Pre-Candidacy Proposal

This course is coupled with your PhD qualifier. One way to meet these requirements is to complete a pre-candidacy survey and proposal document:

  1. Define an interesting and do-able research topic and defend why it matters.
  2. Conduct a literature search and write a literature review that situates the research question within a field of scholarly inquiry.
  3. Design a study, using one or more research methods, that could answer the research question

Part 1 – Literature Review (Feb 27)

PhD proposals should include a substantial literature review section with is comparable in scope and level of detail to a published survey paper. In this assignment you should be working toward this standard. However, it is okay if you do not have it completely at the publishable level at this assignment. Here are the grading guidelines. 

  • The main point of a literacy review should be to set your project apart from the closest 2 or 3 current papers, and to give proper credit to other related papers that deserve priority for other things that might otherwise seem new in your paper.
  • Therefore, you need to have a decent selection of papers. These papers should be included in a .bib and referenced in the latex template.
  • Given that you haven’t yet formulated your project entirely, it will be hard for your reader to understand how your project is different from others’. Also, most readers will not have read the other papers you cite. So take one or two sentences at the beginning of the literature review to introduce your topic. In particular, answer as best you can: “what is the problem you are trying to solve or question you are trying to answer”.
  • You must use the article double space style (easy to do on overleaf).


  • Any submission not using this format will be returned without review.
  • Hints:
    • Be generous in your citations. Do not say that everyone else is wrong for your project to be interesting.
    • Be thorough. You don’t have not scrape for all possible references, but the average published research paper have 30-50 citations and the average published literature review has 100 or more citations.
    • You should have notes of the articles or books you have read. Read over your summaries and comments to begin to look for common themes that can organize your review. What is the main point of an article, how does it relate to your topic? Do other authors offer similar positions? Opposing?
    • As you think through these questions, keep in mind that a literature review has two functions. The first is to demonstrate your familiarity with scholarly work on the topic to provide a survey of what you have read, trace the development of important themes and draw out any tensions in prior research. The second function is to lay the foundations for your paper, to provide motivation. The particular issues you intend to raise, the terms you will employ and the approach you will take with respect to the previous scholarly works. By drawing on such sources, you can invoke the authority of those who have written on the topic before you.
    • The literature review is not simply a summary of each paper. Such literature reviews will be assessed poorly. A literature review is a story of the previous works and a synthesis of the state of the field and the ways of knowing. It should point out gaps in the knowledge and conflicts in previous conclusions.

Part 2 – Introduction (Mar 21)

The introduction should start with what you want to do in your project: the major contribution. You must explain that contribution so that people can understand it. Answer clearly, what is the problem you are trying to solve or question you are trying to answer?

  • The first sentence is the hardest. Do not start with philosophy, “Economists have long wondered if markets are efficient.” Do not start with, “Economists have long been interested in X”. Instead you should start by answering:
    • Why or how is this problem or research question important, on scholarly and/or practical grounds?
  • Articulate what you believe your central contribution is/will be when you finish the project.
  • 2 pages is a good upper limit for the introduction.
  • Helpful hints – the introduction is a good places to state explicitly:
    • The question you are trying to address, i.e., the hypothesis.
    • Why we should care about this problem. Is it an unproven theory? An important policy question? Why should we care? This is not a place to do a long literature review, but rather to be brief. For example, you should cite relevant papers that point out a conflict or range of results.
    • A good idea is to surprise or puzzle the reader’s intuition in this section so that they wold be curious to read the rest of the paper. People are naturally curious. If you can invoke the curiosity of the reader with a puzzle in your introduction, they will be much more engaged.
    • Be sure to state whether you are testing a model, evaluating a program or a change in policy, or building a system and what data you will be using (but only in a preview fashion).
    • What do you expect to be your main results? Explain briefly how your findings might be different from previous work and what implications of your findings might be.
  • You are always welcome to expand your literature review here.

Part 3 – Research Design (Apr 04)

Here you will describe in detail how you will go about answering your question, and why the methods and data you are using help you to answer that particular question. This is the area where you decide what data you will use and why: are you going to use historical data or contemporary data or design our own experiment? This is also where you decide whether you will use statistics, quantitative or graphical analysis or more qualitative data analysis. What you tell your readers about your data will depend in large part on the kind of analysis you are conducting.

Specifically, use a single paragraph (maybe two) to answer the questions from step 7 from: Study Design

In answering these questions you might also consider:

  • Describe the data you will use
    • Identify the data source. This means a sentence that explicitly says were your data comes from or how it will be collected.
  • How you obtain the data you will use.
    • Describe the data source. You should tell your readers such things as the number of observations, the population groups, time period, and a detailed description of the method of data collection or measurement.
  • what variables your data includes
  • other characteristics of interest.
    • The best way to learn about writing a data section is to read several data section in the literature on your topic and pay attention to the kinds of information they contain.
    • Most data sections are short, a page or so.
  • Note any features of the data that may affect your results. Were certain populations over/under sampled? Is there attrition bias or selection bias? Did the method of data collection change? Explain any computations or adjustments you made. Sometimes a data source does not give you something directly; you perhaps had to add or remove two datasets to reveal your data. 

Part 4 – Final Paper (Due Apr 23)

As a final assignment, you will write a 5 page paper (not including bibliography) laying out a research design for your project using one or more methods discussed in class. The paper should have the following sections:

  1. Introduction
  2. Literature Review
  3. Research Design
  4. Preliminary results (if you have any)
  5. Bibliography

You will submit this paper to the easychair site: TBD. 

Your submission must be Double Blind**

Part 5 – Review (May 01)

You will review three of your classmates’ submissions and write a review using the weekly writing/reviews criteria (@8). Your reviews will be entered into the Easychair system.