Your assignment is to write a proposal for an explanatorily minded, empirical research project. The substantive focus of your project can be whatever you like, and your approach can be formal, comparative, historical, quantitative or some creative combination of these. The only restriction is that your project must aim to explain something. Mere description or interpretation won't do. The proposal must be plausibly feasible. You should think in terms of a project that might realistically take about a year of full-time work to complete. As part of that year, do not count time it would actually take you, in real life, to get up to speed in the relevant literature.
The tasks to be accomplished in a research proposal include clarifying the causal claims to be assessed and proving that they are theoretically interesting, describing and justifying the data to be organized and the methods of analysis, and characterizing the anticipated range and strength of the conclusions to be drawn.
Since this is a pedagogical exercise to be completed in a severely limited time period, what you need to do is much less than would be necessary in a proposal intended for actual competition or review. In particular, most of your effort for the initial version of the proposal should be devoted to research design issues. You should say what the units of analysis will be, what observations will be selected, what the main relations and variables are and how they will be measured, what inferences you plan to draw and how your data collection will allow you to do that. All of your choices should be clearly (if briefly) motivated in substantive terms, unambiguously justified according to pseudo-experimental considerations, and compared to and defended against the most compelling alternative approaches.
While you will need to engage the substantive literature bearing on your problem, and will need to do so in a thoughtful manner, extensive coverage of the substantive literature is not necessary. Indeed, if you get bogged down trying to review the literature exhaustively, you are spending your time for this assignment thinking about the wrong kinds of issues.
A ``pre-proposal'' is due no later than November 16. The pre-proposal is a two-page description of what you expect your proposal to cover. This is transparently a device to make sure each of you has spoken to me and gotten approval for what you plan to do well in advance of deadline for the proposal itself. You should start talking to me about what you're thinking about no later than the end of October; sooner would probably be better.
The proposal itself is due December 14. The proposal should be no more than twenty double-spaced, typed pages in length, including all tables, figures, notes and references (a title page does not count toward the total).