About this Resource
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
Getting your message across 
Networked Cranfield > AIM Research > Key Topics > Developing proposals > Getting your message across

A key to communicating in order to convince is to structure each paragraph or section of your proposal like a news report, with the summary message first (the conclusion), and the elaboration and justification second (the warranting).

The following exercise illustrates this advice. First read through the text below. It is an extract from a proposal on hospital patient safety programmes, justifying why research on organisational factors is needed.

As you read, keep asking yourself the question: What is the author’s key message here?’

Part of a Case for Support for a Research Proposal

A Problem with NHS Hospital Patient Safety Programmes

Early NHS policy responses to the growing awareness of patient safety problems identified the need to introduce programmes that aid ‘a just culture’, build local capacity, and sustain change through performance improvement monitoring (DH 2001, NAO 2005). Since the establishment of the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) in 2001, these policy goals have been pursued in England and Wales through the four main hospital safety programmes summarised in Table 1.

Table 1: NHS Hospital Patient Safety Programmes in England and Wales




Programme Summary


Safer Patient Initiative Phase 1: 2004-2008

The Health Foundation (£4.3 million)

4 Trusts, 1 from each nation: Luton & Dunstable, Conwy & Denbighshire, Down Lisburn, & Tayside

1. Evidence-based interventions in 5 clinical areas.

2. Teaching methods for quality improvement

3. Executive role development


Safer Patient Initiative Phase 2: 2006-2008

The Health Foundation

(£165k per Trust plus support)

20 Trusts working in pairs including Southmead with Bristol Royal Infirmary

As phase 1 with aim to reduce mortality by >15% & adverse events by > 30%


1000 Lives: 2008-2010

Collaboration including National Leadership and Innovation Agency for Healthcare, Wales Centre for Health, & National Patient Safety Agency

All Welsh NHS trusts & commissioning boards

Evidence-based interventions in 6 ‘content areas’ including:  leadership & medicines management. Use of resources including: central support structure, & ‘how to’ implementation guides.


Safety First

Collaboration under National Patient Safety Forum

English Strategic Health Authorities & National Leadership and Innovation Agency for Healthcare

Formation of Patient Safety Action Teams to support the delivery of the national patient safety agenda by local NHS organisations.


Source: Summarised from Health Foundation 2008

Inspired by safety approaches in other ‘high-risk’ industries (e.g. airlines) and the work of the US-based Institute of Health Improvement, NHS hospital patient safety programmes aim to improve service reliability by implementing evidence-based clinical practices, and enhancing performance monitoring systems (Sutcliffe and Weick 2001). In each NHS hospital patient safety programme, organisational factors are acknowledged to be ‘critical’. However, in contrast to the evidence-base supporting the clinical interventions, relations between organisational factors and the outcomes of hospital patient safety programmes are both under-theorised, and not well understood in empirical terms (Shortell et al., 2007; Grol et al., 2008). There has been no systematic and independent analysis of the relationship between organisational factors and the outcomes of patient safety programmes in NHS hospitals (McKee et al. 2008, Bate et al. 2008, Bates 2008) Despite this, the designers of hospital patient safety programmes prescribe various combinations of the organisational features outlined in Table 2 below.


How far through reading the section was it before you became clear what the author’s key message was?

Now download the alternative version of this text here and read it through, asking yourself the same question.

When you have finished, consider how far you were through reading the alternative section when you became clear what the author’s key message was. Which version – original or alternative - got the message across to you most clearly? How was it done?

See if you can apply the ‘conclusion first, then warranting’ approach, wherever appropriate, to developing your own proposal.