CS 7010 -- Writing Research Proposals

3 credits
Spring, 2012:  Tuesday, Thursday, 2:00pm-3:20pm, MEB 3147

Instructor:   William B. Thompson, 3446 MEB

Office hours: by arrangement

email address

Fundamental aspects of writing computer science research proposals, including thesis, dissertation, and grant proposals. Form, style, substance, and marketing of effective proposals will be considered. Emphasis is placed on developing and presenting clear and compelling ideas. Substantial writing and class presentations is required of all participants.

Goals of the course:
  • Gain experience in developing and articulating research ideas.
  • Learn how to create an effective thesis or dissertation proposal.
  • Gain practice with writing and oral presentations.

Required work: Writing assignments and class presentations (nearly) every week.

More than just the mechanics of proposal writing, this course covers the process of developing an idea all the way from initial, ill-formed concepts, through to a precisely described plan of work.  A heavy emphasis is placed on effectively communicating ideas in both written and oral presentations. Seven SoC faculty have taken the course in the past, doing all of the same assignments as required of registered students.

Important: Because the class depends in essential ways on extensive writing and speaking exercises, the size of the class is kept small and it is not possible for unregistered students to sit in.  Anyone registered for the class but not attending the first class meeting will be dropped from the class unless they have prior approval from the instructor for their absence.

Email from me to the class will be sent via the University of Utah CIS email system. To recieve this, you need to make sure your either read your umail or have it forwarded appropriately.

Course notes and some of the other course material are only available to registered students.

Who should take this course (and when):

The course is appropriate for everyone from Thesis M.S. student to faculty members. M.S. students should consider taking the course in their first year, but only if they have prior experience with research or at least some part of the research literature. Ph.D. students are probably best off taking the course in their second year, though appropriately prepared first-year Ph.D. candidates are welcome. There is benefit to be gained taking the course even after having written and defended a thesis or dissertation proposal, particularly for those interested in a research-oriented career. Faculty are probably beyond hope, though some in the past have found the course useful. (These are just guidelines!)

Over the course of the semester, each student in the class will develop, refine, and present a “practice” research proposal.  While this will cover a real research problem of the student's choosing, the emphasis will be on the development and presentation of the key ideas, not on technical content.  Nevertheless, for this exercise to be useful students should have a working familiarity with the research literature in their area of interest.  It also helps for students to have the support of their adviser in taking this class, to the extent that the adviser can help chose the topic of the practice proposal.

Schedule for spring, 2012Subject to change!
Links to lecture notes will be provided on or about the date of the lecture

Useful references.  You should buy at least one of these.  Unless you are an excellent writer (you probably aren't), you should consider buying all of them!

Claire Kehrwald Cook, Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing, Houghton Mifflin, 1985.
Lyn Dupré, BUGS in Writing: A Guide to Debugging Your Prose (2nd Edition), Addison-Wesley, 1998.
University of Chicago Press Staff (eds.), The Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition), University Of Chicago Press, 2010.
Joseph M. Williams, Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace (9th edition), Longman, 2006.
Michael Alley, The Craft of Scientific Writing, third edition, Springer-Verlag, 1996.

Examples of successful proposals submitted to NSF and DARPA (only available to class members).
Submitted written assignments (only available to class members).

You cannot write a coherent proposal unless you can write a coherent paragraph!

NSF grant information:

Useful links:

As an alternative to this course, you might consider saving time, effort, and the need to think by simply buying any proposal you need.