How to write a successful research bid

Posted on April 26, 2013 by Andewilkins via SASE Project at University of Roehampton- London

In 2012 I submitted a research bid to the ESRC’s Future Research Leaders scheme and (miraculously) it paid off.  It was a gruelling, lengthy and challenging process, as many of you engaged in research bid writing can appreciate, but a necessary one (for me, at least).  I need to research and write much like my Jewish fiancé needs to gabble on relentlessly about the joys of cooking and food.  (The jury is still out on whether chicken soup is any more satisfying than publishing in a high-ranking journal).  Here are some tips for those of you, particularly postgraduate and early career (post-doc) researchers, who are considering formulating a research bid.

1. Explicate your aims, methodologies and theoretical/analytical frameworks.

Making clear your research questions and selected research method/ology is the most crucial component of your proposal.  I recommend specifying 5 things: the who, the when, the where, the how and the why.

The who should refer to the peoples and institutions you intend to investigate and make sure to explain why.  Also, be specific about the types of people you want to talk to and the types of institutions you intend to analyse.  The more the reviewer understands the context for your study, the more confident they will be in your skills and competencies to undertake the project.

The when should concern the historical significance of the project in terms of recent policy paradigms/shifts, scientific discoveries, social movements, natural disasters, etc.  This will enable you to demonstrate the timeliness of your project and its originality in terms of contributing to existing bodies of knowledge, events, policy trends, etc.

The where should refer to the geographical context for your study and any specific localities you wish to investigate.  Remember that context is key – research is very much a product of particular times and places, and so the spaces and places that will occupy your research will be of interest to any reviewer.

The how should refer to your selected research methods and methodologies.  Be specific about the analytical and theoretical frameworks that will shape your analysis.  And do not forget to justify the use of selected research method/ology over others.  This will help to assure the reviewer that you have given due consideration to weighing up the potential gain attached to using different research tools/applications to study the same phenomena.

The why should simply be a justification or rationale for the project.  An investigation into the dynamics of multiculture and segregation during the rise of UKIP in England may appear worthy in terms of political and scholarly interest, but it still needs be justified.

2. Invite (or solicit if you need to) colleagues to read your proposal.

As well seeking out advice from members of your immediate scholarly family, you should also move beyond the confines of your department/discipline to obtain critical feedback from people who are not familiar with your work.  This can be invaluable for accessing a broader academic audience.

3. Impact is the new buzzword.

You will want to ensure that your research has direct benefits for as many constituents as possible.  You will also want to demonstrate how you intend to engage with and disseminate your findings to these organizations/groups.  Pathways to impact take many forms, so you will need to specify any levers for engagement.

4. Highlight any trans/inter-disciplinarity features.

Reviewers will be looking to see how your work contributes to any existing body of knowledge, but will be especially interested if your research can be made accessible and relevant to a wide range of academics working within and across different disciplines.

5. Demonstrate value for money.

You will need to make sure you budget correctly for the project and do not over-/under-estimate costs for any fieldwork, dissemination, transcription, etc.

6. Moving beyond the national (where possible).

If possible you should demonstrate the potential impact of your research for other countries, welfare systems, research clusters, and so on.  If there are international dimensions/implications to your research, highlight them and draw out their significance.  Any global importance to your research is bound to impress the reviewer.  Also, you can use this to evidence any credible and productive opportunities for future collaboration and research development/comparison.

7. Strategic priorities.

If there are any strategic priority strands that the research council is interested in funding, make sure you demonstrate (where possible) how your research both addresses and compliments the scope of these priorities.

8. Selected research method/ology.

One of the ways in which a reviewer will determine the strengths and weaknesses of your application is by asking: Is this researcher capable of doing everything the project demands?  For example, is there anything to suggest, either in your publications, qualifications or training, that evidences you are capable of carrying out the chosen research method/ology for the project?






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