What if the secret to writing successful research proposals were to go back to the basic lessons your fourth grade teacher taught you about writing? It can't possibly be that simple, can it?
I just had a lovely dinner with my smart & wise friend Harriet Bulkeley. One of many good pieces of advice she gave me (this one picked up by joining a conversation she overheard on a train!) is to think over the answer to four things before beginning a research proposal or project:
1. What do I want to do?
2. Who do I want to do it with?
3. Where do I want to do it?
4. Why do I want to do it?
I said this sounded like a great way to teach research design to students, but as we discussed more, I realized researchers at every level could probably benefit from this advice, myself included. She noted that many people can only answer one of these questions when they approach a university research office or a funding agency with a research idea. They might hope that the answers will get clarified in working through the project, but this is rarely the case. In projects that haven't clarified these key points at the outstart are likely to get bogged down in these issues through the course of research. A great reminder to think through the basics before committing your precious and limited time.