How to Write a Good Proposal
- Coming up with an idea.
Ideas are not easy to come up with. Find a problem, and look for solutions to it. The problems are probably all around you—look at your areas of interest and look at what’s wrong with them. It could be a breakthrough in renewable energy, a better way to build earthquake-proof houses, or anything that can improve the world around us. Some places you can look for inspiration include MIT Technology Review, Popular Science, Scientific American, and past THINK Winners’ ideas. There are also a bunch of links at the bottom of this web page that point to websites that can help inspire your awesome idea. When looking for an idea, ask yourself: is this a problem that actually exists, and is it worth solving?
Make sure the project is significantly different or is an improvement upon something that exists today. Make sure that you are aware of any previous advancements within your field of research. If you are touching upon an already well-researched field, you will have to come up with new solutions. Also choose an idea that you would enjoy solving! You are going to be spending plenty of hours writing about your idea, and many more weeks testing your idea. You want it to be something you enjoy.
Make sure your project is doable! You can have the best idea about launching a manned rocket pod to Mars, but $2000 and a high schooler’s resources will not cut it. Even something big that can change the world can be modeled or tested in smaller scales. Make sure that your experiment is testable within the confines of the budget and timeline. It would be wiser to pick up a smaller project or a more focused idea if it means that it will be more feasible.
- Be thorough.
If you have an idea of what you want to do, plan it like you know what you’re doing. Research all the materials you need, where you might get them, and how much it is going to cost to get them. Is it being bought on Amazon? eBay? Do you need MIT’s help to get it? Tell us! Also make sure to specify when you plan on getting stuff done. You should have a deadline for some of your own milestones in your experiment, the more specific the better. Finally, make sure your proposal addresses all points listed on the application guidelines. With a more thorough plan, you are more likely to successfully complete the project.
If your experiment involves models or an elaborate setup, diagrams are definitely the way to go. Pictures are worth a thousand words. They help the judges visualize your project and more thoroughly understand your vision. Make sure you label the diagrams and have captions to adequately describe what the diagrams represent.
When you’re excitedly filling up pages of your proposal as you communicate your awesome idea to us, you are bound to make a few typos. Ask someone else to give you feedback on your writing to see if you have any awkward errors or typos. The people reading the papers won’t be mad at your mistakes the first few times but the 5th time you write “your” instead of “you’re,” we might get slightly annoyed.
Make it easy on the eyes. This does not mean elaborate fonts or cute cliparts that have nothing to do with your project. Just make sure the paper has correct indentation and spaces in between sections to make it more comfortable to read.
Cite all of your sources. You don’t want to be caught plagiarizing, whether intentionally or unintentionally. If it’s questionable as to whether you should cite something, it’s always better to play it safe and include a citation.
Our own guidelines on the website: http://think.mit.edu/guidelines/
MIT Technology Review: http://www.technologyreview.com/
Popular Science: http://www.popsci.com/
Scientific American: http://www.scientificamerican.com/
Last year's THINK winners: http://think.mit.edu/2014/winners/
Science Buddies Project Guide: http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_guide_index.shtml