Proposal Writing

The advice given in this section is geared towards the proposals you will be required to submit when applying for OUR programs and funding opportunities. Though much of this information will be useful when writing proposals or personal statements for non-OUR applications, we recommend you refer to the guidelines in the application you are working on and the advice provided by the UConn Writing Center to guide the development of your proposal. If you are applying for OUR Programs you should also review the criteria specific to the program to which you are applying to ensure your proposal is appropriately tailored.

Where to Begin

Start by brainstorming answers to the following questions:

  • Why am I doing this project? What issues, problems, or questions will I explore and answer?
  • What am I hoping to gain or learn from this experience? Why is this project important to me?
  • What are my goals for the project and how will I accomplish those goals? What do I hope to realize as a result of my efforts?
  • Is my topic too broad or too narrow? Is it feasible?

Use your answers, in conjunction with the guidelines below, to develop the first draft of your proposal. Once you have a draft, plan to seek feedback from trusted sources. You should also plan to attend a workshop at the Writing Center and review their resources on writing personal statements.

Guidelines for a Successful Proposal

While there is no magic formula to follow for a successful proposal, following these general guidelines will help you develop a thorough, well-developed proposal.

Guideline 1: Review the prompts

The applications for OUR programs will ask you to answer specific questions relating to your project, including some combination of the following:

  • the purpose of the work
  • the steps you intend to take to complete the project
  • why the work is meaningful to you
  • how participating in this project will contribute to your educational and career goals

A good proposal clearly outlines the project or research question and convinces others of its merits. The proposal should demonstrate why the project is worthy of support, and why the topic is of interest to you, the applicant. Avoid simply writing a summary of what you’ve done (unless specifically asked to do so); rather, focus on your project or research, and what you’re hoping to accomplish.

Each application is a different, and you need to carefully read and understand all the questions being asked to assure your proposal addresses them. Stay focused on your topic and make sure to fully answer the questions that are asked. Neglecting to answer or not focusing on the questions at hand will hurt your proposal.

Guideline 2: Follow directions

Word and character limits, as well as format requirements, are given for a reason. Stay within the guidelines and parameters. Though you may think it won’t matter if you are 10 words over the limit, or your font size is .5 smaller than instructed, it does matter. Not following the guidelines indicates to the reviewers that you are either unable to follow directions or that you did not read the directions carefully. This is not the impression you want to make.

Guideline 3: Consider your audience

At UConn, the review committees are composed of faculty and professional staff from across the University. They are not experts in every field of study and may not be familiar with the topic of study or type of project you are proposing. Therefore, your aim should be to write your proposal for a well-educated audience that does not have the in-depth technical knowledge associated with your field.

Do not assume the reader will know what you’re talking about or what contribution your project may make to your field of study.  Give the reader enough background information to understand the importance of the research or project without overwhelming them with technical details.

Guideline 4: Be specific

You can have a well-developed idea or solid research question, but if you fail to clearly articulate how you plan to execute your idea or answer your research question, the feasibility of your proposal will be questioned. Be as specific as possible. If you intend to bring speakers to campus, indicate who you hope to bring and why you chose those individuals. If you propose to travel to archives to conduct research, describe why you chose those archives and what special collections you plan to access at the archives. If you intend to conduct focus groups, indicate why you chose to do focus groups and how you plan to recruit participants.

It’s not enough to only state what you intend to do, you need to indicate why and how. Explain the thought process behind the steps you will take to execute your project or answer your research question.

Guideline 5: Allow time for revisions and rewrites

Plan ahead; a well-written proposal doesn’t emerge overnight. Perfunctory proposals rarely excite anyone, and if your proposal comes across as a last-minute endeavor it may signal a lack of sincere investment in your project.

Starting early will also give you time to seek feedback, which is a necessary part of proposal writing. Ask for a critique from faculty mentors, advisors, and writing tutors to assure your intended message is clear and that your proposal addresses the key points. Take feedback into consideration, but make sure that you don’t lose your voice in the process. Your proposal needs to be genuine and sincere, accurately representing your interests, goals, and intentions, and not those of well-meaning reviewers.

Proofread your proposal. Spell check does not catch all errors. Read your proposal aloud; this will help you catch spelling, grammatical, and word use errors. Spelling errors, grammatical errors, and poor word choice are the quickest ways to undermine the effectiveness of your proposal.