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Guidelines for writing your Research Proposal

Your proposal should be no more than 750 – 1,000 words. (approximately 2 pages, single-spaced, in 12-point font or equivalent size, standard margins). Additional pages may be included for references, images, or figures, if applicable.

The following guidelines are ideas to help you think about how to structure your essay effectively and what to include. As in all good writing, give yourself time to brainstorm, draft, and revise multiple times. And, always, remember your reader.  Do not expect them to connect the dots for you; make a clear case for the research effort you intend to carry out or continue. These guidelines are also not intended to be step-by-step instructions. Your research project is as unique as you are, and your authentic voice is important in your writing. Take the points below as guidance.  You are encouraged to attend an information session for further guidance on crafting a strong research application essay.

If you are seeking to work with a partner or group with an AURA please note that each undergraduate researcher is required to submit their own application. In addition to the typical sections included in a two-page research proposal (submitted as part of the application) we strongly encourage groups to include a joint, 1-page (maximum) description that details 1) how their individual skill sets complement each other, 2) why it’s necessary for all partners to be part of the project, 3) their joint and individual research objectives, and 4) how they plan to divide the labor to each accumulate sufficient project hours.

Craft a proposal in your own words

It is critical that your reader understands your passion, commitment and understanding of your research project. Do not simply cut and paste paragraphs from previous work or other proposals. Write clearly and to the point; 1000 words is not very long, so use your words carefully and with intent.  Use your authentic voice in describing the work, why it is important to you, and what its relationship is to your broader field(s) of study.

Discuss your role in the research

The purpose of AURA is to fund your research. So, from the outset of your essay, explain to the reader what you intend to do and how you will benefit from the experience. You can do this in a few sentences which immediately sets the tone of your essay and compels your reader to, in fact, keep reading to find out more.  The remainder of your essay should build on how you expect to contribute to the work, describing the actual research and how, if relevant, it may fit into a larger, ongoing project.  Remember too, that you are very much in an ‘apprenticeship’ moment as an undergraduate researcher. Your readers would like to hear how your research experience will help you to become a better practitioner of the ‘craft’ of research in your own discipline(s). This may mean you won’t have measurable outcomes at the end of the summer or be able to contribute something ‘new’ to the field. But, you will likely have become a better student of the methodologies and potential impact of research practices in your field(s).

Strike a balance

Consider breaking up your essay into thirds; the first third should be about your involvement in the research, why it matters to you, how it fits into your own academic journey and why you are passionate about it. From there, move into the remaining two thirds of the essay, using those sections to clearly detail the project, its purpose and aims. Finally, consider concluding your essay with a brief reflection on the educational benefits of research in your discipline(s).

Reflect upon and discuss your ‘team’

Describe how your faculty mentor(s) and other members of your research team contribute to your growth as an undergraduate researcher. If you are writing about a research project of your own design, discuss how your faculty mentor(s) have helped you define your aims, objectives, and have/will guide your progress. Address questions like: How do you faculty mentor(s) help you to understand the larger implications of your research? What specifically are you learning from them? What does it mean to you to be a part of a research ‘team’ and supported by your faculty mentor(s)?

Describe your research in context

Articulate your knowledge of the topic with enough detail that your readers can understand exactly what you are doing. But, keep in mind that not all of your readers will be experts in your field, so it is best to write for a well-educated, non-expert readership. Avoid too much discipline-specific jargon, define terminology, spell out or reference abbreviations properly, and write clearly to help your readers understand your research from both a micro and macro perspective. The ability to describe your work with enough detail to convey your expertise on the subject and convey its contextual place in ‘big-picture’ terms is one of keys to any successful application. It also helps you, the undergraduate researcher, to better understand the significance of your work and how it impacts your education in a meaningful way.

Express your enthusiasm and commitment to your research

Allow your enthusiasm and passion to pervade your writing. It will compel your reader to continue in their own effort to understand the importance of your work and how it fits into your own academic plans and trajectory. Also, be clear and decisive about the achievability of your work; AURA is made for a summer, which means you should be able to make significant progress toward the completion of your work in approximately 3 months. Your proposal should convey a depth and breadth consistent with the timeframe you have established.


If selected, URF will fund a $2000 award to support your research efforts. This funding should be used for your specific research project.

Discuss the impact of undergraduate research on your education and future goals

The primary purpose of the Advanced Undergraduate Research Activity (AURA) is to invest in undergraduate researchers across disciplines in support of their long term academic and professional goals. Your essay should describe how your research project will further those efforts and how you expect to address any challenges in achieving those ambitions. Consider addressing questions like: How does this research project fit into your longer term plans for continued post-graduate study, professional training, and/or future employment?

Use proper citation and writing styles for your discipline, including graphs, figures, and appropriate portfolio presentation style

As an undergraduate, you are expected to engage in proper citation of any source in your essay that is not your own. Essays lacking appropriate citations, including those for quotes, graphs, statistics, figures, or other materials, will be penalized. You can find resources and further guidance about citation formatting at:

Hodges Library Citation Resources

As with excessive use of jargon, please refrain from citing excessive sources not relevant to your project. You may also wish to consult a research librarian and/or research tools at Hodges Library for additional guidance:

Hodges Research Guides

Hodges Subject Librarians (available for consult)

Revise, re-read, revise, and (please) edit

Remember that your research proposal is the only opportunity you have to present a case to your readers about the viability, importance, and impact of your research.  It is their only introduction to you and your work.  So, treat your essay with every seriousness. Recognize that it is an indication not only of your preparedness and capacity to undertake research but is a kind of statement honoring yourself as an academic, your faculty mentor(s) as your support system, and finally your readers.  Good writing is articulate, clear, concise, and compelling. Revisions and strong grammatical and content-based editing goes a long, long way. So, take the time to craft an essay that is interesting and easy to read.  Remember too, that yours is one of hundreds of essays. Consider ways to make your writing stand out for all the right reasons and not because you misspelled a key word or forgot an appropriate citation.   Conscript family, friends and others who have no prior knowledge of your work to review your drafts as often they catch things you might otherwise miss.

Submit a final draft to your faculty mentor(s) for review

Your faculty mentor(s) will be asked to sign-off on your proposal. Therefore, it is a good idea to involve them in the review of your research proposal once you have a nearly final draft ready for submission. They know your work best, as well as the scope of your intent and will be able to provide you with meaningful feedback.  Your mentor(s) will also be able help situate your work in its larger context.  As with all things, plan ahead in order to allow your mentor(s) time enough to review your written work. Given that their name(s) will be included on the final proposal, it is very important that they have reviewed and approved your final draft.

Further guidance

The Office of Undergraduate Research & Fellowships facilitates information sessions to provide guidance on the application process, as well as writing a strong research proposal. Watch for our calendar of workshops and seminars.