Writing a research proposal
Writing your first research proposal may feel like a daunting task. Here are some tips to help you.
Before you begin
- Allow more time than you think is necessary. It is best to start as soon as possible and work on the proposal a piece at a time.
- Find out your institution’s internal procedure for grant submission. Your line manager (and the Research Office if you work in a university) will usually be your first port of call. Many universities have an internal peer review process which you will have to get through before you will be allowed to submit your grant. This makes use of the expertise of experienced staff to make sure that new grant proposals are written to the highest possible quality and that there are no fundamental mistakes which might disqualify your application. It may seem like an extra hurdle to overcome, but look at it as a means of improving and refining your application.
- Find out where to get advice on costing your proposal. A grant proposal doesn’t just contain an idea for research. You will also be asked to present the funding body with a realistic budget for each element of the research that you are planning. Few institutions expect researchers to be experts in this area, and there will normally be help available in your department or Research Office to help you deal with this aspect of the process. Before you begin, find out who provides that help and when you will be able to make use of them.
- Keep your proposal carefully focused. Make sure you locate your research squarely within your funding body’s area of interest. If your proposal is in response to a call for submissions in a specific area, make sure that it fits the remit of the funding body and directly addresses the challenge they have presented
- Write clearly and succinctly. Make sure that there are no superfluous words. Be clear about the research methodology you will use and how it will be implemented
- Follow the application guidelines to the letter. Many funding bodies now require online applications and insist that you use a standard template. You will have to stick to a fixed word count, font size and layout. Do not deviate from these requirements
- Ask coleagues to comment on drafts. You could offer to do the same for them. The more research proposals you look at, the more you will get an idea of how to produce a well constructed proposal of your own
- Once the research proposal itself is finished, now is the time to bring in expert help from your own institution – to clarify costings and timelines, obtain peer review, etc. The administrative details need to be as clear as the research proposal itself.
Finally, remember that just getting to the submission stage is an achievement. Even if your proposal is turned down, there is a lot you can learn from the experience. The more proposals you write, the easier the process will become – and the more chance you will have of being successful.