Proposal Memo Assignment

Update: 10/07/15

Everyone in class had an idea and discussed it with me briefly. That means you met the participation credit deadline for tonight. The main difficulty for most people is identifying a primary audience that you have credibility with and who can act on your project document. If your topic seemed complete and ready for more feedback, I suggested you SUBMIT IT NOW. If you need to do more thinking and research, WAIT and work on it some more. But don't wait too long. The 1st draft of the proposal is due 10/16. Please use the Rhetorical Situation Spreadsheet to develop your project idea. If you can answer ALL of the questions, your idea is probably heading in the right direction.


In this Topic Selection Memo, you will compose your preliminary thoughts about what topic you will pursue for the research proposal and, eventually, the final project.

The primary goal of the final project is to identify a gap in knowledge, training, or some other need within an accessible context—that is, an office, department, company, or other organization—from which you can feasibly gain direct (personal) information. In the proposal, you are identifying what that opportunity or problem is, why it exists, what the best way to address it is, and how you plan on addressing it.

Typically, students focus on problems and opportunities at the University of Maryland, but you can go farther afield if your proposal is realistic. There are lots of possibilities here, so be creative. Every project will be discussed and negotiated with the instructor in detail. You will receive helpful coaching and advice, but not necessarily all the answers to HOW to accomplish your purpose. You are ultimately responsible for making your project work.

In earlier assignments, you were given a variety of options to choose from. Now, as it will often be during your careers, it will be up to you to draw on your own interests, experiences, competencies, and relationships to design an effective project.


Start by reading the document available on Module 3: Choosing a topic for your English 393 final project.

In approximately 250+ words, and—using complete sentences expressing complete thoughts (no indecipherable sentence fragments and bullet point language—please identify:

  1. A problem/issue/topic you are interested in discussing.
  2. A primary audience to whom this problem/issue/topic pertains
  3. Your experience with the problem/issue/topic AND the audience
  4. The type of document you think you could create for the final project.

This helps: Ask three of your friends about anything in their daily lives at UMD that they think is either a problem that needs to be solved or an opportunity to provide something helpful to students. Write down their ideas, using complete sentences. Tell me about them during our conference.

This helps: Examine at the four types of project documents below. Which one appeals to you the most and why?


You may choose from the following formats. Look at them: 


  • Introducing a new University of Maryland class/major/minor

  • Solving the problem of parking/traffic on campus

  • Stopping campus smoking

  • Promoting anything illegal
  • Solar/Wind Energy/Water drainage on campus (other issues related to sustainability are encouraged)
  • Topics related to fraternities/sororities
  • Campus dining
  • Mental health/counseling services


We will use the information you provided in this memo as the basis for our conference.

Reviewing as many different types of real-world documents as possible will ensure you have a firm understanding of the requirements of these assignments. Remember, we are no longer working with hypothetical situations, or issues limited to this particular course. You are pursuing opportunities relevant to real-world audiences with whom you have potential credibility and which you should have reasonable access.

Your final project document(s) will need to look just like the "real thing" and be tailored to the needs and interests of a real audience, although you are not required to actually send them to your audience. Some students do, but it doesn't earn a higher grade. Exceptional projects can and will be nominated for the Professional Writing Program award program. This gets you cash and a great resume bullet point!

You are choosing a local and accessible audience so that you can tailor your final project to it as closely as possible. Projects focused on statewide, national, or global issues are generally doomed to failure and not possible to accomplish in our limited time frame. In other words, don't try to save the planet (yet).

You will be graded on your ability to determine what exactly the audience needs, and how well you are able to respond to that need in the form of your final project. 

What follows is a short proposal for a paper on the rapid growth of convenience store chains in America. Note how admirably the proposal takes advantage of the stylistic tips noted in the list on the previous page. Also note that because the proposal author took the initiative to go to a convenience store chain’s business office, she found out that the chain had an historian, who provided her with abundant and excellent data, such as that generated by exit polls, to supplement her library research. This proposal was submitted by an earth science student and received enthusiastic approval and concrete feedback from the professor.

Click here to open a sample proposal within this page.

Sample Proposal

"The Burgeoning of Convenience Stores Across the American Landscape"
by Janet Lerner

In a little over two decades we have witnessed the emergence of a new concept in retail buying for the American consumer—the convenience store. The United States government defines convenience stores as "food retailer(s) of limited lines in a freestanding sales area of 3,000 square feet, concentrating on selected fast-moving products" (Directory of Supermarkets, Grocery, and Convenience Store Chains, 1990). To this definition I would add that typically the products on the shelves of convenience stores are priced higher than those carried by their competitors.

While spreading across the country like politicians on a campaign trail, convenience stores appear to have maintained a fairly distinctive regional character. Uni-Mart and Sheetz are common names for these stores in central Pennsylvania, but in Iowa we find Casey’s, in Massachusetts Cumberland Farms, and hundreds of other names specific to a state or region. I am intrigued by the rapid growth of convenience stores, which, from my early research, seem to retain a local flavor for such a widespread national phenomenon.

Through my library research, I will examine the burgeoning of convenience stores by exploring the answers to questions such as the following:

—How does the rapid growth of convenience stores reflect demographic trends?
—What determines the location of convenience stores? (macro-geography?)
—How have the unrelated markets of food retail and gasoline sales evolved into a common store?

I also plan to interview several key executives at Uni-Mart, including Charles R. Markham, who is the executive vice-president.

Directory of Supermarkets, Grocery, and Convenience Store Chains. CGS, 1990. This is a comprehensive guide to all major and many minor stores and their data (number of stores, size, brief history, top personnel). It also includes maps that illustrate regional concentrations of stores, and provides an overview of the industry today.

Curtis, C.E. "Mobil Wants To Be Your Milkman." Forbes. February 13, 1984, pp. 44-45. This article provides a concise but informative discussion of the combining of the food retail and gas industries.

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