Writing a Proposal

Preparing to Write a Proposal

  • Read the assignment carefully and make sure you understand exactly what is required
  • Select a topic that you know about and that relates directly to your academic/career goals
  • Research the topic – consult both “classic” works and recent studies. Use the library – i.e. published books, journals, etc. – in addition to reliable sources on the web. You will not be able to reference all of your sources in the proposal. However, by doing a thorough job on your research, you will know which are most relevant and deserve to be included. (Should you be selected for an interview, you will be well prepared.)
  • Think about what you want to say:
    • Organize your ideas
    • Formulate a thesis
    • Ask yourself: Why is this significant?
  • Meet with your advisor or other faculty member who can ask you hard questions and help you refine and develop your idea

Writing the Proposal

Fellowships that require a proposal place a great deal of weight on this part of the application. The proposal is the piece that enables you to demonstrate your skills, knowledge, and commitment to graduate study and/or a particular career path. The choice of subject and the manner of presentation should convey something about your values as well as the qualities that define who you are. While your enthusiasm should shine through, the proposal itself should be polished and professional.

  • Begin with a strong, clear statement of what you are proposing.
  • Begin each paragraph with a carefully crafted topic sentence.
  • Outline your plan of research, including methodology where appropriate.
  • Use precise language.
  • Choose the simplest word that will convey your meaning clearly.
  • Avoid jargon.
  • Use active voice. Avoid beginning a sentence with there is, there are, it was, etc.
  • Substitute specific statements for general comments.
  • Avoid overly complex sentence structures.
  • Explain the significance of your proposal to your academic and career goals.


Be careful to cite your references where required. You should follow the formats used by your discipline.

Citation Examples:

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th ed. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2003).

Publication Manual of the Americana Psychological Association. 5th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2001.