The early stages of writing can be key to putting together a compelling proposal. During this period, you establish a pattern of working and the foundational structure upon which your proposal will be based. This is a period of planning, research, and vision that will pay off as you write your proposal. Following are some tips on how to approach this preparatory phase that can make all the difference as you write.
- Before you write, do some preliminary research. This involves an initial literature review—what are the principal issues/debates, major contributions and contributors in the area you want to research? You might want to put together an annotated bibliography. Another suggestion is to visually represent the connections within the materials you have uncovered using techniques such as mind-mapping. Read with the intention of identifying the development of the field in relation to the ideas you want to pursue through research. Reading is also helpful for sharpening your understanding of the contributions and innovations in your research project.
- Even if you don’t have a research topic in mind, preliminary research around the topics that you are drawn to might be generative of ideas to pursue through research. As you read, pay attention to topics, conundrums or paradoxes that writers themselves highlight or that you identify. Often writers will state the partiality or limitations of their studies or aspects of their work in need of further research and these could be good starting points to get your own ideas down.
- Talk through your ideas and brainstorm with family, friends, and faculty members. This feedback will help you clarify your thoughts, allowing you to see what is appealing or particularly resonant about your project. These conversations can also give you the practice in framing your research in ways that can guide how you present it on paper and how you discuss its significance within your field, to the world of scholarship, and to society more broadly. Talking through your ideas and soliciting feedback is critical throughout the writing process, so establishing this practice early puts resources in place that will sustain you and strengthen your proposal.
- Study application materials including the application guidelines, sample proposals, tips and suggestions from reviewers. If you are new to proposal writing, this will allow you to familiarize yourself with the contours of this genre. Studying these materials will also establish funders’ expectations that will serve as points of reference throughout the proposal development and writing process.
Giving yourself time to prepare allows you to start from a stronger position. It puts foundational elements in place that you can refer to throughout the writing process thereby ameliorating the challenge of articulating the responsiveness of your ideas to a broader field and the significance of your contributions.