Tips for Writing Academic/Project Proposals

Many applications ask for a description of your proposed course of study or research project. Your statement should reveal that you care deeply about your chosen discipline and that you have the background and skills to support your ideas and plans.

Know your audience

  • Are you writing this proposal for a general audience or for experts in your field? Consider how you need to adapt the way you write about your work for these very different kinds of readers.
  • What are some of the issues or research topics the program you are applying to is interested in?  Show how your work relates to their interests.

Explain your motivation

  • Why have you chosen this course of study or this research topic/project? What motivates you to pursue it? Why does this line of research matter?
  • Why do you want to undertake this program/project in this particular setting (at this particular institution, in this particular country, with these particular faculty/mentors)?

Show academic preparation

  • How are your plans consistent with your preparation, academic qualifications, and long-range goals? Do you have the background to undertake this project?
  • Show evidence that you have the concrete skills to pursue sophisticated work. If you are embarking on a new field of study, show how it is grounded in your prior experiences.

Specify intellectual merit

  • What makes your proposal interesting and significant? Why is your project idea relevant now?
  • Show evidence that your questions are of interest to others in your field. Show that you understand the nuances of your field.

Demonstrate project feasibility

  • Show evidence that your project is realistic and feasible within the constraints of time, money, or resources available. If appropriate, explain how you plan to do so with details of budget, timetable, and so on.
  • Provide information on the host institutions and individuals (professors or other professionals with whom you wish to study or work). Have they sent or are they willing to send a letter confirming their support of your proposal?

See also this short and excellent piece on the Art of Writing Research Proposals by Adam Przeworski and Frank Salomon of the Social Science Research Council.