Tips for Writing a Research Proposal for Anthropology Departmental Honors
Every research project needs to begin with an original research proposal. Any good proposal does at least two things: it articulates an interesting question or goal, and it lays out a plan for answering that question or achieving that goal.
A good proposal will tell a varied reviewer audience why your project is novel, describe its significance to your discipline, present a detailed methodology or course of action, detail the preparation and resources that you have lined up to date, and commit to a final product that will contribute to the academic community’s understanding of your topic.
The ideal format and language for such a proposal will vary with the audience at hand and the project in question. Different departments, programs and agencies have different requirements in terms of the size and scope of the proposal. Regardless of format, length, or organization, a good proposal will address the following topics.
Aim and Scope
What is the goal of your project? What question do you want to answer? What hypothesis do you wish to test? What themes do you want to explore?
Background & Context
Provide the reader with enough information to understand the nature of the project.
Why are your questions intellectually important? What does the academic community in your chosen field (as represented in peer-reviewed literature) already understand about your topic? How will your project contribute to this literature? How will your objectives and methods challenge the discipline? What form will your final product take, and how will it be evaluated?
What, precisely, will you do to answer the question you are posing? How is the data, analysis, or interpretation provided by your methodology logically linked to your stated goal? When and how will you take each of the steps towards achieving these goals? What logistical hurdles will you encounter? A timeline can give reviewers a clear picture of how you project will unfurl. When will you start your project, and when will you finish it? What milestones will help you gauge your progress? How will you coordinate your core research activities with your preliminary work (such as directed reading) and your post-project analysis (such as writing)?
How will you draw on the expertise of your faculty mentor? Are there other contact people who will be instrumental in your project? Are you seeking, or have you received, any other sources of funding? Are there additional datasets or pieces of equipment that you will rely on?
Preparation & Qualifications
What specific steps have you taken to prepare for this project? Have you taken courses in the methods or statistics that directly relate to the project design you described above? If you will conduct research off campus, how do you plan to train (in the classroom or otherwise) for the cultural, ethical, and safety challenges associated with research travel? Have you initiated contact with people (at field sites or other institutions) who will be critical to your project’s success?
Include a table specifying a timeline for project design, data collection, data analysis, and write up.
You may find that you need to present a separate budget — a line-item description of the funding that you need to cover your expenses. How much money do you need, and what will it be used for? How do each of these expenses contribute to the logistical demands of your methodology? A well-conceived budget provides reviewers with insight into the state of your logistical planning.
A Good Research Proposal
A good research proposal is not written at the last minute! A compelling account of the project you wish to pursue will take shape only with repeated revision, drawing on feedback from your faculty mentor, other advisers, and your fellow researchers. By involving your mentor in your proposal from the start, you stand to benefit even more from his or her expertise in your field. Similarly, faculty members who have seen early drafts of your proposal can direct you to the most appropriate grant programs, offer you the best advice on project design, and refer your to other useful resources on campus.
A good research proposal is concise! Reviewers are often faced with hundreds of proposals at a time, and a clear writing style will help move your proposal to the "short stack." You should give your proposal a descriptive title and make your main objectives and motives explicit in an opening summary that is easily understood by non-specialists. Long proposals are rarely read thoroughly, and short proposals that are well written will contain as much information.