About this Resource
Productive reading
Writing effectively
Arguing convincingly
Mapping your field
Literature reviewing
Reviewing the literature systematically
Developing proposals
What’s in a proposal?
Who are you writing your proposal for?
Why the criteria for evaluating your proposal matter so much
Evidence of success – a funder’s perspective
Demonstrating how your proposal meets the assessment criteria
Ensuring that your submitted proposal will get as far as the review process
Developing an overall argument to convince the assessors and reviewers
Warranting the conclusion of your overall argument
Telling a convincing story
Sources of information to consult in preparing a research proposal for the ESRC
Checking where to include components of your overall argument in any proposal
A research proposal logic checksheet
Illustration: a completed logic checksheet for a successful ESRC research proposal
Ensuring that assessors and reviewers get your message
Getting your message across
Subjecting your draft proposal to multiple checks
Final tip – build all the secrets of success into your habitual practice
Developing Proposals 
Networked Cranfield > AIM Research > Key Topics > Developing proposals

Developing high quality proposals connected with research for external funding is a particularly important topic for academics who are beginning to build your career. The stakes are high when submitting proposals for external funding: most proposals get rejected. There is often intense competition with far more applicants bidding that it is possible for funders to support. Yet while you cannot guarantee success, there are plenty of ways in which you can make your proposal as strong as possible. The extra effort will greatly improve your chances of the proposal being funded.

Many expert management researchers enjoy repeated success in securing financial awards from agencies outside their institutions. These agencies include Research Councils, government departments, charitable foundations, and private companies. Such external funding brings these experts the reward of an opportunity to carry out empirical or theoretical studies of greater scope than they could if they relied solely on resources in their institution. The extended quantity and quality of research that they are able to undertake with this external funding together enhance the potential for their work to make a significant academic and wider economic and social impact.

What are the secrets of their success? And how can you accelerate your learning to develop proposals like an expert, with a good chance of being successful? Ultimately, the only way for you to learn is to develop and submit your own proposals, and to take into account the feedback you receive from those who assess them. But you can greatly increase your chances of success and avoid mistakes that novice proposal writers often make. Secrets of success to be offered in this key topic centre on informing your efforts by thinking about proposal writing as the development of a convincing argument which will convince the assessors that your proposal is worth funding.

The ideas you will be introduced to here are based on a simple but powerful approach to proposal writing that focuses on developing an unusual kind of argument. It is different from the kind of argument you might develop in your thesis or an article reporting your research, where you support with evidence your claims about what you have found out. That kind of argument is highlighted in the introduction and discussed in the key topic Arguing Convincingly.  A proposal argument is unusual because it concerns not what you have found out, but what you might find out, how it could be of value, and how you might build your capacity to do further research in the future. In other words, a proposal argument is about ‘promises, promises’! To make your promises convincing about what you will achieve if your funding application is approved, you have to find ways of demonstrating that you can fulfil these promises – without yet having done the work that would prove it.

Learning activities in this topic provide support with:

 ·        clarifying what goes into a proposal

·        who you have to convince

·        what you are aiming to achieve

·        how you can demonstrate that funding your proposal stands a very strong chance of enabling you to achieve what you are promising, within the funding parameters and timeframe.

The main ideas to be introduced are very general, and so could be adapted for any proposal related to research. But by way of illustration, we will refer to two funding schemes offered during 2010 by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), a key funding agency for research in the management field (and the sponsor for the development of this resource). Each scheme is appropriate for researchers to submit applications to early on in your career. Fuller details can be found via each link to the ESRC website.


ESRC scheme (click for link)

Target career stage

Balance between research and development focus

Small Grants

Academics at any stage

·        Sole focus on the content of small-scale research, especially suitable for exploratory or pilot studies

First Grants

Early career academics within six years of gaining your doctoral degree

·        Dual focus on the content of the research and the development of the researcher through the experiences of a first opportunity to direct a research project, undertaking further training and developmental activities, and being guided by a mentor