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Director's Letter: Writing A Winning HSR&D Research Proposal

Seth A. Eisen, M.D., M.Sc.

Preparing a winning research proposal is always challenging. Following are six suggestions for improving the likelihood of funding of research proposals submitted to HSR&D (and other organizations).


  1. Propose Innovative Hypotheses and Aims — Thoroughly understand the state of knowledge of the area of research, as well as the most important 'next steps' that will be required to move the field forward. Develop research hypotheses, aims, and a research design that explicitly address the next steps.
  2. Clearly Document What is Known and Not Known — The fundamental goal of research is to measurably advance knowledge. Therefore, the research proposal must concisely and clearly present what is known and unknown related to the proposed research endeavor. The proposal also should convincingly describe why gaining greater understanding of the 'unknowns' will significantly advance knowledge.
  3. Present the Proposed Project in a Theoretical Context — Present the proposed project's research aims in a theoretical context or model. The model should include the most important variables and specify those that the project will address, and why.
  4. Demonstrate the Potential Generalizability of the Project's Results — While the project may focus on a specific issue, the proposal will be stronger if the investigators convincingly argue that the results are likely to be generalizable to other situations. For example, a project that focuses on improving appointment-keeping in a substance abuse clinic is much more likely to be funded if results also are likely to be applicable to primary care and specialty clinics. A sound theoretical model supports the generalizability of results.
  5. Avoid an Intervention that Proposes Increased Resources to Improve Outcomes — Projects often propose to evaluate the impact of increased resources (e.g., a dedicated nurse, pharmacist, telephone manager) on outcomes. Such proposals are reviewed with limited enthusiasm, since the positive impact of increased resource allocations on health outcomes is usually predictable. Therefore, a project that proposes an intervention that involves increased resources must either hypothesize a dramatic impact, or provide an additional commanding benefit.
  6. Identify and Engage a Program or Operations Advocate for the Project — The long-term goal of many proposals is to evaluate a concept for subsequent adoption by a VHA program or operations office. Too often, however, the intended beneficiary is not particularly interested in the product; and the long-term impact of the project, even if completely successful, is minimal. Engaging the intended project beneficiary during the project's development stage may greatly increase the project's value, while requiring minimal modification of the project's aims.

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