Beating the Success Rate with Research Proposals

from the Petroleum Res. Council

Moving from good/average science to excellent

1. Why are you writing a proposal?

  • One of the two ways you relate yourself to your peers (papers and others). - PEERS ARE REVIEWERS
  • The process makes you smarter - gives you a better grasp of project after proposal is written
  • Outcomes
  • - Discover unexpected problems

    - Find unforeseen insights

    -Not just a chore but a creative act.

2. What makes a bad proposal

A) Really bad

  • Scientific non-viable
  • Does not fit mission
  • PI ineligible
  • Institution/dept. ineligible
  • Proposal violates guidelines: Format, Length, Budget
  • Use of out-of-date forms Call the agency - Most interesting part of the day - If you want to get good proposals

B) Bad

  • DEAD STUFF WALKING- obsolete topic, approach, bibliography
  • Limited significance and impact
  • Logical Flaws: nonexclusive hypothesis alternative hypotheses
  • Project beyond capabilities of investigators, institution, students

C) Marginal

  • Vague language ==> MUST BE CONCRETE
  • Poor organization; Rambling ; Number pages (all the pages)
  • Ideas that do not illuminate point of the proposal
  • Mystery budget (provide summary and detail -Explain costs over 5% )
  • Implications of research not spelled out (broad impact or only local impact?)
  • Funder's priority not emphasized
  • Breezy and informal language
  • Impractical in time and money
  • Research should lead to other research or some other impact beyond the interests of the researcher

3. Excellent Proposal (Top 15-20% proposals)

A)Significant problem and well organized narrative. ==> readers can have short attention span

  • Short sentence
  • Short paragraphs
  • No extraneous language
  • Subheads w/subsection labels or tags
  • Approach in a practical and realistic way
  • me, here , now
  • Support letters if collaborating
  • Describe experiments for which any imaginative result can be expected in terms of the hypothesis presented. - MUST HAVE HYPOTHESIS
  • Describe impacts of results to be obtained and explain why it is worth achieving - Not: We need $, We need stuff, I need a raise - THIS WHY YOU DO RESEARCH.
  • Preliminary Results that support Viability of project and ability and resources of PI to carry out projects

    B) ABSTRACT: Heart and soul of Ideas with all nuts and bolts stripped away to show scientific value.

    1. Program Officer uses Abstracts to direct to the right review, panel/committee for evaluation.

    2. Peer reviewer uses to target themselves at key issues of you proposal - starts understanding of idea.

    3. Panel review uses to establish initial rank and then to base rest of proposal against

Q & A

1. Fine Line

  • Capability and beyond capability
  • Preliminary and Final results: Quick & Dirty to show
  • Giving away the shop

2. Background In Abstract?

  • Little to none. Focus on project and implications

3. Potential Reviewers List

  • List the God and Goddesses and other folks (younger colleagues) 1 or 2/person/round
  • Want 3 or 4, give 5 or 6
  • Other reviewers too
  • List PUI faculty as well

4. Cost Sharing

  • Follow rules if there are rules
  • Establish commitment, especially if equipment will be used outside the bounds of the project
  • Be realistic and balanced

5. Best Stuff First

  • Page 1: Not a mystery novel reader will loose interest. Use pictures, equations
  • Page 10 Ten Mistakes - Corrections
  • Do homework - show references: show expertise, especially what the funding agency has supported.
  • Research: acknowledge obstacles and express alternatives/contingencies
  • Write clearly, concisely - avoid jargon
  • Customize for each funder you send proposal to

    -Get reader to read without making notes and tell you what you said: wrong-start rewriting!

    -Start writing outlines, table-of-contents

    -Write project in one page

    -Create little last - so that it is truly representative

    -Ask for what you need: "Oh my God - What have I done?

    -Find balance between timidity and arrogance about yourself

    -Call The Funders - they will help with the design because they want good proposals

    -Show passion, urgency: This is important NOW. Take proposal beyond the intellectual. · Write for your readers. Establishes writing style.

    -"Expect funders to support your goals, not theirs." WRITE TO THEIR MISSION

    -Match funds according to funder guidelines- do not overmatch. This can be a problem at both ends.

    -Talk to people at or around campus while developing proposal/project. Early and often, get investment/ownership