The following outline can be looked at as suggestive;  if you have a research process that works for you that differs from what is described below, that's great.  Use it!  These suggestions are for those who want direction on one way to develop a research project that works for a lot of people.  The key for you would be to use as many of these suggestions as you find useful.

The first product to complete in doing research is a research prospectus.  It is an incisive and revealing summary of your research project, generally between five and ten pages in length.  It focuses your thinking and gets you going on the right track.  The prospectus first states the question that you will attempt to explore, and shows why it is an important question in the context of current knowledge and your own purposes.  Then it describes what you will do to answer or explore the question and how your process will cumulate to produce the information needed to serve your purposes.  The prospectus concludes with a preview of your thesis or argument, and gives a tentative outline of the paper that will result.  An annotated bibliography of the most important source materials is also included.

Obviously, you can only do a good prospectus when you have actually done a significant share of the research involved in the project.  You will actually draw upon some of your sources in the prospectus in order to demonstrate that you are going to be able to identify and use the sources needed for your project.

The prospectus is thus in part an intellectual justification for, and in part a mini-version of, your project.  It should have something like the following eight sections as described below, and contain as many thoughts as you can muster; the first seeds of your final report will be in this document.  Each section should be labeled.  Although the prospectus is probably useful as an exercise in itself, what it does is provide a document that can be read and discussed by others, like your faculty, the people you know with similar interests, or other people in the Program.  For this reason, I think they're invaluable.  These discussions can be initiated at any point of developing your prospectus because it can be useful to talk with someone else as you explore your thinking.

        I.  TOPIC:  State the general topic that your paper will explore, and give the dates, location or other limitations that mark the coverage of your investigation.

        II.  QUESTION OR THESIS:  State your central question or thesis as succinctly as you can.  Remember that the question (or thesis) sets the agenda for your entire project;  it guides you into your subject, so its wording must in some way suggest the range of issues you want to explore.

        III.  HYPOTHESIS:  Write a couple of paragraphs that explain your facts, hunches, observations, guesses, and so on.  This will help you and your readers to know how different kinds of information relate in your mind.

       IV.  SECONDARY QUESTIONS:  Reflect on how your question relates to the major themes, issues and questions raised in our study of community.  Explain how your question will illuminate some of the issues we have read about, explored, and discussed so far in the program.

       V.  SPECULATION:  Meditate or muse on your question and come up with some fanciful ideas.  Let your imagination be your only limit and see where you go.  You may find a new perspective that is fruitful that you wouldn't have seen without giving yourself some imaginative freedom.

        VI.  OUTLINE:  This section should be a preliminary outline for your paper.  Think about sections II, III, IV, and V of your prospectus as delineated above.  The outline should tell the reader what you will do and how you will do it:  what points you will demonstrate and how.  Don't worry about format here as whatever works best for you is fine.

        VII.  RESEARCH STRATEGY:  Identify the major steps you will need to undertake to complete your research.  You will need to specify what data you will be looking for, and you need to state as clearly as you can how you will be gathering the data.  If you will need to gain access to documents or materials that are not available here, or make particular arrangements for travel out of town, or access to special equipment, or whatever, you should specify these steps here.

        VIII.  BIBLIOGRAPHY:  List all the sources you have targeted for your paper so far:  one section for books, one for articles and one for other sources.  Give complete citations.  If you don't know what a complete citation is, ask for the APA handbook or any other stylebook at the reference desk in the library and look up the instructions for bibliographies.  Annotate the bibliography to the degree you have been able to assess your sources.

David Rutledge