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Graduate Writing: Writing Scholarship and Research Proposals

Scholarship and Grant Proposals

While some graduate students may enter their programs as partially or fully funded students, many still rely on scholarships or other forms of funding (including but not limited to loans and full- or part-time work) to pay for graduate school.

Scholarship and grant proposals are argumentative texts that aim to persuade the reader(s) to give the writer money. Requirements vary depending on the funding body–whether a special interest group or a federal funding agency–so it is important to carefully review all guidelines.

When reviewing requirements, students should also assess what is valued by the funder. For instance, one group may prioritize students who have overcome personal challenges while other groups prioritize the research potential of one’s project. Such priorities will be expressed through essay prompts and other means.

Many graduate scholarships, especially those that are high value, prioritize a candidate’s current or proposed research. Consequently, these proposals may require you to clearly position your project in relation to the work of other scholars and argue the importance of your research (CARS moves can help! See the section on Literature Reviews in this guide for more detail), provide an overview of your methodology, explain the implications of potential findings, and/or share a communications plan. You may also need to provide a detailed budget for the project.

In Canada, the most recognizable graduate scholarships are awarded through a Tri-Agency scholarship, a federal funding body. To learn more, visit the CGPS page on Tri-Council fundingOther scholarships can be located through the USask Scholarships and bursaries site and/or EduCanada.

Pursuing graduate school and/or a second graduate degree after your USask studies? If you have a strong academic record and notable research excellence and/or community involvement, consider opportunities like the Rhodes Scholarship (for study at Oxford University), Cambridge International Scholarships and Gates-Cambridge Scholarship (for study at Cambridge University), and the McCall MacBain Scholarship (for study at McGill University).

If you pursue a career in academia or in a non-profit organization, you will continue to compete for grants and fellowships throughout your career. In some instances, these organizations will have in-house support for preparing grants and/or will invite external speakers to conduct workshops on how to write a successful application. Some graduates may themselves pursue a career dedicated to grant writing!

Interested in seeing examples of successful and unsuccessful grant applications? Explore resources like Open Grants, which feature applications from around the world.

Note: Sometimes the words scholarships, grants, and fellowships are used synonymously but can have different meanings depending on context. 


Looking for more information on writing a successful scholarship proposal?

Looking for more information on writing a successful grant proposal?

Research Proposals

While most students in a PhD program or research-based MA/MSc will have already written a research statement as part of their initial application, it is also common for graduate students to write a more comprehensive research proposal in advance of carrying out their research once enrolled. These texts may also be referred to as academic proposals or thesis proposals, depending on one’s school or department.

This document allows one’s supervisor and/or committee to provide constructive feedback before a student carries out the project, to help ensure the quality of the final project. For PhD students, this document is usually prepared after comprehensive exams.

Some departments may provide general or very detailed instructions as to the content and/or length (e.g., pages or word counts) of a research proposal. For instance, the USask Department of English has a PhD Dissertation Proposal form, whereas the Department of Food and Bioproduct Sciences within the College of Agriculture and Bioresources has a template for writing a research proposal. Always consult with your supervisor to determine what is expected.


Looking for more information on writing a research proposal?