SJSU URBP 298A - Spring 2009
Instructors: Agrawal, Ezzet-Lofstrom, Mathur, Nixon, Salazar
Draft and Final Research Proposals


For this set of assignments you will prepare two drafts and a final version of a research proposal for your Planning Report.  The first draft is due to your advisor on Monday, February 9, at 9:00 a.m.; a second draft is due on Monday, February 23; and the final version is due on Monday, March 9.


Preparing a research proposal is the first and most critical step in developing a credible, manageable research project.  Writing such a proposal will help you to:

Keep in mind that you are not committed to the first proposal you write. As your research progresses, you will likely want to modify the proposal.


Draft Research Proposal #1 (due Monday, 2/9, 9:00 a.m.)

Write a research proposal consisting of the following ten elements:

  1. Title. Write a descriptive title for your project.
  2. Audience. Write down your intended audience for the paper.  Although you should write your report so that it will be intelligible to any reasonably informed member of the general public, you nevertheless want to write the report with a particular audience in mind.  Examples of audiences relevant for a 298 report are: city council members and planners in San Francisco; water resource planners anywhere in the Bay Area; or land use planners anywhere in the U.S. who are interested in form-based zoning codes.
  3. Background. Explain any background information your reader needs to know to understand the research question. Make sure this material does not duplicate what you write in the "relevance" section, below.  The background section may be quite short, even just a couple of paragraphs; you only need to give readers a general introduction to your topic so that they can understand the research question.
  4. Research question.  The question should be SPECIFIC, such as in these examples:

    (Examples of unworkable questions would be vague ones like “Is smart growth a good idea for California?” or "What can Los Altos do to become sustainable?")

  5. Relevance.  To prove that your question is an important one worth studying, you must answer for readers the "who cares?" question. To do so, this section must explain two things. First, you must explain why answering your specific research question will provide valuable information to improve either planning practice in general or the conditions within a specific community. In writing this section of the proposal, think both about the relevance of your general topic and also about the relevance of your specific question. Second, and as a related point, you must show how your project is unique and will not duplicate research or planning work that has already been completed.

    This section of the paper must cite at least ten sources to justify your claims, and at least four of these sources must be peer-reviewed journal articles.

    Make sure that this section of the paper does not duplicate material you present in Section 3 (Background).
  6. Hypothesis. State your hypothesis in a few sentences.  In other words, what do you guess will be the answer to your research question?  Explain briefly why you predict these results and cite at least five sources (including at least two peer-reviewed journal articles) that support your hypothesis.
  7. Methods.  Describe the methods you plan to use to find the information that will allow you to answer your research question convincingly.  Examples of methods you might use are statistical analysis of existing data sets, interviews, a review of published literature, or a survey. 

    When you design your methods, you should review at least one textbook to help you with this process. If you are using quantitative methods, for example, you can review relevant texts you read in URBP 204A or URBP 204B.  If you plan to do a policy or program analysis, you should review relevant texts from URBP 236.  For both quantitative and qualitative methods, you will find a good list of suggested readings at

    This section should be very detailed�in essence, you are writing a plan, laying out each step of the data collection and analysis that you will do.  Think of this section as analogous to writing a recipe that you want someone else to be able to follow.  Imagine writing out your methods in so much detail that you can give them as instructions to a research assistant who will do all the data-collection work for you.  You don't want the research assistant to collect the wrong data because you provided vague instructions!  Similarly, you want to describe your data analysis methods so clearly that an assistant could do the analysis for you if you gave him/her the raw data and the instructions written out in the research proposal.

    For each method that you plan to use, at a minimum you must describe the following:

    a) Data source: Be sure to describe the source precisely. E.g., 2000 Census data for Santa Clara County, your own mail survey of residents living within 1/2 mile of Berkeley High School, or your own phone interviews with transportation planning consultants working on high speed rail projects in the U.S. 

    b) Reason for collecting the data: Explain how the data collected help you to answer your research question.  When writing this section, mention the specific sections of your proposed outline that the data will help you to write.

    c) Data collection procedures: Explain these in as much detail as you possibly can.  For example, if you plan to do interviews, you would at a minimum write down what type of people you will interview, how many interviews you will conduct, whether you will do phone or in-person interviews, and what specific information you want to collect from the interviews.  Remember the recipe analogy�a good recipe doesn't just say "cook the eggplants"; it says something more like, "roast the eggplants for 45 minutes, wrapped in foil, in a pre-heated 350 degree oven."

    d) Method of data analysis: Explain what methods you will use to analyze the data after you collect it.  For example, you might plan to analyze statistical data using simple descriptive statistics and factorial ANOVA analysis.  For interview data, you might assess your notes to identify key differences and similarities in the ways interviewees responded to the questions.

    The methods section of the research proposal will likely be at least 750 words and could be considerably longer.
  8. Report outline.  Write a very detailed outline of the report, as you imagine it might look when you are finished.  Include all chapters, as well as at least one or two levels of sub-headings giving more detail for each chapter.  Also, for each chapter note in parentheses the number of pages you estimate it will be. 

    Remember that to prepare a good outline, you must write very specific headings like, "History of how San Jose zoning codes have become more detailed in the last 20 years."  Do not include vague headings like "Background" or "History of the zoning code" that don't tell your readers anything about the specific content you plan to discuss. Students who took URBP 213 should review the Makay reading on how to prepare a detailed outline.
  9. Bibliography.  Create a bibliography divided into three parts: (a) items you cite in the research proposal, (b) other relevant items you have already read, and (c) items you have identified that look useful and that you plan to read.  The bibliography can include books, journal articles, magazine articles, newspaper articles, government reports, web pages, etc.  Put an asterisk (*) at the beginning of each item that is a peer-reviewed journal article.  Make sure the entries in the bibliography are properly formatted according to the standards set out in the greensheet.
  10. Schedule of tasks.  Prepare a two-semester schedule that identifies when you will finish each task needed to complete the report.  Keep in mind that tasks to schedule include but are not limited to: library research for the literature review, testing and refining your research methodology, collecting data, drafting individual chapters, revising individual chapters, preparing at least two drafts of the complete report for your advisor's review, and producing the final report.  Look at the various due dates for URBP 298B students listed on the 298 website to help you create this outline for the second semester.
Email the proposal as an MS Word document to your advisor by 9 a.m. on 2/9.  In the subject line of the email, write: "Submitting URBP 298A Draft Research Proposal #1 from Your-Last-Name."

Draft Research Proposal #2 (due Monday, 2/23)

Prepare a revised proposal that incorporates the feedback you received from your advisor. 

Email a copy in MS Word form to your advisor by 2/23.  In the subject line of the email, write: "Submitting URBP 298A Draft Research Proposal #2 from Your-Last-Name."

Final Research Proposal (due Monday, 3/9)

Prepare a final proposal that incorporates the feedback you received from your advisor.

Email a copy in MS Word form to your advisor by 3/9.  In the subject line of the email, write: "Submitting URBP 298A Final Research Proposal from Your-Last-Name."


Drafts: You will not receive a letter grade, but you will receive comments from your advisor on the following criteria:

  1. Is the research question well defined and clearly stated?
  2. Is the relevance of the research clearly and convincingly explained, and does the section cite at least ten sources in total, including at least four peer-reviewed journal articles?
  3. Is the hypothesis clearly stated and convincingly explained, and does the section cite at least five sources, including at least two peer-reviewed journal articles?
  4. Is the methodology appropriate to answer the research question, and is it explained in detail?
  5. Is the report outline detailed and logical?
  6. Does the bibliography demonstrate that sufficient material is available to complete the research project?
  7. Is the proposed schedule of tasks detailed and feasible?
  8. Is the writing grammatically correct and free of typos?
  9. Is the writing clear and easy to understand?
  10. Are the bibliography and footnotes properly formatted, and are citations included where necessary?

Final: Your advisor will assess the paper on the above criteria and assign the proposal a letter grade.  To pass the course, your paper must receive a grade of B or higher.

Note on late papers: Be sure to submit the assignments on time, as late submission may result in substantially delayed feedback from your advisor.

Return to the URBP 298A/B course page  

Page last modified 1 January 2009