As the first impression of your research ideas and plans, your Page One (Specific Aims page, Executive Summary, or equivalent section) is one of the most important parts of your proposal. It’s critical to get reviewers excited about your work and convinced of its significance. You want them to read the rest of your proposal looking for reasons to fund it, rather than reasons not to. In addition, for some funding agencies, this section will help determine who reviews your proposal. Remember that this is a persuasive exercise: you are justifying to reviewers why this research is important (So What?), why it’s feasible, and why you are the person to do it.
There are multiple ways to present this information effectively. We suggest the following 4-paragraph outline as a kind of template that you can either follow closely or use as a checklist to make sure that your draft includes all the important elements.
Paragraph 1: Introduction
Opening Sentence: Open with one sentence that immediately introduces the reviewer to the topic your proposal addresses. Be sure that it is not overly general – it should provide some information that is not common knowledge.
Current Knowledge: Follow the opening sentence with 3-4 sentences that summarize what is known in the field. This will often include some of your own previous or preliminary work and should set up the gap in knowledge that your research will address.
Critical Problem, Need, or Gap in Knowledge: Specifically state the gap in knowledge that your research will address. What needs to be determined to move the field forward?
Gap as an Important Problem: End the first paragraph by stating why the gap in knowledge is a problem. What vertical leap in the field does it prevent?
Paragraph 2: Goal and Central Hypothesis
Long-term Goal: State the long-term goal (10 years) of your research. Your long-term goal should clearly encompass the research that you are proposing.
Objective of this Proposal: State the objective of this application. The objective should directly address the knowledge gap or need stated in Paragraph 1.
Central Hypothesis: State your central hypothesis simply and clearly. Your hypothesis is not what you expect to find, but your proposed explanation for the expected outcome, based on the literature and/or your preliminary data. Italicize this sentence.
Rationale for Hypothesis: 1-2 sentences describing how your hypothesis was formulated (mention preliminary data if applicable). Sometimes this works better between your objective and statement of hypothesis.
Closing the Gap: What will the results of your proposed work make possible that is not possible now? This should refer back to the last sentence of Paragraph 1 (Why is the gap in knowledge a problem? What vertical leap does it prevent?)
Qualifications: It is a good idea to state why you (or your team or collaborators) are particularly well-prepared to carry out this work. This works well here or in the opening of the final (“payoff”) paragraph.
Note: Need-driven proposals often don’t need a central hypothesis. Some (such as development of new technology) instead benefit from a statement of the overall challenge your work addresses; others (such as construction or equipment grants) should instead have a statement of need, with a brief rationale.
Paragraph 3: Specific Aims Statements
State each aim clearly and simply. Follow each Aim statement with ~3 sentences stating your working hypothesis for that aim, what that hypothesis is based on, and a brief summary of your approach. For hypothesis-driven proposals, make sure the Aims are conceptual rather than procedural, i.e., they focus on the desired knowledge or outcome (why you will do it), not the process (what you will do).
Specific Aim 1: Determine …
Note:A need-driven proposal may have procedural aims.
Paragraph 4: Innovation, Outcomes, Impact
Innovation: “The proposed work is innovative because …”
Expected Outcomes: Summarize the expected outcomes of the work. Use a strong verb here: “We expect that ….” (not hope or believe or think).
Impact: End with a statement about the positive impact of your work. This should address the funding agency’s mission and, if applicable, the purpose of the specific request for proposals.
Last updated: July 2018 Source: Office of Research Development (ORD), Tufts University