George A. Hazelrigg
National Science Foundation
Just follow these five simple steps.
1. Know yourself: Know your area of expertise, what are your strengths and what are your weaknesses. Play to your strengths, not to your weaknesses. Do not assume that, because you do not understand an area, no one understands it or that there has been no previous research conducted in the area. If you want to get into a new area of research, learn something about the area before you write a proposal.Research previous work.Be a scholar.
2. Know the program from which you seek support: You are responsible for finding the
appropriate program for support of your research.Don’t leave this task up to someone else.If you are not absolutely certain which program is appropriate, call the program officer to find out.Never submit a proposal to a program if you are not certain that it is the correct program to support your area of research. Proposals submitted inappropriately to programs may be returned without review, transferred to other programs where they are likely to be declined, or simply trashed in the program to which you submit. In any case, you have wasted your time writing a proposal that has no chance of success from the get-go.
3. Read the program announcement: Programs and special activities have specific goals and specific requirements. If you don’t meet those goals and requirements, you have thrown out your chance of success. Read the announcement for what it says, not for what you want it to say. If your research does not fit easily within the scope of the topic areas outlined, your chance of success is nil.
4. Formulate an appropriate research objective: A research proposal is a proposal to conduct research, not to conduct development or design or some other activity. Research is a methodical process of building upon previous knowledge to derive or discover new knowledge, that is, something that isn’t known before the research is conducted. In formulating a research objective, be sure that it hasn’t been proven impossible (for example, “My research objective isto find a geometric construction to trisect an angle”), that it is doable within a reasonable budget and in a reasonable time, that you can do it, and that it is research, not development.
5. Develop a viable research plan: A viable research plan is a plan to accomplish your research objective that has a non-zero probability of success. The focus of the plan must be to accomplish the research objective. In some cases, it is appropriate to validate your results. In such cases, a valid validation plan should be part of your research plan. If there are potential difficulties lurking in your plan, do not hide from them, but make them clear and, if possible, suggest alternative approaches to achieving your objective. A good research plan lays out step-by-step the approach to accomplishment of the research objective. It does not gloss over difficult areas with statements like, “We will use
computers to accomplish this solution.”