You are on page 1of 11

Pr p sal Writing

It’s a Lot Harder Than It Looks!
Student: Beth Wilkerson Professor: Dr. Jan Holmevik Date: June 22, 2009

Coming into this class, I didn’t expect writing a proposal to be easy, but I certainly didn’t expect it to be as involved as it was either. Fortunately, I had Johnson-Sheehan (affectionately referred to as “JS” in the remainder of this paper), along with my classmates and professor, to guide me along the way. Without them, I fear my proposal would not be near the caliber it is today. Since JS was the main contributor to the organization of my thesis proposal, it seems appropriate to describe its development in terms of the guidelines outlined in the chapters of his book, aptly named Writing Proposals (2008).

Understanding the Proposal Genre
Early on in the semester, JS taught me that people write proposals to a) manage change or b) take advantage of an opportunity. With this in mind, I began to brainstorm not only the topics I was passionate about but also those that presented themselves with opportunities for positive modification. Early on, I returned to my interest in foreign languages and combined it with a growing interest in computer-mediated communication (CMC). When joined, these two topics provided a general basis on which to further develop my thesis proposal and to determine what specific avenues I could explore to ensure I was expanding on the opportunity as much as possible.

Further Analyzing the Opportunity
Once I had a general sense of what I wanted to write about, I began to further define the opportunity by determining its stasis. During this stage, I used the Five-W and How questions JS outlined, asking myself if there was really an opportunity available; if so, what the exact opportunity was; how serious the opportunity was; and what type of proposal would take best advantage of the opportunity. Relying on chapter 2 of Writing Proposals and the MAPC handbook, I realized that the opportunity was to expand on foreign language learning through new virtual environments such as LiveMocha, Second Life, and World of Warcraft and that, given the growing need to learn a second language and the growing popularity of these platforms, the scale of the opportunity was great. As most MAPC thesis proposals take the form of research proposals, the decision to format my proposal in this way was an easy one. At this point, I also began to establish who my readers were, what their needs would be, and how they would expect my proposal to be completed. Obviously my primary readers would be my committee members, but I had to evaluate their level of prior knowledge of CMC and foreign languages, how modern or traditional they might be, and the context in which they would be reading my proposal.


Knowing my topic would involve research in language pedagogy and computer technology, I figured my primary readers would be up-to-date with advances in technology and progressive enough to accept a proposal that utilized color and a non-traditional design and layout. But knowing that some of my secondary readers—other faculty members and students—as well as tertiary readers—professional publications, perhaps—might not be as progressive, I knew I would have to achieve a balancing act between modern and traditional in both my proposal’s structure and design.

Planning Strategically
As we approached chapter 3 of JS’s book, I began to set specific objectives for my proposal, analyzing the rhetorical situation. Once again, I had to ask myself questions like “What is my proposal about? What is it not about? Who will read it? Where will it be read, and how will that context shape its reading?” I also had to outline my specific objectives and then rank them to determine which was the most important; in other words, I had to determine what my “TRO” or Top Rank Objective was and what my secondary objectives were. As shown in Figure 1 below, my first TROs were somewhat broad and underdeveloped: Figure 1: Original TROs Posted to Blogger


Throughout the entire proposal writing process, my TRO seemed to change constantly as I strove to find a balance between an objective narrow enough to allow me to write a thesis in one academic year yet broad enough to give my thesis application beyond an 100-page paper doomed to become irrelevant before it was ever completed. When all was said and done, my TRO developed into the desire to demonstrate how three emerging virtual environments could be used effectively to learn a foreign language. More specifically, my TRO became to demonstrate how virtual environments with varying levels of pedagogical structures can contribute to effective second language acquisition.

Describing the Current Situation
Having defined the opportunity, identified my TRO, and analyzed the rhetorical situation, I was ready to begin the actual writing of the proposal. As JS reminded me, “the proposal genre is not a formula” (p. 55). While there are certain sections almost always evident in a proposal, it is up to the writer to determine which sections are most appropriate for their purposes. With this suggestion in mind, I determined that the “Current Situation” section of my proposal would logically become a literature review explaining prior language instruction through CMC, focusing on tandem learning in particular. It would establish the need for further research on tandem learning in new virtual environments such as LiveMocha, Second Life, and World of Warcraft, demonstrating the advantages that could result from such a study and the disadvantages that would occur if the opportunity were not further explored. Before writing the current situation section, I conducted research using a variety of electronic and print sources, some of which were based on empirical methods such as interviews and participatory observations of tandem learning in virtual environments. Including a wide range of sources helped me to ensure that I was providing an adequate overview of my topic. After reading through a sufficient amount of material, I determined that my current situation section would benefit most from a narrative format that would trace the history of foreign language learning in CMC. While writing the current situation section, I continuously referred back to JS’s three guidelines in chapter 4: Problems are the effects of causes, ignored problems tend to grow worse, and blame change, not people (p. 56). In particular, I took the last suggestion to heart along with Dr. Haynes’s advice to the class to be generous when discussing the work of previous researchers. In a thesis proposal, she said there is no need to discredit the work of others; simply demonstrating how our work will expand on their work is sufficient. I thought of this often as I revised my current situation section. So often we assume we need to put others’ research down to make a place for our own when, in actuality, without their work, we wouldn’t have a framework for our own in the first place. After all, how could I build on knowledge of


tandem learning in virtual environments if I couldn’t read the work of others who came before me? When revising this section, I looked for instances when I had discredited previous research and rewrote it to better reflect an appreciation of their work while also demonstrating how I aimed to build on that work.

Developing a Project Plan
With my current situation/literature review well under way, I started to evaluate how I would actually address the opportunity presented with the virtual environments I aimed to study. Although I used mindmapping in some of the previous stages, I must say it was most helpful at this time. At JS’s suggestion, I wrote out a few possible solutions for addressing the opportunity and, from there, developed steps that would comprise the major solution. After detailing the steps necessary for each solution, I stepped back from my mindmap to determine if it aligned with my TRO. It took me three or four tries until my mindmapping proved fruitful, but it definitely seemed to work out in the end. Using this process, I decided to conduct case studies on the three environments of interest so that I could include a comparative element in my study—something Dr. Morrissey encouraged during his visit to our class. Included below in Figure 2 is one of my first methodology mind maps. Figure 2: One of the First of Many Methodology Mindmaps

Following the development of a proposed solution, I began to address the “why” questions of my plan. I had to truly consider why my solution—case studies—would better build on the opportunity than, say, a theoretical analysis. I determined that direct interaction with the three environments was the most appropriate way to truly understand the ways the platforms contribute to second language acquisition.


Completing one-on-one interviews and analyzing chat and email logs from users would give my study a more personal touch and extend it beyond the theoretical into the practical. In addition, using a combination of empirical and descriptive methods would give my study more validity while also allowing me to include a thick description of the environments and my interactions with other users. Since learning a new language is all about communication with others, I wanted to use a method that would allow me to communicate with people in the environment I would study. After several mindmaps, I finally had a solid plan in mind and began to determine the feasibility of the solution. Using JS’s suggestion to move backward from the project due date, I determined the scope of my case studies. I knew that I would have roughly seven or eight months to complete the studies and write an entire thesis, so I decided to devote an entire month for each virtual environment, as well as a month to write the introduction, methodology, and analysis/conclusion sections of my thesis.

Describing Qualifications
Because thesis proposals don’t ordinarily include a full-blown qualifications section, I knew I wouldn’t need to devote as much time to this portion of my proposal as I did to the current situation section. By including a variety of sources in my literature review and showing where my proposed research would fit in, I had helped to somewhat establish my credibility, or ethos, already. However, I also knew that explaining explicitly, at least to a certain extent, why I was qualified to research this specific topic would further enhance my credibility. Therefore, I included one paragraph in the introduction of my proposal explaining my personal experiences with tandem learning. I opted to exclude formal information about previous research related to second language acquisition and CMC as I felt doing so would cause information overload—part of the “want to tell” versus “want to know” dilemma JS discusses throughout his book. I also felt that my personal experiences, rather than my academic ones, with tandem learning would tie in well with JS’s suggestion to focus on what makes me uniquely qualified to pursue my topic.

Developing an Introduction, Conclusion & Benefits
With my current situation and qualifications taken care of, I moved on to my introduction section in which I first stated the subject of my proposal, then identified the purpose of the proposal, and indicated the main point of my research. In this section, I stressed the importance of the subject to my readers, providing background information on the topic and forecasting the organization of the proposal without overwhelming the readers with too much information too fast. I then wrote the conclusion, being sure to once again take JS’s suggestions to heart: transition from the body of the proposal, highlight the benefits of the plan, look to the future, and identify the next step. In this section, I maintained a positive tone,


emphasizing the tangible and value benefits of my proposed research—everything from a Clemson diploma and a bound thesis to further knowledge on tandem learning and implications for foreign language instructors, future researchers, and students.

Writing with Style
Since any money that will be used to carry out my thesis research will come out of my own pocket, I skipped over the “Costs” section of JS’s book and moved on to editing my proposal draft for effective style. From chapter 9, I learned what to look out for during revision: convoluted sentences, unnecessary passive voice, confusing subject placement, nominalizations, excessive prepositional phrases, and redundancy. I was also reminded how to write an effective paragraph with a transition, topic sentence, support sentences, and a point sentence. His overview of plain versus persuasive style also helped me think through which parts of my proposal should utilize each style. With these guidelines in mind, I shortened sentences throughout my proposal, revised paragraphs to represent more consistent subject use, and included more effective transitions to guide the readers through my ideas.

Designing the Proposal
With all content in place, I began to consider how I would design my proposal. Although JS suggested designing a proposal alongside developing its content, his suggestion seemed to come a little too late in the game. Thus, I feel like my designing could have begun earlier. Nevertheless, I used his four principles of design—balance, alignment, grouping, and consistency—extensively when I finally got around to designing my proposal. Going back to step 2 in which I further analyzed my research opportunity, I readdressed the idea that my primary audience would be progressive and would, therefore, be likely to appreciate a more modern design. I knew from my Visual Communication class that circular shapes tend to denote ideas of progression and openness, so I decided I would include circular elements in my design. I also played on the idea of reciprocity in tandem learning in which second language acquisition takes place in a constant back-and-forth motion. I decided that using circular, or at least rounded, design elements throughout my proposal would allow me to indicate my forward-thinking mindset in terms of foreign language pedagogy while also subtly reinforcing the reciprocal nature of tandem learning. In addition to knowing I wanted to include circular elements in my design, I knew I wanted to include ample white space to provide a break for readers’ eyes and to help them identify various levels of information in the proposal. I decided to use different heading levels, in addition to bulleted points, to highlight different steps in my chapter outline to draw the readers’ eyes to the most important information on the page in case they chose to skim the information. My different level heading styles, shown on the next page, indicate a progression in material throughout my paper.


FIRST-LEVEL HEADING (Font: Corbel; Size: 14; Boldface; Color: RGB 89, 89, 89)
Second-Level Heading (Font: Corbel; Size: 12: Boldface; Color: RGB 127, 127, 127)
Third-Level Heading (Font: Corbel; Size: 11; Italics; Color: 128, 128, 128) In particular, I made the most use of different headings throughout my literature review and methodology sections, as these parts seemed to include a wealth of information that could be subdivided. I chose to use a sans serif font, Corbel, for the headings to make it stand out from the serif font, California FB, that I used throughout the body of my paper. I chose these two fonts based on JS’s suggestion to use serif fonts throughout the body of the proposal for North American readers and Dr. Holmevik’s suggestion to use serif fonts for print documents and sans serif for Web-based documents. I also took JS’s suggestion to only use two typefaces to heart. I felt that a sans serif font would work well for the headings since it would provide a subtle difference between the serif font used for the body while still being easily readable in a print format since it would appear only for short phrases. In addition to using different font sizes for the different level headings, I also used bold and italics to demonstrate a hierarchy of information throughout the document. Throughout the entire design process, I tried to maintain consistency. For example, I included a semicircular object filled with a lime green gradient on the top and bottom of each of my pages. In the bottom right corner of each page, I also placed a circular object in which the page number appears. These elements provide a predictable pattern from page to page that helps establish my ethos throughout the paper. I chose the lime green color for the proposal border to create an other-worldly, progressive tone to my proposal and the circular image for the page numbers to, once again, emphasize the circular, or reciprocal, nature of tandem learning. Based on a discussion of the sample Overture Design proposal held the last week of class, I also decided to make the green object at the bottom of the page more heavily weighted than the green object at the top to subtlety imply that my paper is “solid.”

Using Graphics
After creating the basic design for my proposal, I began to consider what graphics would enhance the written content. Rather than using the original table I created in my rough draft, shown on the next page in Figure 3, I decided to incorporate a Gantt chart, shown in Figure 4, showing the beginning and ending date for each portion of my proposal timeline. Doing so helped simplify the information for the reader by demonstrating how each stage of the thesis process will overlap. It also contributed further to my credibility by demonstrating the feasibility of my proposed plan. However, I did not let the Gantt chart stand alone. I still highlighted its main points within the text portion of my proposal to ensure that the reader understood the information I was trying to convey. When incorporating the Gantt chart in my


proposal, I was also careful to present the information ethically by titling it appropriately and clearly labeling the axes.

Figure 3: Portion of the Original Chart Included in the Rough Draft of My Proposal

IRB Approval

This will be necessary to obtain chat/email N/A logs and to use interview transcripts for the case studies on LiveMocha, World of Warcraft, and Second Life. This chapter will detail the historiographical approach I will use when completing a 10 pages literature review on the history of the MOO in foreign language learning. It will also detail the qualitative and empirical methods I will use when conducting case studies of LiveMocha, World of Warcraft, and Second Life (interviews, chat logs/email conversations).


Chapter Two: Methodology


Figure 4: Simplified Gantt Chart
6/15 6/30 7/15 7/30 8/14 8/29 9/13 9/28 10/13 10/28 11/12 11/27 12/12 12/27 1/11 1/26 2/10 2/25 3/12 3/27 4/11 4/26

Proposal to Chair Proposal to Committee IRB Approval Chapter 2


Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 1 Chapter 6 Draft to Chair Full Thesis to…

Revisions to Committee Thesis Defense


In order to make my proposal more visually effective, I also used captions in the shape of circles to, once again, create consistency and also to highlight key points in my paper. Specifically, I used circles, shown in Figures 5 and 6 below, to clarify a word choice in my TRO and to provide an explanation of abbreviations that would be found throughout my proposal. Figure 5: Circle Used to Explain Word Choice Figure 6: Circle Used to Explain Common Abbreviations

By “structures,” I mean different pedagogical foundations. LiveMocha, for instance, is based entirely on the principle of tandem language instruction while Second Life and World of Warcraft were not built on these principles but have the capability to promote SLA through communication with other users and direct interaction with the environment.

Common Abbreviations
• • • • • CALL: computer-assisted language learning CMC: computer-mediated communication MMORPG (or MMO): multiplayer online role-playing game MOO: multi-user objectoriented SLA: second language acquisition

Including Front (But No Back) Matter After incorporating graphics into my proposal, I began to evaluate the need for front and back matter. I created a cover letter that introduces my overall topic in brief and also ensures that my proposal will end up in the correct hands: those of my thesis chair! Next, I created a table of contents, keeping in mind to make the labels for the table of contents informative as well as consistent with the titles throughout the proposal. Then I created a title page, part of which is shown in Figure 7, with the goal to “be bold.” I chose to extend the circular theme to the cover page, using three circles to highlight the fact that I will place the spotlight on three specific virtual environments in my thesis. In my cover letter, shown in Figure 8, I also continued the circular theme by using the same lime green objects as I used for the header and footer for my entire proposal. Lastly, I wrote an abstract that summarizes the overall organization of my proposal for those who either don’t have time to read it in its entirety or simply want to see if they’re interested in the topic before reading further.


Figure 7: Title Page

Figure 8: Portion of Cover Letter

Tying Everything Together Once I had my front matter in place, I returned to the drawing board to revise for the rhetorical situation. I carefully went through my entire proposal to make sure that my subject, purpose, and organization were consistent throughout the document. Afterward, I moved onward to my accompanying film, which highlights one aspect of foreign language learning: the need for motivation. When developing the script for the film, I reminded myself continually to tell a simple story that would demonstrate an important aspect of my topic. Altogether, developing an effective proposal was more difficult than I anticipated, and I’m sure further editing awaits me. But I now have a skill set, thanks to Proposal Writing and JS, that will guide me through the process not only with my thesis proposal but with any I might write in the future.