Though I enjoy writing ideas, criticism, thoughts, views etc. as blogs, I never liked writing sales proposals. So, when my mentors and peers told me that research proposals are not like sales proposals, I felt relieved! Ha, little did I know! :-) :-)
Having completed a research proposal after 60+ versions, I thought it is a good idea to note down the differences for the benefit of other newbies, more importantly for my own reference later (I assume, I will have to come up with more such documents in future and most likely, it is going to feel the same every time!! It is better for me to remember)
- Sales proposal (SP) is to win the competition and Research Proposal (RP) is not to that extent.
- In case of SP, the problem statement is usually given; at least problem focus area is given in the Request For Proposal (RFP). Here, there is no RFP.
- SP is about giving "something" to the reader. RP need not be value adding to the reader directly; as long as it is value adding to someone, it is fine. It need not even be application oriented. It could just be for knowledge - and just for the sake of knowledge!
- In SP, you have to show off and brag about your solution without appearing so. here, you have to doubt your own solution without appearing so and more importantly should not show off at all :-). In SP, if you show any element of doubt or possible negative outcome in the solution section, you are gone. Of course, you will include all the negative stuff in the risks section to save your back, otherwise, you keep a very low tone on the potential negative outcomes
- Usage of jargons in SP is encouraged to a reasonable extent - to be good enough to impress and confuse (sometimes we intentionally confuse the customer and complicate simple things :-) ;-)!) but, at the same time, simple enough to convey the meaning and convince the client that you have a solution; in RP, complicated stuff should be simplified as in a good training session (of course not conducted by a consultant)
- In SP, usage of more "we", "our" and "us" is encouraged. In RP, you can not use "we" and "us".
- Passive voice sentences are despised in SP. In RP, it is the preferred way of writing!
- In SP, references are important; but not priority; sometimes, just "nice to have". In RP, references make or break your proposal.
- For SP, you'd usually have solutions ready and look for supporting material to strengthen our solutions and arguments! Whereas, in RP, you look for all supporting materials - ok, not supporting material - all related material, look for an argument/problem that is valid! Two sentences seem to have just very simple change of words. But they are so very different. In case of RP, you need to keep open mind and be ready to change your problem/solution/both completely after you read a "relevant" and convincing material. In SP, we would look for more "relevant" material and may not change our view!!
- Reference material could just be Wikipedia in case of SP. That is a no-no in an RP! OMG, I did not know this when I wrote my first draft :-)
- In RP, it is recommended to use simple sentences with minimal "and". Not many bulleted lists! Paragraphs are more welcome. In SP, bulleted lists add value!
- A team with cross functional expertise works on SP usually but RP is a single person work! After working in teams and only in teams for so long, working alone is tough!
- Segmented / incremental review is mandated before an integrated review in corporate world. In academics, that probably is not a normal approach
- If we get about a week's time to write an SP, we are lucky. So, the amount of boredom you develop towards the topic is less! Duration of the proposal writing seems too large in RP and you have fair chance to feel sort of an aversion towards your own document! Towards the end, I was even wondering, if I will have the interest to pursue the problem and solution stated in the proposal. The boredom was that high :-)
- SP will be treated as a contract in the absence of an Statement of Work or signed contract. Hence it is very important to state all the assumptions, constraints and risks clearly. RP does not expect that. The problem stated in RP may be shelved and a new space may be taken looks like. I don’t know how it works when comes to proposals written for securing funding - either from government or from private sponsors. I have not experienced it yet.
In spite of being so very careful / mindful of the differences, veterans in RP may find your RP to be more like an SP!! The transition is tough but interesting!!
The journey has just begun!