A proposal is a chance to explain your topic, discuss the resources critical to your research, and justify the need for your proposed paper.
GOALS OF A PROPOSAL
1) Precisely defines your topic and the need for studying it (i.e., it briefly takes apart the topic and tells what one will learn from reading your proposed paper).
2) Explains the sources critical to your proposed research, demonstrating that they are adequate for your project.
1) Narrow and break down your topic and your approach to it as much as possible. (ONE SENTENCE ON THE PROPOSED TOPIC IS NOT ENOUGH.)
2) Discuss the issues and questions which you foresee your paper addressing.
3) To demonstrate your competence, you must exhibit a level of research and thinking suitable for this stage of your work. Remember, you are expected to have done a fair amount of research already. It should indicate that you have done extensive research in library catalogs, databases and the internet.
4) Explain why you are using your secondary and primary sources, to explain which will be especially valuable, and, perhaps, to explain what important sources are not available and are likely to be missing from your paper–and why your topic is manageable nonetheless.
Do not try to cover every source. Provide a useful view of the critical sources that anyone doing your topic must look at. Whether or not you have yet finished your study of them, or you have yet to acquire them, you should have determined which are the critical ones.
In referring to sources, always provide author (full name on first reference) and date of work; generally the full title is also necessary or useful.
5) Exclude irrelevant information. Since the proposal is a discussion of sources and not a research trail, do not include comments about where, in what order, or how you found sources (e.g., in the UMW library or through ILL) or that you are “still waiting” for ILL to provide you with a book.
6) Include a bibliography of relevant sources cited using the Turabian/Chicago Manual of Style citation guidelines. That list of sources should not include finding aids, bibliographies, encyclopedias, or children’s books.
7) Although footnotes/endnotes are not usefully employed in a proposal, you must make clear where your information came from.
8) Use of first-person perspective can be appropriate, but do so only in consultation with your professor.
For general writing guidelines, see here.