How to Write a Research Proposal

While sorting my desk I found back a summary that I had written based on the excellent yet simple NSF recommendations on writing a Research Proposal : Twelve Steps to a Winning Research Proposal by George Hazelrigg.

To a large extent, this advice can be applied to business proposals as well, aiming for a contest or a grant.

Here is an even shorter version:

  1. Show you have researched previous work.
  2. Your proposed research must match with the philosophy or interests of the authority you are sending your proposal to.
  3. Make sure you are eligible for the program.
  4. You must suggest RESEARCH, and nothing like other research-related activities: development, market study, etc…
  5. Propose a detailed plan on how you intend to conduct your research, present the steps, the alternatives, the difficulties.
  6. State clear objective.
    The objectives of the proposed research are
  7. Present the context.
    How does my proposed work fit in/impact other people’s work?
  8. Grammar, spelling, vocabulary: PERFECT.
  9. Be concise, Respect format.
    How much is the reader going to enjoy reading my proposal?
  10. Write for the reviewers.
    What expertise do the people I am writing this for have?
  11. Proof the document before sending it.
    Who can help me read this and point out mistakes?

For step 11 (getting colleagues, friends or family read your document), it is often not done properly. People tend to read the report THEMSELVES so as to avoid imposing a burden on their peers. If you really have no one to help you with this, make sure to keep away from your document for at least 3 days before you look for mistakes. This helps your brain look at the document with a new eye. On the contrary, while rushing to self-proof a document, we tend to overlook the mistakes: the brain assumes it is reading what WAS INTENDED to be written, which is often a wrong assumption…

Back to getting peers to help you: In order to make sure you do not impose a burden on them, BE THERE anytime they need you review anything. We often by default just escape this kind of tedious tasks: What do I gain in this?. Just SAY YES, or even suggest to help before people ask. GIVE TO OTHERS. But do it well and more importantly do it genuinly, i.e. without expecting anything in return. The good side effect of this being that people in your circle of trust will be available for you when you need help from others.

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