Strategies for a Persuasive Proposal

Strategy Overview: Rings of ContextualizationContext of Scholar's WorkContext of the FieldContext of the Audience Context with Supporting ElementsThe Review and Selection Process | Final Remarks

Strategy Overview

Rings of Contextualization

  • successful applicants locate their project within multiple contexts
    • The scholar's autobiography
    • Their discipline(s)
    • The humanities
    • Their "knowledge map"
    • A big picture perspective

Context of Scholar's Work

Explain Project as Intellectual Autobiography

  • Writer and project are part of a whole.
  • Leave clues in the narrative of the logic of project in light of scholar's background.
  • New Project Areas should demonstrate not a "new" project but related and a development of previous projects.
  • Do not rehearse what you have done. Tell your intellectual story by demonstrating your background qualifies you to pursue the current project.

Explain Significance

  • What does the project contribute to the "knowledge map of your discipline or related disciplines?
  • How does the project relate to your intellectual scholarly evolution? Does the project make sense given background and previous work?
  • Indicate end product--book, or singly-focused product. An anticipated book will make project ore competitive.

Set your sights on funding opportunities consistent with the stage in your career

  • Traditional "portable" fellowships are the most competitive.
  • Search sources for fellowships suitable to career track.

Context of the Field

Place Project within Own Field and Beyond

  • Place project within own field, but suggest the significance and how the area may relate to developments in scholarship beyond discipline or another area of research.
  • if you are an 18th century literary will the reviewer who is a Dante scholar appreciate the importance of some aspect of your study?
  • Refer to scholars who inform your work in a related field.
  • What is at stake for the humanities if the thesis of study is substantiated?

Provide Rational

  • What are the critical and analytical questions and issues to be investigated?
  • What does your study see to correct?
  • Set project within the broader debate and context of other scholars.
  • Explain methodology, approach to be used, e.g. new or established analytical approach; interdisciplinary, neglected text or literature, historical period, person(s), phenomena to be investigated.

Context of the Audience

Locate within defined audience of reviewers

  • Institutes--IAS: history, social sciences, math; Bunting: women scholars: open: field
  • Humanities Centers usually subject specific
  • APS--field: general and specific
  • NEH--field: specific
  • ACLS--field but pre-screen according to rank
  • NHD--field: open
  • Woodrow Wilson--field: open

Broaden or narrow according to reviewers and pre-screening process

  • Safer to err on the side of a broader audience.
  • Many fellowship programs screen according to open field.
  • Critical--How do the results or areas of project relate to broader fields within the humanities?

Context with Supporting Elements

Letters of Reference

  • Referees must be selected with great care. They form part of the definition of your project and assist in the pre-screening stage and selection of the ideal reader of your project.
  • Use "big named" scholars in the field, especially if they know your work and the field of your project is their area of expertise.
  • A major scholar who heard you give a paper and thought favorably of it often is not a good referee.
  • Colleagues can serve as part of a list of referees. If three references are required, attempt to seek two scholars from outside. You want other to articulate the importance and value of your work. 

The Review and Selection Process

Pre-Screening Stage

  • Program officer: "First cut" if application not a match with program criteria.
  • Applications organized according to disciplines, rank, other criteria, important step because applicant wants appropriate reviewer to read proposal.
  • Keep in mind dual audience: discipline-specific reviewers and multidisciplinary reviewers.
  • Applicant's responsibility to reduce ambiguity of discipline area, especially interdisciplinary proposals. 
  • Must make clear at pre-screening stage "ideal reader" of proposal.
  • Provide clues to help program officer locate your project: Referees selected; Literature cited as part of rationale for project; Issues addressed in proposal.

Deliberations of reviewers

  • Was the earlier project published? When?
  • How much funding has this project received?
  • Why isn't Prof. Schmidt, the authority on x, mentioned?
  • Has no one worked in this area before?
  • Can you possibly do this in a year?
  • Is the scholar seasoned enough to pull this off?

Recommended Proposals

  • Influenced by pre-screening of program officer.
  • Cogency of project always plays a critical role. 

Final Remarks

If you are funded, pat yourself on the back, and celebrate!

If you are not funded, there are several things to do:

  • Send for reviewer's reports. Some agencies will provide them (NEH)
  • Consider applying next year.
  • The next round will have a different group of reviewers.
  • Revise proposal if you intend to re-submit. Indicate to reviewers progress made since last submission.
  • Winning scholarly funding is similar to getting published--the second book easier than the first, and the fifth article easier than the second.
  • The value in preparing a proposal is not just the funding, but the opportunity to clarify and design a project and attempt to market the ideas.
  • Consult with colleagues funded by agency.
  • Do not lose heart--quality ideas, in most cases, eventually win.