Research Paper Proposal Guidelines and Sample

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Proposal Guidelines

The proposal for your research paper should do the following:


Identify a focus for your paper. This should be specific enough to constitute a research project – i.e., you can find relevant scholarly sources. It might be helpful to think in terms of
keywords: concepts, ideas, and arguments that we’ve discussed in class, or that you’ve analyzed in your responses.

Remember: you can expand on your close reading topic, if you think there might be other places in your text where your main idea is present. You will need to look beyond a single passage, but you will still do close reading.

Explain why you’re interested in exploring this topic. Maybe you’re focusing on something you found strange or out-of-place in your text; maybe you’re exploring something that relates to political or historical interests you already have; maybe you noticed something in the text that seems minor, but you think it’s actually really important. Explain your though process!

Summarize the scholarly conversation. You should browse some scholarly articles to get a sense of what people have already said about the topic you’re exploring. You don’t have to read whole articles – just look over the abstracts, or read the first couple pages. You can also look at non-scholarly sources like reviews, blogs, or newspaper articles.

Imagine you’re stumbling across an ongoing conversation; what are people saying? What kinds of arguments are they making? What are the most interesting parts of that conversation? Eventually, you’re going to
enter the conversation, but for now you’re just
listening (in a sense).

Advice: If you’re not finding useful stuff on the library website, change your search terms. I searched “Jane Eyre St John” and wasn’t getting much that seemed useful, so I looked up “Jane Eyre missionaries” and found some good stuff.

Begin to formulate an argument. You won’t be able to fully articulate an argument until you’ve done your research; for now, try to think about how you can contribute to the ongoing scholarly conversation. It’s fine to be tentative, hypothetical, or speculative here; feel free to throw out multiple ideas. The main requirement here is that this idea is
yours; you’re not summarizing or explaining someone else’s ideas, you’re thinking about how to add
your own to the mix.

The proposal should be about 300 words – the more detail you can include, the more feedback I’ll be able to provide.

Bring a printed copy of your proposal to class on Monday, 11/21

Sample Proposal


Christianity in
Jane Eyre, missionary work and British colonialism, charity and hypocrisy

I would like to focus on Charlotte Bronte’s
Jane Eyre. I’m specifically interested in the Christian missionary character, St John Rivers. I’m also interested in how Christianity is working in the novel, how it shapes Jane’s actions and desires and the sense of moral obligation that the novel conveys. Jane’s childhood is largely shaped by her time in girl’s boarding school, with the nuns and the horrible Mr. Brocklehurst. Brocklehurst is ostensibly a Christian man – he certainly talks about God a lot – but his version of religion is pure hypocrisy, making “sinful” little girls suffer while he walks around in furs and lives in luxury. So initially, the image we get of Christianity is pretty bleak.

But St John is a more complicated character. He is kind and generous, works hard for others, and lives in relative poverty with his sister. But his single-minded zeal for God also makes him kind of oblivious – his marriage proposal to Jane has nothing to do with love – he should know how much she values that! – and everything to do with
his desire to do missionary work in India. A wife would make that work more effective! He wants someone to obey him, to work under him.

So St John seems to complicate the explicitly critical attitude towards Christianity we get in the first part of the book. And then there’s the colonialism angle – spreading “true” religion to the Indian heathens, etc etc. I’d like to find out more about how religion and colonialism functioned together, and think about the historical role of the English missionary in India. And there’s also the problem of Bertha! Is she, as a Creole, condemned by her distance from Christianity? I’ll have to narrow this down I think.

Scholarly Conversation

A lot of the articles I’ve seen identify three versions of Christianity in Jane Eyre: Mr. Brocklehurst’s, Helen Burns’, and St John’s. Jane rejects all of these and forms her own “personal connection” to Christianity. St John’s version is seen as manipulative and possessive, which causes Jane to flee back to Rochester. He’s also pretty myopic, thinking his version of Christianity is the only “correct” one.

One abstract taught me that, prior to Jane’s time, interracial marriage was encouraged among missionaries and those they were seeking to convert. However, this complicated the idea that Brits were “naturally superior,” so churches switched course and banned the practice. The article argues that this context creates a “conceptual link” between the proposed Jane-St John marriage and the Rochester-Bertha marriage.

Another popular current in the conversation centers on the novel’s blindness to problems of race and nation – the novel seems to “to sanction racism and aspects of western imperialism deemed oppressive for women” (Griesinger). I should read Spivak’s “Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism,” which is often cited.

I also discovered that articles about Jane Eyre by Elaine Showalter, Ellen Moers, and Adrienne Rich were often cited. They approach the text from a feminist perspective, and I could find out more about the relations between Jane and the male characters here. I’ll read those for my research.


I think I want to argue that the novel’s feminism – it’s centering of Jane’s narrative and her quest for self-actualization – is complicated by it’s ideas of race and religion. Her refusal of St John’s marriage proposal seems like a moment of feminist empowerment – and maybe it is! – but the way that refusal is represented fails to really account for the problems of colonialism… Bertha’s marriage to Rochester is, perhaps, another example of this problem that I can draw on.


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