Tips To Write An Essay Proposal

Even if you’re not required to write one, taking the time to craft an essay proposal will give you a road map to work with as you begin the first draft of your essay. It will also save you time and energy in the long run, simply because you’ll have a clearer sense of where you’re headed and what you want to say along the way.

While there are any number of ways to propose an essay, effective proposals do tend to have certain qualities in common. Keep these general guidelines in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to writing a great proposal.


This may seem like an obvious point, but good essay proposals make it perfectly clear from the outset what topic they intend to pursue.

One of the best ways for an essay writer to accomplish this task is by putting your title to good use. Try following this basic formula:

Hook: Gerund + Specific Topic

A gerund is simply a noun that’s been turned into a verb by adding -ing. Gerunds that commonly appear in essay titles are words like analyzing, interpreting, approaching and so on.

We’ll talk more about titles in a later post, but for now, just be careful with the hook, since you don’t want to come across as too clever or journalistic when you’re writing a scholarly essay.

There is room for suggestiveness, but ideally the hook should tell the reader what the author intends to do with the topic. For example, the various parts of this title work together to introduce topic in a clear and evocative way:

Electronic Memories: Making Sense of the Digital Photo Frame

This sort of gesture is, however, rarely required at the undergraduate level.

We know right away that this essay is going to be about A) memory and B) how digital photo frames affect it. So, even before this writer has written a sentence, she’s already done a wonderful job of establishing her topic.


Some of the best essays start in the simplest of ways. The same can be said of essay proposals, where the impetus is simply to convey in the clearest terms possible what you intend to pursue.

Don’t feel the need to come up with anything philosophical or profound. You also shouldn’t feel the need to craft an elaborate first sentence filled with clauses and digressions. Instead, articulate your idea using a simple sentence:

Automobile design has improved dramatically over time.

A simple sentence has just one subject and verb. It’s not flashy, but it definitely does the trick. We know right away what the writer is interested in, and we also sense that this sentence may be foreshadowing his or her argument.


The old-new contract—also known as the known-new contract—describes how readers are more likely to be receptive to new information if it’s preceded by something familiar.

The words “new” and ” familiar” should probably be in quotation marks here, entirely because we can only really speculate on what our readers may or may not know.

Still, if you start your proposal by talking about what others have said about your topic, your reader will likely be more receptive to your perspective.

If your professor has instructed you not to use outside sources, you can still benefit from the old-new contract by telling a story that illustrates your point. The use of anecdotes varies from discipline to discipline, but narrative certainly does have a role to play in the essay writing process, so don’t hesitate to approach your professor to see what he or she thinks.

If you’re proposing an essay on a literary topic, you can also use this space to recount important events in a novel, play, or poem that are especially pertinent to your argument. The same hold true for Film Studies, Cultural Studies, or really any course that requires you to analyze a text. Describing significant passages or calling attention to important details is an especially effective variant of the old-new contract.


Believe it or not, your professor is genuinely interested in what you think.

Professors already know what they think about specific topics, and most also know precisely what every other scholar thinks about a topic, but they don’t have a clue whatyou think. And they really do want to know.

Sharing your perspective gives your professors a chance to engage with your ideas and to suggest new avenues of thought.

It’s always immensely satisfying to encounter a thoughtful student who’s dedicated considerable time and energy to understanding other people’s perspectives and to articulating his or her ideas in return.

So, by all means, do chime in.


In an essay proposal, it’s a great idea to have some sort of process statement that illustrates what you actually intend to do in your essay. A process statement is exactly how it sounds: it’s a statement that describes a process that’s about to unfold. Spend just one or two sentence explaining what you intend to do and why. It’s also a good idea to establish what you intend to find out in the process.

Sometimes, writers will take the added step of calling attention to the audience who will find their research useful. For example:

This topic provides scholars concerned with the intersection of quack quack and woof woof with the opportunity to consider not only moo moo moo, but also meow meow meow.

This sort of gesture is, however, rarely required at the undergraduate level.


The argument that appears in your essay proposal may just be a preliminary one—a hypothesis of sorts– but it needs to be present all the same.

You may wish to “signpost” your argument to make it virtually impossible to miss. Signposting is a term used to describe words and phrases that announce what it is you intend to do.

Some professors insist on the use of signposting in essays; others consider it redundant. Regardless, signposting works well in essay proposals, since you really are proposing a project, so you might as well go ahead and state clearly what it is you intend to do.


If you’ve cited an outside source in your proposal, you absolutely must include a list of works cited along with your proposal. Including a list of works in your writing will serve as dissertation help and will be useful practicing before your future work on dissertation.

Ask your professor what style guide you should be using, and then be sure to follow its guidelines perfectly.


Your professor may have particular length in mind, but most essay proposals get right to the point. Your goal is to answer the following questions as efficiently as possible:

What topic do you intend to pursue?

What have others said about the topic?

What’s your perspective?

What, specifically, do you intend to consider?

What will you argue?


Answer these questions in your proposal, and you’ll be well on your way.


As your essay develops, so too will your insight into your topic. You’ll want to articulate, for example, why your argument is important, what’s at stake, or what it enables us to appreciate.

For now, however, your essay proposal doubles nicely as an introductory paragraph. It gives you a plan-of-action, and it enables you to start into your essay already having a few goals in mind.


An effective essay proposal lays the groundwork for your research and your writing. It identifies the subject of your paper, provides some sense of what is already known about the topic, and establishes a preliminary argument that you can later refine.

Taking the time to write one will not only help you to clarify your ideas at the outset, but also give you the confidence you need to pursue a challenging topic.

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Tips To Write An Essay Proposal

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