Strategies for a Persuasive Proposal
Strategy Overview: Rings of Contextualization | Context of Scholar's Work | Context of the Field | Context of the Audience | Context with Supporting Elements | The Review and Selection Process | Final Remarks
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
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.
- 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.
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?
- 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.
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?
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.
- 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?
- Influenced by pre-screening of program officer.
- Cogency of project always plays a critical role.
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.