Writing Your Research Proposal

UCARE Proposal Writing Strategies Event Recording

Not sure where to start? Watch this video to learn about effective strategies for developing and writing a competitive and persuasive research proposal. This workshop was led by Kali Patterson, Project Coordinator of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, on January 10, 2024.

UCARE Application Overview

Students write and submit UCARE applications between mid-November and mid-February annually. The UCARE application due date will be announced annually in October on our website, ucare.unl.edu.

Applications must be submitted through UNL’s NuRamp application system and written under the guidance of the student’s selected faculty mentor. See a sample UCARE application. The application collects data on the student applicant and faculty research advisor, the project proposal, a publicity release, and a research compliance section.

Please note that no additional items, such as a resume or transcripts, are necessary to apply to UCARE. Please also note:

  • The question “Faculty Advisor Mentoring Philosophy” is new for 2024-25. Similar to faculty mentor contact details and department name, the student applicant pastes this information into the application on behalf of the faculty mentor. Our Faculty & Staff resource page provides guidance on the mentor role and resources for writing about mentoring practices.
  • The research compliance section is managed by the Office of Research & Economic Development and contains standardized questions for all UNL faculty and student grant proposers, including information about human or animal subjects, publications, Grand Challenges, etc. This section is similar to prior years but has had minor updates each year. Undergraduate Research & Fellowships is not able to modify this section. In most cases, faculty mentors are overseeing their students or student teams’ responses to this section. If you have questions about research compliance topics, you can access tutorials and video resources here.

UCARE Project Proposals

The UCARE Project Proposal offers a detailed plan of the research project and serves as a roadmap for your research. The research or creative project proposal should be developed with feedback and consultation from the faculty advisor.

Project proposal text of up to ~1,500 words can be pasted directly into the UCARE application form. Your proposal may also be uploaded as a supporting document, if your proposal is longer than 1,500 words or contains any type of images. Most proposals will be approximately 1,000-1,500 words (or about 1-2 pages in length). There is no minimum or maximum.

Individual vs. Team Proposals

Individual proposals consist of a one-to-one relationship between the faculty advisor and the student researcher. Many thesis projects fall under this category.

Team proposals consist of two or three students working as a research or creative team with a single project under the supervision of one faculty member, during the same project terms (summer, academic year, or both). Each team member should submit a separate UCARE application, choose team (not individual) in the dropdown selector, and paste identical proposal text into the online application. Please collaborate on proposal writing, describing each team member’s role and contributions to the project.

Drafting Your Proposal For the UCARE Reviewer Audience

Recommended: Develop your proposal using one of these UCARE Proposal Outlines to ensure that you fully address the prompt and the genre conventions of a successful proposal. Choose the most appropriate template for your project:

UCARE utilizes an external merit review process involving hundreds of volunteers across campus. Your reviewer audience may include faculty, graduate students, and other academics from fields in your general area (e.g., “life sciences,” or “humanities”) but not necessarily your specific major, academic field, or subfield. Thus, UCARE project proposals should be intelligible to a college-educated reviewer outside your field or subfield. Where you decide to use jargon, please gloss (or define within your sentence) any field/subfield-specific terminology, at its first use. UCARE proposals are evaluated on the basis of proposal elements and characteristics (see our evaluation rubric here).

Elements of An Effective UCARE Proposal

Statement of purpose states the problem you are trying to solve. A statement of purpose might begin:

  • This study will examine …
  • This study examined …

When defining the problem, it can be helpful to discuss previous scholarly work in your field with a Library Research Consultant!

The research question includes the question(s) you are trying to solve. The research question is a concise statement that flows from your statement of purpose. The research question translates into a thesis statement that you prove or disprove with research:

  • Graduate students in AAE classes who use the e-Instruction responders will score higher on mid-term and final exams than graduate students in AAE classes who do not use the e-Instruction responders.
  • United States government regulation has little effect in the fight against air pollution.
  • In the United States, government regulation plays an important role in the fight against air pollution.
  • All of these thesis statements can be proven or disproven, and they cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”

Significance of research argues for the significance of your research and how it will contribute to the field or the community. Address:

  • Why the research is important.
  • To whom the research is important
  • How the research will contribute to scholarship and/or the community.

Methods of data collection explain in detail how you plan to collect your data. Will you be using quantitative (numbers or amounts) or qualitative (quality or kind) data? Define the terms and variables that you’re using in the study, and be sure to describe how you’ll collect, analyze, and interpret your data. If you are using data that’s already been collected as part of another project, describe where the data are from and how you will access it.

Analysis of data outlines how you plan to analyze the data. How you analyze your data will depend on the research question. Make sure that your analysis will clearly answer your research question.

Benchmarks include a realistic and thorough timeline, presented as a series of benchmarks. Benchmarks are clearly defined tasks that you can check off as “done.” Some examples: IRB certification, library research/review, collecting data, data analyses, producing a work of art/installations, writing a research paper, presenting research at a conference, and preparing a poster.

Final Tips for Success…

Ask a roommate or trusted friend to read through your proposal. Is there anywhere that you’re too general? Are your methods not clear? Is your writing clear, or are your sentences unnecessarily complex? Having a friend ask these questions helps you create a better draft.

If you’ve addressed each of the project proposal elements well, don’t add extra words just to hit a specific word count.

Share your proposal with your research mentor for feedback. You can also request feedback at the UNL Writing Center!