The way you write the content of your proposal is crucially important. If you fail to communicate with your assessors and reviewers because they are unclear what you are trying to put across, they are likely to form an unfavourable impression of your proposal. Many novice academic writers make the mistake of ‘thinking aloud’ when they write. They are working out their thoughts as they go, and so are likely to make their main point at the end of a paragraph or section. Of course, writers have to go through the process of formulating their thoughts through writing them down. In the words of the novelist E. M. Forster: ‘How can I know what I think till I see what I say?’ Everyone has work out the argument they are trying to make in a text, and writing down your thoughts is a good way of clarifying them for yourself. Writing down your ‘stream of consciousness’, as you clarify your thoughts, may help you to communicate with yourself about what message you want to put across to your target audience. But it is not very helpful to present your assessors and reviewers with this stream of consciousness. It won’t communicate your message precisely because the text represents your thinking process, where you may become clear what the message is only towards the end. The assessors and reviewers have to read through all the earlier ideas to find out what the point is that the earlier content of the paragraph is leading to. (As the audience for this text, you may already be wondering what the point is of the paragraph you’ve been reading up to now. If so, you are experiencing what happens to assessors and reviewers when presented with a paragraph whose point is not made clear at the outset.) In terms of a mini-argument, the paragraph you are reading contains what may constitute the warranting for a claim to be made in the conclusion yet to come. But as you may be finding here, it is impossible for readers to understand what the warranting is supposed to be supporting until they get to the end of the paragraph. A recipe for confusion. Therefore (and here at last is the conclusion of this paragraph), to maximise your chances of getting your message across to your assessors and reviewers, draft and redraft each paragraph, if necessary, so that in the final version the conclusion of your mini-argument in the paragraph comes first. Then comes the warranting which provides the evidence designed to persuade your readers to accept your conclusion.
Another way of putting this point is the advice to ‘think like a journalist’. Have you noticed how, in news reporting, a claim summarising what the news story comes first in the headline and initial paragraph. It is followed by an elaboration giving the details in the remaining paragraphs. In argument terms, the conclusion comes first, followed by the warranting.
So for a paragraph or a section in your proposal, try to discipline yourself to give the message first, then the backing. Your assessors and reviewers will then receive the message which represents the conclusion to your mini-argument first, so they will know what claim you are making. When they subsequently read the rest of the paragraph or section, they will already be clear what the conclusion of the mini-argument is for which the remaining content of the paragraph or section provides the warranting. They will know where the detail is leading from.
Choose a paragraph or section structure whose logic runs [conclusion] because [warranting]:
Conclusion – here’s what I’m claiming, then warranting – here’s the evidence that should convince you.
not [warranting] therefore [conclusion]:
Warranting – here’s some evidence that should convince you (but you don’t yet know what I’m trying to convince you of), then conclusion – here’s what all that evidence lead to
Secrets of success No. 9: think like a journalist – conclusion first, then warranting.