Concept Development

Your research program/project should be relevant to your niche and expertise, make new and valuable contributions to your field, and appeal to the missions of the funding agencies to whom you apply. It should combine your own research experience in your subject, your knowledge of the field, your career goals, and the availability of funding in your discipline.

  • Successfully Position Yourself

  • Develop a Concept Paper

  • Literature Review

  • Get Feedback

  • Refine Your Idea


Successfully Position Yourself

Successfully position yourself as a scholar, researcher, and/or grant writer to build and enhance your reputation in your field:

  • Publish: First author is better than second; co-author is better than no-author
  • Scholar: Be visible. Presenting at regional and national conferences — in your own discipline, as well as those areas you want to collaborate with — exposes you to competing ideas and approaches. Network, join professional societies, serve on a grant-review panel
  • Researcher: Develop a long-term research/creative activities agenda that provides a road map; grant agencies want to know you have a plan. In addition:
    • Build your partnerships early; the key to success is to show a strong history of a collaboration
    • Gain the necessary experience, which shows you are prepared to successfully complete the work
    • Develop a track record to success; even smaller roles (e.g., co-PI) on other projects are important
    • Know the competition
    • No matter what they tell you, sponsors/reviewers expect to see some amount of preliminary data or initial fieldwork or evidence to support a larger project
  • Start early: Plan ahead, especially if you know that the grant you’re applying for is funded annually. The Office of Research Development provides support, guidance, and consultation at any stage of the proposal process.
  • Create a plan: Timeline with benchmarks; Count points (special competitions)


Develop a Concept Paper

The purpose of a concept paper is to help you move your good idea into a high-quality fundable proposal. Funders often ask for a brief one- to three-page concept paper (also called “white papers” in the federal sector) prior to submitting a full proposal. Writing a concept paper takes more than just having a good idea and can often be a little intimidating when you first begin the process. Your concept paper is essentially an outline of your research or scholarly project. It provides a framework to guide discussions with potential partners, your internal Grants and Research Office staff, and your funding agency program officers. You may also want to use your concept papers to: interest potential funders; develop potential solutions or investigations into the project ideas; determine whether a project idea is fundable; and serve as the foundation of a full proposal.


Literature Review

As a researcher, it’s important to critically evaluate and interpret the existing literature in your field, as well as currently funded projects. Not only do you need to be up to date on what types of research are currently being funded in your chosen subject, but also knowledgeable about what has been done previously in order to develop your research program and hence, contribute in a new way, such as filling in gaps left by previous research, or researching an aspect of your field that hasn’t been done before.

Additional literature review resources: Pollak Library


Get Feedback

It’s important to get feedback, even if you’re only in the idea generation stage. Your department chair and other faculty members are an invaluable resource. They can help fill in gaps in your proposal and bring a new perspective to your ideas.

Feedback is important at every stage of the process. Even after your proposal is developed, have your colleagues read and refine it. You want to submit the strongest proposal possible.


Refine Your Idea

A good research proposal is refined and has a strong directive. As discussed above, you want an idea that is interesting to you, appealing to funding agencies and achievable within the scope of your short- and long-term goals; with the ultimate goal of creating a viable proposal. Other steps include:

  • Continue refining your idea into a well-developed research question
  • Utilizing feedback you receive from colleagues
  • Working with your RGS or Office of Research Development staff member about your ideas