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I am writing a proposal for a semester of paper reading and small projects that will result in a thesis proposal. The proposal will include 1) a thesis general thesis topic 2) specialized training 3) a reading list 4) a timeline. Which document class best fits this sort of document?

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article should do. Welcome to TeX.SX! – Jubobs Jan 5 '14 at 20:40
You can use the standard article class. Also you can use the scrartcl class from the KOMA Script bundle (is like article but improved and more flexible), also you can try with the tufte-handout. I think all those works fine four your requirements. – Aradnix Jan 5 '14 at 20:47
I would start with article. Probably it does what you need and you can add packages according to your particular requirements. If, along the way, you find something else would work better, you can always switch at that point. The main thing is to start writing the content and not distract yourself thinking about the formatting. (Believe me, I know!) – cfr Jan 5 '14 at 20:51
Thanks, guys! All very helpful info (only on my second LaTeX doc), and fast responses too! – user2073068 Jan 5 '14 at 21:16

According to @cfr, article class is an obviously good starting point.

However, if you are in control of the document layout (that is, you should not adhere to a template) and want something more fancy, I'd suggest you the tufte-latex document class (available on ctan).

I recently wrote a proposal with the same purpose as yours, and --besides the proposal content itself-- it was very well received.

The sample-handout.pdf is a nice display of all the class features.

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