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Writing Successful Science Proposals

Writing Successful Science Proposals

Andrew J. Friedland
Carol L. Folt
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 190
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  • Book Info
    Writing Successful Science Proposals
    Book Description:

    Writing a successful science proposal can seem intimidating and even baffling. What makes one proposal stand out from the tens of thousands that are submitted each year to government agencies, private corporations and foundations, and academic committees? This authoritative and readable book explains every aspect of proposal writing, from conceiving and designing a project to analyzing data, synthesizing results, and estimating a budget. It is a step-by-step guide to writing an effective and competitive scientific proposal.The book starts with a discussion of the earliest ideas and formulations of a project, then examines the issue of authorship, different granting agency formats, and ways to ensure a strong scientific foundation for a proposal. The book offers advice on selecting a strong title, developing an effective summary, articulating objectives and hypotheses, writing a good introduction, choosing experimental designs and methods, planning for expected and unexpected results, and the ethics of research. Guidance on the final phases of a proposal is also provided--how to list references, track the progress of the proposal, revise, and resubmit. For any scientist embarking on a thesis or grant application, this book will prove an essential companion.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13325-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface to the Second Edition
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xii-xiii)
  6. A Note to the Reader
    (pp. xiv-xviii)
  7. CHAPTER 1 Getting Started
    (pp. 1-14)

    The need to develop precise, concise, well-articulated grant applications has become more important than ever in the past few years. The increase in specific requirements for proposals and the greater scrutiny they receive have made proposal writing more demanding; we hope it will continue to be an enjoyable and educational experience for new as well as experienced proposal writers.

    For some scientists, designing research carries the same sense of exploration, anticipation, and unlimited opportunity as the first day of a new school year. For this reason, it can become a scientist’s favorite endeavor. As you begin your research proposal, we...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Authorship from Start to Finish
    (pp. 15-25)

    Responsibility for research extends from conception and completion of a proposal to publication and future use of the resulting data. The individuals who accept this responsibility—and the credit for the ideas, methodologies, and eventual results developed in a proposal—are the authors of that proposal. Sometimes authorship is shared, and coauthorship of grants usually leads to coauthorship of the resulting publications. Because students often find authorship a difficult and uncertain topic, we discuss it near the start of our proposal development class.

    There are two essential points to consider about authorship:

    Appreciate all that goes into research.Understand the...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Basic Organization and Effective Communication
    (pp. 26-34)

    Many novice writers find it difficult to decide on an organizational structure for their proposal. The number of sections and the disparate types of information that must be included can be overwhelming. Although the key to a good proposal is sound science, efficient organization makes a scientifically convincing project even stronger.

    Some funding agencies are flexible in their specifications for proposal format. Others require that sections be presented in a particular sequence. Our recommendations in this chapter are based on the format suggested by the U.S. National Science Foundation in the Grant Proposal Guide (currently referred to by NSF as...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Developing Your Conceptual Framework and Significance Statement
    (pp. 35-48)

    Scientific proposals are always judged by their perceived significance. This is true whether you are writing for the NSF, the American Heart Association, a local conservation society, or a dissertation committee. Everyone who funds or supervises research inevitably asks what makes the proposed research “significant.” If you cannot answer this question, stop writing and keep thinking.

    All of the scientists we asked agreed that time spent early developing a proposal’s significance, objectives, and hypotheses, aims or questions is time well spent. Remember that persuasive questions are essential for successful proposals.

    Four cornerstones underlying good research are:

    Important questions

    Best and...

  11. CHAPTER 5 A Title May Be More Important Than You Think
    (pp. 49-58)

    Titles are often written at the last minute and typically receive less thought than the rest of the proposal. But the title introduces your reader to the framework and perspective of the document. An effective title will capture that reader’s attention and prepare him or her for the focus you wish to establish. The role of the title can be significant during the evaluation process, in which a review committee may collectively assess up to two hundred proposals. In some cases, members of a review committee may start by reading the applications with the most intriguing titles. In group discussions,...

  12. CHAPTER 6 The Project Summary Guides the Reader
    (pp. 59-77)

    As the first and shortest section in an NSF-type proposal, the project summary serves several vital functions. It is where you frame the goals and scope of your study, briefly describe the methods, and present the hypotheses and expected results or outputs. The project summary (some people use this term synonymously with “abstract”) is the initial description of the project seen by reviewers. A convincing and exciting summary captures their attention and interest, and it establishes a strong tone for the entire document. It is critical to set up the proper expectations, to avoid misleading readers into thinking the proposal...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Objectives, Hypotheses, and Specific Aims: An Exhaustive List Is Exhausting
    (pp. 78-89)

    A beautifully crafted document, or a convincing and exciting significance statement, means little if the research objectives and tests are ill conceived, poorly stated, or absent. Our class concentrates heavily on constructing, deconstructing, and reconstructing each others’ objectives, hypotheses, and specific aims. If working alone, be sure to find a few colleagues who are willing to exchange ideas. Reviewing your hypotheses and objectives with others may be one of the most beneficial activities you can pursue.

    Development of hypotheses or aims generally precedes proposal writing. Most readers of this book probably have already identified a series of objectives and associated...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Lay the Foundation in the Introduction
    (pp. 90-105)

    Once you provide reviewers or your committee members with a perspective on the significance of your research and steer them toward your objectives or aims, your work begins in earnest. You now need to create the essential elements of what NSF terms “The Project Description” and NIH calls “The Research Plan.”

    The introduction or background is a major element of the project description or research plan. In this section you should review the literature and stress key references. Introduce relevant conceptual, theoretical, or empirical models, and discuss the need for new methods or technologies if they are pivotal to your...

  15. CHAPTER 9 Experimental Design and Methods: What Will You Actually Do?
    (pp. 106-123)

    The introduction and background should provide sufficient material to give the reader a solid appreciation of the importance of your proposed objectives, hypotheses, or aims. The next big step is to craft the unit referred to by NSF as the Research Plan. This element contains the nitty-gritty of the implementation, analysis, and interpretation of your study. This is where you convince the reader that your project can be accomplished.

    Suggested Order of Presentation of the Research Plan

    III. Project description (following from Chapter 3)

    A. Results from prior agency support (Chapter 8)

    B. Statement of the problem and significance (Chapter...

  16. CHAPTER 10 Plan for Expected and Unexpected Results
    (pp. 124-128)

    Strong scientific research proposals usually include a section following or embedded within the research plan where the author presents the expected results and explicitly discusses their interpretation. However, even with the most carefully designed proposals one can face obstacles during implementation, or produce unexpected results that require rethinking original precepts, redesigning experiments, adding new or eliminating parts of original protocols.

    In our surveys of colleagues, we were struck by the emphasis they placed on the importance of investigators considering both likely and unlikely outcomes. They felt that investigators who are prepared to rapidly redirect research, or quickly respond to unusual...

  17. CHAPTER 11 The Timeline Is a Reality Check
    (pp. 129-133)

    An organized and simple timeline is useful to both author and reviewer. Devising a timeline helps you acquire an appreciation for the links between tasks and for the time required for each part of the study, and insight into the resources (money and labor) required to complete the proposed project. This thinking process makes it more likely that you will budget correctly to successfully carry out the project. At the completion of a grant cycle you may decide to reapply for funds to continue your work. If you have underestimated the time and budget needed for the original project you...

  18. CHAPTER 12 References in Detail: How Many and How Recent?
    (pp. 134-140)

    Properly cited and appropriately chosen references are essential to a strong proposal. References alone will not determine whether a proposal is funded, but weak use of citations suggests insufficient preparation and undermines confidence in an otherwise good application. Citations convey critical information to the reader with a minimum of words. Inexperienced writers sometimes have difficulty knowing how often and where to position references, and how to select among many possible choices. Below are guidelines for the judicious use of citations in a proposal and a review of some of the more common referencing problems.

    Which references to cite?This is...

  19. CHAPTER 13 Preparing a Budget
    (pp. 141-149)

    Most scientists write their budgets after completing the rest of their proposal. Whether you are applying to NSF for $250,000 or to your department graduate student fund for $250, there are some basic principles to follow when preparing your budget. The most important of these is to consider the ethics involved in accepting financial support for scientific research. You are obliged to follow the terms of the award, to include costs that relate directly to the research, and to take full responsibility for the veracity of your data and the appropriate use of the research dollars.

    Budget writing requires careful...

  20. CHAPTER 14 Submitting and Tracking Your Proposal
    (pp. 150-155)

    If you have finished your proposal, congratulations! You now have checked it for errors, typos, and formatting, and made certain that you followed the guidelines and rules of your institution and the funding agency. You’ve made the required number of copies or examined the guidelines for electronic submission. While some private foundations and state agencies accept hard copies of proposals, only electronic submissions are accepted at most federal offices, including NSF and NIH. For the foreseeable future, investigators who receive awards from NSF will continue to use FastLane (the U.S. government’s electronic submission gateway) for ancillary activities such as submitting...

  21. CHAPTER 15 The Three R’s: Rethink, Revise, and Resubmit
    (pp. 156-161)

    Do not be too disappointed if your proposal is rejected the first time it is submitted. This is not uncommon, and a revised proposal is usually much stronger than the first. Some granting agencies provide you with several ad hoc reviews and a written summary of the panel deliberations. Consider yourself lucky if you receive a large number of reviews; it is a great advantage to receive plentiful feedback on your research. All scientists benefit from reviewers’ comments and insightful critiques. Successful grant writers use these comments to revise and improve their plan.

    Research proposals are rejected for many reasons,...

  22. CHAPTER 16 Consider Private Foundations for Funding of Innovative Research
    (pp. 162-175)

    A question we often hear from colleagues is, Where can we find support for innovative work that falls outside the purview of more traditional federal research agencies? Increasingly, the answer can be found by turning to private foundations. Foundations in the United States already are funding a significant amount of research. For example, it is estimated that in 2005 more than $5 billion was awarded by private foundations to investigators in the sciences, environment, technology, and health care areas. Each year, more and more personal wealth is passed from families to private foundations for philanthropic purposes. Most academic researchers are...

  23. CHAPTER 17 Team Science for Tackling Complex Problems
    (pp. 176-188)

    Knowledge and access to information are expanding at an explosive rate—and this growth has increased the need for multidisciplinary teams of scientists to work on complex scientific problems. It used to be that a biologist working with a chemist was considered interdisciplinary. These days, scientists collaborate with experts in fields spanning the natural sciences, engineering, social sciences, and even the humanities.

    Federal agencies and private foundations also are creating more programs to bring together multidisciplinary teams to address societal issues like climate change, cancer, and newly emerging, infectious diseases. Even within more traditional proposal review panels, investigators frequently are...

  24. CHAPTER 18 Ethics and Research
    (pp. 189-194)

    The conduct of science assumes that the people involved are going to be honest and trustworthy (Macrina 2005). Therefore, you accept full responsibility for ensuring the integrity of your work when you conduct scientific research. If you accept financial resources to fund your research, you also are fully accountable to your institution, the scientific community, and the funding agency. Anyone who enjoys the privilege of leading a laboratory has a further responsibility to make certain that their students and colleagues also understand the expectations and standards required (Shrader-Frechette 1994).

    In this chapter we point out a few topics related to...

  25. References
    (pp. 195-198)
  26. Index
    (pp. 199-202)
  27. Back Matter
    (pp. 203-203)