The purpose of the research plan is to describe the what, why, and how of the proposal.
This is the core of the proposal and will be reviewed with particular care.
- The what will be Part A: Specific Aims
- The why, Part B: Background and Significance;
- The how, Part C: Preliminary Results contributes to both the why and how.
- Part D: Research Design and Methods. The assessment of this research plan will largely determine whether or not
the proposal is favorably recommended for funding.
The maximum length of the research plan is 25 pages.
The research plan should answer the following questions:
- What do you intend to do?
- Why is this worth doing? How is it innovative?
- What has already been done in general, and what have other researchers done in this field? Use appropriate
references. What will this new work add to the field of knowledge?
- What have you (and your collaborators) done to establish the feasibility of what you are proposing to do?
- How will the research be accomplished? Who? What? When? Where? Why?
- Make sure that all sections (A, B, C, and D--the what, why, and how of the proposal) are initially consistent
and that they dovetail with each other. Use a numbering system, and make sections easy to find. Lead the reviewers
through your research plan. One person should revise and edit the final draft.
- Show knowledge of recent literature and explain how the proposed research will further what is already known.
- Emphasize how some combination of a novel hypothesis, important preliminary data, a new experimental system
and/or a new experimental approach will enable important progress to be made.
- Establish credibility of the proposed principal investigator and the collaborating researchers.
Research Plan Part A
The purpose of the specific aims is to describe concisely and realistically what the proposed
research is intended to accomplish.
The recommended length of the specific aims is one page.
The specific aims should cover:
- broad, long-term goals
- the hypothesis or hypotheses to be tested
- specific time-phased research objectives
- Generally, the Specific Aims section should begin with a brief narrative describing the long-term goals of the
project and the hypothesis guiding the research. This is followed by a numbered list of the Aims.
- State the hypothesis clearly. Make sure it is understandable, testable and adequately supported by citations in
the Background and by data in the Preliminary Results Sections. Be sure to explain how the results to be obtained
will be used to test the hypothesis.
- Show that the objectives are attainable within the stated time frame.
- Be as brief and specific as possible. For clarity. each aim should consist of only one sentence. Use a brief
paragraph under each aim if detail is needed. Most successful applications have 2-4 specific aims.
- Don't bite off more than you can chew. A small, focused project is generally better received than a diverse,
- Be certain that all aims are related. Have someone read them for clarity and cohesiveness.
- Focus on aims where you have good supporting preliminary data and scientific expertise.
Research Plan Part B
Background and Significance
The purpose of the background and significance section is to state the problem to be investigated, the rationale for the proposed research, the current state of knowledge relevant to the proposal and the potential contribution of this research to the problem(s) addressed.
Approximately 3 pages
The background and significance section should cover:
- the rationale for the proposed project
- the state of existing knowledge, including literature citations and highlights of relevant data
- gaps that the project is intended to fill
- Make a compelling case for your proposed research project. Why is the topic important? Why are the specific research questions important? How are the researchers qualified to address these?
- Establish familiarity with recent research findings.
- Avoid outdated research.
- Use citations not only as support for specific statements but also to establish familiarity with all of the relevant publications and points of view. Your application may well be reviewed by someone working in your field. If their contributions and their point of view are not mentioned, they are not likely to review your application sympathetically.
- Make sure the citations are specifically related to the proposed research. Cite and paraphrase correctly and constructively.
- Highlight why research findings are important beyond the confines of a specific project i.e., how can the results be applied to further research in this field or related areas.
- Stress any innovations in-,experimental methods (e.g., new strategies,- research methods used, interventions proposed).
Research Plan Part C
Preliminary Results/Progress Report
The purpose of the preliminary results section is to describe prior work by the investigators relevant to the proposed project.
In a new application, the preliminary results are important to establish the experience and capabilities of the applicant investigators in the area of proposed research and to provide experimental support for the hypothesis and the research design.
This section is not mandatory for new applications, but it is virtually impossible to obtain a favorable review without strong preliminary data. In competing a renewal application, this section becomes a progress report describing studies performed during the last grant period.
The recommended length of the preliminary results/progress report section is 6-8 pages.
The preliminary results section should include the following:
- most importantly, a description of recent studies by the applicant investigators that establish the feasibility and importance of the proposed project
- a brief description of older published studies by the applicant that provide important background information relevant to the proposed project
- results of previous studies by the applicant not directly relevant to the proposed project if they are needed to establish the applicant's competence and experience with the experimental techniques to be used in the proposed project
- All Tables and Figures necessary for the presentation of preliminary results must be included in this section of the application.
- Full-size glossy photographs of materials such as electron micrographs, gels, etc. may be included in the appendix, but only if a photocopy (reduced in size, as appropriate) is included in the body of the Research Plan.
- Figures and Figure legends must be legible. There are specific limits on type size given in the application instructions, but beyond these rules, the critical factor is whether the data are legible and convincing to the reviewers.
- Do not dwell on results already published. Summarize the critical findings in the text and include reprints of the full article in the appendix. Up to 10 publications can be included with the appendix material.
Research Plan Part D
Research Design and Methods
The purpose of the research design and methods section is to describe how the research will be carried out. This section is crucial to how favorably an application is reviewed.
The maximum recommended length of the research design and methods section is 20 pages.
The research design and methods section should include the following:
- an overview of the experimental design
- a detailed description of specific methods to be employed to accomplish the specific aims
- a detailed discussion of the way in which the results will be collected, analyzed, and interpreted
- a projected sequence or timetable (work plan)
- a description of any new methodology used and why it represents an improvement over the existing ones
- a discussion of potential difficulties and limitations and how these will be overcome or mitigated
- expected results, and alternative approaches that will be used if unexpected results are found
- precautions to be exercised with respect to any procedures, situations, or materials that may be hazardous to personnel or human subjects
- Number the sections in this part of the application to correspond to the numbers of the Specific Aims.
- Give sufficient detail. Do not assume that the reviewers will know how you intend to proceed.
- Avoid excessive experimental detail by referring to publications that describe the methods to be employed.
- Publications cited should be by the applicants, if at all possible. Citing someone else's publication establishes that you know what method to use, but citing your own (or that of a collaborator) establishes that the applicant personnel are experienced with the necessary techniques.
- If relevant, explain why one approach or method will be used in preference to others. This establishes that the alternatives were not simply overlooked. Give not only the "how" but the "why."
- If employing a complex technology for the fast time, take extra care to demonstrate familiarity with the experimental details and potential pitfalls. Add a coinvestigator or consultant experienced with the technology, if necessary.
- Document proposed collaborations and offers of materials or reagents of restricted availability with letters from the individuals involved.