Anatomy of a project proposal
The project proposal is a critical document laying out the specification for a research project. It is the first deliverable in any research program, and will often be dynamically updated over the course of the project. It is likely to become a part of a future writeup / academic paper.
- What is the overall problem that this and related research is trying to solve?
- Why should people care about the problem?
- What is the general approach to solving this problem?
- How will this approach result in a solution?
- What is the value of this approach beyond this specific solution?
Create and include one or two graphics that capture and communicate the problem and proposed solution to technical but non-expert audiences.
Can you create a one or two sentence summary of the problem and the proposed solution approach?
Specific project scope
- What subset of the overall problem are you addressing in particular?
- How does solving this subproblem lead towards solving the big picture problem?
- What is your specific approach to solving this subproblem?
- How will we know that this subproblem has been satisfactorily solved?
- What is the value of your solution beyond solely solving this subproblem?
Background / related work / references
- What foundation and fundamentals need to be known in order to understand your problem, approach, and solution?
- What work has been done before on this specific problem?
- What are related problems that have been addressed, and what work has been done on those?
- What are unrelated problems that have employed specific aspects of your proposed approach or solution?
- How does this collection of past work contribute to your planned work?
Be sure to cite all potential sources, and summarize each one in terms of its content and relation to your project.
Goals, deliverables, tasks
Recursively break down the proposed project starting from the highest level specifications spanning a complete 1-2 term period down to individual atomic steps spanning days to at most a week. At each level of hierarchy, specify:
- What goals do you need to achieve?
- What are the specific questions that you will answer?
- What skills / abilities will this goal enable?
- What deliverables will you produce to indicate that the above goals have been achieved?
- These must be specific, concrete nouns.
- How do these deliverables prove that the goals have been met?
- What tasks are necessary to generate those deliverables?
- These must include specific, concrete verbs.
- These often generate goals at the next lower level of hierarchy.
- Be sure to include dependencies --- which goals are necessary to have completed before starting each task?
Distill the entire hierarchy into a list of weekly milestones. What will you need to achieve by when in order to attain your goal for the end of the project on time?