Fulbright Grants: How to Write a Good Fulbright Proposal

All proposals for scholarships, grants, or study programs share a principal goal: persuading the readers that your project deserves their support. The best proposals anticipate the kinds of questions that a selection committee is likely to ask.

The Curriculum Vita. The c.v. for the Fulbright is really a personal statement. Think about the c.v. as an opportunity for the reader to get to know you as a person outside your paper record. Let them see who you are, how you came to be interested in the subjects you have pursued through school, and how you came to want to do the project you are proposing here. If you can, explain how you expect this work or creative project to help you prepare for the next few years of your life. This might include preparing you for graduate school, helping you learn or refine new skills (laboratory or creative), or giving you the opportunity to explore something you might want to pursue for a career or graduate program.

The Project Proposal. Proposal formats vary, but they all need to be specific about your goals, methods, and preparation for the project. There are several important things to keep in mind as you structure your proposal: first and most important, your proposal is one of many that each reader will evaluate, so it must be clear, easy to read, and straightforward. If a reader cannot grasp pretty much right away what it is that you hope to do and how, your chances of funding are slim. The Fulbright proposal can go to about two pages typed and single-spaced, and you should use most of the space, but don't be so eager to cram in more information that you leave insufficient space between paragraphs or get creative with font size. Readers will resent being given eyestrain, and a proposal that is difficult to read may be harder to understand and therefore less likely to be recommended for funding.

Be careful to read the guidelines for proposals in case what you are planning will require particular information or supporting materials--arts applications, for example, may ask you to address specific questions in your application, as well as providing specific supplementary materials. Be very careful to inform your recommenders of any such peculiarities, as they may be expected to comment on certain things about you in writing your letters.

The basic components of the proposal are as follows:

    1. A thesis paragraph summarizing your project. Include a sentence or so each on what you want to study and where, your sources and objectives, your methodology, and the broad significance of your work either to the field or to your own development. A well-written thesis paragraph will provide a snapshot of the entire project so that the reader can easily see what the important parts of the proposal are, and what they need to watch for in more detail as they continue reading.
    2. A broad statement of your thesis topic. Before you get to the specifics of your project, you need to provide the reader with sufficient background on the subject to interest them in your project. You should discuss (briefly) other scholars' work on the subject, and cite statistics where useful, to indicate the magnitude of the problem and convince the reader that this is a subject worthy of further exploration. You will need to walk the dividing line between being academic enough to be convincing, and colloquial enough that an educated reader who is not familiar with your subject can understand why what you propose to do is worthwhile. This can be tricky and frustrating, and this is an area where outside readers can really help you (so try to get your application underway in plenty of time to show it to recommenders, peers, and the SAGA director).
    3. Methodological statement. This is the core of your proposal, where you explain the specifics of how you will carry out your project. This is where you will need to convince readers that your project is well thought-out and feasible. What sources will you use, why, and how? What questions will you be asking of these sources? What is your timeline for carrying out the project? How adaptable are your method and your schedule in case things don't go as planned? How will you measure success? What will your final product be, if you have one? Please note that your product does not have to be something as concrete as a research paper: it can be a creative production, a series of popular articles, an object like a travel diary or a portfolio of sketches, or a greatly-increased knowledge base. It's up to you to be clear about what you will take away from this project, and how you will use it.
    4. Defense of your project. Here is where you can respond in advance to the questions a critical reviewer might raise--don't give this section short shrift. The more effectively you can diffuse concerns as they arise, the more likely you are to be recommended to the host country for evaluation. Consider questions such as: do you have the appropriate (language or other) skills, and if not, are you in the process of acquiring them? Will you be able to gain access to the sources (human or other) you say you need? Is your project potentially sensitive or dangerous, and how are you prepared to respond to these challenges? Think hard about any other concerns that might be raised about your project by someone looking to exclude it--any weak spots--and address them here.
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Denise Murphy Gagnon
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Suzanne Fogel Spencer
Fellowships Coordinator