It’s a common refrain: great scientists are not necessarily great writers. You have no doubt slogged through enough dense, dry, and awkwardly phrased write-ups that you can probably find reason to concur with this statement. And yet, practicing science so often involves writing. Whether it’s publishing in a journal or putting out funding requests, the written word is a tool that’s used to great effect in scientific disciplines.
If you are putting together a research proposal, you are likely feeling the gravity of convincing prose, and maybe you could benefit from some support. There are plenty of resources to help. For instance, you can take a course in writing an effective research paper, which will help you all the way through the process, including giving you the information you need to put together a compelling proposal.
Start with a good idea
Depending on where you are starting in the process of your research, you may not already have your idea completely framed up. And even if you do, perhaps it could use some refinement. Beyond just the subject you are studying, think about what your community of peers cares about and what they would like to understand within your area of specialization. You can also consider the intersection of science and culture. What could have a potential impact?
Now these connections do not have to be earth shattering, and as you know, hyperbole has no place in science, but if you can think of something that connects to a bigger picture and moves forward some existing line of inquiry that your peers care about, that could get you a great start in finding a good idea for research.
Narrow the scope
Of course, science moves in very small and arduous steps. So, even when you are successful in identifying a good line of inquiry, you have to focus on something within it that can be properly examined within the parameters of a single research scenario. This could take some refinement and some study. You might begin by researching your idea and seeing what kinds of research has been undertaken toward understanding it. Look for possibilities in what has been left unanswered. This should eventually lead you to a narrowed focus and a hypothesis.
Do a lot more research
From your investigations, you come upon the specific question you want to answer. So of course, the scientific method dictates that you should undertake another line of questioning pertaining to the scholarship on it. Read everything you can and annotate, as sourcing material will be incredibly important. This reading should eventually lead you to your hypothesis, and point to a method for testing it.
Now be persuasive
If you have follow the steps above or even think about the work you have already done, you should begin to see how you can make your research proposal persuasive. To break it down further though, think about these elements of persuasive writing as they apply to this pursuit:
Audience: You need to make your case in writing about how your research will matter to the scientific community and the community of your peers. You won’t want to overstate what you can accomplish with a single study, but you need to connect the dots to the larger pursuits in your field.
Message: You need to show the logic of your hypothesis. How did the research lead you to your statement. You want to use imperical evidence and deductive reasoning where appropriate to show how it makes sense and is worthy of further investigation.
Author: In addition, you need to establish your credibility and make sure you are drawing from highly respected sources. In an academic setting, this is element of the rhetorical situation has extreme importance.
Moreover, beyond establishing trust in the quality of your research, you need to assure your readers that you have a firm and feasible plan for carrying out the research. This means methods, resources, costs, and as much detail as possible on each of those items.
If you want to get a good understanding of how to be persuasive, you can take an online course full of guidance on the art of persuasion.
Apply this work to the research proposal format
Once you have a clear picture of how to make your case and how your project will progress, apply it to a recognized format for your research proposal. There will be variations depending on your specific process, but convention is very important, as you are showing your ability to follow procedure. So make sure you do what you can to understand the expectation. Here are the basic elements of a proposal:
1. A title page: Write a title that is concise but thoroughly descriptive of the project.
2. The abstract: This is a crucial piece of the submission, and you should consider writing it first. Lead with a summary of what your work proposes to determine, rather than any secondary findings or implications. This will be an expectation. Follow with supporting points and a brief explanation of method, and wrap up by relating it to the larger goals of your discipline. Be very careful not to overstate the project’s implications. And finally, make sure your abstract meets any technical requirements (e.g. word count) if applicable. Generally it should be one paragraph and no more than 250 words.
3. Table of contents: Unless the proposal is very brief and it is not a requirement.
4. Introduction: Again, you will want to start with the topic undertaken in your study. Then you will proceed by providing the necessary concepts for understanding the work.
5. Background: This is the section where you will highlight how your work fits in to the bigger picture. It should also discuss why you need to build on previous work and why you are qualified to do this. In both this section and the introduction, it is very important that your writing is clear and jargon free. A good place to learn to write scientific prose that accomplishes this is in a course on technical writing.
6. Description of the research: This is the main text of your proposal, where you will layout the specifics of your methods and how you will undertake them. You need to discuss your hypothesis, what you plan to accomplish, your means for doing that, and your schedule
7. Resources: You need to make the case for your being in a unique position for carrying out the research. What resources does your institution possess that put it at an advantage?
8. References: Here you will list the relevant source material as discussed previously. Make sure you are meeting standards for your field and that you are consistent in your documentation method.
9. Personnel: Include details on each of the individuals involved and the capacity of their involvement.
10. Budget: Including as much detail as possible and meeting any standards laid out by a sponsor, as applicable.
Make sure in all sections that you are following good general writing practices. If you need a refresher, brush up in a course on writing strong paragraphs and essays.
If you can apply good persuasive techniques within the framework of these standards, you should have an edge in getting your proposal accepted and getting on with the work you are looking forward to.