Writing an Effective URA/SURF 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. Everyone who applies for URA and SURF awards should use the proposal outline as a guide and prepare a response to each section. However, since the nature of research varies among the sciences, humanities, and social sciences, please adapt the outline to your project and field of study. Sample proposals may be viewed at the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research.

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 >>

Once you've written a draft of your proposal, you can obtain a critical review from your faculty mentor, 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. (Proposals should be five to seven pages long.)
  • Be complete. Include:
    • a title page
    • 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.
  • Lack of accountability: The expenses listed on the budget form are not justified or itemized.
  • Where's the beef? The proposal only describes 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.
  • Editing required: The proposal is too long and repetitious.
  • No groundwork: The proposal does not adequately describe theories and previous research that are important to the project.
  • 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.