What's the big idea?

Key questions - distilled from Bob's guidance

Have you given us lots of background about how industry is undergoing continual restructuring and technology is changing every three years and so on and so on? If so, cut it out. We know that.

I apologise if this is obvious to you, but there are really only 8 questions here, not 24. For each main question I offer a number of rephrasings and supplementaries to try better to convey its sense. I do not expect you to answer all of those rephrasings!

1. What is the grounded, particular problem? What are the symptoms? Where do the industrial partners feel a pain? What is it that they cannot do, or cannot do well enough, which they will, hopefully, be able to do, or do better, as a consequence of your proposed research?

2. What is the generalisation of that particular problem? Why are they suffering in this way? Why can't they get round their problem without your research? There may be a chain of 'becauses' until you get to a 'root cause'.

3. What is the line of attack? What theories will you bring to bear? What is your ‘big idea’ as to how that underlying cause might be attacked? What is your ‘angle’?

4. What do you intend to find out - and how will you know that you have done so? NOTE: this will be the hinge for the whole proposal. Try thinking of it this way: if someone were to hear that your project was successful and wanted to use the results in another environment, what short, crisp encapsulation of the results would you point them to? What are the research questions entailed by what you intend to find out?

5. What is your approach to the research? What is the strategy?

6. What is the plan? How and where and when will your industrial partners contribute? How will they be preparing to take the results forward after the end of the project?

7. How will you change the world? If your ideas prove right, how will the results be exploited so as to make a significant impact on industrial practice? If exploitation requires a change in business processes, how will migration to the new way of working be achieved?

8. And finally, although it comes first in the paperwork, have you established your credibility in this domain? You have to convince recognised domain experts. Will you be deploying the best brains in the world to tackle your chosen problem?

Having got a rough outline of your ideas and intentions, I suggest you now work through the full guidance.

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