Critical Questions for Research Proposals

As director of ARPA in the 1970ís George H. Heilmeier developed a set of questions that he expected every proposal for a new research program to answer. He referred to them as the "Heilmeier Catechism". These questions still survive at DARPA and provide high level guidance for what information a proposal should provide. It's important to answer these questions for any individual research project, both for yourself and for communicating to others what you hope to accomplish. These questions are:

  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's 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 impact will success have? How will it be measured?
  6. What are the risks and the payoffs?
  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?

The IEEE Spectrum magazine published a profile of Dr. Heilmeier in the June 1994 issue:

George H. Heilmeier
by Joshua Shapiro
IEEE Spectrum, Volume 31, Issue 6, June 1994, Pages 56 - 59
Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/6.284787

Summary: The head of one of the foremost research organisations in the United States -- Bell Communications Research Inc. -- is guided by the traditional values he learned as a boy. The author describes how these values have guided George Heilmeier through four distinguished careers on the frontier of high-technology development.


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