I’ve written a post on how to write a fellowship proposal, and how to prepare for the interview, before. And while that advice on how to formulate and structure your proposal is still valid, I don’t feel that it is quite helpful enough. Sure, it outlines the main parts of the proposal, and how they link to each other. But still, I see people struggling, and I have been contacted by numerous people for help. And telling people how to write a proposal is not nearly as helpful as showing them how to do it.
But who am I to show you how to write a proposal? Well, in my previous post – that was in 2014 – I wrote that my proposals had a success rate of 30%. Since then though, whenever I led a proposal, it has been funded. (Right, so I know the current funding system is full of bias and resembles a lottery more than anything. But unless we change the system – which we have to, but that’s not what this post is about – the best we can do is write a proposal that’s as good as we can.)
Of course, the overall idea and approach need to be great and address an important problem or knowledge gap using a novel or creative approach. The proposal needs to be written in an engaging way and the science needs to be robust. But, all these ingredients need to piece together like a perfect puzzle, like a work of art. All the individual components need to link to each other beautifully in such a way that not a single word is redundant, that every sentence serves a purpose, and that no concept or method remains unexplained. You need to engage the reader from the start, keep them interested, impress them with clear pictures and diagrams, and gently hammer home the message that THIS work needs to be done RIGHT NOW by YOU using YOUR NOVEL approach.
So here’s how I do it. Here’s my recipe. (A recipe is something that you can follow to the letter, of course, but it’s also something that you can tweak. As you get more experienced, you might swap things around. Depending on the call, you might include a little bit more synthesis, or you might throw in some more methods. And clearly, there are often more sections that need to be included, such as risk or novelty. But here’s the basic recipe.)
I’m very curious what you think, and please – if you disagree, or if I missed something, let me know!