RESEARCH PROPOSALS:  Outline and Suggestions



Pre-submission Procedures

     The first thing is to locate funding sources appropriate to the proposed problem, and then to make telephone or written contact with the probable sources to determine their interest in receiving the proposal.  Some granting agencies make available application forms that make this initial contact unnecessary.  For the others, a preliminary written statement of the proposed idea or problem is suggested when initial contact is made.


Sources of Information

     a)  The Foundation Directory, New York: Columbia University.  Lists all

               granting foundations and the kinds of research they support.

     b)  Foundation Grants Index.  Lists categories of all grants made                                              throughout the United States.

     On campus, these and other information about financial aids, grants, and fellowships can be obtained from 1) Financial Aids Office; 2) Main Library;  3) Office of Research Management; 4) The Hogg Foundation office;  5) A more extensive listing of information sources may be obtained from the Center for Communication Research.


Research Proposal

     When an interested source has been located, and the necessary forms and/or format acquired, the next step is the formal written proposal.  Essentially the proposal consists of six parts, one or more of which may be omitted depending on the agency to which it is submitted:  (1) Summary,

(2) Background to the research,  (3) Proposed Research (including methodology),  (4) Budget,

(5) Budget Justification,  (6) Clearance for Research Abroad.


     (1) Summary.  this is the abstract that you will send around to all the relevant scientific agencies.  It should be about 200 words long, and should include a statement of the problem or subject, the theoretical framework of the project, specific objectives, methodology, and location; i.e. summarize the field research (or training) proposal.  Be sure to indicate the relevance to the foundation you are applying to (i.e. medical or mental health to NIH, science relevance to NSF, policy relevance for Russel Sage Foundation) as well as the general scientific relevance of what you propose.


     (2) Background to the Proposal.  This is the hardest thing of all to write, and the greatest care should be taken with it.  It should begin and end with a statement of the problem, but not an overstatement.  The problem is usually phrased in the form of an hypothesis, question, or purpose statement.  In between, you should provide a review of what has already been done in the problem area and the value or need for doing this work.  A superior review of the literature will read like a good argument and will construct premises from critical interpretations or prior studies rather than just reporting their conclusions; it will argue that justification for the research.  You have to motivate the literature of your discipline in such a way as to show that it proposes your problem as one to be studied.  A favorite device of academics is the proposed problems for which their theory only is the solution.  You need not have a fully formed theory, however, to motivate your problem.

      What you want to do is to reread, reinterpret, and change the emphasis of the literature (if necessary) in such a way that new problems are seen to emanate from it that no one knew were there before.  This section is precisely for that purpose.  You read the literature, you subsume it in your research, and you point out that a crucial relationship exists here which once studied, will yield dividends for theory and understanding.  The most important thing, however, is to ensure that your understanding of the literature is not faulty, your presentation approximates completeness, and that your reading motivates your problem.


     Some pointers in reviewing the literature.  Be sparing with direct quotes, using them only when necessary and appropriate.  They may be appropriate for putting something better than you could in a paraphrase, but not usually necessary.  They can be appropriate and necessary to support your interpretation of someone else's position on a point when your interpretations for "facts" adduced, others' interpretations of these "facts," and for hypotheses or theories of others.  It is safer to assume relatively few "well known facts" or "assumptions".  Be as specific as possible, protecting yourself with hedges (e.g. "it  may be possible to...", "there was a relatively high percentage of ossified material at the site...") only when it is unavoidable.  On the other hand, don't use precise figures that are unjustified (e.g. "in 99 percent of the cases" when you mean "in the vast majority of cases").  Avoid slang or questionable expressions (e.g. don't say "Precipitousness entails negation of economy" when you mean "haste makes waste",  or "despite the fact that" when you mean "although," or "to conduct an investigation of" when you mean "to investigate").


     (3)  Proposed Research.   This is the actual research that is going to solve the riddle of the crucial relationships that had not previously been recognized as theoretically important.  Make it obvious that you know exactly where you are going, and that you know as precisely as is possible or reasonable what you are going to do.  This section of the proposal revolves around your description of methods for gathering data and making analyses, including information about subjects, materials, and procedures as well as statistical analyses and interpretations.  In short, make it clear that you have developed, adapted, invested a methodology (or set of methodologies) that you are sure will take you to your goals, and that you are able to talk about your methods in some detail.  when appropriate you may even want to give sample (dummy) data that your methods are going to generate, or to present results of a pilot study that you have conducted.


     Be good and sure that the methods you are using give the results you want.  Nothing turns off a foundation so quickly as the implication that a) you don't quite know what you are doing, or b) that there isn't any assurance of payoff either for them or for science.  Be explicit, and don't think that you can fudge the methodology.  Assume that the people on these review boards are very sharp.


     (4) Budget.  Lay it out as in the example given below.  Don't deny yourself things that you think are going to be important in field work.  Note that in this sample budget the stipend is not given.  It is assumed in this case that the stipend would come from another (Fellowship) source (although in other cases you will want to include your stipend in the budget).  Either the University, or the foundation decides at what rate you are to be paid.  The University rates are usually higher for advanced graduate students.  Travel for spouse is worth requesting if you plan to stay for six months or longer.


     (5)  Budget Justification.  Although not always necessary, be prepared to justify any items included in your budget in terms of your proposed research strategy.  Foundations may want you to reconsider a request for two tape recorders instead of one unless you can convince them that two are absolutely necessary.  They will hesitate to approve funding for a mid-project flight to the coast for rest and recuperation.  They are in fact adept at ferreting out most varieties of budget padding.  So if you need something, stand ready to justify its inclusion in your budget. 


     (6) Clearance for Research Abroad.  In many nations of the world, social researchers now must formally register their project or obtain governmental approval.  Foreign investigators are often required to obtain official affiliations with universities, museums, or governmental agencies.  Usually you can worry about obtaining this clearance in the two months to a year between getting the grant (i.e. official notification) and having it activated.  Occasionally you must also get formal approval from your own university.




Below, note the 5 question Project Description format used by Wenner Gren Foundation for Dissertation Fieldwork Grant Applications.


            1. Describe your research question or research objective.   That is, what will be the focus of your investigation?  (one page maximum)


            2. How does you research question relate to the work of other anthropologists?  What will your research add to this work?  (one page maximum)


            3. What evidence will you need to collect to answer your research question?  How will you go about collecting this evidence.


            4.  Describe your training and preparedness for this research (examples:  language competence, technical skills, previous research, and any relevant experience).   Describe any work you have already done on this project, and/or how it relates to your prior research. (one page maximum)


            5.  Given that the Foundation's goal is to further basic research in anthropology, what contribution will your project make to meeting this goal?  (one half-page maximum)



            Note the words of NIH which follow (Dealing mostly with a fellowship application rather than a grant to do research).  You are going to indicate that you meet all their criteria for an ideal candidate. Your letters of recommendation will ideally strengthen this impression.


        An Ideal Applicant Often Provides Strong Evidence on These Topics


     Record.  He/she has received an excellent education.   His/her academic record provides evidence of scholarship and knowledge in a wide variety of subjects appropriate to his research interests.


     Research.  His/her research experience is unusually extensive within the limits of his background.  his reports of previous and proposed research are lucid, concise, and comprehensive.  They demonstrate that s/he is able to focus his/her research interest, knows the relevant literature, comprehends important theoretical issues, possesses creative insight and imagination, can formulate testable hypotheses, and understands both the advantages and the limitations of various techniques, methods and procedures in his/her area of research.  S/he provides a reasonable interpretation of the research results s/he has obtained and has discussed theoretical implications of the proposed research.


     Goals.   His/her career plans are well thought out.  (This section is important for Fellowship applications.  NIH now has a combination award for advanced graduate students, which includes both fellowship stipend, and research support).


     Recommendations.  The sponsor and his/her associates understand the applicant's professional needs and will assist him/her in meeting them.  The sponsor endorses him/her strongly.  The "Reference Report" replies describe specific events or achievements which are evidence of his/her research potential.  (When asking for recommendations point this out to the sponsor, or recommender, and give him/her your curriculum vitae, relevant term papers, past research experience, and research results so that he can talk about them).  The references are from those who are in a position to evaluate his/her research potential and they are consistently supportive.


     Freedom.  The ideal applicant would be free to develop his/her research potential on a full time basis during the fellowship without hindrance from foreign language difficulties, disruptive personal problems, etc.


     Some of the above considerations such as scholarship, originality, and feasibility influence the award decision more than others.  The importance ascribed to other criteria varies with the applicant's background and type of fellowship requested.




     Final Note.  Be neither intimidated nor unserious.  Many fellowships are awarded every year, and they usually go to very carefully thought out projects that are clear, meaningful, and methologically sound.  You have to think these things through, outlining them and re-outlining them until they hang together.  The first proposal is surely the hardest, and one of the hardest things you will be asked to do in graduate school.


                               SAMPLE BUDGET

A. Personnel


Dr. Glovendry Shah, Sponsor             $___

Mary Anthropologist, Fellow              ___

John Anthropologist, Assistant           ___

Cordion Aleji, Assistant                 4OO

Interpreter (Name not available)         25O             $65O.OO


b. Travel (2 persons, round trip)

     (a) Austin - Houston                15O

     (b) Houston - Guatemala City       145O

     (c) Travel in Guatemala             3OO            $19OO.OO


c. Equipment

     Camera                              25O

     Tape Recorder                       15O

     Anthropometric Kit                  18O

     Camping Gear                        34O             $93O.OO

d. Supplies

     Film and Tape                       245

     Paper, Notes, Cards                 125

     Medical                             1OO

     Trade Items (salt, matches, etc.)   25O             $72O.OO


e. Other Expenses

     Shipping Charges                    38O

     Gifts to informants                 45O

     Per diem in Guatemala City for           1O days at $24 per days        24O             $1O7O.OO



           TOTAL DIRECT COSTS                           $_________






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