Some Candid Suggestions for Applicants for Research Funding
Adam Przeworski and Frank Salomon
A proposal for research funding overt function is to persuade a committee of scholars that the project shines with the three kinds of merit all disciplines value, namely, conceptual innovation, methodological rigor, and rich, substantive content. But to make these points stick, a proposal writer needs a feel for the unspoken customs, norms, and needs that govern the selection process itself. These are not really as arcane or ritualistic as one might suspect. For the most part, these customs arise from the committee's efforts to deal in good faith with its own problems: incomprehension among disciplines, work overload, and the problem of equitably judging proposals that reflect unlike social and academic circumstances.
Writing for committee competition is an art quite different from research work itself. After long deliberation, a committee usually has to choose among proposals that all possess the three virtues mentioned above. Other things being equal, the proposal that is awarded funding is the one that gets its merit across more forcefully because it addresses these unspoken needs and norms as well as the overt rules. Suggestions below are aimed to give competitors for fellowships and funding as well as university postgraduate admission more even start by making explicit some of those normally unspoken customs and needs.