interpretation.
  • Discussion: Here you must make the case again why this matters and try to explain what it means, being careful every single second to neither over nor understate your case.

A proposal needs to be a mini-version of this.  Without all the flare.

  • Essentially the part of the intro that lays out the structure, the thesis and why people should care.
  • Methods and data, hopefully impressive
  • Tentative conclusions, but not all; you still want them to show up

Apparently my 350 word proposal is written in too journalistic or literary a style, as it was just returned to me by my adviser for rewrite with comments such as “I suggest you delete one of your introductory paragraphs and insert either/and a paragraph on methods or theoretical framework.”  Because, you know, in a history of education paper defining a theoretical framework is FAR more important than placing the paper in history.


I sometimes feel like I am really not cut out to be an academic.  I don’t think I think theoretically/conceptually enough.  My questions aren’t rich for mining multiple papers out of.  Maybe I should take my comps, get my Masters and find a job in administration.