Research beyond borders

Research Proposals – some tips

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Happy New Year everyone. We are starting 2013 with something a bit different to usual – a post by Research Fundermentals about how researchers in life sciences are sharing successful proposals got me thinking about arts and humanities proposals and thought I would post a few observations about funding after knocking around the Research Councils for a few years.

You may be wondering why I am sharing this on a blog about international funding, but international funding can be incredibly competitive and arts and humanities proposals for research projects are often considered in conjunction with subjects that can have more experience of applications eg social science, cognition and psychology. So some things to think about…….

  • Most research funding is essentially for specific projects – they are time and cash limited and involve more than one person. A well planned, thought through project comes across in a proposal, think about what you can achieve, how it needs to be structured and how it will be delivered – and make sure this is clear in the application.
  • Research Context. As applicants you need to demonstrate awareness of the wider research context and also make sure it is really clear as to how your proposed project will deliver new knowledge in this context. Aim for an audience of non specialist academic (as a panel are likely to be). Some tips; make sure your project doesn’t get ‘lost’ in the broader research environment and there is a clear relationship between what you plan to do and other current research; this isn’t about a personal narrative about how your research interests have developed; don’t made grand claims the project can’t deliver not even medical research applications claim they can cure cancer!
  • What are your Research Questions and Method? It is quite surprising how many applicants seem to lose sight of their Research Questions as they draft their application. You need to a) make sure your research questions are achievable and b) your method will answer them. This is not about second guessing the outcome (equally hated in all disciplines!) but demonstrating that you are looking at the most appropriate sources and are actually doing something new and novel. If you state ‘this will be analysed’ also state how.
  • Think about who will be peer reviewing your application. If the reviewers are from a variety of disciplines they are likely to have different expectations about the detail given – particularly in methods. Like arts and humanities research lots of other disciplines deal with substantial complexity (eg biological or ecological systems) and don’t have specified methodologies but it is likely that they will expect more detail on what you will do and that you provide a rationale for your chosen method. In an interdisciplinary context sometimes arts and humanities proposals or components are considered ‘woolly’ and ‘lack detail’ and you hear comments along the lines of ‘but what are they actually doing?’ – providing more detail on methodology is a key place to look to address this.

Now these things won’t make the average project great but considering these things can make sure excellent ideas become excellent proposals and that Arts and Humanities aspects are well integrated into interdisciplinary applications.

Getting Guidance

  • Ask your colleagues – if members of your organisation sat on panels or peer review colleges they see lots of grant proposals and can help you.
  • Read the guidance – it covers a lot!
  • Talk to your research office – they will have seen a lot of proposals and know about costs and eligibility.
  • Lots of tips and comments are out there – also look at other organisations and disciplines and on the blogsphere.
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