Instructions for research proposal

↵ Back to class homepage

Your task in this assignment is to propose an experiment on an important and well-motivated topic in psycholinguistics. It can be about any topic, and using any technique, in psycholinguistics. You may work on this with one partner if you wish. Read on for more details.

Major requirements

The most important criteria to pay attention to are that your experiment must be psycholinguistic, and it must be addressing a well-motivated research question.

By "psycholinguistic", I mean it must be about a topic that is related to psycholinguistics, and it must use a psycholinguistic technique. Psycholinguistic techniques are ones that are capable of examining subconscious processing of language, i.e., showing things that people may not be explicitly aware of. Simply examining what kinds of words or sentences someone uses, how many errors someone makes in a test, or things like that, is not necessarily "psycholinguistic". The experiment you propose should be something that demonstrates your understanding of concepts from this subject; if you write something that looks like even a person who has never studied psycholinguistics could have written, you will not pass this project.

By "well-motivated research question", I mean there needs to be a clear reason why this research should be done and how it can improve our understanding of how language and the mind work. Simply showing that something has never been done before doesn't prove that it is important to do. People often identify an important experiment that was done in one language and then propose to do a similar experiment in Cantonese because that has not been done yet; this is not enough to motivate the research, unless you can point to specific reasons why the conclusions drawn from the previous research might be challenged by Cantonese. (Just saying that Cantonese is different from English or whatever is not enough; you have to point to how these specific differences are important for whatever conclusion is being made.) Likewise, to be well-motivated, it has to be a topic that actually needs psycholinguistic research to solve. Sometimes people identify a research question whose answer is already obvious common sense (e.g., whether native Mandarin speakers or L2 learners of Mandarin will be better at hearing the difference between Mandarin tones; it seems obvious already that native speakers will do better). Those are not well-motivated research questions. Generally, a good research question is one which has two (or more) plausible answers which are each based on theories that sound reasonable, and thus we actually need to use psycholinguistic techniques to see which theory is right.

Further details

An experiment proposal is a detailed description of an experiment you would do, explaining why and how you will do the experiment. You don't actually have to do the experiment. Essentially, a proposal is the Introduction and Methods section, without Results or Discussion: you should raise a research question, describe what has been done before and how you will test this question in your own experiment, and describe in detail how exactly you would do the experiment.

Unlike the priming experiment you do for the "Building a priming experiment" module, this experiment should be a new research question. i.e., your introduction should explain how this experiment would be answering a question that nobody has answered before. (This is different from the "Building a priming experiment" module, where you were allowed to do a priming experiment that's exactly the same as some previous experiments. The purpose of that module was for you to show that you can build and carry out an experiment; the purpose of this task is for you to show that you can come up with new ideas in psycholinguistics.) Therefore, you will probably need to read and describe some previoius literature. You do not need to summarize every paper ever written on this topic, but you should at least briefly describe what is already known about this question, where there is a knowledge gap (i.e., a question that previous research has not yet answered), and how this experiment will address that gap. You should also explain why this question is important, as discussed above.

The format of a proposal is just like the format for any other research report, simply without results or discussion (since you haven't done the experiment yet). Just like in the previous projects, you should raise a research question and describe how you would test this in an experiment; you should then describe all the details of how you would do the experiment (how many volunteers will participate in the experiment, how many words you will use, how you will analyze the data, etc.) and what your predictions are. The methods section must be specific: in a normal research report you would have to describe exactly what you did (e.g., how you chose the words to use, how you presented the experiment to volunteers, etc.), and likewise in this proposal you should describe exactly what you would do. The idea is, if somebody reads the proposal, they should have all the information they need to do the experiment exactly as you imagine it.

Just like in the priming experiment, the report can be in any format, as long as it clearly addresses the key questions (see below). Usually most people submit their proposal as a written essay, but other formats are also possible (for example, poster, slide show, or video presentation).

Criteria to pass the project

To get credit for completing the proposal, your report must meet the following criteria. Any things not mentioned below are not requirements (for example, there are no requirements about word limit or format, so no need to ask.)

If your submitted summary doesn't meet all of the above criteria, I will give you feedback and allow you one chance to revise. If your revised version does not meet all the criteria you will not be able to receive an A grade. Note that the revised version needs to be submitted before the deadline in order to receive credit; that means if you submit your first version of the proposal close to the deadline, you might not get any chance to revise.

Here is an example of a research proposal: sample proposal.pdf

by Stephen Politzer-Ahles. Last modified on 2021-07-11. CC-BY-4.0.