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Thematic Research - Proposal Writing: What You Need to Know

The following paper is a result of a study commissioned by the AERC Secretariat with a view to assisting researchers in improving the quality of their research proposals. It was written by Jan Willem Gunning.

Research proposals sent to the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) sometimes do not get very far. In some cases the researcher may be invited to present the proposal at a workshop, but it ends up attracting so much criticism that the author is eventually advised to withdraw it.
In other cases the reviewers selected by the Secretariat may consider the proposal so far away from what is required that the researcher is not even invited to present the proposal.

I have long felt that quite often these outcomes are avoidable because a good project may be presented very poorly. Many people in the AERC network are, therefore, concerned about such outcomes and this paper aims to reduce their incidence.
Cajal, a famous Spanish neuroscientist, in his book Advice for a Young Investigator (first published in 1897), noted the following simple rules for scientific writers:

  • Have something to say
  • Say it
  • Stop once it is said
  • Give the article a suitable title and order of presentation

After more than a century Cajal's advice still makes excellent sense, not only for drafting articles, but also for writing research proposals.
This paper gives researchers some simple advice to keep in mind when writing a proposal. Obviously, it will not give you good research ideas because it is your responsibility to "have something to say". But the paper will help you to put your good ideas into a format that will give them the recognition they deserve.


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