Tips and Tricks in Preparing a Research Proposal

May 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Writing a research proposal is never easy, even if you’ve done it a few times before. The presentation is your chance for funding, career advancement, and overall judgment of your capabilities as a scientist. Therefore, it never hurts to have a few tips and tricks in putting together a research proposal before the big day. Below are four pieces of advice to consider. Perhaps you’ve head of them before, but it’s better to know these things before getting to the review committee, instead of afterward.

  1. Read some of the literature related to your research topic – Anywhere between two and five papers will suffice, but grasping what’s currently happening in the field is important for two reasons. First, you need to find out if your research has already been done, or if there’s another angle you can take with your research. Second, it can help you gauge if other scholars will care about the results of your research. If the research has already been done, or if others don’t cited similar research in their publications, then maybe the topic isn’t worth pursuing.
  2. Appearances do matter – Although the content is the most important aspect of the proposal, make sure that it’s easy on the eyes as well. That means making sure the layout of any tables or graphs is nice and neat, and that the proposal as a whole is easy to follow.
  3. Be specific as possible – It’s not expected that you know all the answers. That’s why it’s research. But, you at least need to have a very clear of idea of how you will conduct your research. What is your hypothesis? What sort of time frame are you estimating? How will you find the answers to your research questions? Don’t think that you can get away without any answers to these questions. If you don’t bring them up in your proposal, the review committee sure will.
  4. Proposals are convincing documents, so convince! – Make sure to write your research proposal for the review committee, not yourself. A good research proposal explains why this research is important, why the questions need to be answered, how this research fits into the rest of the field. Compare and contrast your proposed research with other current research, so as to demonstrate that your research is different, but keep in mind that the proposal should include more than a summary of past and present research.

If you need additional resources, there are worksheets on every stage of proposal writing as well as a directory of guidelines from various universities and experts. For models or sample structures of proposals, check out Matthew McGranaghan’s guidelines.


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