Writing your Proposal-Undergraduate Research Office - Carnegie Mellon University

Writing Your Proposal

Guidelines for a Successful SURG  and SURG/CW Proposal

Writing a research proposal will help you clarify your project and will give you valuable experience for any proposal writing you may do beyond Carnegie Mellon. All proposals submitted to the Undergraduate Research Office are read and scored by a selection committee made up of faculty from each of the colleges on campus. Your proposal will be read by someone in your college, but it will also be read by faculty members who are not familiar with your discipline. For this reason, a successful proposal will be written in such a way that an intelligent reader who is not familiar with your field can still understand the research question you are proposing and the significance of this research in a larger context.  The committee should be able to understand easily what you are studying and why it is important.

Proposal Contents

Please follow the headings that are laid out on our website for SURG and SURG/CW - Proposal I or Proposal II.

The effectiveness of your proposal will depend on your ability to explain the nature, context and scope of the project. The selection committee will also be looking for an indication that your project will be more than just a learning experience—what does it contribute to your field that we do not already know?

Please make sure to put the key question or theme at the very start of the paragraph.  Readers should not have to search through the body of the paragraph for the answers to "what you are studying and why it is important."


Please also consider your budget carefully. Include a listing of all the items you propose to purchase and your best estimate of the cost of each item, including specific vendors. All expense items should be explained either in the body of your proposal or in a budget narrative included on your budget page. This is especially important for SURG/CW proposals to receive supplementary funds.  For example, if you are asking for funds to purchase a piece of software, is that software available in a public cluster? Does a faculty or staff member have the software that you could use when they aren't there? If your budget is over the maximum amount of SURG funding, please let us know where you are getting the additional funds. The selection committee reserves the right to dis-allow certain line items and frequently approves partial budgets. Please also consider:

  • Conference fees are not allowed (apply separately to the Presentation Award program)
  • Travel costs must be directly related to the proposed research and fully justified
  • The committee expects specific information on material and supply requests (i.e., vendors, item costs)
  • Equipment purchases must be fully supported in the proposal and equipment must remain at Carnegie Mellon; state who will be responsible for it when you complete your project; students are expected to check with departments to see if the equipment is available through the department
  • Book purchases are approved only if you can show it is impossible to get what you need from a library or on loan
  • Food costs disallowed 

Proposal Format

Typeface:  We recommend at least a 12 point serifed font (such as Times or Palatino), justified left (right ragged.)

First Page: At the top of the first page, please state your project title and names of al students submitting the proposal.  The next item is your Abstract, and subsequent headings and body of the proposal.

Spell Check: Remember to spell check and read through your proposal carefully.  You are requesting funds and your proposal is a reflection of your committment to the project.

Electronic Submission:

  • All SURG and SURG/CW proposals should be saved into one .pdf document and uploaded through the URO registration portal - this includes the proposal and any supporting materials.  ONLY ONE DOCUMENT will be sent to the committee for review.
  • Faculty recommendation forms may be submitted by the faculty member by email to Jen Weidenhof at jweidenh@andrew.cmu.edu
Graphs and/or Illustrations: Illustrations may be used in the body of the proposal.

Review a Draft

You are strongly encouraged to work with your faculty advisor on your proposal, attend a Proposal Writing Workshop run by the URO (dates available on our main page), and to meet with the Undergraduate Research Office Director or Assistant Director at least once prior to submitting a SURG or SURG/CW proposal to review a draft. To schedule an appointment, please go to mywco.com/urofsoappointments.