golden rules for postgraduate research proposals Contents:

• Be clear, objective, succinct and realistic in your objectives

• Ask yourself why this research should be funded and/or why you are the best person to undertake this project

• Ask yourself why this research is important and/or timely

• State and justify your objectives clearly (“because it is interesting” is not enough!)

• Make sure you answer the questions:

how will the research benefit the wider society or contribute to the research community?


• If space allows, provide a clear project title

• Structure your text – if allowed use section headings

• Present the information in short paragraphs rather than a solid block of text

• Write short sentences • If allowed, provide images/charts/diagrams to help break up the text

The process:

• Identify prospective supervisors and discuss your idea with them

• Avoid blanket general e-mails to several prospective supervisors

• Allow plenty of time – a rushed proposal will show

• Get feedback from your prospective supervisor and be prepared to take their comments on board

• If applying to an external funding agency, remember that the reviewer may not be an expert in your field of research

• Stick to the guidelines and remember the deadline.

Rules, guidelines, eligibility and deadlines A surprisingly large percentage of proposals are rejected simply because they do not follow the rules and guidelines specified by the funding body. Deadlines are nearly always firm (unless called “rolling”) and it is highly unlikely that they would be changed for anyone. Follow the rules, guidelines and eligibility criteria to the letter! The funder has produced them for a reason and failure to follow these will almost guarantee the rejection of your proposal. Screening process The most popular funding bodies will have a very strict screening process which will be carried out before the reviewer gets to see the proposals.

Any application which does not comply with rules and regulations, including editorial ones such as font size or number of pages will not be accepted. The number of proposals will almost always exceed the number of awards available so do not provide reasons for your application to be rejected on format. The application process Bear in mind that some funders have closing dates early in the year so it is a good idea to start the application as soon as possible (about a year before your proposed start date).

External funders will often ask you to have, at least, a conditional offer of admission at the proposed university or to have an endorsement from the university you are planning to go to. Some funding will only be tenable at the university stated in the application so make sure you read all the guidelines. Discuss and develop your idea You may start the funding application process by identifying a suitable supervisor and discussing the idea for your research project with him/her. Your prospective supervisor will be an integral part of your application and should be able to offer further support with your application.

You can look for potential supervisors by visiting the prospective University website, review the research expertise which fits your chosen field best and then search for researchers who could be potential supervisors. It is a good idea to have a good general overview of your supervisor’s research expertise as a courtesy to them when you contact them for the first time. This will also allow you to ensure that they are the best person to advise you on your proposal. More information is provided in the previous section on how to write a good research proposal/postgraduate research application. You may wish to send an abstract of your research idea or a draft research proposal to prospective supervisors prior to submitting your application, meeting them or talking to them over the phone or by e-mail.

Make sure your draft is of good quality and it is best not to send the same proposal to all potential supervisors. Be prepared to listen to their advice and to answer questions. Critical appraisal is a skill that academic staff have developed over many years so don’t be offended if you get a lot of comments and take advantage of the expertise and experience of your prospective supervisor. Finally and very importantly, do not assume that your prospective supervisor will or should do all the hard work for you. It is YOUR proposal! Fellow students, friends and colleagues can also act as lay readers/ proofreaders and give a different perspective on your proposal, in particular on the aims of your research.

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