How to Answer a Call for Research Papers and Proposals

Revisiting what your research methods lecturer discussed in your undergraduate classes but you probably forgot until now….

Most college students tend to think that only the research will be conducting will only be during the last two years of their undergraduate years unless they are seriously pursuing a career in academia. Living in 2017, people are on the paperchase which requires them to go back to school and inevitably need to recall their undergraduate research methods seminars. Moreover, it is increasingly becoming a requirement for students to be have published works before graduation. With increased pressure, some may not take their research project or dissertation too seriously and may decide to “outsource” part of their collegial education to a third party. They forget that this project is part of their learning process and an opportunity to garner transferable skills.

Alternatively, you could be seasoned professional who comes across a call for papers or research proposals and when hit with a tinge of nostalgia, you are inspired to showcase your research and writing skills so that you can hopefully gain some career mileage in the process.

Recently, I was prompted to re-examine what makes a good piece of formal (academic) writing. In the event that you find yourself in a situation where you have to write a research paper in order to graduate or you are doing it to just add a line to your resume, here are some basic tips you need to cover in order to get your paper at the very least shortlisted.


#1. Following Instructions and the Writing Guide

You are probably thinking this might be rather obvious but you would be surprised by the number of people who do not read through the call for papers, proposals etc to actually know the specific requirements.

Just like any interview process, the review committee will have a checklist that is heavily based on the call papers. Since these days, time and attention spans are international currencies, there is a high probability that your submission will be automatically eliminated without the second thought if you work does not meet the basic set criteria.

#2. Have a Strategy

Being a millennial and a product of the Kenyan 8–4–4 education system, I can attest that “working under pressure” is not a sustainable way to live and thrive. Chances are that your eleventh-hour submission will probably be rushed and not up to scratch, which deepens your lack-of -professionalism dent even further.

Having a consistent researching and writing schedule will strengthen your research ethic and make you more focused. Cal Newport, a theoretical computer scientist who advocates for deep work notes the importance of scheduling writing time that fits into your lifestyle while ensuring that you have minimal distractions. Similarly, Sarah K. Peck writes about the importance of creating a writing frame.

On the flipside, do not romanticise the process by “waiting for the perfect moment”. Sometimes all that it takes is just getting noise-cancelling headphones or shutting the door and hanging a ‘Don’t Disturb’ sign. You might find this Sarah Von Bargen’s tips on how to ignore emails without alienating everyone quite useful.

Harsh.

But definitely worthwhile.

#3. Having a Relevant Title

Stick to a title that will hook the ready in the shortest amount of time. Avoid being too catchy since not everyone may share your sense of humour or knowledge of pop-culture. Resist the temptation to copy and paste the theme because it will be fairly broad and also show your lack of ingenuity.

#4. Structure and Flow

Make it easier for the reader to read your work by ensuring that your work is well formatted. Titles and sub-titles make it easier for the reader to know exactly what you are talking about in seconds.

Circling back to tip #1, when you receive your call for papers, use those guidelines to structure your content.The call will probably have research questions or sub-themes that should assist your to carve your niche and enable you to focus on your area of study. This will enable you to touch base on all the important parts that you are supposed to cover. It will also enable you will structure your thoughts in a more logical manner.

#5. Research

Once you have developed a writing strategy, take the time to also have a plan on how you will approach your research. Does this mean that you spend time only on solely researching hat particular topic before you write? Sans interruptions like the constant loud mobile notifications? Also researching does not mean Keeping up with the Kardashian-Jenner clan… you get the drift.

A research strategy entails also setting aside time to focus on reading, digesting and noting important points from credible sources. In addition, it means that the researcher tracks references in a structured format or in an app for citation in-text and in the bibliography. (Just as a side note, abstracts do not have in-text citations). If you are writing a quantitative paper, ensure that you specify your model and that you are able to access the data for the variables that you plan to measure. Acknowledge your time and data constraints especially when dealing with primary data.

It is important to manage your time so that you do not get caught up in the “research trap” especially when writing literature-based papers. This always appears in the form of “ I am too busy racking up my evidence” and procrastinate writing. This is usually an easy route to ‘copy and paste’ syndrome aka a form of plagiarism.

Photo Credit: Author’s Own

#6. Be Kind to Your Reader

It is easy to assume that your readers of your papers or research proposals will automatically be conversant with the matters discussed in your piece. In reality, the review committee would like to be taken on a journey by being told in a simplified and yet thoughtful manner, the reason behind your motivation, objectives, hypothesis and research methods. These should succinctly feature in the abstract and in more detail in the body of the proposal.

While each field has each has its own jargon, it is important to ease the readers into the piece by offering definitions of the keywords and showing how they are interrelated. Resist the temptation to cite well-known facts in sweeping statements without substantiating them with evidence. This makes your work seem biased and loses credibility.

Strive to avoid presenting a patchwork of ideas that are either too mechanical (full of formulas, data and models with zero explanations) or long-winded arguments and excessive jargon. The whole purpose of a research piece is to be able to sell your idea to the review panel by in clear, persuasive and concise manner.

Possibly enlist the help of a friend or colleague or even a family member to proofread your work to eliminate the simple mistakes that you may have overlooked while writing and editing. A knowledgable colleague may offer a fresh perspective and valuable input.

#7. You Will Be Judged by Your Submission

We live in a very fickle age where people are judged on their appearances. This is no different in academic, research and even publishing realms. It is important that when you send your submission packet, you have a final review to ensure that what you are submitting is a reflection of who you are. Rather than rewriting your life history, succinctly indicate your recent qualifications and current positions which showcase your expertise. The review committee will use this to gauge your motivation and whether you will be able to undertake the particular study.

Please do not leave the review committee puzzled when you submit a title-certification-heavy biography or resume while your actual piece indicates that you are not familiar with any known referencing style in the history of mankind.

#8. Give Credit Where It Is Due

It is important to acknowledge the information sources whether text, video and photos. It will save you from legal ramifications. You are also able to pinpoint your actual contribution to the body of knowledge in your field.

#9. Team Spirit

One of the most cliché skills that are listed in resumes has to teamwork or team player but after having a few years of work experience under my belt, I really wonder whether people actually know the meaning of that skill.

Don’t get me wrong.

Working on a research paper in teams of 2–4 people can be very rewarding since you work according to your strengths while learning on the project. However, it is not advisable to have more than 4 teammates as it becomes difficult to know who pulled their weight.

It is extremely important that you synchronise your thoughts and ideas into one voice which will be evident in the flow and structure of your piece. It is always easy to pinpoint different contributors of a patch-work article. Moreover, it is important that all the team members are able to conversant with the whole piece and are able to discuss with some authority otherwise, it will only discredit your work.


By and large, any knowledge worker will admit that researching and writing are messy endeavours. There is no linear path to having a finished product. It will involve a lot of burning the midnight oil, to conceptualise, write, reframe and cull before you get the final product. And even then, you will still have a lot of shoulda-coulda-wouldas. The most important thing is that you are able to defend your decisions like why you choose model X over model Y to achieve your results or even why is the topic is important or of interest to you and why the review committee should care.

Let’s take a leaf out of Haggerty and Doyle’s book:

If you want to torment your readers, treat writing like riding a biycle -a skill you cannot forget but have not practiced seriously since freshman year. The best students, in constrast, approach writing like karate or tap dancing-as a form of artistry that declines if not constantly practiced. Writing is like playing a guitar ; it can only improve through consistent, concerted effort…All grad students are smart and can do research of good quality, but if you cannot write in a clear and persuasive manner, everything about grad school becomes harder.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Books

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

FutureLearn

Coursera

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