Document that is typically written by a scientist or academic which describes the ideas for an investigation on a certain topic. The research proposal outlines the process from beginning to end and may be used to request financing for the project, certification for performing certain parts of research of the experiment, or as a required task before beginning a college dissertation.
WRITING RESEARCH PROPOSAL FOR FUNDING AGENCIES
Components of a research proposal
- Title page
- Project summary or Abstract
- Literature review
- Research method
- Project narrative
- Work program
- Ethical considerations
- Gender issues
- Problems anticipated
- Curriculum vitae of the investigator(s)
This page should provide information on:
- Project title
- Principal investigator(s)
- Duration of the project
- Funding requested
Research grants are normally given to institutions not to individuals. The name of the institution should be given in the title page. If the institution is not known to the agency, brief information about the institution may be given as an annex or may be requested by the agency. The name of the financial officer who will be in charge of administering the grant should be given, in addition to the names of the investigators. The duration of the project must be specified. Most agencies will not commit support beyond three years. The funding requested should be specified. In a multi-year project, the amount requested for each year should be outlined.
Project summary or Abstract
The project summary should be carefully written. It will be the first (and may be the only) part read by the reviewers. It should reveal persuasively the importance and the strengths of the project. The abstract provides readers with their first impression of your project. To remind themselves of your proposal, readers may glance at your abstract when making their final recommendations, so it may also serve as their last impression of your project.
The abstract should explain the key elements of your research project in the future tense. Most abstracts state: (1) the general purpose, (2) specific goals, (3) research design, (4) methods, and (5) significance (contribution and rationale). Be as explicit as possible in your abstract. Use statements such as, “The objective of this study is to …”
The introduction will have three small sub-sections, viz. Background, Problem statements, and Objectives.
Background: This section concerns with background information, urgency, critical gaps in knowledge and need for the present study. Two pertinent questions that help in developing this section are:
What is the context for the proposal?
Why is this study needed?
A review of literature would answer the above two questions. While reviewing literature try to ascertain the following:
– Others have not attempted the problem you had in mind
– If secondary data exists it would be economical to use it for your purpose
– You must get primary data from a procedure of your own.
Review may suggest
– Ideas for your own work
– What not to do
– Convince others about your knowledge of past work in the area
Develop background information leading to the need for the present study. Justification for urgency must be reflected in this.
The background part of introduction deals with a context having a set of problems. In this section, state specific problem of your interest making necessary connection to the context given in the background. Specify limits that can be studied in the time, resources and budget sought. Strive for excellence – not sheer quantity. State what the project is expected to do in one statement, preferably in one sentence. It might be something like: “technological forecasting of edible oil need in the country”. The initial statement clarifies the basic intent. This does not promise meeting the need for edible oils either by production enhancement or imports. The statement is not precise enough to use as a basis for implementation and needs to be developed into further precise statements in objectives.
Care to be taken in writing objectives such that they must be measurable or specifiable in some way so as to know the completion. This will facilitate the intentions clearly and it also sets useful criteria for evaluation purpose.
Each objective must be clear with indication to broad and specific measurable out put and possible to accomplish in the specified time frame. While writing the objectives try to answer the following queries.
- What do you want to achieve?
- The objectives are valuable to whom?
- Are they measurable?
- Are they realistic in terms of time and available resources?
If there are multiple objectives, each of the objectives shall lead to a sub-project. Each objective should have a corresponding hypothesis.
Objectives are not to be split unduly. It will be convenient if a multi-disciplinary project is split into number of sub-projects so that each of the objectives can be related to one or two sub-projects directly. One way of doing this is to develop discipline wise sub-projects, to the extent possible.
Many proposals require a literature review. Reviewers want to know whether you’ve done the necessary preliminary research to undertake your project. Literature reviews should be selective and critical, not exhaustive. Reviewers want to see your evaluation of pertinent works.
Specify hypothesis corresponding to each of the objectives and involvement of stakeholders. This should not be justification for the project, which appears in introduction. As a general rule, a formal research should involve a hypothesis, some preliminary information, and a strong hunch suggesting the type of outcome you are likely to find. A hypothesis is to be made as a careful statement of an idea or hunch. The formal study may be preceded by a simple ‘test’ from which ideas or hunches may evolve. However, some studies can be purely exploratory. Remember every study provides a piece of information that did not exist prior to the study. What is important is that the evidence adds a significant body of knowledge or some practical significance or both.
This section is purely technical. This should succeed the rationale section and gives answer to questions on how to realize the objectives. Give approaches with details and references wherever possible. There should not be any ambiguity in giving details. Try to specify how using the listed approaches will solve the problem. Identify the stakeholders, partners or team members. Specify involvement of stakeholders in detail. List all the activities and show methodologies for each activity explicitly.
Specify facilities available and additional resources needed and the method of acquiring resources. Specify activity wise time frame and investigators who will carry out that. Give milestones for each objective. Give details of training and consultancies needed. The management arrangements for execution of the project to be specified. This will be important if the project is multi-location or multi-institutional in nature.
The project narrative provides the meat of your proposal and may require several subsections. The project narrative should supply all the details of the project, including a detailed statement of problem, research objectives or goals, hypotheses, methods, procedures, outcomes or deliverables, and evaluation and dissemination of the research. For the project narrative, pre-empt and/or answer all of the reviewers’ questions. Don’t leave them wondering about anything.
For example, if you propose to conduct unstructured interviews with open-ended questions, be sure you’ve explained why this methodology is best suited to the specific research questions in your proposal. or, if you’re using item response theory rather than classical test theory to verify the validity of your survey instrument, explain the advantages of this innovative methodology. As the requirements for a strong project narrative vary widely by discipline, consult a discipline specific guide to grant writing for some additional advice.
Schedule the work elements listed in the methodology in a sequence indicating the role of each associate. Standard project management techniques like flow chart, gnat chart or PERT network can be used to illustrate this. Specify facilities available and additional resources needed and the method of acquiring resources. Specify time frame activity wise. Give milestones for each objective. Elaborate how the work will be managed.
The management arrangements for execution of the project to be specified. This will be important if the project is multi-location or multi-institutional in nature. Most donors require list of equipment with detailed specifications, time, and schedule for procurement and finally the actual users of the equipment. The facilities available at the host institution to be mentioned clearly. Show that you have not only sufficient scientific and technical skills but also access to facilities and your institution has requisite infrastructure to carry out the project. The chief investigator as the manager of the project has to identify quality resources and manage them efficiently for successful completion. The proposal has to document this aspect. Give details of training and consultancies needed linking their relevance to the project.
Show that you have not only sufficient scientific and technical skills but also access to facilities and your institution has requisite infrastructure to carry out the project.
The entire activities essential to carry out the project are to be identified through the development of an activity network, which consists of actions and shows:
– All major activities, and
– The logical relationships between them.
Usually a project of 2-3 years duration may be resolved to about 10-15 activities. Large numbers of activities make the project complicated and therefore unhelpful. If the number of activities is large they may be reduced by abstraction – by specifying levels to each activity so that major activities belong to a particular level of detail. Activity at the lowest level shall be scientist specific.
For each associate, clearly specify their role, the work division and the financial details. In a multi disciplinary project, develop activities for each discipline or associate so as to bring clarity of work elements and accountability. Relate the training/consultancy needs to the project work. Specify when and where the training has to be provided and whether it can be provided within the country or outside.
One of the serious concerns of planners is quality of research output. Various indicators have been identified and formulated to identify professional quality. Some distinctive concepts should be available to convey quality in professional out put, i.e. to convey successful and non-successful applications. If the project is to run successful, then it is important to identify indicators for monitoring and evaluation.
Monitoring and evaluation
Sponsor would like to have periodic evaluation reports so as to judge the success of project at various stages and if need be assist in mid term corrections. Logical framework analysis with stress on participatory working (participation of stakeholders and interest groups in planning, monitoring and evaluation) is the most widely promoted and used by ISNAR, USDA and CIDA. Log frame method intends to structure a debate about objectives with associated inputs and outputs, and assumptions and risks. Following these experiences, NAARM has developed format for agricultural research projects of ICAR.
Log frame method as a project management tool help the participants arrive at agreement on the method to be used and then generate an agreed view of the way in which the project should be managed. The key assumption and risk serves to acknowledge external disturbances during the course of the project. This provides an awareness of source of turbulence with provision for further monitoring and review.
Specify quantitative indicators to assess the project progress and achievement. Explain how to assess or measure them. Some typical indicators are:
♦ Poverty alleviation
♦ Food security
♦ Gender specific impact
♦ Employment generation
♦ Use of indigenous knowledge
For each activity set criteria for performance, i.e. give performance indicators and also measure of performance. This will facilitate monitoring of the progress. The key activities and critical parameters for success of project must figure here. Ultimately this information will be used to judge project progress.
Explain staffing requirements in detail and make sure that staffing makes sense. Be very explicit about the skill sets of the personnel already in place (you will probably include their Curriculum Vitae as part of the proposal). Explain the necessary skill sets and functions of personnel you will recruit. To minimize expenses, phase out personnel who are not relevant to later phases of a project.
Approval from the local ethics review committee does not relieve the donor agency from the ethical responsibility for the project. Also approval by a donor agency does not relieve the research institution from ethical responsibility for the project. Ethical issues and concerns should be addressed fully in the research proposal.
Most funding organizations are now increasingly conscious about gender issues. These should be addressed in the proposal.
The investigators should commit themselves to a timetable. Explain the timeframe for the research project in some detail. When will you begin and complete each step? It may be helpful to reviewers if you present a visual version of your timeline. For less complicated research, a table summarizing the timeline for the project will help reviewers understand and evaluate the planning and feasibility. For multi-year research proposals with numerous procedures and a large staff, a time line diagram can help clarify the feasibility and planning of the study. This may include a preparatory phase to train research workers, to procure equipment/supplies, or to complete a pilot phase. The timetable should then estimate the duration for collection of data, final analysis of data and writing up the report. In project proposals of a long duration (more than one year), the timetable should set milestones to be reached. These are taken into consideration when progress reports are reviewed by the funding agency. Funding is often released on the basis of these progress reports.
The investigators should demonstrate their awareness of obstacles and difficulties, which may interfere with the successful completion of the project within the timeframe and cost proposed. They should explain how these obstacles and difficulties would be dealt with. An investigator who does not anticipate any problem probably has not thought out the details of the project carefully.
The budget request should be itemized and each item should be justified.
The following are examples of categories of expenses:
- Personnel (names, positions, percentage of time spent on the project, salary, fringe benefits)
- Patient care costs
- Data processing
- Secretarial expenses
- Publication/dissemination of information about the outcome of the project.
All items in the budget need to be justified and are closely scrutinized in the following way:
- Are all personnel needed for the amount of time stated?
- Are critical personnel devoting enough time to the project?
- Major pieces of equipment are difficult to justify in a small project; an exception may be made for a developing country institution as part of research capability strengthening.
- The budget should not include any undue inducement for subject participation.
If the duration of the project is more than one year, a detailed budget is needed for at least the first year. Budget request for the subsequent years should be outlined. Agencies would normally approve the budget for the full duration of the project, but funds will be released on a yearly basis, subject to the submission of acceptable progress and financial reports.
Agencies normally will allow some flexibility in the use of the budget, provided the total budget is not exceeded. For shifts between budget items, however, it is expected that the agency’s approval be sought beforehand. An unrealistic budget is likely to lead to rejection of the proposal. The budget may be unrealistic in one of two ways. It may ask for more than is needed to undertake the project or it may ask for much less than is realistically needed to undertake the project successfully. The investigators may want to limit the budget to the funding ceiling of the agency, but keep the large project as it is. Instead, they should limit the project objectives to what can realistically be achieved with the requested funds.
Curriculum vitae (CVs) of the investigator(s)
The ability of the investigators to carry out the project is an important consideration. Biographical sketches of the investigators or CVs should be attached. The track record of the investigators is important. Preliminary studies or other work done by the investigators on the subject should be included.