Many fellowships, especially fellowships that are either discipline specific or that provide funding for graduate study, require a written research proposal. This statement should be a straightforward account of the research project that you plan to conduct with the funding provided by the fellowship. You should, in your first paragraph, establish your research question and your thesis. Then proceed to give both the background for your project as well as its place in the larger context of your discipline.
The research proposal, besides showcasing your enthusiasm and knowledge of a particular field, should illustrate your ability to implement and successfully complete your research project. By providing a research methodology, a plan that lists each stage of your research and the expected results, you will prove your intellectual maturity as well as preparedness for your particular project.
If your project will exist in affiliation with a research institute, particular department, and/or under a particular faculty member, you should state that in as much detail as possible. You want to make clear why it is necessary that you receive the funding to study at a particular place – Is there a laboratory that is devoted to conducting research in your field related to your project? Does the university where you plan to study have archival documents that you could research first hand? Is there a faculty member that you have contacted who has conducted research and written on a related topic? All of these questions should be considered and addressed in your proposal, providing both evidence of your own preparation as well as the necessity for your study.
Your research proposal is your chance to show what you want to study and the expertise you have already begun to cultivate in the field. Finally, you will want to place this academic work in the larger context of your own professional and intellectual ambitions. This is crucial not only because the fellowship granting organization wants to know how this will improve you, but also how it will improve and affect others.
The Office of Fellowship Programs is available to read your drafts and to answer questions as you write this part of your fellowships application, and you should feel free to email any of these to the Office of Fellowship Programs as well as schedule one on one meetings with our staff.
Remember, too, that the best research proposals are the ones that have also been read and critiqued and worked on with faculty and peers in your discipline. Research, while a solitary activity at times, is also a collaborative one; the criticism and comments from professors and students you respect will refine your analytical framework for research and how your present that to the wider world.