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Proposal Writing: Persuading Someone That You Have a Great Idea !. Peter E. Dunn Professor of Entomology Interim Associate Vice Provost for Research. Agenda . . . Some principles Proposal structure and strategy Common pitfalls and what to do ?. Why write a proposal?.

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peter e dunn professor of entomology interim associate vice provost for research

Proposal Writing: Persuading Someone That You

Have a Great Idea !

Peter E. Dunn

Professor of Entomology

Interim Associate Vice Provost for Research

agenda
Agenda . . .
  • Some principles
  • Proposal structure and strategy
  • Common pitfalls and what to do ?

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

why write a proposal
Why write a proposal?
  • Define thesis project … Some departments require a proposal during first year
  • Graduate Fellowship … prestige, more $$
  • Preliminary Exam … sometimes in form of grant proposal
  • Your first Job:
    • Academia … fund your research, develop a new course, need more $$ for an extension program
    • Industry … advance a new idea, execute an assignment, gain more resources (staff, equipment, $$, etc)
    • Government … new project, gain resources

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

slide4

Proposal: critical components . . .

Great idea

Effective presentation

If either of the above are missing, you have a problem !

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

what s a great idea
What’s a great idea ?
  • One that FITS*
    • Fills a gap in knowledge
    • Important … will make a difference:
      • To the field (reviewers)
      • To the sponsor and public
      • To you
    • Tests a hypothesis or concept (analytical rather than descriptive)
    • Short-term investment by sponsor will lead to long-term gain for stakeholders

* borrowed from Fischer and Zigmond (2000)

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

first law of grantsmanship
First Law of Grantsmanship . . .
  • Best presentation can’t substitute for a weak idea; however, the greatest idea, presented ineffectively, will often fail !

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

before you start to write
Before you start to write …
  • What do you know about your audience (sponsor or sponsor’s reviewer) ?
    • What are your sponsor’s goals?
    • What kind of projects does your sponsor support?
    • What information does your sponsor require?
    • What format does your sponsor expect?
    • How will the proposal be evaluated?

* See handoutadapted from Fischer and Zigmond (2000) for questions to ask sponsor/colleagues

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

forms of project support
Forms of project support
  • Fellowship – basically a scholarship; awarded to an individual
  • Grant – provides assistance to support project activity in a defined arena with specified objectives but no deliverables; goals usually investigator initiated; generally awarded to an institution
  • Contract – provides support to accomplish defined objectives with specific deliverables; goals are sponsor initiated; legally binding obligations; generally awarded to an institution
  • Cooperative agreement – provides support to accomplish defined objectives with participation from sponsor; goals defined collaboratively; generally awarded to an institution

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

before you start to write9
Before you start to write . . .
  • Think/Plan/Outline the request – write out answers to these questions
    • What is the problem/issue you wish to address?
    • Why is it important to address this problem/issue?
    • What do you hope to accomplish during the project?
    • How will you accomplish these goals?
    • What resources do you need to accomplish these goals?

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

what is a proposal
What is a proposal . . .
  • Clear, concise, and persuasive narrative answering these questions and documenting why you are the right person to conduct the project!

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

give yourself a chance
Give yourself a chance . . .
  • Start early
    • Give yourself time to think
    • As you have ideas, write them down
    • Keep track of relevant literature
    • Test your ideas on colleagues … even before you write them down
    • Critique yourself … play devil’s advocate (what if I’m wrong; what if it doesn’t work?, etc)
    • Read/review proposals of others whenever you have a chance
    • Allow time to revise

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

stay positive
Stay positive . . .
  • Natural tendency is to see the challenges rather than the opportunities
  • Proposal writing can be an opportunity!
    • Chance to focus on goals/plans for next few years
    • Opportunity to obtain feedback from colleagues and reviewers on your ideas
    • When successful … you get to do the work!
    • Some proposal text may be recycled for publications

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

think of your audience whoever will review the proposal
Think of your audience … whoever will review the proposal!
  • . . . and talk to them
  • Don’t be subtle, make your points clearly and directly
  • Whoever the reviewers are, they are busy folks
  • Make it easy for reviewers to understand your outline and content, and to read the finished product

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

think of your audience cont d
Think of your audience !(cont’d)
  • Imagine you are a teacher, think of how you would feel when you are ready to read the last 2 term papers or essay tests (… probably tired, often rushed)
  • Use headings and sub-headings, skip lines leaving white space, use reasonable margins, no less than 10 pitch font, etc.
  • Just because you may be allowed a specified number of pages for the Project Description, don’t feel compelled to fill them!

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

effective proposal
Effective proposal
  • Following are common sections to be included and topics to be addressed
  • Specific format and content will vary, all sections may not be needed
  • FOLLOW SPONSOR’S INSTRUCTIONS !!

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

thesis fellowship proposal structure
Thesis/Fellowship Proposal Structure
  • Cover page
  • Statement of Problem
    • Literature review
    • Identification of problem
    • Statement of objectives
  • Rationale and Significance
  • Research Plan
    • Methods and timeline
  • Literature Cited

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

grant proposal structure
Cover page

Summary/Abstract

Project description

Identification of problem

Project objectives

Rationale and significance

Project plan

Citations (bibliography)

Resources needed

PIs credentials(CV)

Facilities and equipment available

Current and pending support

Grant Proposal Structure

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

cover page
Cover page
  • Project title
    • brief, descriptive of project
    • if requesting public support, intelligible to lay public
  • Names, titles, affiliations of principal investigators
  • Proposed start date and duration
  • Signatures
    • PIs
    • Institutional official

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

summary abstract
Summary (Abstract)
  • Often written last
  • Brief, self-contained description of proposed project or activity
    • statement of problem and objectives
    • summary of methods to be employed
    • significance of proposed activity to solution of problem
  • Very important for assignment of reviewers !!!

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

project description
Project description
  • “Reviewers often consider brevity and clarity in the presentation to be indicative of a PI’s focused approach to a research objective and ability to achieve the specific aims of a project.” (NIH Instructions)

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

identification of problem 25 30
Identification of problem (25-30%)
  • Provide general background on problem through review of pertinent literature - not just your own work - critically evaluate current state of knowledge
  • Identify the void in knowledge/specific problem your project would address
  • Clearly identify hypotheses/concepts your project would test
  • For grant proposals, summarize any relevant unpublished preliminary data you may have gathered – INCLUDE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

identification of problem cont d
Identification of problem (cont’d)
  • Avoid the temptation to be encyclopedic -the goal in this section is NOT TO TELL ALL YOU KNOW, but rather to TELL ALL THE REVIEWER NEEDS TO KNOW to understand and appreciate the importance of your project

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

project objectives 5
Project objectives (~5%)
  • Broad long term objectives of the project AND specific objectives for the proposed initial project period
  • Specific objectives SHOULD be statements of what would be accomplished NOT statements of how you plan to keep busy
  • Should be specific enough to tell if you have succeeded at renewal time
  • Measurable outcomes desirable
  • Should have clear relationship to any concepts to be evaluated (hypotheses to be tested)

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

rationale and significance 10
Rationale and significance (10%)
  • Two parts . . .
    • Rationale: basis for the project design
    • Significance: importance of resolving the problem
      • Why is the problem important?
      • Relate the specific aims to the broad, long-term objectives - how would satisfying the specific aims contribute to resolving the problem
      • Relate the goals (long term goals and specific aims) to the sponsor’s interests

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

project plan 55 60
Project plan (55-60%)
  • Use specific aims to structure description of project plan (activities/experiments/data gathering to be performed)
  • Describe methods (procedures) in sufficient detail to convince reviewer you understand and are able to accomplish
  • Describe “control” experiments as appropriate

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

project plan cont d
Project plan (cont’d)
  • If methods are novel, explain why you chose them and compare with more traditional alternatives
  • Describe anticipated outcomes and how they would be interpreted
  • What analytical (statistical) methods will be used to evaluate outcomes (significance of data)
  • What are potential pitfalls ? How would you deal with them (alternatives) ?

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

project plan cont d27
Project plan (cont’d)
  • If procedures are potentially hazardous or require regulatory approval (human or vertebrate animal subjects, rDNA or biohazardous agents), describe precautions or status of regulatory review
  • Provide a tentative sequence or timetable for completion
  • If you know there is a weak point, don’t try to hide it, identify it and address it !

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

citations bibliography
Citations (bibliography)
  • Pertinent literature references
  • Citations should be complete - full authors, title, and inclusive pages
  • Use only number of citations required to document key points - again, this is not an encyclopedia
  • Format of references may be specified in instructions - follow sponsor’s format !

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

resources needed
Resources needed
  • Identify personnel, budget, space, special facilities, collaboration, special services (continuing education/ conferences support), subcontracts to other institutions, cost sharing – engage the business office early and often
  • Narrative justification required for major items in budget (personnel, equipment, supplies, travel)
    • Describe essential project role of each person whose salary is requested in budget

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

pi s credentials cv
PI’s credentials (CV)
  • For all key project personnel, usually include data on education/training, professional employment, other professional activities, awards and honors, publications
  • Format may be specified - FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY !!

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

facilities and equipment
Facilities and equipment
  • Goal is to document that you are appropriately equipped to conduct the project
    • Identify space and major equipment available to conduct project
    • Focus on essential items without which project can not be completed

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

current and pending support
Current and pending support
  • List of current funded projects and pending proposals
    • Provide title, project period, $$, effort committed to project, and explanation of relationship to proposed new project
  • Goal is two-fold:
    • document that you have time available to conduct the project
    • identify relationship (potential overlap) with ongoing projects (“double dipping” is generally not allowed)

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

so you have a draft what now
So you have a draft, what now?
  • Successful proposal writers typically ask peers to read and comment on draft versions before finalizing and sending to sponsor
  • Pick reviewers who will be honest and critical !
  • Better to learn of potential problems or unclear sections from a friend or colleague (when you still have time to correct) than from the sponsor’s reviewer (when it is too late) !

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

why proposals fail
Why proposals fail?
  • Topic unrelated to sponsor’s goals
  • Unclear problem, objectives, or project plan - lack of detail
  • Lack of focus, overly ambitious (scope too broad)
  • Unclear or minimal impact (improve justification)
  • Derivative work (been done before, lacks novelty)

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

why proposals fail cont d
Why proposals fail? (cont’d)
  • A “fishing expedition”
  • Descriptive (not analytical; not hypothesis-driven)
  • Applicant unaware of key literature (you didn’t cite something important)
  • Methods inadequate to accomplish goals or PI lacks experience/ expertise to execute plan
  • Contingent objectives (must accomplish #1 before can do #2, etc.)

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

why proposals fail cont d36
Why proposals fail ? (cont’d)
  • In general, if reviewers feel they are working harder to read or understand or critique your proposal than you did to write it, they tend to get annoyed !
  • Carelessness (typographical errors, misspelling, omitted words) is often considered a harbinger of future careless work on the project - leaves a very bad impression !

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

if i fail what next
If I fail, what next ?
  • No one succeeds with every proposal, we all experience rejection sometime ! It’s not personal ! You will survive !
  • First proposals (new investigator, to a new sponsor, new program, addressing a new theme) often fail
  • Whether your proposal is awarded or not, you may receive written reviews (example)

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

if i fail what next cont d
If I fail, what next ? (cont’d)
  • If your proposal is rejected and you receive written reviews, read them, get angry, put the reviews aside for awhile, and then read them again
  • Contact the review coordinator or colleagues for explanations/clarifications – it’s important to understand the perceived shortcomings
  • Rewrite the proposal, revisions shouldrespond to the reviews, and RESUBMIT!

Proposal Writing for Graduate Students

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