Thursday, October 15, 2009

SSHRC Workshop

On Monday we will have our SSHRC workshop. Please take time before the seminar to review the material on the SSHRC web site. The first step to writing a successful application is following the guidelines properly, and we will spend the first hour of our workshop discussing SSHRC's application process.

The second step is writing an effective proposal. Successful SSHRC proposals are similar to successful MA thesis proposals, because both require that you adhere to what I would call the Three C's:
1) Clear. More than anything else, your proposal must be clear. You need to write in a direct, jargon-free style that engages the reader from the beginning and does not waste words. You will not get any credit for pretentiousness or purple prose.
2) Concise. Not only do you need to be as clear as possible, but you have only limited space to make your case. From the beginning of your preparations, try to work within the word limit imposed by the SSHRC forms.
3) Coherent. Your proposal must hang together as a single document that makes a unified argument. Just as you need to eschew wordiness, you need to avoid getting side-tracked with extraneous issues or tangents.

In addition to the Three C's, SSHRC notes that successful applications need to be complete and error-free, but this should be self-evident. In such a highly competitive process, even minor errors can make a difference. It goes without saying that you need to budget sufficient time for proof-reading and double-checking to ensure that there are no loose ends. Please remember to give your references sufficient time to prepare their assessments.

In terms of the content of your proposal, successful applications tend to follow what I would call the Three P's:
1) Problem-focused. Your proposal should be focused on a specific problem, which needs to be identified explicitly at beginning of your application. You then need to demonstrate how your research will address this specific problem.
2) Promise. Not only do you need to focus on a problem, but you must show that this is an interesting problem that merits funding. You need to demonstrate that your research proposal has considerable promise: it will engage with the extant literature and make a contribution to a field of study.
3) Practical. And while you're busy showing how much promise your project has, you also need to be careful to demonstrate that it's practical as well. You need to show that it's a doable project, rooted in a strong evidentiary basis and linked to accessible sources.

Links to additional online sources:
FGS web site on eligibility.
FGS information site on 2010 competition.
Information and advice from the Dean's Blog.

1 comment:

Shirley Tillotson said...

Dear all,

I was reminded recently of a really challenging problem that faces many first term MA students when they try to write an MA proposal. (And before any of you start worrying, the reminder wasn't one of your proposal drafts!).

You'll get (may already have gotten) lots of advice, and it may well all be good advice. But this abundance of good advice risks having an unintended consequence. If you are not yourself very careful, as the Chief Writer of your research proposal, to hold on to your own "voice" the end result can be a proposal that reads as though written by a committee: possibly bland, possibly inconsistent in its diction, possibly containing traces of more than one conception of the research.

You can respect and value the advice you're given and still produce a proposal that's unified, coherent, and in your own voice. Just pay attention to your own inner critic above all. If the document doesn't make sense to that voice, then revise until it does.