The first and very important step is the brainstorming/focus phase, and to do that, you will need to write multiple drafts of your project proposal. The goal of the proposals is, well, what it sounds like: to “propose” your project 🙂 The key things to think about during this brainstorming/preliminary research stage are the scope/focus (what are the parameters of this project), the manageable-ness (is this a project that you can successfully complete over the rest of the semester), and its deliverables (the focused presentation through your research/analysis).
Find a topic that you find personally interesting and intellectually stimulating: you will be much happier (and you will likely produce a better project) if you feel a personal investment in it!
You should do some preliminary research on the Internet to learn a bit more about these possible topics (however you do that over during the first week of the project week is fine: Google, Wikipedia, etc.). You may realize in your initial search that your topic has a lot more to it than you previously thought, or conversely you may realize that your topic is too straightforward and you don’t want to go ahead with it. Your goal at this early stage of the research process is exploratory: to gain an overview view of your topic, discover/research useful keywords, refine your search, ask additional questions.
When you start this research project, it is normal for you to be unsure of the particulars of your topic or research question; you may even decide to change your topic or position as you find more information. Altering your argument/plan of action is OK and expected. Your task is not to find sources that only back up what you already know/believe (you won’t be learning anything this way!). Remember that proposals are works-in-progress, and together we will shape them together over a few classes. However, by the time you start the next phase of your project (more rigorous research, and ultimately the presentation), you should have a focused topic and a plan of action. So this part of the assignment will help you to gather your ideas.
Your classmates and I will help you to revise your proposals, but since you are the one conceptualizing and researching this topic (and therefore becoming the “expert” in this particular area), it is up to you to, in as much detail as possible and with as much clarity as you can, explain to us what the project is, why it is worth doing, and how you will do it. The more effort you put into the proposal and initial research stage, the more successful (and easier!) your project will be in the long run.
*As you brainstorm, research, and draft the proposal, consider the following:
- What ideas, themes, questions, texts, etc. interested you this semester (or about science fiction more generally)? What do you want to learn more about?
- Why does this topic interest you? Why does/should this topic interest others?
- What kinds of sources will you use in your project (include a preliminary Bibliography with links in your post, so we can see what research you have been consulting)? Everyone will explore some science fiction (or speculative fiction, utopian, dystopian) theory as sources (such as the academic texts we looked at in class on Tu 11/15).
- You don’t have to read science fiction literature, and in fact, the goal is NOT to do a close reading of a science fiction text (what we have been doing all semester with the essays/blogs). Instead, you could step back and use science fiction as a critical lens through which to view something (your major/career, your hobbies, politics, a particular theme or question). You chould consider the big ideas we’re been discussing all semester: world-building, extrapolation, humanity, freedom, critique of our world, the others, competing values, etc. Or you could consider a particular aspect of science fiction (space exploration, questions of genres/subgenres, artificial intelligence, etc.)
- How can you focus/narrow down your topic so that it is manageable in this short-term, short (in length/time) research project? Remember, you don’t want your topic to be too broad or general … isolate just one variable (focus is very important). What kinds of questions do you hope to address through your research? What, specifically, do you want to learn about this topic? What will its scope be?
- What will your approach be? For example, you might be interested in eugenics, but that is a very broad topic, and there are multiple ways to approach it. You could explore fictional visions of eugenics in literature/film, you could place eugenics in conversation with the history of science, or you could explore eugenics through the use of contemporary or historical ideas (e.g., white supremacy). These would all yield very different research and results, so you want to be clear about what you are doing and why from the start.
- Don’t worry: you are not supposed to have a thesis yet at this point (in fact, if you can already tell what your main claim will be, then there is no point in doing the project!), but you can/should list a series of questions that your project will address.
- But … your proposal has to show how your project will be “argumentative” (rather than just a statement of fact). You don’t want to just find sources and report back on them (mere summary). Even if you are exploring a commonly researched/discussed topic, how will you bring your own perspective to bear on it, and by putting sources and ideas in dialogue with one another, produce something original? In short, how will your project expand our understanding of Science Fiction (broadly conceived)?
- What further research do you need to do to become informed about your topic?
- What questions you have for us–as readers/reviewers–about your topic/proposal? What feedback can we provide?
How many / what type of sources do I use?
Keep in mind that since everyone is designing her own project (with different topics/approaches), the types of research each person does will vary. If you have any questions about what type of research is appropriate for your particular project, please consult me.
While I expect that you will consult many, many more sources, you must incorporate a minimum of 5-6 secondary sources in your research project (this is in addition to any primary sources–films, novels, short stories, etc.–you may be using). Make sure that you use a variety of resources, and try to have sources from the following categories (and use current/up-to-date information when relevant):
- Recent scholarly books in print: chapters and/or excerpts are acceptable
- Recent scholarly articles found in online journals through the City Tech (and/or CUNY) Library databases
- Recent texts (articles, essays, editorials, interviews, etc.) from other non-book print sources (newspapers, magazines, etc.)
- Texts (articles, essays, editorials, interviews) from reliable online sources (this means you must know where there information is coming from and if it is accurate/reliable!)
- Media (advertisements, cartoons, artwork, TV shows, films, music, etc.)
- Other (ex: fiction, interviews, surveys, etc.)
Make sure to keep track of all bibliographic information as you do your research (citations should be in MLA style). Also, check out the bibliography/references of the sources you use … looking over what sources other researchers have used is a great way to find additional relevant material for your own project. Check out the Bibliography, Works Cited, Notes, and Index of books/articles.
This site has some helpful information on evaluating print sources: http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/evaluating-print-sources/
And here’s one on evaluating WWW sources: http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/web-eval-sites.htm
If you are uncertain about the “reliability” of a source, you should consult me, a librarian, or the Learning Center.