Sample Assignment Response: Proposing a Project for DeVry University’s ENGL 135

Following up on an earlier post in which I begin to enact the kind of project I expect my students to do (itself a follow-up on a yet earlier post), I mean to narrate my process of developing the second of the required course project assignments: a proposal and outline. As in the earlier post, I’ll not be using the template the University provides its students, although what I do produce will be remarkably similar, as the University’s template works in APA format. I do have some remarks about the assignment itself, which I include along with my resulting document, and I continue to hope that they will be helpful for my future students and others’.

Related image
Proposals have a long history.
Image from, with an original source not as clear to me as I would like.

Students are tacitly asked to give a brief introductory paragraph before offering a formal outline for their paper. The outline takes four parts, numbered with capital Roman numerals: Introduction, Evidence, Conclusion, and References. The first two parts are divided further: the introduction treats topic, context, and audience; evidence looks at already-gathered and yet-to-be gathered information. Each part, save references, has accompanying questions to guide response; the references are directed to be in APA format. (When I set up my document, I did not copy them over.)

As in the previous exercise, I began by formatting my document, setting the typeface, spacing, running head, and page numbers as I mean them to be. Since I already had a title in place (again, from the previous exercise), I was able to insert it as appropriate, as well.

Indeed, the title was not the only thing I was able to pull directly over–and since the proposal is explicitly a continuation of the same project begun in the topic selection, doing so is expected. As such, I pulled over my references from the earlier exercise, inserting them as appropriate into the current one. Answers to such questions as I had available–partial answers for the questions of the current exercise–also got transferred over without comment and amended as necessary.

Because I had my document stubbed out, with the school-determined parts already in place, I did not feel bound to compose my responses in order. I typically do not do so, in fact, moving around projects as I have specific ideas and inserting them where I think they are appropriate. I did so in composing the proposal, the references data giving rise to what evidence I would gather and moving thence to the called-for conclusion; the conclusion, in turn, prompted me to add to my understanding of what research I need to conduct to make my case most effectively.

Only after bringing over materials and working on the end-goal did I back-fill the earlier parts, and I did not treat them in linear order, either. Secondary audience got treated early (and with recourse to my over-arching project of producing useful examples for my expected future students). Context received treatment next, with me moving back and forth between justification and my personal ethos with the project. Afterwards, I formalized my research question, working thesis, and statement of angle, revising them from parts of earlier materials in light of what I had developed in filling out the rest of the proposal.

After I had filled out the numbered parts of the proposal, I spend some time away from the project before turning to the overall introduction. I had thought that it, too, would benefit from some copy-over from my earlier work, but, as I reviewed the earlier piece, I found that it did not have what I needed. Instead, I decided to use the introduction to the project proposal to draft some work towards the overall introduction to the project as a whole (knowing as I did so that the work was provisional and might need to be discarded utterly in future iterations of project work).

Content completed, I reviewed my document for formatting and style before proofreading it for what my amid-composition corrections missed. The formatting review occasioned some adjustments, since I did not want to leave headings orphaned at the bottoms of pages. The proofreading obliged a few minor adjustments, including at least one instance of my most common typo: confusing form and from. And I took the time to adjust my title slightly, as the project had shifted a bit while I was working on it–as projects are wont to do.

With the review done, I put the file into an accessible format, which I offer here:
G. Elliott Sample Project Proposal September 2018.

I do not always favor working from a static outline; I rarely do so in my own work, although I do commonly stub out sections of projects and make notes of ideas I want to pursue at specified points in the papers I write. The problem that inheres in doing so is that, by offering a framework as a standard, such constructions often prompt writers–including, if not especially, student writers–to act as if the putative standard is the only way to organize, as well as to act as if the organization, once set, is immutable. Different projects require different organizational strategies, but the way issues are framed in standardized curricula tend to blind students to that requirement. Too, writing has to be flexible to be authentic, and, again, standardized curricula tend to keep students from seeing such truths.

At the same time, the kind of grading demands placed on instructors who teach such courses–most who do are contingent labor, working more than one job, and are teaching classes that enroll far more students than should be the case while having it demanded of them that they work toward total uniformity among sections of the course–make such measures almost obligatory. And it is the case at public colleges and non-profit schools as well as at for-profit institutions, at least in my experience, so it is not only a matter of for-profit money-making strategies (though it is among the money-making strategies, to be fair). Thus, while I conduct the present exercise, and I do expect my students to do the same (because I need my paycheck, after all), I do so with some reservation.

It remains true that my teaching doesn’t make much. Care to help support instructional quality?

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