Writing a Short Research Proposal as a Student (e.g., FURI, MORE, GCSP)


At ASU, there are some really nice program for student research such as FURI and GCSP for undergrads and MORE for MS students. You can read more about them below.

FURI/ MORE: https://furi.engineering.asu.edu/

GCSP: https://gcsp.engineering.asu.edu/

Students must write a short, 2-3 page research proposal. I have seen many attempts at this and have developed some guidelines for students, that I am sharing here.

Picking a topic

Some students write me with a topic in mind. While other faculty may differ, I have limited time and need to support research related to the larger goals of my lab. As a result, I typically support only candidates who are already working for me (usually as a volunteer) and the students then develop ideas that I can more easily support.

Writing the proposal

While there are many ways to write an effective proposal, the following way of organizing the idea seems to be effective.

  1. Briefly state the problem you are trying to solve. Keep this to 2-3 sentences. Do not a lot of technical information in this part, focus on what the problem is and why it is important.
  2. Describe 3x pieces of related work in a total of 6 sentences. Some students get excited as they read scientific papers or feel that they need to summarize a bunch of papers. It turns out this is actually not very effective. What is a better way is to introduce about the three most highly related papers and state how they are related. For example “In earlier work, the authors of [1] also examined the problem, but their solution would not {adhere to a certain property} where the proposed effort we believe we can address this issue as {in a few words draw a contrast}.” Alternatively, some previous work you may actually build upon, for example: “In [2] the authors presented a method for {doing something} and we will build upon that work and extend it {to do something else}.”
  3. Present a 4-phased approach. You can have more, but in general many of these programs only last a semester or two, so about four phases is plenty. Really you are trying to communicate that you have a plan and have been thoughtful about how tho approach the problem. Here are my recommended four phases:
    • Phase 1: Develop theory: describe how you will review the literature and establish a theoretical basis.  Not necessarily mathematical, for example you may want to mention time devoted toward developing an experimental design (2-4 weeks, longer for more mathematical/theoretical work)
    • Phase 2: Develop a software prototype – describe how you will turn the theoretical idea into a prototype (4-8 weeks)
    • Phase 3: Conduct experiments and evaluate results – describe the experiments (datasets, simulations used) and how you will measure results, and how those metrics would confirm or deny hypotheses (4-8 weeks)
    • Phase 4: Time to write up the results (2-3 weeks)


  • Put yourself in the shoes of someone reviewing the proposal. When you read your own draft, ask questions like “is the problem they are solving interesting?” “can they realistically accomplish what they propose to do in the time allotted?” “does the student have necessary skills and support to complete the project?” and “would I give this person money?”
  • If you are continuing a research project, be sure to mention that, and state how the proposed effort is building on the prior work.
  • If you have been working in a research lab be sure to mention that, especially if you are performing the proposed effort in the same lab. This tells the proposal reviewers that you have already somewhat of a track record.
  • Think outside the box on the budget. If travel is allowed, then request some money to attend a conference. If you need cloud computing (e.g., AWS), request money to pay for that. If there are technical books, equipment, or software that can help, request that.
  • Do not put this off until the last minute, even though it is a short document, it requires a lot of work and a lot of thought.