Persuasive Proposal Writing
by Yosef Mackler, Scientific Editor
Before you even begin to put pen to proposal paper, consider that comprehensive preparation is critical to the ultimate success of your submission. Such preparation involves extensive thinking, reading, networking, and research. This preparation also involves making sure you: know your research field, select a topic worthy of study, understand the proposal guidelines, and know how your project “fits” the funding source’s objectives and priorities. Nothing takes the place of doing your “research homework” in increasing your chances to submit a winning proposal.
So, before you put pen in hand to write your proposal, be sure that you:
Define your project
• Sketch a research “mission statement.”
• Define the scope of work.
• Determine the broad project goals, then identify the specific objectives that define how you will focus the work to accomplish those goals.
• Decide which target population you will study, and decide how this group(s) will benefit from your research project.
• Draft expected project outcomes in measurable terms.
• Draft a realistic timeline that includes the planning phase, the period of searching for funds, proposal writing, and the intended project start date.
• Assemble your data, write up your recent work, and submit it to appropriate peer-reviewed journal(s).
• Conduct appropriate preliminary (pilot) studies, so that their results can be included in the application.
• Formulate/clarify your ideas.
– Do you have a clear, concise and testable hypothesis?
– Can you design specific experiments that will test your hypothesis?
Identify the right funding sources
• Research funding sources through Internet sites, and electronic and print, databases.
• Network with colleagues; if you are a graduate student, consult your mentor and other students.
• Think Interdisciplinary. View your project in a broader context that incorporates other academic disciplines and commercial ventures.
• Find and study previous grant proposals of colleagues that have been successful.
• Attend conferences and seminars.
• Get to know the Research Authority staff and how we work.
(We don’t bite and we don’t charge.) First of all, if you don’t have an E-mail account at Bar-Ilan, obtain an E-mail address to receive RA funding opportunity postings.
• Match your project’s purpose and goals to those of the sponsor.
Contact the funding source
• Consider the sponsor as a resource and contact the research grant/project officer.
• Request the proposal guidelines, a list of funded projects, and an annual report.
• Determine how the sponsor’s funding parameters meet your project’s budgetary needs: What items (including overhead) are covered/not covered?
Are matching funds required?
• Inquire if the sponsor will review a pre-proposal or accept a letter of inquiry.
• Determine and understand the review and evaluation criteria.
• Determine who are the members of the review committee and focus accordingly.
Understand & follow the proposal guidelines
Guidelines contain the precise information you need to submit an application. Read the guidelines carefully, then read them again, and once again, and then again. Request clarification for whatever you don’t understand. And then, follow the guidelines…precisely.
Typically, guidelines contain the:
• Submission deadline(s).
• Eligibility criteria.
• Proposal format.
• Proposal review timetable.
• Budgets and what’s covered and what’s excluded.
• Evaluation process and criteria.
• Whom to contact.
WITH PEN in HAND
In general terms, a persuasive proposal contains the following elements:
• A creative topic that brings something new to the research community.
• Scientific and technical merit that is worthy of funding.
• A comprehensive and well-documented experimental/research plan and budget.
• Information presented in a clear concise style and easy-to-read format, in accordance with the application guidelines.
Researchers often wonder how reviewers evaluate proposals. Well, wonder no more.
Here are 8 questions evaluators at the United States National Institutes of Heath look for when they review proposals.
a. What is the merit of the research?
b. What is the potential impact of the research, and who will benefit from it and how?
c. How innovative is the research? Does the research confirm existing hypotheses or “bring something new to the table?”
d. Is the research hypothesis tested and supported?
e. Are the aims logical?
f. Are the methods appropriate, adequate, and feasible for the research?
g. What are the qualifications of the investigators? What is their competence, credentials, experience?
h. What facilities and resources do the researchers have available to perform the research?
The text below contains several suggestions for strengthening the Research Plan and Budget sections of your proposal. In addition, we provide a few suggestions for improving your writing, and finally, we discuss a few administrative items.
A. Hypothesis & Aims
• Develop a strong hypothesis and state the rationale for it.
Justify how the hypothesis relates to your research field and test it.
Present alternative hypotheses and discuss the merits of the one(s) you chose.
• State clear, defined, focused aims; in other words, state what you want to accomplish. Relate your aims to the hypothesis you are going to test. If you have more than one hypothesis, each one will have specific aims.
B. Scientific Background & Significance
• State clearly and prominently how your research is innovative and contributes to the field and/or society-at-large.
• Show that you understand the field by citing relevant literature.
• Describe the next phase(s) of research.
C. Preliminary Studies
• Preliminary Studies establishes reviewers’ credibility in your ability to understand the field and implement the research. Once again, these studies should support the hypothesis.
D. Design and Methods
• Provide detail and rationale for your methods.
• Demonstrate that your methods are appropriate re: your aims.
• Justify the approach you selected, and indicate any potential difficulties, and how you intend to overcome them.
• Include expected results and how they will support or contradict the central hypothesis. Provide statistical analysis where possible, and describe the means you will evaluate and disseminate your results.
• Describe your research team(s), define who will do exactly what activity, and state the rationale for the division of labor.
Budgets are cost projections that reflect how the research will be implemented and managed. Well-planned budgets reflect carefully thought out projects. Request the exact amount of fund$ you need to do the work; don’t over or under-estimate costs.
Sponsors will want to know:
• Can the researcher conduct the project within the proposed budget?
• Are the costs realistic? Is the budget justified?
• Does the budget match the proposed goals and methods?
• Are you flexible in negotiating your budget?
• Make sure your proposal is letter perfect and in full compliance with the application guidelines re: content and format; edit and re-write accordingly.
• Use the active, not the passive voice wherever possible;
Write clear, concise sentences; Use tables, charts, and side-headings to divide/organize/format your text.
• Find both expert readers in your field, and professionals who will critically review your drafts.
A Few Administrative Issues
• Make sure you submit any required administrative and financial signatures of authorized university officials.
• Determine if the proposal submission deadline is a postmark or a receipt date. Do whatever is needed to ensure the proposal arrives on time.
• Adhere to all the specifications found in the proposal guidelines. If you must deviate from the specs, clearly explain the rationale for your approach.