Planning Your Next DHAG 1: Idea, Audience, Innovation, Context

September 17, 2020

Updated in October 2022 for the 2023 application cycle  

This the first of three posts (post 2 | post 3) meant to help applicants start planning and writing a Digital Humanities Advancement Grant proposal. 

First, carefully review the program’s Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), and the program’s funding priorities. 

Are you sure the DHAGs are the right place to submit your application? Start with What Grant Program Fits My Digital Project? to be sure you should be applying for a DHAG. 

Pay close attention to the DHAG funding priorities and be sure that your project is responsive to one or more: 

  • research and refinement of innovative, experimental, or computationally-challenging methods and techniques 

  • enhancement or design of digital infrastructure that contributes to and supports the humanities, such as open-source code, tools, or platforms
  • evaluative studies that investigate the practices and the impact of digital scholarship on research, pedagogy, scholarly communication, and public engagement 

As you read the NOFO, identify all of the required components in the application package, and let the prompts we provide guide you through the writing of your proposal. 

Second, as you weave together your prose to craft the narrative and other required documents, keep in mind the six evaluation criteria that peer reviewers will use to evaluate your application (each corresponding to different elements of the application):  

  1. The clarity of the project’s goals and significance and impact for the humanities (aligns with narrative sections Overview of the project, Enhancing the humanities, and Final product and dissemination)
  2. The quality of the overall conception, organization, and description of how the proposed work sits within a broader context, and quality of the argument for new (or further) work in this area (aligns with the narrative sections Overview of the project, Environmental scan, and History of the project)
  3. The feasibility and appropriateness of the activities, work plan, methodology, and use of technology, and the project’s plans for mitigating risk and addressing accessibility for its intended audiences (aligns with narrative sections Activities and project team and Final product and dissemination and Attachment 3. Work plan)
  4. The qualifications, expertise, and levels of commitment of the project director and key project staff or contributors (aligns with narrative section Activities and project team and Attachment 4: Biographies)
  5. The reasonableness of the proposed budget in relation to the proposed activities, staff compensation, the anticipated results, products, and dissemination (aligns with narrative section Activities and project team, Attachment 3: Work plan, and the Budget)
  6. The quality and appropriateness of project plans for data management and (if applicable) sustainability (aligns with Attachment 5: Data management plan, and for Level III applicants, Attachment 6: Sustainability plan)

This post will address the first two criteria related to articulating your big idea, your project’s targeted audience, the innovation of your project, and how it fits within the broader body of humanities and digital humanities scholarship within the application’s Narrative. 

Defining and Framing your Project 

Use the Enhancing the Humanities section of the Narrative to describe your idea by succinctly identifying a need or a challenge within the humanities for specific groups of people that responds to one of the DHAG program priorities (mentioned above). 

Describe the potential impact of the project’s outcomes. 

  • If you will be creating or enhancing experimental, computationally-based methods, techniques, or infrastructure, be sure to describe how this work is shaped by and contributes to needs that are specific to the humanities. 

  • If you are proposing an evaluative study, a convening, or a proof of concept, describe how your research and collaborations will impact the field beyond your case study or prototype. 

Choose an appropriate project funding level that corresponds to the stage of development as well as funding needs. The next post in this series will address funding levels related to crafting a budget. 

  • Level I awards are designed to fund small projects that are experimental or that involve research, convenings on field-wide issues, or designing experimental alpha-level prototypes. (Read some tips for writing a strong Level I application.) 

  • Level II awards are intended to fund projects that have completed a planning or exploratory phase and will scale up based on prior research and development to design working prototypes or code, implementation of new methodological workflows, and/or publication of documentation and findings. 

  • Level III awards support expansion of mature projects with an established user base that have completed earlier stages of development, with strong dissemination plans beyond the applicant’s institutions.   

Humanities Significance   

All funded NEH applications must be grounded in strong humanities questions and outcomes, even when proposing innovative digital research, methods, or infrastructure. Reviewers use Criterion 1 (The intellectual significance and impact of the project for the humanities) when evaluating your project for evidence of how it will impact humanities research, teaching, and public engagement. 

Here is some advice based on reviewers’ comments about project narratives. 

  • You must make a convincing case for the “the kind of new knowledge” produced from the project. Reviewers need to be convinced that a project advances digital methodologies and workflows. 
  • An approach might be innovative and exciting, but reviewers will find a lack of humanities scholars on the project concerning. 
  • For projects developing new software, methods, or approaches, reviewers will be looking for applicability beyond the project’s case study.  
  • You made a strong intellectual rationale for the project, but reviewers may mark it down if there are no clearly-defined users or audience. 
  • If you do not address the impact of your project, especially Level II and III proposals, reviewers will want to “see the ramifications of this project contextualized more broadly.” 
  • Reviewers want to see that the final products are applicable beyond the project, particularly convenings or planning grants that might be aimed a small subset of scholars. 

Use the Environmental Scan to strengthen your argument for how this project advances the field by contextualizing the problem and your proposed scholarly and technical interventions. 
(Read some tips for writing a strong environmental scan.) 

Demonstrate your knowledge of existing projects and the field’s reaction to those efforts to argue that your project fills a space not occupied by current projects, tools, or programs. Remember that digital humanities is quite interdisciplinary and you may need to widen the scope of your research beyond your specialty. 

Detail the work you have already completed and explain the current stage of the project’s development in the History of the Project. 

  • If applying for a Level I, discuss any preliminary research completed or collaboration building that is in progress. 

  • If applying for a Level II, describe the results of your planning or prototyping phase. 

  • For a Level III, describe the project’s development and its current status; discuss other support received that has contributed to its development, management, and sustainability; provide user evaluations, statistics, or quantitative feedback in an appendix. 

Define the specific outcomes from this proposal in the Final Products and Dissemination section. Provide a detailed discussion of how you will reach and/or collaborate with your identified audiences. If you are proposing a Level III stage project, clearly identify your users, the demand, and how you are ready to scale-up and out.  

Write clearly and concisely to develop your narrative and use accessible language to ensure that those unfamiliar with your area of practice follow your argument. 

Quality and Context 

Below is advice based on reviewers’ evaluations related to the quality of a proposal and how the project is contextualized within the field. 

  • Don’t make your panelists hunt for your argument or puzzle through your planned activities, or you will be marked down. 
  • A jargon-filled narrative will prompt a reviewer to relay that they had difficulty “fully processing the present application, much of which felt somewhat unclear.” 
  • If you are new to digital humanities, please remember that this area of practice is not. Reviewers notice when an environmental scan is “thin.” 
  • Listing similar projects and research is not sufficient. Reviewers want to hear your assessment and want applicants to address critiques of said approaches, such as biases present in machine learning algorithms.  
  • Reviewers want to read justifications for tool and software choices, and might question a proposal’s decision to build something new when there are many options already available in that space. 

All ODH peer reviewers have expertise in one or more areas of the digital humanities and are capable of reading broadly. It is your job to convince them that this proposal has strong humanities grounding, advances digital humanities methodologies and approaches, is contextualized within the literature of the field, and is designed to impact specific audiences.