When students are about to embark on a research project, it's a good idea to have them think through the process beforehand. Additionally, it's useful for the teacher to have an idea of how prepared students actually are for a major research project, in order to decide what additional skills may need to be taught/reviewed in class.
This research proposal has students propose and explain a topic they would like to research (for either a paper or a project), self-assess their confidence/competency, set goals for themselves, propose back-up topics, and come up with four initial sources (2 primary, 2 secondary). Additionally, it also contains a detailed anti-plagiarism pledge that students must initial and then sign (good to have to remind them of the severity of such offenses, and also just in case they later try to claim that they didn't realize something was plagiarism).
I find that having students formally propose their research topics through a proposal helps them to better flesh out their initial ideas, helps me to see where I need to help them in advance, and also allows them to feel more like scholars than mere students. Having a section where students set their own goals, additionally, helps train them in the mindset of taking ownership over their learning.
I designed this proposal specifically with history classes in mind (in particular, I use it to prepare my students to start on their National History Day projects), but it would work equally well for English classes.