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Writing an exposé

abril 26th, 2011 Posted by aims, blog, exposé, hypotheses, methods, PhD project, state of the art, The sorcerer's apprentice No Comment yet

Once you have found your doctoral advisor, you can start writing the exposé, i.e., a summary of your first thoughts on the PhD project. Depending on the country or even the university you are in, you may need to present it and have it approved by a committee, or else you may want to send it to some important scholar to convince her to become your supervisor. In any case, it will

be very useful to you, to clarify your ideas. You should always bear in mind that what you are going to put down in your exposé are just preliminary notions. Also, before you get into this jungle, there is something you should be aware of:
There is no explicit model for an exposé
[sudden drum banging in the dark]
Of course, that does not mean there is no structure at all. There is simply considerable variation, depending on the norms, traditions, etc., of the place you are in. In Europe, you may ask your advisor or university department for detailed information, but do not expect there will be something like the great Writing Lab at Purdue. At least, not in every university (but see Toronto’s and Victoria’s, though). Do not give up hope if you are given no information or just a couple of vague hints on this topic. Take it as your first quest for the holy grail.
Although there are no black-on-white rules on the contents and structure of an exposé, at least there seems to be some kind of consensus regarding the need to include at least the following sections:
project topic
state of the art
Other points, such as a sketch of the dissertation structure, work plan, and so on, is usually optional, or a specific requirement of your institution. Let us have a closer look on these points.

Project topic
You need a concise working title for your project. If somewhat obscure, you may explain the meaning of the title in your introduction. To avoid extra work, it is always a good idea to draft the introduction at the end, so you already know which information you need to summarize.

State of the art
Here you should concentrate on the following questions:
Which related topics have been investigated until now?
Which points or aspects have not been researched (enough) and are therefore desiderata?

Aim(s) - The question is… Why?
In this section you will spell out your project aims, the reasons to embark on such a project, what you expect from it. Generally, scientific aims tend to focus on verifying or falsifying hypotheses or they attempt to find some answers to clearly stated problems. You could consider other possible aims regarding your project (e.g., practical or didactic ones).

Hypotheses/Problems – The question is… What?
Since you are aiming to find answers to your stated hypothesis or problems, you need to make them clear from the beginning by explaining what you have found out on the topic and what led you to your conclusions.

Method(s) – The question is… How?
Your aims and objects of study define the methods applied. There are mainly two scientific methods of which one would be applied to your project:

You conclude general theoretical rules on the basis of empirical observations. For example, translation experiment results show that there are differences in problem-solving between professional and non-professional translators; now you would have to establish some rules, theories or hypotheses on these observations.

You would propose a theory or hypothesis first and then investigate it empirically, e.g., you would state that there are differences in problem-solving between professional and non-professional translators and then verify or falsify this statement based on the results of an empirical experiment.
If you want to do empirical research, you should specify your materials. In cognitive translatology, this would concern, for example, subjects, source text(s), experimental environment, data collection tools and methods (e.g. key logging, questionnaires, eye-tracking, to name a few).

At the end of your exposé, you should give complete information on every source you cited in your proposal. More often than not there are strict norms and requisites for the bibliography. You may complain about it, but that is the way it is: hating bibliography norms seems to be part of being a scholar, so you are getting closer!

Further reading
Chesterman, A. (2001). Empirical research methods in Translation Studies. Erikoiskielet ja käännösteoria (VAKKI-symposiumi XX), 27, 9-22.
Jääskeläinen, R. & Tirkkonen-Condit, S. (1991). Automatised processes in professional vs. non-professional translation: A think-aloud protocol study. In S. Tirkkonen-Condit (Ed.): Empirical Research in Translation and Intercultural Studies. Tübingen: Narr, 89-109.
Neunzig, W. (2002). Estudios empíricos en traducción: apuntes metodológicos. In F. Alves (Ed.): O proceso de traducão. Cadernos de Traducão, 10, 75-96.
Nünning, A. & Sommer, R. (Eds.) (2007). Handbuch Promotion – Forschung – Förderung – Finanzen. Stuttgart: Metzler.
Nussbaum, M. A. (2010). How To Write a (Thesis/Dissertation) Proposal. URL:
Pries, L. (2007). Wie schreibe ich ein Exposé? URL:
Research Proposal Guide. URL:

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