The Essay: An explanation of this element of the full proposal process
The following information was posted for the 2016 deadline. This program will be updated in June 2017 and the application and precise deadline will be available at that time.
We recognize that the requirement to submit a substantial essay as a component of the full proposal submission is unusual, and we want to explain our rationale briefly. Many project proposals are written in response to Requests for Proposals that define with considerable precision the topic to be addressed and sometimes the methods to be employed. When a grant program is delimited in that way, the rationale for undertaking a particular project is likely to be easy to state. This sort of sharply defined RFP is a great way to direct focused attention on a particular problem; it is an approach we at Spencer have used in the past and are likely to use again in the future.
The Lyle Spencer Research Awards program is very different. We seek proposals across a wide range of topics and methods, including some (we hope) that we have not anticipated at all. Ultimately, with the help of a highly capable and thoughtful Review Panel, we will select a small number of proposals for funding – proposals that in our view hold exceptional promise for helping to advance the aim of improved understanding of educational practice.
We believe that the research teams themselves are in the best position to explain clearly and persuasively how their work has the prospect of leading (directly or indirectly) to this improved understanding that we regard as essential for lasting improvement in the practice of education. And we think a well-reasoned essay, one that makes clear what work you intend to do without the full technical detail, exhaustive literature review, and other elements we will expect to see in the full proposal narrative, provides the research team with an excellent opportunity to make its argument.
We also emphasize, however, that applicants should not interpret the instruction to forgo detailed explanation of technical matters at this stage as an instruction to avoid concreteness and specificity. Effective essays will convey in plain language the key ideas driving the proposed research, the potential contribution toward understanding better the puzzle or problem being studied, and the power and feasibility of the research plan shaped by those ideas. We expect the essay to be focused on the work to be undertaken, to explain why and how the work to be undertaken matters, why it has good prospects for leading the way to further valuable work, and why this team has an excellent chance of undertaking the work successfully. The essay will be evaluated on how well-reasoned, clear-headed, straightforward, persuasive, and realistic the essay is.
We are looking for a document that will be eight to ten double-spaced pages in length (2500 word limit). Again, because of the broad range of this program, it is important that it be written for well-informed readers who may not be specialized to the team’s particular methods and topic.
Applicants who are invited to submit an essay and full proposal following the Letter of Intent will be given more detailed guidelines at that time.