Lessons for qualitative social science proposals
Six things I didn’t know about NSF review before I joined a panel
1. Qualitative research is respected on its own terms.
Understand what you are and are not able to do with the methods that you employ.Not a representative sample, but…Not able to test hypotheses (use research questions).Define your terms (semi-structured interview, Q-Sort,NVivo, etc.)Justify your choices.
2. Data analysis cannot be a black box.
Data analysis: Step between collecting information and final product.Qualitative methods: content analysis, discourse analysis, narrative analysis…Software doesn’t analyze your data, you do!Give examples of how you will interpret information to answer research questions.
3. Multi-method research has strengths, but can backfire.
Kitchen sink problem.Lack of expertise in all methods.Make sure all research methods proposed are both appropriate and necessary.
4. There is a fine line between a tight proposal and one without room for new findings.
How will you know if you are wrong?What might surprise you?Include discussion of possible counter-intuitive findings.
5. Transformative potential can trump concerns about success.
Not necessary to be transformative.Not necessary to call your research transformative (might backfire).Will your research upend conventional wisdom, policy practices, or theory?
6. Reviewers often WANT to see rejected or unfunded proposals again (revised).
Revise and resubmit:“A better proposal would…”Research already underway has better chance of funding.