Summary of Proposal Guidelines
Turn in 1 copy of full proposal (electronic is preferred). Due 5:00 PM
Wednesday 20 March 2013 by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I will send an email acknowledgement that I received
your proposal. |
Now is your chance to integrate your thinking for this quarter (and before) into
a coherent proposal!
I am suggesting the proposal be shorter than in years past to fit more
with contemporary grant styles (which are shorter).
A. Abstract & aims (1 page)
B. Significance (2-3p)
C. Approach: Design, Method & Analysis (3-4p)
D. Human Subjects Considerations (1 p)
These page-length guidelines are for a single-spaced
manuscript, and are approximations
Pascal once wrote (in 1671!)... I have made this letter longer than
ususal, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.
Take the time to make your proposal concise and compelling!
The proposal format is similar to the Public Health guidelines.
The application must be clear, readily legible, and conform to the following four
- Text no more than 12 pages (single spaced) (not including references or
now requires either Helvetica or Arial
- Type density, including characters and spaces, must be no more than 15 characters per
inch (cpi). For proportional spacing, the average for any representative section of text must
not exceed 15 cpi;
- Single-space the manuscript (proposals are typically
- Margins, in all directions, must be at least 1 inch (though NIH typically
asks 1/2 inch).
Here are some of my thoughts and a set of tips I have collected
over the years about writing a successful research proposal. It may
help to keep these in mind as you are writing your draft and final
In addition, I put several examples here of proposals for
you to look at the overall proposal and the Methods & Analysis
sections. I put examples of well-written proposals from former students
Tyler Perry, and Cecilia Ayon online just to give you a ballpark idea.
Two others you
might look at are a Violence Etiology Proposal I
wrote a few years ago. Another is a Dissertation Proposal that one
of my staff,
Jennifer Bailey, wrote. Yours will be shorter than
these, but they do provide examples of general content.
Creating a top-quality research plan is critical to your application's
success in peer review. Your plan describes what you are proposing to
do, why it's important, and how you will do it. The typical proposal
will have four main sections: a. Specific Aims, b. Background and
Significance, c. Preliminary Studies/Progress Report, and d. Research
Design and Methods. The "Proposed Analyses" comes under the "Research
Design and Methods", but for our purposes I put them into two
assignments so we could focus on each on its own.
A completely new project may not have a "Preliminary Studies" section.
Instead, you may use this section to describe your professional
qualifications to accomplish the project, as well as the research
environment (e.g., your advisor's research group, or the facilities
and support available at the SSW that will support the project).
Try to avoid the main traps applicants fall into.
Below is a list of the most common reasons cited by reviewers for an
application's failure to gain an award. Review this list and make sure
none of these items apply to your idea.
- Problem not important enough.
- Study not likely to produce useful information.
- Studies based on a shaky hypothesis or data.
- Alternative hypotheses not considered.
- Methods unsuited to the objective.
- Problem more complex than investigator appears to realize.
- Not significant to the goals of the funding organization.
- Too little detail in the research plan to convince reviewers
the investigator knows what he or she is doing, i.e., no recognition
of potential problems and pitfalls.
- Over-ambitious research plan with an unrealistically
large amount of work.
- Direction or sense of priority not clearly defined,
i.e., procedures do not follow from one another and
lack a clear starting or finishing point.
- Lack of focus in hypotheses, aims, and or research plan.
- Lack of original or new ideas.
- Investigator too inexperienced with the proposed techniques.
- Proposed project a fishing expedition lacking solid scientific
basis, i.e., no basic scientific question being addressed.
- Proposal driven by technology, i.e., a method in search of a
- Rationale for experiments not provided, i.e., why they are
important or how they are relevant to the hypothesis.
- Proposed model system not appropriate to address the proposed
- Relevant controls not included.
- Proposal lacking enough preliminary data or preliminary data do
not support project's feasibility.
- Insufficient consideration of statistical needs.
- Not clear which data were obtained by the investigator and which
reported by others.
One can think of solutions to each of these. Here are simple solutions
to the most common:
Problem: The reviewers may not see the significance of your
Solution: Write a compelling argument.
Problem: They may not be familiar with all your methods.
Solution: Write to the nonexpert in the field.
Problem: They may not be familiar with you or your research
Solution: Show them you can do the job.
Problem: They may get worn out by having to read 10 to 15
applications in detail.
Solution: Write clearly and concisely, and make sure your
application is neat, well organized, and visually appealing.
Here are some section-by-section tips:
- Try to summarize your entire proposed project in one guiding
question that summarizes what you seek to understand.
- Make sure your guiding question is sound and important.
- Design your specific aims and methods so they answer the guiding
question of the study.
- Your specific aims are the objectives of your research project,
what you want to accomplish, and your project milestones. Write this
section for general audiences, primary reviewers and other reviewers,
since they'll all read it. Choose aims reviewers can easily assess.
Your aims are the accomplishments by which the success of your project
- A common mistake new researchers make is being too ambitious. You
should probably limit your proposal to three to four specific aims.
- Organize and define your aims so you can relate them directly to
your research methods.
Background & Significance.
- Remember that this is one of the three sections likely to be read
by a general audience as well as reviewers familiar with your area of
work, so you'll write this section in non-technical terms for the
broader audience. It's important that you convey the significance of
your research and how it relates to the betterment of human welfare.
- In the Background and Significance section, you want to develop
the logic model of your proposed project. Make sure you talk about
each of the components to come in the methods section. For example,
if it is an intervention, talk about other interventions in this field
(if any), about the logic model of your intervention, as well as
indicating prior research that supports the logic of your intervention.
Similarly, for an etiological proposal, discuss prior work on this
outcome, what strengths and gaps there are in this field that your
proposed study seeks to address.
- It should be clear also how your proposed work suits the mission of
the funding agency to which the proposal is being submitted. When
reviewing your application, reviewers will judge the likelihood that your
research can make an impact on social welfare.
- Do not, however, include tons of info that leads the reader off
target. This is not an exhaustive lit review: you are building a logic
model of the intervention or etiological analysis. If you do bring up
topics that are related to this field, but you will not be exploring in
the particular study, then say so...indicate that you are aware of this
issue, but are not focusing on it for the proposed study.
- By the end of the Background and Significance section the reviewer
should see what the problem is, why it is important, that it hasn't been
studied in the manner you propose, but that what you are proposing is
logical and grounded in prior work. They should get to end of your
Background and Significance section say "wow! this study really needs to
You may choose to use three different headings for this information
(as presented in the example below), or you might want to combine
procedures and measures into one section if your procedure is very
simple (e.g., handing them a survey measuring X, Y and Z). Format the
method section however it works best for you ? but be sure to put
participant information first and in its own section.
The example should help provide you with some commonly used
(conventional) ways of writing out this information. In addition, look
at the journal articles we have been reviewing, and the sample violence proposal I
wrote a few years ago. I've also included some instructions and tips
in the example below.
- Make sure your research plan is reasonable and show that you
understand any potential problems.
- After you give an overview of the type of research you propose,
defend your choice of study design.
- Next, list the activities you will engage in to complete the
project, referring to the aims so reviewers can see how you will
achieve them. Anticipate reviewers' questions about the feasibility of
what you propose, e.g., how you will gain access to participants, what
about ethical considerations? What available measures will you use?
Describe sources for development of measures if measures are not
- Make sure the procedures are in a logical sequence, flowing from
one another with clear starting and finishing points. And take care
you are proposing a realistic level of work for the allotted time.
Estimate how much you expect to accomplish each year of the project.
- You'll also want to ask yourself: Are your procedures feasible and
within your competence? You'll have to convince reviewers you chose
the right methods. If your methods are innovative, state why you chose
them and how you will avoid technical problems. If you're working with
ethically sensitive issues, your application must state what special
precautions will be taken to protect the participants.
- In this section, you may also want to discuss any limitations of
your methods and how they may affect your results and data. Call
attention to potential difficulties you may encounter, propose
- All method sections need three basic categories of information:
Participants ? who will be in your study, sampling
procedures (how you will recruit them), relevant demographic
information, and will they volunteer or get some sort of course credit
or other compensation.
- Measures ? what are your measured and manipulated variables
(a.k.a. operational definitions)? How are you going to measure
each of the constructs in your study?
- Procedure ? what exactly the participants experience during the
Sample Method Section.
Participants will be N members of volunteer organizations (or N civil
reintegration programs operating in Northern Ireland, etc.). The
participants will receive xxxx in exchange for their participation.
Twenty of the participants will be female, and 20 will be male.
[Note: In the participants section, gender, age (or year in
school), and ethnicity are typical standard demographic statistics to
measure and report. You should also report any other demographic
statistic that relates to your hypothesis. ]
Name of first variable. When using a published scale, always
provide a reference for the scale (Crocker & Wolfe, 2001). Say
generally what the scale is designed to measure, how many items are on
it, and give an example item. An example item is: ?xxxxx.? Indicate
how participants will respond to the scale. For example, participants
will respond using a 7-point scale (1=strongly disagree, 7=strongly
agree). If you are including the entire scale in an appendix, refer to
that appendix here (see Appendix A for entire scale).
Another Scale or Variable. Continue in a new paragraph with a
new heading for any other scales you are using or manipulations you
are creating. If your study is an experiment, instead of labeling your
sections with the specific names of the variables as illustrated
above, you should have sub-sections labeled ?Independent Variable(s)"
and "Dependent Variable(s)." Be sure to always include a reference
for the scale/variable (unless you wrote all the items or totally made
up the manipulation from scratch). For measured variables, be sure to
provide information about the response format and an example item.
In this section, you want to explain what the participants will
experience. Generally the first thing that happens in any study
(surveys or experiments) is that an informed consent statement is read
and signed. Then, if your study is a survey, explain in what order
the participants will get the questionnaires. If your study is an
experiment, give a sort of timeline for what the participants will be
told first, second, etc. Generally the last thing that happens in any
study is that participants are debriefed. For a study that doesn?t
involve any deception or complicated procedures, it is sufficient to
say that will give them a debriefing form (then refer to the form
which you will put in an Appendix of your paper). Here is a sample
debriefing form that I use, which we call "frequently asked questions". If your
involves deception or complicated procedures, you might want to
reassure the reviewer that those issues will be addressed in the
Human Subjects Considerations
- In this section explain what you would do with the data the
participants generate in order to meet the aims of the study and
answer your guiding question.
- The Proposed Analyses section provides a brief description of
variables and the statistical analyses you will use under each
- This is where you will discuss the analyses you plan to conduct if
you actually performed the study. Please consider the scale of your
data (continuous or categorical) and the design elements
(correlational? cross-sectional? longitudinal? quasi-experimental?) to
describe what statistical analyses are appropriate.
- Take a look at how your referenced articles analyzed their data
for an idea. This section should describe all of the information that
you used to determine what analyses would be appropriate.
- Typically you will want to discuss:
- Initial steps to understand your data (e.g., "Analyses will first
begin by examining the distributions and desicriptive statistics of
the collected measures.")
- How you will create your major outcome measure(s). Remember, it
is the type of outcome measure you are examining that largely limits
the type of analyses you can conduct. Interval or ratio level data
(e.g., like "level of successful adaptation") permit parametric
analyses (like correlation, regression, causal modeling, t-tests,
ANOVA, Factor Analysis, etc.). If you have a nominal outcome (e.g.,
"adapted or not" 0/1) then you are mainly limited to non-parametric
procedures (chi-square, logistic regression, etc.).
- How you will create your predictor and control measures. Scaling
- Then, Aim by Aim, discuss what analyses may be conducted to
address the aim, and, ultimately, answer the guiding question of the
SAMPLE GUIDELINES FROM NIH
- In the Human Subjects Research section, applicants must (1) address the involvement
of human subjects and protections from research risk relating to their participation in the
proposed research plan (see Non Exempt Human Subjects Research for specific requirements), or
(2) provide a justification for exemption with sufficient information about the involvement
of the human subjects to allow a determination by peer reviewers and NIH staff that a claimed
exemption is appropriate (see Exempt Human Subjects Research for specific requirements).
- For our current purposes, I don't think you need to write
an exhaustive section as
outlined in the NIH guidelines below. However, since we discussed the topic in class, I think some discussion here of
considerations would be helpful. So please include at least a paragraph noting (1) any
potential risks to participants for being in your study (2) protections against risk and (3)
any potential benefits to the participants and to others.
Non Exempt Human Subjects Research Protection of Human Subjects (From NIH PHS 398)
If you marked "Yes" for Item 4 on the Face Page of the application and did not claim any
exemptions from the regulations, create a section entitled "Protection of Human Subjects." In
this section, you must provide information to address all four evaluation criteria below as
they apply to the research you are proposing.
Failure to address the following human subjects protection issues will result in the
application being designated as incomplete and will be grounds for the PHS to return the
application without peer review. Under each criterion, indicate whether the information
relates to the primary research site, or to a collaborating performance site(s), or to all
1. RISKS TO THE SUBJECTS
Human Subjects Involvement and Characteristics: Describe the proposed involvement of human
subjects in the work outlined in the Research Design and Methods section. Describe the
characteristics of the subject population, including their anticipated number, age range, and
health status. Identify the criteria for inclusion or exclusion of any subpopulation. Explain
the rationale for the involvement of special classes of subjects, such as fetuses, neonates,
pregnant women, children, prisoners, institutionalized individuals, or others who may be
considered vulnerable populations.
Sources of Materials: Identify the sources of research material obtained from individually
identifiable living human subjects in the form of specimens, records, or data. Indicate
whether the material or data will be obtained specifically for research purposes or whether
use will be made of existing specimens, records, or data.
Potential Risks: Describe the potential risks to subjects (physical, psychological, social,
legal, or other) and assess their likelihood and seriousness to the subjects. Where
appropriate, describe alternative treatments and procedures, including the risks and benefits
of the alternative treatments and procedures to participants in the proposed research.
2. ADEQUACY OF PROTECTION AGAINST RISKS
Recruitment and Informed Consent: Describe plans for the recruitment of subjects and the
process for obtaining informed consent. Include a description of the circumstances under
which consent will be sought and obtained, who will seek it, the nature of the information to
be provided to prospective subjects, and the method of documenting consent. The informed
consent document need not be submitted to the PHS unless requested.
Protection Against Risk: Describe the planned procedures for protecting against or minimizing
potential risks, including risks to confidentiality, and assess their likely effectiveness.
Where appropriate, discuss plans for ensuring necessary medical or professional intervention
in the event of adverse effects to the subjects. In studies that involve clinical trials
(biomedical and behavioral intervention studies), describe the plan for data and safety
monitoring of the research to ensure the safety of subjects.
3. POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF THE PROPOSED RESEARCH TO THE SUBJECTS AND OTHERS
Discuss the potential benefits of the research to the subjects and others. Discuss why the
risks to subjects are reasonable in relation to the anticipated benefits to subjects and