You have spent the last couple of years in a committed relationship—with writing. Love them or hate them, essays have been by you through thick and thin.
So when you walk into class and your professor says you’re going to do something new today, your heart starts beating faster, and it feels like there are butterflies in your stomach.
Then, your instructor pops the question—”Will you write a proposal essay?”
You might not think you’re ready to take the plunge into proposal essays just yet, but don’t get cold feet! This type of essay can be super easy (and also pretty fun) to write.
All you need is the right topic.
The right topic involves planning, research, and passion. Below, I’ll show you how to choose the right topic and give you some example proposal essay topics that you can either use as-is or use as inspiration to come up with your own topic.
But First, What Is a Proposal Essay?
Before you try to find that perfect topic from the sea of potential proposal essay topics (and certainly before you try to write one), it’s important to understand exactly what a proposal essay is.
Simply put, a proposal essay identifies a problem and suggests a solution to that problem. It’s a type of argumentative essay, but with a slightly different format and more research.
Proposal essays are common in business and science classes and professions, but are also useful for a number of different disciplines.
Typically, these types of essays are not a timed, in-class writing assignment where you’re trying to beat the clock. Instead, they require more time and research in order to formulate arguments and find supporting evidence.
Ultimately, your goal is to persuade the reader that your proposal is not only viable, but one worth pursuing. For a more in-depth overview, check out this awesome SlideShare.
What to Consider When Selecting Proposal Essay Topics
The number of different proposal essay topics out there is pretty vast, so naturally, the essays themselves will differ. However, here are a few common components (and some dos and don’ts!) to consider when you’re narrowing down proposal essay topics to find the perfect match.
Choose something that interests you
For many types of essays, you can fake it till you make it. But for proposal essays, it will be a huge advantage for you to select a topic you actually care about. You’re most likely going to be spending a significant portion of time researching and writing this essay.
It’ll be much more enjoyable if you have some passion for the subject matter. Your reader will be able to tell too. Passion comes through in writing—picking a proposal essay topic that’s interesting to you makes your essay more interesting to the reader.
DON’T: Write about how to get your hair untangled or an effective way to clean a litter box. These topics are boring—and much too simple.
DO: Write about something that could influence you or someone you know. If you have siblings in grade school, write about education. For example, how can children get a good physical education in elementary school?
Choose a proposal essay topic that has support
As I said before, you’re going to be doing a lot of research in order to write your essay properly, so it helps if the topic already has existing literature.
Choosing a proposal essay topic that has both supporting and dissenting research is usually best. Then you can choose which side of the argument you want to tackle.
DON’T: Write about something that’s purely opinion with no facts to back it up. For example, how to make the most out of your Saturday afternoon is not a good topic (although we all know it’s sleeping in and watching cartoons).
DO: Choose a topic with some big, juicy facts you can sink your teeth into. For example, how to fund more educational television like Sesame Street, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and the Magic School Bus is a topic where you can still talk about television, but in a structured, fact-based way.
Bonus Tip: When you’re researching, make sure to take good notes. Include the bibliographic information and the page number you found the information on. This will make citations much easier, especially if you’re referencing books and articles from the library.
Pick something that’s actually an argument
Because proposal essays are a type of argumentative essay, you want to be sure the essay is worthy of an argument. Choosing a topic that is too one-sided is, frankly, really boring and doesn’t serve your purpose well.
When writing your essay, you’ll want to address opposing viewpoints. That way you can present a well-rounded proposal. This lets your reader know you have considered all sides of a given topic and have constructed the best proposal given all the variables at work.
You’ll be able to tell if an argument has one side because you won’t actually be able to write a proposal essay about it. It would turn into either a process essay or an argumentative essay (and not a very good one, at that).
DON’T: Choose something like how to make a delicious grilled cheese sandwich. Sure, everyone has a slightly different way of doing it, but it turns into a process essay, not a proposal. Plus, I don’t think choosing between different grilled cheese methods really counts as a problem that needs a proposed solution.
DO: Pick something like the ways that farmers and corporations improve the lives of dairy cows. That’s a problem that needs a solution—and it’s a much better topic for your proposal essay.
Consider your audience
Remember, proposal essays serve a purpose outside of academia. So even if you’re writing this for a class and only your teacher will see it, pretend like there’s a more realistic reader who will be deciding whether your proposal is worth investing time and resources into.
Understanding your audience not only makes the writing process easier, but also helps you choose the right topic from the many possible proposal essay topics.
DON’T: Choose a topic with an audience you’re not comfortable with. For example, if your audience is a group of academics but you’re terrible at academic writing, it might be best to choose a different topic.
DO: Pick a topic that has an audience you can relate to. For instance, if you’re passionate about and good at writing about social issues, and your audience is a group of volunteer workers, choosing a proposal essay topic about society might be in your best interest.
24 Proposal Essay Topics That Are Easy and Fun to Write
Now that you have an idea about what a proposal essay is and how to choose the right topic to write your own essay, here are some examples of proposal essay topics.
You can write about these topics as-is, modify them, or simply use them to get you in the right mindset to come up with your own topic.
1. What can be done to create a more well-rounded curriculum for middle and high school students.
2. How can teachers improve sex education courses?
3. In what ways can foreign language courses be improved?
4. How should students be graded?
5. How can the government better handle illegal immigration?
6. What should be done to lower the national debt?
7. What could be done to make the electoral system more effective?
8. How can the government make programs such as welfare, Medicaid, and Social Security more effective?
9. How can parents raise their children to have a sense of humility as opposed to entitlement?
10. What is the most effective way to discipline a child?
11. How can parents encourage their children to be more active in extracurriculars?
12. What is the most effective way for parents to teach their children about money?
13. What can the average person do to combat global climate change? What can the government do?
14. What should be done to increase the funding for cancer research?
15. How can parents, teachers, and society at large encourage more children to pursue an education in science?
16. How can educational television shows about science receive more funding and airtime?
17, In what ways can we reduce childhood obesity?
18. How can the government or society as a whole reduce homelessness in the United States?
19. What would be an effective program to curb illegal drug use?
20. How can we promote more tolerant behavior within US society?
21. How can people reduce their reliance on technology?
22. How can parents and teachers effectively help eliminate cyberbullying?
23. How should children be taught about responsible Internet use?
24. In what ways can companies and consumers keep sensitive information more secure online?
Hopefully, one of these proposal essay topics catches your eye. If not, feel free to make up your own topic based off something you care about solving.
Did you notice that most of the topics listed above start with “How can … ” and “In what way … ”? Let these words guide your own topic selection if you don’t choose one of the above examples. These phrases will lead you to a great proposal essay.
If you choose a topic, write about it, and are left wondering if it’s any good, send it to one of the Kibin editors. We will review your essay and give you suggestions on how to strengthen your argument.
Good luck with your proposal!
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As the sultry murder-mystery editor Miss Fromsett told private eye Philip Marlowe in the '40s classic The Lady in the Lake, "People who write usually don't know the facts, and people who know the facts usually can't write." Her characterization of mystery writers could easily apply to scientists preparing grant applications: They know the facts, but they have trouble writing and selling their ideas. In the movie, Marlowe's attempt at crime writing was a success because he blended real-life facts with intrigue and style--the perfect ingredients for bestsellers, but also the essential elements of competitive grant applications.
Grappling with grant applications at your desk is as central to scientific success as is wrestling with experimental conundrums at the bench. In the fight for research dollars, grant writing can make or break a research career no matter how good or innovative a scientist's ideas are. From inexperienced graduate students and struggling postdocs to exultant new faculty members and worldly-wise senior investigators, competing for grants occurs at all stages of academic research careers. But many candidates falter, making needless mistakes that tarnish potentially award-winning applications: Research plans are overambitious, incoherent, or too diffuse, for example. Learn to address these problems, and your grant applications stand a good chance of receiving a favorable review.
20/20 hindsight without time travel
Postdocs and junior faculty members face tough challenges while trying to secure financial support: Between the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation, the two federal agencies regularly receive nearly 70,000 grant applications and proposals every year! The problem, however, is that the percentage of applicants who get grants typically swings between 25% and 33%. So how do young scientists compete on equal footing with established scientists without the grant-writing experiences and benefits that come with age, career stage, and hindsight?
Young dogs, new tricks, old mistakes
The first step is to be aware of certain mistakes, errors, and oversights that occur time and again in many research applications. Reviewers and administrators at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) put together a table highlighting mistakes that routinely crop up during review. Applicants, they say, fail to support hypotheses or discuss how potential obstacles will be dealt with, for example. "Provide good alternative approaches and contingency plans in the event your original approaches do not work," officials suggest. They reveal that some applicants do not explain how data will be analyzed or how results will be interpreted. Other research plans are weak in describing why the studies are being done in the first place. "Describe how the proposed research addresses a gap or problem area," the troubleshooting guide informs.
[Editor's note: NIAID no longer has online the table with routine grant errors, but the institute does offer a helpful"All About Grants" tutorial.]
A well-rounded understanding of the scientific literature is crucial in validating new ideas, but some grant writers shy away from including pertinent research findings from other groups in their applications. "Reviewers do not like to see their own relevant publications ignored!" exclaims the NIAID guide. "Impress reviewers with your up-to-date knowledge of your field; ... reference work from your lab and from your competitors."
"Be clear, be organized, be detailed," informs Cheryl New, president of Polaris, a grant consulting firm. "Avoid jargon--say what you mean in clear, simple language." New, along with her husband, James Quick, conducts grant-seeking workshops around the country. "Give enough detail that a reader can see clearly how you intend to go about your research," she recommends. "Sweeping generalities," New points out, are "the kiss of death" when grant-seeking.
Project titles: The sweet smell of success
"A lot of people think the title is not terribly important--that is a serious mistake," reveals Liane Reif-Lehrer, a former NIH study section member who presents proposal-writing workshops at universities and other organizations across the country. The title is the reviewers' first impression of a grant application. "Do your homework and research what the agencies are funding," she suggests. Some institutes at NIH are well-funded and others less so, relates Reif-Lehrer, who submitted her first application on retina research in the mid-'60s. Her mentor suggested that her original title, "Control Mechanisms in Animal Cells," would have caused her application to be assigned to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, where competition for dwindling funds was high.
The mentor pointed out that the National Eye Institute (NEI), which had just come into being, had more money to fund projects. By modifying the title to show that her studies involved eyes, her application was routed through NEI and was funded. Referral officers sometimes rely on the title when assigning applications to study sections, she says. Titles that define the project clearly and accurately help referral officers steer applications to the most appropriate review panel.
"Project titles should be clever but not cutesy," say New and Quick in their book, GrantSeeker's Toolkit: A Comprehensive Guide to Finding Funding. "A project title with a clever twist or sound or acronym is easily remembered by a reader," they disclose. Klaus Nüsslein, a new assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, agrees that the title should "stimulate thoughts and sound sexy."
"The title is the total summary of the proposal and should open a drawer in the reader’s mind," Nüsslein says, into which you drop your hypotheses and ideas. "I repeat as many of the words that are in my title in the questions that follow in the text," he explains. "This way, the hypotheses sound familiar" and the reader is always referred back to the title, he says. Nüsslein is wary of proposals he's read that phrase titles as questions. Although this style can pique a reader's interest, sometimes "the proposal never answers the question!"
"Get on the phone, talk to the program officer, and find out what program areas the agency is most excited about," recommends Reif-Lehrer. "Then determine whether there is any realistic way to tailor your project and title into a good match with those topics." She adds that "Grantsmanship"--above and beyond doing good science--"has a lot to do with understanding the psychology of the reviewers."
"Very nice title," purred the svelte Miss Fromsett as she toyed with Marlowe's semifictional underworld crime story If I Should Die Before I Live. The title sealed the deal and won him a $500 publishing contract. In the academic world, a grant application's title is the first step toward securing those much-needed research dollars. Written well, your grant proposal may itself become a timeless classic!
To be continued ...
In the next installment of "How Not to Kill a Grant Application," we shift our gaze downward to the abstract--what makes a good one and hints and tips on making it better!