Designing a Project

Documenting the details of a project helps ensure its success. For some projects, you may be required to submit a detailed proposal (or business case) before being provided funding or institutional support. Regardless of formal requirements, these topics deserve thoughtful consideration before the initiation of the project and the commitment of time and resources.

Description & Justification

Describe what you want to do and why.

  • Look for similar projects to avoid overlap or replicating others’ work. Determine what is unique about your own project and what you will be contributing to your scholarly community. What problem will be resolved, what question will be answered, or what opportunity will be created, through your project?
  • Decide what tools and methods you wish to use. Consider whether these are the most appropriate means to your end, and avoid using technologies for their own sake. Refer continually to your project’s guiding question.


What products or services result?

  • Deliverables may include a website, blog post, book, presentation, workshop, publication, virtual exhibit, code, digitized materials, or service.
  • Consider deliverables at multiple levels. For example, a website hosting a collection of digitized historical letters comprises two deliverables: the digitized letters and the website itself.

Performance Measures

What constitutes success for the project?

  • For each deliverable, document the conditions of its success. Consider not only the details of the product, but also your timeline and resource constraints.
  • Be careful to avoid scope creep (i.e., inadvertently allowing the scope to expand beyond that of your proposed project).

Audience & Stakeholders

For whom is your project intended: academics, the general public, your institution, etc.? Who is invested, intellectually as well as financially, in the final products? Ask how to best design your processes and deliverables to reach that audience or meet the needs of interested parties and stakeholders. If considerations of audience and stakeholders become complex, consider completing a stakeholder analysis.

Resources & Funding

What do you need to reach your goals?

  • Resources may include funding, equipment, technologies, programs, web hosting, data storage, expertise, and time. Identify entities and groups that may potentially provide these resources (especially through your institution).
  • Investigate grants through foundations like the NEH, the Mellon Foundation, and other granting agencies to locate potential funding.


How long will your project take?

  • Remember to consider milestones, deadlines, and potential bottlenecks or resource constraints.

Formulating the Project’s Guiding Question

The first step in developing a digital humanities project is selecting a topic, and it may be helpful to organize your project around answering a central question.

Tips for formulating your question:

  • Ask what you are passionate about and what you enjoy spending time on.
  • Think about issues your field continually argues about. Remember, the question may not be new to your discipline, but the approach might be.
  • Know that a good research idea is more about communication than creativity. The question, as well as your approach, needs to be clear.
  • Understand that digital project ideas are built, not discovered.

A project:

  • is a sequence of related activities with a definite beginning and end.
  • is derived from a central question, issue, or problem.
  • requires resources.
  • requires an audience and/or other participants.
  • results in a product or service.

Examples of products: events (meeting, workshop, conference, symposium); research (analysis, investigation, experiment, monograph); methodologies/tools (code, website, curriculum)

Projects are about: telling a story, writing an argument, answering a question, developing a theory.

5 Parts of a Research Project:

  1. question, problem, provocation
  2. sources (primary or secondary)
  3. analytical/discovery activity
  4. audience
  5. concrete products (deliverables)

Types of Digital Humanities Projects:


From: Formulating Disciplinary Questions as Research Ideas