An Example of How To Write an Effective Academic Research Proposal
The academic writing example in this post demonstrates how to write a research proposal. Proposals of this kind are necessary for a variety of educational and professional purposes such as applying for research grants, degree programmes, thesis approvals, and both fellowships and scholarships. This example is written specifically for a research grant, but the goals of telling readers what the research is, why it should be done and how the author plans to do it apply generally to almost all research proposals. Relevant content, concise explanations and clear writing are essential for success.
The research project, the funding organisation, the manuscripts to be studied and the scholarly literature mentioned by the researcher are all fiction, but the presentation and description of the imaginary work are appropriate for a formal academic or scientific research proposal. Content and language have been kept as simple and straightforward as possible to remain accessible to researchers in all fields, but this strategy tends to be successful for research proposals in any case because adjudication committees often consist of a variety of specialists and professionals selected from different disciplines and sectors. Be aware as you prepare your research proposal that specific requirements may be established by a university, research institute, funding agency or other organisation. Some scientific proposals, for instance, will need to observe the same structure as a traditional scientific research paper by arranging information into an Introduction or Background, a Literature Review, a description of Methods and Materials, a report of Results or Findings, and finally a Discussion with Conclusions. In the humanities such pre-established structures for research proposals are rare, but application forms are common and may demand reformulation, restructuring and reformatting of research information. The example I offer here is written in normal paragraphs to meet the following requirements for an application for the fictional Richard James Manuscript Studies Research and Travel Grant:
• Providing a brief description of your research plans relevant to the objectives of the organisation. (Tip: Connecting your research to the goals and objectives of the funding organisation as soon as possible –definitely in the first paragraph – is advisable.)
• Clarifying why you are especially well qualified to do the research, and enclosing university transcripts, a CV, a publication list, letters of reference and other documentation to support your claims. (Tip: Be specific and honest – anything else is unprofessional and fraudulent.)
• Outlining how the research is related to the work of the scholar R. M. James. (Tip: This is specific to the grant, but many grants have such precise requirements, so consult the instructions and follow them exactly.)
• Describing how the planned research is particularly valuable or necessary. (Tip: Discussing published literature in the field or on your topic can ground your expectations and provide readers with a context for your research. In this example the lack of published scholarship is particularly important.)
• Explaining the methods you intend to use to conduct your research. (Tip: Aim for descriptions of methods that will be both comprehensible to general readers and informative for experts. Be sure to write your proposal in a formal and straightforward style using complete sentences and avoiding errors of all kinds.)
• Suggesting the findings you anticipate and their potential benefits. (Tip: Be enthusiastic but realistic about the anticipated results of your research and their value – specialists will know if your expectations exceed the limitations of your methodology.)
• Outlining exactly how the grant money, if awarded, will be spent and why those expenses are necessary for the success of the research. (Tip: Precision and accuracy are required here. Funding organisations want to know exactly how their money will be spent and why it will constitute a valuable contribution relevant to their goals. Mentioning your other efforts to obtain funding for the research can be a good idea, especially if you are seeking partial funding.)
• Limiting your proposal to 1000 words or less. (Tip: It may be the case that no one will check your adherence to word limits, but a proposal that is just under the limit is always better than one that is just over it in case the rule is rigidly applied.)
• Including a reference list of 10 or fewer key sources in APA style to contextualise your research for the adjudication committee. (Tip: Make sure you know exactly what the required documentation style is and be sure to use it with precision and consistency. Please note that book titles, journal titles and journal volume numbers in the reference list here should be in italic font for American Psychological Association style, but they may not appear so in all online venues.)
Example of an Academic Research Proposal for Financial Support
When the family and friends of the author, librarian and palaeographer R. M. James established the Richard James Manuscript Studies Research and Travel Grant, the many Medieval Latin manuscripts James had discovered and catalogued in the course of his long career were their primary concern. These books had been sadly neglected despite James’s efforts to make them known, but so, too, have some of the English manuscripts about which he left such copious and suggestive notes. Of particular interest to James were three fourteenth-century books he called The Duchess Manuscripts, each of them containing an alliterative poem written in an anachronistic, almost Anglo-Saxon style: Roberts Literary MS 7789 containing The Duchess Comes of Age, Northwestern English MS AA.7.XIX containing The Romance of the Dark Tower, and the Codecorum Collection’s Dark Duchess Manuscript containing The Duchess of the Dark Tower. These books, the unique alliterative poems they have preserved and the owners who left their thoughts in the margins are the focus of my research.
The Duchess of the Dark Tower is the only one of these poems to have received serious attention in the published scholarship on medieval English poetry, and much of that is based upon the excellent edition of the poem published by James himself in 1992. James’s notes in that edition indicate his desire to prepare editions of the other two poems, but he never found the time amidst numerous projects to return to the Roberts and Northwestern manuscripts. My own aspirations do not extend to critical editions, at least in the immediate future, but I am hoping to make a start on serious study of the poems and their marginal annotations by visiting the manuscripts in person. I have already done this in the case of the Dark Duchess Manuscript, which was owned and annotated in the fourteenth century by Sir Ponderalot of Codecorum Manor. My visit to the Codecorum Library allowed me to consult James’s unpublished manuscript notes, identify two new manuscripts as the property of Sir Ponderalot and discover the code to a unique system of symbols Ponderalot used in the annotations of the Dark Duchess Manuscript. This code not only enabled an understanding of Ponderalot’s mysterious annotations, but also opened new and more politically charged avenues of interpretation for The Duchess of the Dark Tower itself (Maynere, 2017).
What is particularly interesting to me as a student of Ponderalot’s marginal comments on the poem is the relationship between them and the marginal comments in the other two Duchess Poems. At present I know of this relationship only through James’s notes, which indicate that the strange symbols used by Ponderalot are also used in both The Duchess Comes of Age and The Romance of the Dark Tower. Yet these additional annotations are not the work of Ponderalot, and each set was written in a different fourteenth-century hand, quite possibly the hand of the manuscript’s first owner. Given the social, sometimes radical and occasionally satirical implications of Ponderalot’s odd symbols in the Codecorum’s Dark Duchess Manuscript (see Maynere, 2017), I anticipate thoughtful and unusual comments in the Roberts and Northwestern manuscripts as well. I also hope to trace the provenance and, if possible, uncover the identity of the original owners and annotators of both manuscripts. Finally, as a reader of The Duchess of the Dark Tower, I am intrigued by James’s suggestion that the three poems ‘tell a single longer story’ (1992, p.522) and am eager to read The Duchess Comes of Age and The Romance of the Dark Tower which James believed preceded The Duchess of the Dark Tower in narrative terms.
When one considers the abundance of published work on The Duchess of the Dark Tower (I include a few key publications in the References below), the recent inclusion of the poem in medieval literature courses at a number of universities and the obvious temptation of learning about the past of a character as simultaneously compelling and repelling as the Dark Duchess, the complete neglect of the other two Duchess Manuscripts is nothing short of extraordinary. There is no doubt, however, that the research to be done is daunting: difficult, time consuming and expensive. My training is in medieval English literary manuscripts and I have worked at length with Ponderalot’s manuscripts and James’s unpublished notes in the Codecorum Collection, so I have the skills, experience and knowledge to make the most of studying the Roberts and Northwestern manuscripts. I also have the time as I have applied for a leave of absence from the Mediaeval Studies Centre (for the 2019/2020 teaching year) in order to consult the manuscripts at length and prepare my initial findings for publication. My accommodation in San Francisco (where Roberts Literary MS 7789 is held at the Roberts Collegiate Library) and Ottawa (where Northwestern English MS AA.7.XIX is held at the Northwestern Memorial Museum) will be paid by a departmental research grant.
However, the cost of travel to the United States and Canada is beyond my financial resources, so it is primarily to cover my travel expenses that I am applying for a Richard James Manuscript Studies Research and Travel Grant. I am also hoping to have digital copies of the manuscripts or at least of key sections of the manuscripts made. These would not only enable me to continue my work with the books and their contents after my visits are over, but also offer long-distance access to other readers and researchers. I have discussed the matter with reproduction services staff at both locations, and they are as enthusiastic as I am to attain digital copies, so the libraries will cover half the cost of imaging. Please see the budget I am including with this proposal for further details on these and other expenses. I am also enclosing my university transcripts, a list of my publications and awards, my updated CV and three sealed letters of reference.
Discerno, P. (1975). Anglo-Saxon alliterative style in the Dark Duchess Manuscript. (Doctoral thesis, University of Oxford, United Kingdom).
James, R. M. (1962). The Dark Duchess Manuscript: A new discovery in the Codecorum Collection. Medieval Manuscript Studies, 22, 18–23.
James, R. M. (Ed.). (1992). The Duchess of the Dark Tower: A critical edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
James, R. M. (1962–1997). Unpublished manuscript notes as Library Assistant and Head Librarian of the Codecorum Collection, Codecorum Manor, Devonshire.
Jones, S. R. (1972). The metaphorical subtext of The Duchess of the Dark Tower. Medieval Poetry, 23, 14–33.
Jones, S. R., & Soffen, D. T. (Eds.). (2012). The Dark Duchess Manuscript: A collection of essays considering the whole book. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Maynere, M. V. (2017). Cracking Ponderalot’s symbolic code: A new reading of The Duchess of the Dark Tower and its mysterious annotations. Medieval Manuscript Studies, 77, 112–158.
Taylor, T. W. (1988). Deciphering the annotations in the Dark Duchess Manuscript. Medieval Manuscript Studies, 48, 212–142.
Washburn, E. (1994). Sir Ponderalot and his Dark Duchess: A New Historical study of The Duchess of the Dark Tower. Modern Theory & Medieval Poetry, 27, 101–169.
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