There are two primary goals for writing a research proposal

  1. To provide the reader with a concrete sense of what you are proposing to investigate, why your topic is relevant or important, and how you propose to follow the project through to completion.
  2. To give yourself a good “road map” for your research and writing. No one simply sits down and writes a 30-page research paper. Your proposal, therefore, serves as a useful guide as you work your way through both the research and the writing phases. It can lend a sense of perspective, and reminds you what is most important and why.

Your research proposal should contain the following elements:

  1. A working title for your project
  2. A detailed description of your topic, in which you pay special attention to its scope and feasibility. Are you considering representations of the biblical figure Judith? That is a good start, but this topic would cover a lot of ground and may be too broad. You might narrow your topic to depictions of Judith beheading Holofernes in Southern Europe in the early modern period. In your description of this topic, you should provide some sense of the richness of the material. You want the reader to wish to learn more about it.
  3. A statement detailing your research questions. These are different than your topic. For instance, you may be considering the paintings of Judith mentioned above, but these are simply the objects you you are considering, and now is the time to explain what you want to learn about them. What do the changes in depictions of Judith tell us about the shifting status of women in the early modern period? How do the depictions of Judith differ from contemporaneous portrayals of Salome, and what do these differences tell us about shifting attitudes toward the Other? These are some examples of questions you may want to pose. Keep in mind, though, that the question you pose should be something you can actually answer given the visual and textual evidence available to you.
  4. A statement of your working hypothesis. In short, what is your current hunch in terms of how you would answer your research question? This can be provisional. After all, you haven’t yet done all your research.
  5. A brief discussion of the importance of this project for the field of Art History. How does your project contribute to our understanding of the topic you are studying? Why is your approach important to other scholars who study this material? And how does your approach relate to others who have looked at this material? In short, you should provide the reader with the “lay of the land” in terms of the ongoing critical conversation around your topic. 
  6. A discussion of your research methods and theories that will guide your analysis. What kinds of historical evidence might you use? Are there art historical theories that are guiding you? And if so, why are these particular methodologies important?
  7. A brief discussion of what challenges you might anticipate as you work through your research and writing. Are you worried that you may not have access to the proper materials to complete your research? Do you have the language skills necessary to translate any texts not in your first language? Is there sufficient scholarly work already done on your topic?
  8. A bibliography of at least ten sources that will contribute substantively to your understanding of your topic. You should provide annotations for at least ten sources in which you demonstrate how the source will aid in your understanding of your research question.

All proposals should be 5–7 pages, double-spaced (except for the bibliography, which should be single-spaced), using a 12-point font. Please use one-inch margins around the page. Footnotes and bibliographic entries should follow the Chicago Manual of Style.