Your task is to develop a strong, logical, overall argument and communicate it well so as to convince your target audience of assessors and reviewers that recommending the funding of your proposal represents a good risk for the funding agency. We highlighted earlier how you need to demonstrate that your proposal extensively meets all of the funder’s assessment criteria. You also need to show that you are competent to deliver your promised important outputs, that they will potentially make a significant and valuable impact on key beneficiaries of the research, and that you will make efficient use of the resources allocated to your project.
A simple way of thinking about the logic of an argument is to view it as comprising two parts which link together: a conclusion supported by warranting. The conclusion may contain a set of claims to knowledge, warranted by some evidential backing designed to convince the audience to accept the conclusion. The warranting is based on evidence from the literature, your previous research, or personal experience. Here, you develop an overall conclusion by making claims about:
1. your projected outputs
2. the potential impacts of these outputs on key beneficiaries including academics and other potential research users, who will be informed by or make direct use of the outputs.
Implicitly, you will also be indicating your competence and efficiency in conducting your research. This conclusion is warranted by the evidence of what you have written in the other parts of your proposal. So, to develop a convincing argument in a research proposal, your conclusion about the projected outputs and potential impacts on key beneficiaries must be warranted as strongly as possible by your account of the focus and its significance, the objectives, methods, costing and so on.
Inside each part of your proposal you may also develop a mini-argument, drawing a conclusion related to the focus of a section or an attachment. For example, in a proposal for ESRC funding, the conclusion of your ‘pathways to impact’ plan may comprise the identified beneficiaries who you will engage with. This conclusion will be warranted by supporting evidence (e.g. here’s how I’m going to engage with these identified beneficiaries, and I’m adopting this strategy for these reasons to do with its practicability and potential effectiveness.).
Beware two common pitfalls of research proposal writing…
Pitfall 1. Many inexperienced proposal writers promise too little: their argument contains potential warranting but it leads to a weak conclusion. They fail to think through their overall argument in sufficient depth to convince their assessors and reviewers. Commonly, novices concentrate on potential warranting by setting out why their proposed research matters, what they will do and how they will do it. But then their argument fizzles out when it comes to the conclusion:
· they promise to do a lot of research work, but…
· they stop short of projecting what new knowledge this research effort promises to produce if all the objectives are fully achieved, how it will be disseminated, to whom, and how they will benefit
The assessors and reviewers are left wondering what new knowledge will result from all that research effort, and who is likely to benefit from it? If the argument in your research proposal is going to convince them, it must not only specify the research activity to be undertaken (the warranting) but also specify the new knowledge and means of making an impact on specified beneficiaries that this activity will generate (the conclusion).
Pitfall 2. A few inexperienced proposal writers promise too much: their argument contains a strong conclusion which is inadequately warranted. They also fail to think through their overall argument. This time they fall into the trap of claiming that their research will produce specific projected outputs and impacts (the conclusion), showing how important the research is, but then failing to specify in enough detail how they are going to produce these outputs and impacts through their research activity (the warranting). The assessors and reviewers are left wondering whether you know what you’re doing, and whether there’s too big a risk that you might just waste any funding offered. The lesson for you is to provide a sufficiently detailed account of your research activity (the warranting) to support the specified conclusion about outputs and impacts.
Secret of success No. 6: develop a complete overall argument whose conclusion about outputs and impacts is warranted by the evidence provided by everything else in your proposal.