Many different scholarships that William & Mary students apply for and win, including Fulbright, Charles Center Summer Scholarships, and Goldwater, involve writing a research proposal of some kind. For scholarships funding research, this is one of the most important parts of the application because it shows that you have a plan for what you will do with your scholarship money. Here are a few tips for writing a good proposal:

1. Start Early
In a sense this is more life advice than it is research proposal writing advice, but it’s extremely important here. From initially brainstorming a topic to finishing your final revision, the process of writing a research proposal can take much more time than other essays. A rushed proposal will not give application review committees the impression that you are well prepared to do the research project that you are proposing. There’s no set rule for how long in advance you should start writing your research proposal because different scholarships will have different requirements, but at least a few months in advance is generally a good time to start. Make sure to check the deadlines of whatever program you’re applying to!

2. Read and Follow the Guidelines of Your Program Exactly
This post is intended to give general tips about writing research grant proposals, but different sources of funding will have slightly different expectations of what your proposal should look like. Some require that you include an itemized budget, while others do not. Length and other formatting requirements will also be slightly different for each program. Make sure that you read the website of the program that you’re applying to and find out exactly what information that they expect you to include in your proposal so that you can tailor your writing to that.

3. Define Your Research Question/Project
The process of defining the specific question that you want to answer with your research can take a long time, which is one of the reasons why starting early is so important. Reflect on the classes that you’ve taken that interested you and read through some of the scholarly literature on topics that you’re interested in. Make sure that the project that you want to do is realistic and relevant to whatever program that you are applying to. You also need to be sure that your project is the appropriate scope for the program that you’re applying to, not too broad or too narrow. As an undergraduate student, this can seem like a very daunting task, and that’s why it’s important to ask for help, which brings us to our next tip.

4. Get Help from Professors in the Field of the Project
Professors in your field of study are a great resource to help you pick a research topic and write your proposal. Since they have experience doing research in the field, they’ll know what sorts of projects are feasible, and they can help you write using the typical conventions of your area of study. Make contact with a professor before you have even started writing your proposal to help you brainstorm, and keep contact with them as you write and rewrite it.

5. Be Specific and Clear
Make sure that your proposal clearly summarizes the question that you are setting out to answer, the methodology you intend to use to answer it, and why your research is important. Give some background information about the topic based on your literature review. Describe in detail the design of your study, and explain why this design is the best way to go about your project. You should include a broad timeline of how much time you will spend collecting data and analyzing it, and some grants may require an itemized budget. After reading your proposal, members of the review committee should be able to easily summarize the goals, methods, and anticipated results of your project.

6. Talk about Your Research’s Impact
Will your project have a significant impact on research in your field? Will it benefit society as a whole? Not every research project can cure cancer or create world peace, but you should be able to think of and articulate some potential positive effects of your research. In your proposal, describe these anticipated positive effects, and relate them to other studies in your field. After reading your proposal, reviewers should know exactly why your research question is an important one to answer.

7. Revise, Edit, and Rewrite
The first draft of your proposal won’t be perfect, and that’s okay! Most people write several drafts before they actually submit their applications, and the process of editing and revising can be a long one (another good reason to start early!). Throughout the process of writing and rewriting, have your proposal looked over by others who can give you tips on how to improve. The PSAs are a great resource for this, as are professors in your field of study.


As always, if you have any questions about these or other opportunities, or you want someone to look over your application materials, don’t hesitate to come into the PSA office any time from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday! Thanks for reading!