Writing a Convincing Proposal

Why learn to write a proposal???

Proposal writing will be a part of your scientific career.

  • Most graduate programs require grad students to write a proposal as part of the preliminary examination (“prelims”).
  • Researchers are required to obtain independent funding for their projects throughout their careers.

What are the central goals of a proposal?

  • To convince your audience (the reviewers) of the significance of the proposed work.
  • To justify your research in terms of its ability to accomplish beneficial outcomes.

How can I convince the reviewers that my work is important?

  • You must appeal to the logos, ethos, and pathos aspects of the classical Aristotelian argument.
    • ethos = character of the speaker (you)
    • pathos = emotions & values of the audience (reviewers)
    • logos = logic of the argument

“…successful proposals present a logical, well-supported line of reasoning; project a professional ethos of competence and knowledgeability; and clearly address the values and concerns of the funding agency.” (Penrose & Katz p. 125)

  • You must follow instructions to the letter in proposals; your proposal must be neat, concise, direct, follow guidelines precisely, and be realistic.
  • You must carefully consider what kind of research the funding agency to which you are applying usually funds. (see p. 125-126 of Penrose & Katz text)
  • You must remember that the reviewers for your proposal will be generalists and specialists; your argument must be designed to appeal to both.
  • You must present a strong introduction that provides a framework for the rest of the proposal.
  • You must include a literature review in your introduction. The lit review establishes your credibility by showing that you know:

• history of subject
• controversies
• gaps in the literature
• appropriate methods for your research (overview)
• goals and objectives

  • You must focus on rationale and justification rather than on details, although some detail must be included.
  • You must remember to include a discussion of possible problem areas with your research. As Penrose and Katz state (p. 129): “[Reviewers] have no way of knowing that you too have considered these problem areas unless you fully discuss any potential pitfalls and alternative approaches.”
  • You should include subheadings to help reviewers follow your argument.
  • You must bring all the elements together in a conclusion that revisits your objectives, summarizes your justification, and draws the reviewer back to the research question and objectives.
  • You must provide complete and accurate references.
  • You must be realistic in preparing a budget for both money and time required to complete your experiment.
  • You must provide a curriculum vitae for professional research proposals (as opposed to graduate student proposals).
  • You should allow time to revise your proposal based on your own assessment and that of your peers

The cover page and your title are the first elements of the proposal that the committee will see. Like a resume, they form the first impression your audience (the committee) will see. Make them count!

  • Fill out the form neatly (type if possible).
  • Write your title carefully; the title should be specific and concise.
  • Use only key words and reduce verbiage. (Leave out such phrases as “A proposed study of the…”)
  • Use your title to call attention to the hypothesis and the objectives.

Sample proposal.

1. A graduate student proposal (from Davis, Martha. Scientific Papers and Presentations).

Notice the basic elements of this student proposal:

  • The introduction outlines the history, defines the gap in the literature, and stresses the importance of the proposed work.
  • The proposed experiment section states the specific objective and the materials and methods in detail.
  • The proposal ends with a strong conclusion.
  • The tone of the proposal is simple, straightforward, and professional.
  • The student has collected a number of references.

Elements that this proposal lacks:

  • Title page.*
  • Table of contents.*
  • Abstract*
  • Subheadings (may not be necessary in such a short document)
  • Discussion of potential problem areas.*
  • Budget and CV

* Should be included in your student proposals for ENG 333.

Study Guide for Examining a Sample Student Proposal

A. Introduction

  1. What is the purpose of paragraph 1?
  2. What is the purpose of paragraph 2?
  3. Which paragraph defines the gap in the literature?
  4. How does the author stress the importance of the proposed work?

B. Proposed Experiment

  1. How does the author justify selection of the elements of the study?
  2. Is the objective of the study clearly stated? How?
  3. Notice the detail in the methods section. Does this section contain any references? Why?

C. Conclusion

  1. Is the conclusion is an essential part of the proposal? Why do you think so?
  2. Does this conclusion do a good job of convincing you that the work needs to be done? Why?

D. References

  1. How many references does the student list?
  2. Where are they cited in the proposal?