last updated Friday, February 12, 2016

Writing a Scientific Proposal

A properly prepared scientific proposal clearly states the objective(s) of your work that you intend to perform in the laboratory. Based on the nature of the proposal, a significant amount of literature work is necessary as well in order to find out about work that has been done before in this area. In some cases, the literature will already provide a relative detailed procedure, in other cases an existing procedure has to be adapted for the given project. This will give you a better understanding about the chemistry involved as well and makes it easier to propose a solution for your project.

The most important part in the specific project assigned to you is to propose a procedure that allows you to perform the synthesis in the laboratory. You should clearly describe your experimental design (the precise steps you will follow). Try to anticipate specific kinds and quantities of materials needed to perform your experiment. Also indicate expected outcomes based upon your background reading and sound judgment. You will have to think through your experimental procedure and in writing a good proposal the actual implementation phase will be enjoyable and orderly. However, remember that the steps that you are taking during the actual experiment are recorded in your lab notebook, because they may not be exactly like the steps suggested in your proposal. Proposed and actual procedures may be two different things, the same like before when you took notes in your lab notebook during the experiments. The latter are the most important because they determine whether or not you will be able to repeat the experiment exactly as you performed it the first time. Please also keep in mind that you will have to give a 10-minute oral presentation about your project at the end of the quarter.

In writing the proposal for a synthetic project, you should ask yourself the following questions when you write the proposal:

1. How do I synthesize the target compound? Is a synthetic procedure for the synthesis of this compound already known in the literature or do I have to adapt a procedure? A clear but brief outline of the experimental procedure should be included into the proposal. If you use a procedure from the literature, make sure that you properly cite the reference.

2. How do I proof that the compound was successfully synthesized? What do I know about the physical properties of the compound? Which spectroscopic data is known about the target compound or similar compounds? Which spectroscopic technique(s) allow me to characterize the intermediate(s) and the target compound and/or the intermediates?

3. What do I want to talk about in my oral presentation about the project in the end? Which data do I present to verify the results?

The proposal itself should not be more than
6 pages in length (format see formal report). The abstract and introduction should not be longer than one page. The rest should be devoted to the procedure and characterization. Make sure to attach a copy of the references that you use (in an organized fashion), so that the person reading your proposal (=the instructor) can evaluate if you extracted the crucial parts from it correctly.


1. If you draw the structure in Scifinder, you will not have to find its name first. Many compounds changed their name over time. It is much more important to find the CAS number, which identifies the compound indepedent from its name.

2. If you do not find the exact compound, try to simplify the structure by taking substituents away. This way, yo might be able to find a procedure for a similar compound that you might be able to adapt to your needs. In the worst case, the ferrocene moiety can be replaced by a phenyl or naphthyl group. because the chemistry is going to be very similar. However, a procedure with the ferrocene moiety is always preferential. When researching procedures, a "greener alternative" should always be favored.

3. Note: Fc stands for "Fe(C5H5)(C5H4)"

4. Substituted aldehydes (benzaldehyde, 4-tolualdehyde, 3-tolualdehyde, 4-ethylbenzaldehyde, 4-isopropylbenzaldehyde, cuminaldehyde, 4-nitrobenzaldehyde, 3-nitrobenzaldehyde, 4-fluorobenzaldehyde, 3-fluorobenzaldehyde, 2-fluorobenzaldehyde, 4-chlorobenzaldehyde, 3-chlorobenzaldehyde, 4-bromobenzaldehyde, 3-bromobenzaldehyde, 2,4-dichlorobenzaldehyde, 4-anisaldehyde, 3-methoxybenzaldehyde, 4-ethoxybenzaldehyde, 4-(trifluoromethyl)benzaldehyde, 4-(dimethylamino)benzaldehyde), 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde, phenyl hydrazine, trimethylsulfoxonium iodide, acetophenone, 4-methoxyacetophenone, 4-chloroacetophenone, etc. will be provided in the project.

5. Compounds like Buli, LDA, LiAlH4, NaH, DMSO, etc. will not be provided! Neither will be expensive catalyst based on Pt, Ru, Rh, etc.


1. The proposal and the important resources should be submitted in a folder to the instructor. The important references have to be attached to the proposal.

2. The proposal also has to be submitted to (same course ID as before). Only one submission per group.