One of the most challenging aspects of applying for funding is the need to write for multiple audience. How do you balance demonstrating your expertise in a particular field with the fact that, at some stage in the review process, your application will be read by an interdisciplinary audience? How can you speak to both experts and non-experts in the same document?
Striking this balance rarely comes easily on your first draft, but is something you should focus on in your revisions. Read on for three key pieces of advice, which you might think of ever-expanding concentric circles, to help guide your revision process.
1. Clearly State Your Research Question and Methods
Using active statements, clearly state what question you are investigating through your research. Reviewers need to be able to quickly identify and assess the feasibility and rigor of your project, and their first impression will come from the way you present your question. Use strong, active verbs to tell your reviewers what exactly your project explores and examines, which particular works you will read or compare, or what kinds of data you will analyze. This can sometimes be especially challenging for researchers in the humanities, who might not be used to being explicit about their research question and methods. However, making the objects, actors, and activities in which you will engage crystal clear is the first step toward conveying your process to someone who may not be familiar with the conventions of research in your field.
The Purdue OWL has a great list of active verbs for use on resumes, cover letters, and any other professional document where you want to present your activities and research using dynamic language.
2. Explicitly Communicate the Benefit of Your Work to Other Fields
Never assume that your readers will pick up on the subtle ways in which your project contributes to your field or others. If you do not explicitly communicate the benefit of your project, your readers may miss how your work connects to other disciplines. In a similar vein, simply naming other fields in your research statement will not convey how your work contributes to knowledge or engages in conversations currently taking place in other disciplines. As with your research question, being direct is essential.
3. Consider and Articulate the Big Picture
Now that you’ve considered what you are doing in your research and how that contributes to conversations in your and other fields, it’s time to think about and articulate the big picture, or, as we like to say at GradFund, “So what?” Are there larger questions or concerns related to your research that you can highlight?
The National Science Foundation, for example, specifically asks that applicants address the Broader Impacts of their work, while Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded opportunities, such as the The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Dissertation Completion Fellowship, ask applicants to address the “Broader Humanistic Significance” of their projects. Both funders encourage applicants to make clear how their work builds outward, from an individual project, to its import to a particular set of fields, to larger debates and discussions. In doing so, you will be able to make a strong case for why your project should be of interest to a broad audience composed of both experts and non-experts, as well as those outside of the research university.
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