When applying for external funding, graduate students in the humanities often find it difficult to explain complex theoretical or methodological frameworks. After spending time on their work, their academic silos, they find it difficult to explain their research approach to scholars outside of their fields. However, the ability to articulate your research methods is important to develop a competitive application. Whether you are using frameworks such as postcolonial theory, critical race theory, or intellectual history, you will need to articulate the importance of your research approach to a committee of reviewers who may or may not come from your discipline.
While some funding applications request this information in as much as ten pages, others might request a statement that is only three pages in length. For example, for its dissertation fellowship the Ford Foundation asks applicants to provide the following information in three double-spaced pages:
– Description of the overall framework of the dissertation
– Summary of research remaining to be completed for the dissertation, including a description of technical methods, data sources and collection, sampling methods, analytical methods, etc.
– A timeline for writing the dissertation including a discussion of possible barriers to completing writing during the period of the fellowship
– Expected timing of defense of the dissertation
– Description of how the dissertation work will facilitate and enhance the applicant’s career plans, and contribute to the field of study
The Spencer Foundation, however, requests the following details in a 10-page project narrative:
– The goals of the project, its contribution to the field, and the significance of the work, especially as it relates to education.
– Place the project in context, and outline the theoretical grounding and the relevant literature.
– Describe the research questions and research design, the methods of gathering and analyzing data, and interpretation techniques.
– If preliminary findings or pilot data are available, these should be described briefly – especially if they illustrate how the applicant will be conducting thematic analyses or applying coding systems to the data.
Regardless of the length, it will take time and several drafts to develop a clear and concise explanation of a long-term research project.
Funders have noted that a core issue they come across when reviewing applications is the applicant’s inability to explain how they will interpret their sources. As scholars in the humanities, you must think of your research approach as the means through which you will answer your research question(s). When developing your discussion of your research approach for external funding applications, you should consider the following questions:
1. What scholars and fields am I engaging with?
2. What are the analytical tools I will marshal from these fields?
3. What are my sources?
4. How will I use these analytical tools to analyze my sources?
5. Using my theoretical or methodological framework to examine these sources, what arguments will I make?
The ability to discuss your research methods and framework is a skill that will provide you with the opportunity to share your work with reviewers for funders like the Ford Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Mellon Foundation. To learn more about best practices for applying for funding as a student in the humanities, join us for the GradFund Workshop, Proposal Writing in the Humanities. In this workshop, students will develop the tools to articulate complex theoretical frameworks to academics outside of their field, and how to describe a dissertation project in clear and concise terms without overusing jargon or technical language. To learn more about the workshop, please visit our workshops and presentations page.
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