Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships

Proposal Components

Your proposal will be evaluated on your ability to explain the nature, context, and scope of the project. You should also convey how the project will contribute to the generation of new knowledge (what will be learned that is currently unknown in the field?), and will not simply be a learning experience. Your proposal should include the following information, with these headings:

  • Abstract/Summary The abstract or summary is a brief overview of your research question and project design. This section is typically one paragraph, but may be longer if the proposal or question justifies it. The abstract is usually written after completing the rest of the proposal, and should only contain information about the most important aspects of your proposal. All of the information in the abstract should be found in greater detail elsewhere in the proposal.
  • Research Question and Significance Explicitly state your research question. Include any hypotheses you might have about the answer. Briefly summarize the importance of the question. This section should be one or two paragraphs long. You can use the following questions to help focus this section, but you do not necessarily need to answer more than one or two:
    • Why should someone care about the answer to the question?
    • What practical applications might the research project have?
    • What is new about the approach being taken?
    • Why is the question being asked new or worthwhile?
    • How will completing this project lead to new discoveries in the future?
    • How might the answer to your question lead to an improvement in people's lives or the world in general?
  • Background Provide a context for the project. Summarize what information is currently known in the field. When possible, you should keep in mind that this proposal will be read by at some individuals who are not experts in your field, and so you should minimize the use of discipline-specific jargon or define terms that are essential. This section should generally be one to three paragraphs long. The background benefits greatly from inclusion of appropriate references. Questions that you may want to consider answering include:
    • What has been done before that has led to the current understanding about the project?
    • What is the current state of knowledge about the research question?
    • How does this project fit into the overall focus of the lab of your research mentor?
  • Project Design This section should typically be about half of your total proposal, and so is likely to be approximately one page or more in length. Here it is appropriate to assume that the reader is familiar with your field, and to use relevant technical jargon. The overall purpose of this section is to explain the approach (methods and experimental procedures) that will be used, and how the methods will lead to an answer to your research question. If multiple methods will be used to address a particular part of the project, you should explain how they relate. Whenever possible, you should include a description of how you will evaluate the quality and/or significance of the collected data. It is helpful to structure this section in the same order as the order of necessary steps planned for the project. You do not need to provide step-by-step procedures, but should provide a broad outline of the methods involved, why they are relevant, and how they will help you complete the project. All the major steps of the project should be included.
  • Feasibility This section of the proposal is intended to help you convince a reader that you can actually complete the project. You should briefly address each of the following (one to three sentences each, as appropriate):
    • Evaluate whether the tools, equipment, and/or resources required for the approach are available. What items are you likely to need to purchase to begin and sustain the project, or is everything you need already available? (Addressing this question does not impact the funds that will be made available for purchases, and you do not need to consider the specific cost of items beyond evaluating whether items can reasonably be obtained given budgetary constraints.)
    • A brief timetable or description of the time required for specific steps of the project.
    • Consider what courses or experiences you have completed that make you suited for or able to complete the project. If you expect to need to learn a great deal for the project (a normal state), how will you work with your research mentor to obtain that knowledge while effectively completing the project? Will there be additional faculty, staff, or students that you can interact with productively on the project?
  • References When possible, you should include a few important references. All included references must be cited in the main text, typically as part of the Background and/or Project Design. There is no specific citation or reference format that must be used.

Proposal Format

Your proposal should be formatted according to the following guidelines:

  • Page format: 1 inch (2.5 cm) margins all around.
  • Text format: Use a 12-point serif font, such as Times / Times New Roman, Cambria, Georgia, or Palatino. Single-space all text. Use bold font for the headings. Please minimize or avoid the use of underlining; if you need to emphasize text, use bold and/or italics. Left-align text (left justified, right ragged); do not fully justify.
  • Length: All proposals should be longer than 1 page (~500 words), but no more than 3 full pages (~1500 words) including any graphs, figures, illustrations, or tables.
  • Title and headings: The first line of the first page should be your project title, followed by your name on the next line. Then begin with the Abstract, followed by each of the other sections described above. Use the headings as listed above to designate the different sections of your proposal.
  • Figures, illustrations, graphs, and tables: These may be formatted in any manner that is legible and clear. They can be included in-line with text or at the end. Please clearly label each (e.g., "Figure 1", "Table 2") and refer to them in the text using the label.
  • Proofread: Please spell check and proofread your proposal. You are asking for funds to support this project, and readers will assume that the care you take with the proposal is similar to the care you will take when working on the project.
  • File format: You must submit your proposal electronically. If possible, please create a PDF file to submit, as this will ensure that the proposal appears to the readers exactly as it does to you. You may also submit a file in Microsoft Word format (.doc or .docx) or a file prepared using LibreOffice/OpenOffice (.odt).

Proposal Feedback

You are strongly encouraged to ask for feedback on your proposal from your research mentor. You may also wish to have it read by someone else you trust or the Writing Center to help you with grammar, overall structure, and clarity to non-specialists. If you have questions about the proposal, you may also contact the program director. Remember that you need to plan ahead when asking anyone for feedback on the proposal, and should allow several days of lead time.

Attending at least one proposal preparation workshop is very strongly encouraged! Even if you have not yet identified a research mentor or project, attending the workshop will help you understand what needs to be done to create an effective proposal.