How to Apply

Writing a Proposal

Several of the major fellowships require candidates to develop proposals that demonstrate their commitment to a specific career as well as their ability to excel in graduate school and achieve their long-term goals. These proposals must provide convincing evidence that the student is prepared to engage in serious research that will make a significant contribution to her/his field of study.

Preparing a proposal for a nationally competitive scholarship requires a substantial commitment of time and thought. Taking your other responsibilities into account, you should begin 6-8 weeks before the campus deadline and work steadily on the application, including the proposal. Be prepared to spend time on a regular basis researching, thinking, writing, and re-writing your proposal.

Preparing to write a proposal:

  • Read the assignment carefully and make sure you understand exactly what is required

  • Select a topic that you know about and that relates directly to your academic/career goals

  • Research the topic – consult both “classic” works and recent studies. Use the library – i.e. published books, journals, etc. – in addition to reliable sources on the web. You will not be able to reference all of your sources in the proposal. However, by doing a thorough job on your research, you will know which are most relevant and deserve to be included. (Should you be selected for an interview, you will be well prepared.)

  • Think about what you want to say:

    • Organize your ideas

    • Formulate a thesis

    • Ask yourself: Why is this significant?

  • Meet with your advisor or other faculty member who can ask you hard questions and help you refine and develop your idea

Writing the proposal:

Fellowships that require a proposal place a great deal of weight on this part of the application. The proposal is the piece that enables you to demonstrate your skills, knowledge, and commitment to graduate study and/or a particular career path. The choice of subject and the manner of presentation should convey something about your values as well as the qualities that define who you are. While your enthusiasm should shine through, the proposal itself should be polished and professional.

Your writing should be clear, concise, and consistent with accepted rules of writing. Take the time to review Elements of Style, by Strunk and White (copies are available in the bookstore) before you begin to write. The guidelines given in this slight volume are recognized as basic to good writing; therefore, readers will expect you to conform to these rules. If you need to brush up on basic grammar, you can find helpful references in the Writing Center.

Because space is limited, you must decide what to include and what to leave out. You also need to write efficiently:

  • Begin with a strong, clear statement of what you are proposing.

  • Begin each paragraph with a carefully crafted topic sentence.

  • Outline your plan of research, including methodology where appropriate.

  • Select words carefully. Use precise language.

  • Choose the simplest word that will convey your meaning clearly.

  • Avoid jargon, especially if those reading your application are not likely to be specialists in your field.

  • Use active voice. Avoid beginning a sentence with there is, there are, it was, etc. Use strong subjects and verbs.

  • Substitute specific statements for general comments.

  • Avoid overly complex sentence structures.

  • Explain the significance of your proposal to your academic and career goals.

Be careful to cite your references where required. You should follow the formats used by your discipline.

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th ed. New York:The Modern Language Association of America, 2003).

Publication Manual of the Americana Psychological Association. 5th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2001.

Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. 7th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Walker, Janice R. and Todd Taylor. The Columbia Guide to Online Style. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

Page Updated 05.31.2012