At WSU, opportunities abound for students to pursue independent research-from independent study courses, to university grants and WSUSA Summer Research Fellowship Programs. When writing a grant proposal for an independent research project, you should keep the following tips in mind. And for further assistance, consult with your professors, visit Dr. John Cavitt in the Office of Undergraduate Research or make an appointment with the Writing Center.
Part I. Formulation
Early development can be key to the success of your proposal. Before you begin writing, think critically about your project.
Tip #1: Choose a good topic.
Your faculty mentor should help you to narrow and clarify your topic, so that your proposal is specific, focused and more importantly, manageable. The best research topic, however, will be the one you're most excited about. If you aren't fascinated and galvanized by your research topic, your readers won't be excited either.
Tip #2: Do your preliminary research.
Read widely in your subject area before you begin writing. Become familiar with the field, its principal issues, and major contributors. Put together an annotated bibliography. Consider what contribution your research will make. By the time you sit down to write your proposal, you should know what you want to research, but you should not yet be trying to synthesize your research.
Tip #3: Envision the final product.
Your project should result in a concrete final product, such as a written investigative report, or a creative work. Although you cannot fully anticipate what final form your project will take, it is important to have a vision of what it might be. If your project is an activity of some kind, devise a method to document it so that the committee will have concrete evidence of your work.
Part II. Composition
Writing the proposal is often the most difficult component of a research project. Be prepared: give yourself enough time to write, rewrite, and revise.
Tip #4: Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm!
Talk to friends, family, and faculty to clarify your ideas. Schedule a "pre-draft" advising session in the Office of Undergraduate Research. Freewrite as a way of getting your ideas on paper. Get your ideas down first; then think about how to organize them!
Tip #5: Study successful proposals.
The Office of Undergraduate Research keeps copies of successful Grant proposals. Browse through the files, and copy two or three proposals on topics similar to yours. Study them carefully to get ideas for ways of presenting your project.
Tip #6: Be specific.
Take time to consider your research methods and plan a budget. Don't just guess and say, "Trip to Alaska: $500." Get online travel quotes for a realistic estimate on airline tickets, accommodations, and other expenses. Approach your methodology and research timeline in the same way; if you need to make adjustments later, you can. It is important, though, that you convince the committee that not only is your project doable-you've figured out how to do it.
Part III. Revision
Revision is critical. Don't expect to write one draft of your proposal and be awarded a grant. A good proposal will take several revisions; be sure to give yourself time.
Tip #7: Be concise and organized.
Clearly differentiate the various parts of the proposal. For instance, in your methodology section, talk only about your methodology. Leave out extraneous information.
Tip #8: Write to the audience.
The awards committee consists of faculty from a variety of academic disciplines. Your proposal should not be so discipline-specific and jargon-laden that outside readers won't understand. On the other hand, don't dumb your language down so that you insult the educated reader. If necessary, the committee will ask a specialist for an opinion on the project's viability. As you revise, consult a variety of readers, both in your discipline and outside it.
Part IV. Editing
Reread your proposal several times before submitting to the committee.
Tip #9: Avoid errors.
Because errors are easily introduced during the revision process, be sure to reread your text carefully each time you make changes. There is no excuse for grammatical and spelling errors in a grant proposal. Use spell checker by all means, but don't rely on it completely. There's no substitute for careful proofreading.
Tip #10: Make it professional.
Take some time to format your proposal neatly, with headings and sub-headings where appropriate. A good layout is easier on the eyes of committee members who will be reading many proposals. Word of warning: don't go cutesy, with bright-colored paper and fancy fonts.
There you have it: ten tips to help you write a successful grant proposal. But keep in mind-even if you do everything right, there's still an element of luck. In the world of grant applications, your chances of success depend also on the number and quality of proposals in your subject area. If your proposal isn't accepted, don't view it as a personal attack on your research abilities or your topic. If your project is viable, look for funding from another source.
How to NOT get Funded
Perhaps the best way to understand what makes a good Grant or Fellowship application is to imagine a very bad one. Unsuccessful applications often share these characteristics:
A poorly written proposal speaks volumes about its author. Your proposal should be a flawless example of your very best writing. Your writing should be clear, articulate, and free of spelling and grammar mistakes.
It may seem ironic that you should begin research even before you apply for a Grant or Fellowship, but applicants who can demonstrate a broad familiarity with their subject, have researched the relevant literature, and who can provide a brief review of this literature, will generally produce a more substantive and persuasive proposal.
Not Written to the Audience
The WSU Undergraduate Research Grants committee is a faculty committee; your proposal will be read by scholars from various disciplines, who all have experience conducting research and writing grant proposals.
Proposal Written by the Faculty Mentor
The WSU Undergraduate Research Grants committee consists of faculty that have many years experience evaluating written student work. Proposals that have been written by a faculty mentor are obvious and won't be funded.
Lukewarm or Unenthusiastic Mentor
Unfortunately, if a mentor's recommendation falls short of enthusiasm, or conveys the impression that the mentor doesn't really support the project or the student, it will affect how the committee views the proposal. Pick your mentor carefully; solicit her or his advice in drafting and rewriting your proposal.
A research project should result in a definable product that "makes a contribution"-to your field of study. Projects should have a clear, definable research question.
Projects should be well conceived and doable.
A Holiday Excursion
Each year the WSU Undergraduate Research Grants committee reads proposals that involve travel, some to far-off, exotic locales. Where the applicant can demonstrate that the travel is necessary to successfully executing the project-interviewing Okinawans about the U.S. military presence on their island; reading the work of Cuban playwrights in a Havana library-the grant is more likely to be funded. Ask yourself: could this project be done somewhere else? Is a trip to Paris really necessary? (not just desirable).
Mistakes Assertion for Proof or Evidence
Just stating that "I can do this project" or "this project will get done" is not enough to sway the committee.
*Modified from the Willamete University Collaborative Research Program