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First person in research proposals

  1. Oct 20, 2012 #1
    Writing a research proposal for a postdoc fellowship... I'm not sure how personal to make it. I want to convince the reviewers that it's *me* who has the expertise to do this project, but I'm uncomfortable with too much first person (especially when it's "I" instead of "we").

    For example:

    "During my doctoral work, I showed that XXX happens.... We plan to continue this work by doing YYY. My experience with methods ZZZ will be beneficial..."


    "Process XXX was shown to occur [cite].... ", where the citation is my paper.

    Thanks for the help. This is basically my first real research proposal.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 20, 2012 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    It's customary to write in third person, or indirect, or passive voice, in reference to one's research. The expectation is the author (sole) or principal author (more than one) is the one responsible for the statments.

    Some examples: http://services.unimelb.edu.au/__da...298/Writing-Voice-in-Academic-Writing-New.pdf


    A brief guide - http://www.cedarville.edu/~/media/Files/PDF/Writing-Center/Tutor/proposals.pdf

    The introduction can include more personal statements, e.g., "I am (we are) pleased to provide this proposal in response to . . . ." Usually, a commercial proposal will identify the principal investigators, investigators, and supporting staff responsible for the work.
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2012
  4. Oct 20, 2012 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    "We" is first person. It's first person plural.

    I think it is OK and useful in a fellowship proposal for "I" and "me" so long as the statements are strictly true for you by yourself, e.g. "my role in this measurement was preparing and mounting the samples".
  5. Oct 20, 2012 #4


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    Staff: Mentor

    I would add that proposals I prepare, or in which I'm included, usually have a brief description of my experience relevant to the workscope, or they include a resume, which elaborates on my professional experience.
  6. Oct 20, 2012 #5
    Ok, thanks guys.

    Vanadium, I know "we" is first person. I was just referring (apparently unclearly) to fact that "we" seems more acceptable than "I" for some reason, even though both are first person.

    Also, I know it's customary to write in passive voice, but I'm not sure I agree with that philosophy... it really makes writing a lot more difficult to read, and I think it's kind of part of a stuffy tradition of making yourself sound more important than you are. Even Science encourages you not to use it all the time (http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.or...s_issues/articles/2012_03_23/caredit.a1200033).

    I guess I am trying to figure out how I can emphasize MY work in the literature review section, so that it doesn't just become another citation mixed in with the many.
  7. Oct 20, 2012 #6


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    Staff: Mentor

    Well - don't write like a 'poet'. :rofl:

    I've seen some colleagues reference their work in articles, because they build on that work. One guy notoriously cites his previous articles to the point that I find it irritating.

    I don't particularly care for the passive voice, and most of my teachers discouraged that.

    One can write a description of one's work or the supporting work from the field as a narrative. For example, "the temperature increases . . . ", "the measurements show . . . ." , or "the lattice damage causes . . . . ," and so on.
  8. Oct 22, 2012 #7

    Andy Resnick

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    2016 Award

    It depends- when I submitted a NIH training grant application, the program officer encouraged me to write in the first person, and a recent NSF submission was also encouraged to be written in the first person. Both of these award mechanisms are specifically aimed towards career development, and both require some sort of 'personal statement', so it was natural to write that way. By contrast, my straight-up research proposals are written differently (especially since I have a lab full of students who would be paid to carry out the project). In any case, the most important style issue is to write clearly and convey a sense of excitement: a primary goal is to convince the reviewer to continue reading.

    I would recommend calling (not emailing!) the program officer and ask what the expectation is.
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