When Is New Research the Bleeding Edge for Proposal Writers?

When choosing the primary sources for a research proposal, most of us experienced types dutifully instruct new researchers and proposal writers that sources older than five years are too old, unless you’re citing a seminal work. And there it usually ends–if primary research is less than five years old at the time of review, have at it. But recently a researcher pointed out the new reality of technology, the down side of our real-time existence–research that is too new. That’s right, research on which the digital ink has yet to dry can be too bleeding edge to reliably support your hypothesis in the eyes of reviewers. There are two primary reasons this is a new, but important, reality in the world of research proposals.

First, if your proposal is supported primarily by recently printed articles and e-pubs, there may be some question as to the veracity and scope of your hypothesis overall. What are the evidence and logic of the innovation you propose?

Second, consider the lifespan of research and the value of reproducibility. Just last week, some very important stem cell research was retracted, undermining countless research projects currently under way and in the works. While this situation was of particular note, retractions occur with frightening regularity. Even when research isn’t retracted, discussion about a published study may provide further insight into the research or the results that is worth noting in the development of your own hypotheses, and this happens over time, sometimes in multiple subsequent journal issues and in other venues. This is why citing sources from across the five-year timeline and being current, yet prudent in your use of recently published and e-published research will give your proposal a balanced argument and firm evidence base that reviewers will find logical and attractive.

So, is there a new rule of thumb? Maybe, but it’s not an easy one. Like many things in life, it requires judgment. Know the research journals in your field and know the research in your field. More importantly, take the time to build your argument using solid research by reliable teams and from reliable, peer-reviewed resources.

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