Writing an Effective Research Proposal

The research proposal is the most important part of your application. To prepare a competitive proposal, follow the proposal outline and application instructions carefully. In reviewing each application, the Faculty Advisory Committee looks for:

  • A well-written proposal, including a clear statement of the research question/objectives; a clear, detailed project design that is manageable within the research timeframe; and a sound approach/methodology.
  • Clear evidence of the student’s appropriate background knowledge and research skills (and/or a clear explanation of how the necessary skills will be acquired during the semester prior to the research project).

In addition, the Faculty Advisory Committee for international research proposals (IROP, SURF Abroad) looks for:

Proposal Writing Resources >>

Tips for a Successful Proposal >>

Proposal Pitfalls >>

Proposal Review >>

Proposal Writing Resources

Many undergraduates are overwhelmed when they sit down to write the first draft of a research proposal, and for good reason. It's a task most students do not tackle until graduate school. Rest assured. You will have many resources to draw on as you craft your proposal; you need only take advantage of them.

  • We strongly encourage you to attend a workshop as you prepare your application. See when the next proposal writing workshop takes place >>
  • Samples of previously successful proposals may be viewed at the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research (118 Conant Hall).
  • Once you've written a draft of your proposal, you should obtain a critical review from your faculty mentor.
  • You may also request a review of your proposal draft from a Hamel Center staff member, or an advisor at the University Writing Center. For assistance from Hamel Center staff, contact us at (603) 862-4323 or stop by the Hamel Center to make an appointment.  For help from the UNH Writing Center, stop by Dimond Library 329, or call (603) 862-3272. NOTE: If you visit the Writing Center, bring a copy of the Hamel Center proposal outline along with a draft of your research proposal.

Tips for a Successful Proposal

  • Maintain contact: Consult with your faculty mentor as you prepare your proposal.
  • Get feedback: Ask your faculty mentor to critique the proposal once you have written it.
  • Plan ahead: Procrastination generally does not lend itself to a competitive proposal. Allow time for revision.
  • Cover the basics: Prepare a typed, double-spaced manuscript with numbered pages. Follow page limit guidelines closely.
  • Be complete. In addition to the main body of the proposal, include:
    • an abstract
    • any necessary illustrations or diagrams
    • a bibliography and/or references to works or articles cited
    • samples of surveys, questionnaires, or interview questions, as appropriate
  • Be accessible. Include definitions of words specific to your field of research, with which faculty members outside your field are not likely to be familiar.
  • Proofread carefully. Correct errors of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Nothing damages your credibility like careless mistakes.

Proposal Pitfalls

Here is a list of the more common pitfalls that lead to the rejection of an application. Don't let this happen to you!

  • Lack of focus: the proposal does not clearly state the specific research objective or question.
  • Lack of specificity: the project is vague or ill defined.
  • Too much project: The project is too large to be managed by an undergraduate in the time allotted.
  • Where's the beef? The proposal describes only the technical tasks a student will perform.
  • Lack of planning: The timetable is too brief and does not establish the important milestones in the project.
  • No groundwork: The proposal does not adequately describe theories and previous research that are important to the project.
  • Poor editing: The proposal is too long and repetitious.
  • Lack of accountability: The expenses listed on the budget form are not justified or itemized.
  • Lack of prerequisite experience: The student does not demonstrate adequate preparation for the proposed research, e.g., coursework, research skills, training, or general knowledge.
  • No connection: The proposal does not reflect a close, collaborative relationship between the student and the faculty mentor.

How are project proposals reviewed?

A Faculty Advisory Committee reviews all applications. Faculty members outside of your discipline will review your application. Thus, it is important to write your proposal so it may be understood by this broader audience. See Criteria for Review of Application.