Rice University logo
Top blue bar image
Social Sciences Gateway

Contact Us

Phone: 713-348-2181
Fax: 713-348-5161
Email: alex.wyatt@rice.edu

Facebook Button Twitter Button

What constitutes a good proposal for SSURE?
Frequently asked questions regarding Social Sciences Undergraduate Research Enterprise:

1. How do I get started? Define a topic which is interesting to you and that is drawn from social science research. This is important, because not all topics you find intriguing may actually reflect a social science research question. One of the best ways to define your topic is to pull from classes or labs you have taken. For example, let’s say that one day the professor in your class has an interesting lecture about the impact of the internet on the 2008 presidential elections. Or, another professor talks about the location in your brain for the sensation of fear. Or, still another talks about the effects of heavy drinking on exam taking. All are potential social science topics that you find interesting, and you’d like to learn more. Even a current introductory psychology book can inspire research ideas.

2. Where do I locate social science research? You MUST frame your research question based on what other academics have already written on the topic. You aren’t the only one who finds the impact of the internet on politics, the location for emotions in the brain, or the effects of heavy drinking to be intriguing topics of study. So go to the Web of Science, JSTOR, or other search engines on the Fondren Library website to look up what research other academics have conducted on the topic. A reference librarian at Fondren can help you navigate these data bases .

3. How do I formulate a research question? Based on what you find and read, you can then formulate your research question. This is the hardest part for two reasons: (a) you must ask the question in the context of what has already been written about the topic. The rules of science require that your question fit in with previous questions on the topic because science is an ongoing building-block process during which one idea is generated by previous ideas and (b) you must ask something that no one else has yet asked is based on past work yet is different in some meaningful way. If you ask a question that is not based on related to existing social science research on the topic, then no one will pay attention to your work. On the other hand, if you ask a question that someone has already answered, then too once again, no one will pay attention but this time it is because it has already been done before. The trick is to strike a balance: ask an important new question in the context of what has already been done before. This is important because it saves you from asking an uninformed or uninteresting research question that is either too broad or too narrow.
Example: If we return to the topic of the impact of the internet on politics, you will find in your reading that most of the research in this area deals with the internet as an information source. In other words, most research asks the question “In what way do people get their news from the internet?” Since that question has already been asked, you don’t want to ask it again. But think about the topic more broadly: How about, in what way is the internet an opinion source? You may question “How has the internet served to shape people’s opinions about the two presidential candidates in the 2008 election?” Don’t worry if your question is not that specific at this point; just make sure it is interesting yet related to past work.

4. What faculty member would be interested in working with me? The easiest answer to this question is whose classes have I had, and is the class topic related to my proposed SSURE project? Another very useful approach is to examine faculty web pages. Most university faculty post a web page containing some statement about their research interests, as well as a list of their research publications. Also consider other faculty you know or have heard about, be it through lab work or some other setting. Arrange an appointment with potential faculty mentors to sound them out about your research question. Make sure that you know how to relate your research question to the faculty’s work before you take the time to meet with them. If they the faculty member agrees to be involved, s/he will help you develop translate your general research question into some testable research hypotheses about the question.

5. What are testable hypotheses? Based on the research you have read and the empirical question you are focusing on, what cause and effect relations seem plausible? Continuing with the internet example, you might devise the following hypothesis: “blogs are more important in shaping people’s opinions than regular news sites.”

6. How do you test the hypothesis? This is the research design of your study. You could test the hypothesis about blogs and regular news sites in several different ways, including an experiment on how people react to blogs and news sites; a survey of what blogs people read and contribute to and what news sites they go to first; or a focus group to discuss the importance of blogs and regular news sites. This is an important decision, as your research design plays a crucial role in shaping your data collection, analysis, and ultimately your findings.

7. How do I write the proposal? The proposal should be three pages, double-spaced. In those pages, you should define the research question, your central hypothesis, and the methods you’ll use to test the hypothesis based on your research design. You must also complete a proposal cover sheet that can be found at the SSURE website.