Writing a Winning Scholarship Proposal – Part 2 – Literature Review

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  • Although this article is primarily aimed at university students writing proposals for scholarship applications – many of these principles and techniques are applicable to other types of proposals, as well. 
  • If you missed Part 1 – I suggest you go back and read that first.

In my last post we talked about the outline for the typical scholarship proposal:

  •  Pitch Paragraph
  •  Literature Review Paragraph
  •  Methodology Paragraph(s)
  •  Research Outcomes and Significance Paragraph(s)

…and we spent some time on how to write the Pitch Paragraph.  In this post we’ll cover the Literature Review.   

Writing the Literature Review

If you’re a Masters student you might get away with just describing the current state of knowledge on your topic – but if you’re a PhD student – you definitely need to cite some literature.  This means leaving room for the list of references in your meager space allotment.  Here’s where you can often get away with a reduced font size – specifically, if you use footnotes to cite your literature, you can save a lot of space.  Of course, you’re still not going to have room to cite very many papers – otherwise, footnotes or not, the list of references is just going to get too bulky.  I’d suggest you aim for 3 to 4 in a one page proposal – maybe 5 or 6 in a two page proposal.  So, you’re going to need to be selective; in choosing remember, the two key goals of the literature review in any scholarship proposal are:

  1. to display your knowledge of the current literature; and
  2. to show what’s still missing in the context of the problem you are working on (i.e. to establish your ‘niche’).

Avoid old literature unless you are citing the ground breaking paper on the topic.  However, other than that one reference, never go back more than 5 years, and ideally not more than 3.  Avoid just listing a lot of references.  Instead talk about aspects of the problem (write in plain language – avoid jargon), how they were handled in the research so far, and what openings still must be dealt with.  It’s important to avoid citing yourself and/or your thesis supervisor here – the idea is to show that you are aware that there is a lot going on outside of your little circle of influence.  There will be opportunities to cite yourself in the later paragraphs.

By the time the reviewer is finished reading your literature review paragraph(s) it should be patently obvious to them where the big hole in the knowledge is.  Now is the time to present your projects objective(s).  Be specific and use these exact words:

“Therefore, the goal of this research is to…”


“Therefore, the objectives of this research are to…”

Don’t confuse methodology with objectives.  Specifically, the following are NOT (legitimate) objectives:

  • To get data (Data is not an end product in itself – no matter how unprecedented – it is the new knowledge that comes from your interpretation of data that is innovative.)
  • To write journal papers. (Of course, that is the end goal of every study from a practical perspective – publish or perish, right?  But that’s not the reason we do research, it’s how we disseminate research.)
  • To get a Masters/PhD (This may seem an obvious mistake to mention – but I’ve read more than a few scholarship applications in which this was the stated goal.)

When deciding on the objective(s) of your project think about your pitch paragraph and answer the question, “What problem am I going to solve?” (typical in engineering) or “What hypothesis am I going to test?” (typical in science).

Now that you’ve made your pitch and established your knowledge of the literature – it’s time to describe your methodology.  Here’s where most people really bomb in the scholarship competition – usually by being far too vague.  In my next post I’ll give you some advice on how to be specific about your proposed methodology.

Thanks for reading! Please comment if you found this useful…

2 thoughts on “Writing a Winning Scholarship Proposal – Part 2 – Literature Review

    […] The Art of Scientific Writing Advice for university students in science and engineering HomeAbout RSS ← Writing a Winning Scholarship Proposal – Part 2 […]

    […] Literature Review Paragraph […]

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