Nine Questions to A Focused Proposal

November 22, 2016

On more than one occasion, I have discussed how important it is to address the “who, what, when, where, and why” of your research project when writing a proposal.

One way of addressing those issues in a very systematic manner is by using the Heilmeier Catechism.

The Heilmeier Catechism (sometimes called The Heilmeier Criteria or The Heilmeier Questions) is a list of questions developed by George Heilmeier. Dr. Heilmeier, as the director of DARPA from 1975–1977, said every proposal needs to answer these questions clearly and completely in order to receive funding:
1. What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon. What is the problem?  Why is it hard?
2. How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice?
3. What is new in your approach, and why do you think it will be successful?
4. Who cares?
5. If you’re successful, what difference will it make? What applications are enabled as a result?
6. What are the risks?
7. How much will it cost?
8. How long will it take?
9. What are the midterm and final “exams” to check for success? How will progress be measured?

Whether or not you are writing to DARPA, using these questions to focus and organize your proposal is an excellent use of your effort.


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