What makes a strong research proposal, and what do our reviewers look for when assessing proposals?

The review committee wants to know that you have done your homework by investigating existing research and scholarship on your topic!  Be sure to include citations to reference this background research in the proposal, as well as a works cited/bibliography to document your sources.

Your purpose/objectives will be central to guiding your project. It is important for these objectives to be relevant and adequately focused - nothing can derail or bog down a research project faster than objectives that are too vague or too broad.

Also, make it clear to the reviewers what the value of your project will be. How will it contribute to the overall research and scholarship in your field? What are the potential applications of your project? The strongest proposals address an original question(s) and make a unique contribution* to the field. Proposals should move beyond personal learning or enrichment to address how they might contribute to the overall scholarship in your field of study.

*Note: Small-scale projects that contribute to larger research goals are welcome! For example, you may be working on a sub-project within your mentor or research group’s overall research goals. These types of projects are welcome, and often very successful. In your proposal, be sure to make clear connections to how your work will contribute to these “larger” research goals.

Your methods section should clearly connect to the hypothesis or research question(s) being addressed. They should also be appropriate within the scholarly expectations of your field, and feasible given the timeframe and your experience level. The methods should be adequately detailed to convince the reviewers that you have thought through your research process carefully. Be sure to consider the effectiveness and feasibility of your methods at all levels of the research process – from data collection to data analysis.

A few questions to consider – do the methods adequately address the hypothesis or research question(s) you are trying to answer? How will you collect the data? If you are conducting surveys or interviews, how will you connect with your research subjects? How will you analyze your data once it has been collected?

Additionally, strong proposals often reference how the research will be disseminated once it is complete. For example, do you plan to present your project at a conference? Publish your work? Create a video or blog? Share your results with your research group to further their overall research goals? Strong proposals should address potential deliverables – that is, who will benefit from the work you plan to conduct, and how will you communicate that information to them?

Again, the reviewers want to see that you have thought through your research process carefully.  Your timeline should be clear, detailed, and realistic for the scope of your project. Keep in mind, the schedule doesn’t have to be down to the day or hour, but it should outline clear phases and milestones to help you keep moving and making progress on your project.  For example you might break your work into phases by weeks (i.e. weeks 1-2 develop survey and test for validity; weeks 3-4 distribute survey, etc.)

No doubt about it – sloppy or hasty writing can be a huge distraction from the content and value of your project.  Be sure to carefully proofread and polish your writing, and submit it free of track-changes and other editing marks.  Include subheadings to help the reviewers quickly and efficiently see the organizational framework of your proposal (i.e. Introduction, Background, Methods, etc.).  Taking time to carefully organize, proofread, and polish your writing will go a long way toward showing the reviewers that you have put in the time and effort to draft a polished and professional proposal!

If you have conducted research previously, please be sure to upload (as a separate document) a 1-2 page summary of your previous research experience. Your summary should address the following:

  1. A brief overview of your previous research project(s) and their outcomes/progress to date.
  2. If applicable, how this previous research relates to or informs the USP proposal you are submitting.