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Basic Guide to Proposal Writing


This proposal writing is designed to provide a new grant writer insight when preparing a grant application and a seasoned grant writer a refresher on important aspects. Experts agree that proposal writing is a process that requires a multitude of steps to be followed in order for the successful submission of a proposal. The term "Principal Investigator (PI)" refers to the person(s) writing the proposal and the term "Applicant" refers to the agency submitting on behalf of an individual. The term "Sponsor" refers to the funding source or agency (i.e., governmental sponsor, corporation, foundation, etc). The term "Pre-Award Phase" refers to all of the activities leading up to and including the actual submission of a proposal. For a complete listing of terms and definitions click on It is important to remember that there is a wealth of information regarding proposal writing. It is the intention of this proposal writing guide to provide you with the most relevant information as well as links to other web sites that provide proposal writing information and tips. In addition, this guide is a compilation of other resources and not intended to express this information as our own. Please review and consider the following proposal development writing tips:


Step 1: Developing Your Proposal Idea

The proposal idea usually comes in two forms: (1) solicited or (2) unsolicited. A solicited idea is one that has been suggested, at least in general terms, by the funding sponsor. This may include, but is not limited to, Request for Proposal (RFP), White Paper, Statement of Work (SOW), Program Announcement, and Request for Information (RFI), etc. An unsolicited proposal is one that is created by the PI of the applicant organization and has no knowledge if it will be of interest to a potential sponsor. If you are planning to put the time in to write a proposal, please contact the sponsor. This contact will help you understand the priorities of the sponsor. Also, focus on these questions when developing your idea: · · · · · · What is the function of the project you are proposing? In what field is your project? Who will benefit from your project? What are the geographic parameters of your project? Do you have an appropriate project team assembled? Have your ideas for research been discussed with the Chair/Dean of College/Department?

Identifying clearly as many of the appropriate descriptive characteristics of your project idea as possible can assist you in searching for the appropriate sponsor to fund your project and delimit your search. Try to include collaborators from the same or different departments/disciplines as well as graduate and undergraduate students whenever possible. This will help you stay focused on mainstream research. If you are having trouble with developing an idea, use your Office of Research & Commercialization Community of Science (COS) System. The link below will provide a brief overview:

Step 2: Gathering Information

One of the first things you should do after developing your idea is to gather all of the necessary documentation. Background documentation is usually required relevant to three areas: · · · Concept Program Finance

If all of this information is not readily available to you, then determine who can help you gather each type of information. The data-gathering process makes the actual writing much easier. By involving other stakeholders in the process, it also helps key people within our University consider the project's value.

Step 3: Talk to the Sponsor (if feasible)

In most cases, potential sponsors are available to listen to your pitch. Principal Investigators (PI) invest a lot of time and effort in preparing proposals. Determining if the proposal will be seriously considered by the sponsor is an aspect worth exploring. Some agencies will reveal important information that may not be included in a solicitation (e.g. understanding the sponsor's policies and areas of interest). Talk to the people who wrote the Request for Proposal (RFP) and find out who will evaluate and select proposals. Remember, sponsors have funding priorities so the more your project fits these priorities, the better chances you have of being seriously considered for funding. Please try to investigate these issues: · · · · · · Hot Topics Funding Level Competitors Context Attitude toward your work Past relevant works

Most sponsors will have a deadline for when questions can be asked about a specific solicitation. In most cases, sponsors will not discuss a specific solicitation after this deadline has passed. However, you can discuss general ideas and priorities.

Step 4: Visit the Sponsor Website (if available)

Most federal, state, private, and nonprofit agencies have a website that you can research. Sponsor specific websites are full of insightful tips that can help you organize your thoughts. These websites also indicate whether the proposal should be transmitted electronically or paper copy through the courier or general mail systems. In addition, these websites generally have solicitations, forms, budget restrictions, intellectual property policies, examples of successful proposals, and their own tips for a successful grant application in a downloadable format.

Step 5: Scan the Solicitation

If you are submitting a solicited proposal, briefly scan the solicitation to determine if the guidelines meet your project needs and vice versa. Too often, grant writers ignore the sponsor's funding priorities and focus solely on their own needs. This line of thought will be counterproductive unless your idea is exactly what the sponsor if funding. Once you determine that it does meet your mutual needs, begin the proposal scanning process by highlighting all pertinent information (i.e., facilities and administration restrictions, deadline dates, font size, page restrictions, limit on number of proposals per institution, budgetary restrictions, etc.) Begin to develop your personal checklist by identifying key points to insure that you mark-off each section or point as it is completed. In some cases, the sponsor will provide you with a preprinted grant application checklist.

Step 6: Developing the Budget

Developing your budget early in the process will help you determine how much human, capital, and financial resources will be needed to carry out your proposed research. Budgeting is simply the process of translating the project plan into fiscal terms. Keep the budget realistic and do not pad the numbers. Agencies know the price of most equipment and supplies. Developing the budget early will also help you identify consultants, subcontractors, equipment, travel, students, other direct costs, human or animal subject participation, special hazards, etc. to be used in your proposal. Please keep these steps in mind when developing this section: · · Determine the budgetary requirements and restrictions located in the proposal guidelines (i.e., facilities and administration allowances, cost sharing, etc.). This information will govern the preparation, review, and approval of the budget. Utilize your university resources in the Office of Research & Commercialization (ORC). There are internal auditing requirements that must be accounted for when submitting an application that may affect post-award processing. It is ORC's responsibility to ensure that the proposed budget is current, complete, and accurate. This is governed by OMB Circular A-21. Identify the total costs of the project and estimate the utilization of these dollars during various phases of the project. Translate this information into appropriate line item budget categories and record this on required forms or in a suitable format for review and processing. Please include cost sharing line items in a similar format.

· ·

· ·

Redesign your project objectives and procedures in order to propose more realistic goals or use less costly means when your initial figures appear too high. There will be additional requirements to be completed prior to submission that can be identified early in this phase and must be completed prior to submission (e.g. Special Hazards approval, Costs Accounting Standards (CAS) exemption form, cost sharing approvals, etc.)

These ideas are important because additional documents will be requested before proposal submission. Please refer to the proposal budget preparation section:


Reasons for a Good Proposal

· · · · · · You have done your homework and not duplicating previous research This project is relevant to the sponsor The purpose of the project will address a critical need You have an effective and feasible approach to solving this problem Something tangible can be anticipated at the end of the project that justifies the resources requested The project staff and its organization have the capability, credibility and experience needed to make the project succeed

There are specific techniques and processes of writing an application that can be acquired with practice and experience. But these, by themselves, are not substitutes for the authority that is evident in grant applications written by those knowledgeable in their field and excited at the opportunity to create something new. The proposal document is the major means of communication with potential sponsors thus it bears the considerable burden of simultaneously creating a favorable impression and securing support for your proposed project.

Reasons for a Weak Proposal

· · · · · Lack of technical detail No evidence of innovation No statement of the feasibility question, risk, or solution measure Too much background information No preliminary data supporting need

Proposal Development Strategies and Writing Tips

Please consider these additional strategies and writing tips when developing your proposal: · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · Set a positive tone Use outline formats and listings whenever possible Use visuals to enhance and explain abstract concepts and relationships Don't overkill a point Use transitions to help the reader navigate through the proposal Avoid language such as "might, could, ought, may, should, hope, will consider, it appears" Take a stand in your proposal Avoid inflated rhetoric Avoid unsupported subjective arguments Do not assume the reader will be familiar with the subject Sequence your proposal in a logical manner Carefully review, edit and proofread ­ again and again Ask others to help by reading the proposal and providing feedback Follow the sponsor guidelines unless a deviation has been received in writing Get a critique from the sponsor after award winners are announcement

Common Mistakes

There are at least five common mistakes in proposal writing: · · · · · Ignoring the announcement or solicitation guidelines Inattention to mechanical details Lack of clarity, too much jargon Overdoing details in the technical writing Failure to point out the broader benefits

Step 7: Writing the Grant Application Standard Proposal Sections

Proposal Title:

Choosing a title that aptly describes the primary goal of the project in words that will be easily remembered and often repeated is a definite asset. Try to remember these few helpful hints: · · · Use language appropriate for the sponsor Select a title that describes its purpose that gives the reader an idea about your project Keep the title as short as possible; some sponsors will have a character limitation


If you intend on using the sponsors name in your title, insure an agreement between the sponsor and the University is in place

Office of Research & Commercialization (ORC) Transmittal Letter:

This is the letter (on ORC letterhead) that is placed as the first page of a grant application. This transmittal letter serves as notification to the sponsor that your proposal has been endorsed by the university. In addition, it provides important information that is not generally found in the grant application such as key institutional contacts (e.g. pre-award and post-award personnel) who can answer questions both during the review of the grant application and/or during the award phase. This letter is signed by an authorized institutional representative (AOR) located in ORC. The AORs are designated in writing by the President of the university. At no time should a grant application be submitted without the express written or verbal consent of the ORC personnel.

Cover or Title Page:

The cover/title page refers to the sponsor's cover/title page required by the guidelines. Some agencies prohibit the use of a cover/title page as they have provided a preprinted cover/title page for you to use. ORC can provide a standard cover/title page for proposals that do not have their own and will give your proposal a more professional look. When submitting through electronic medium, a cover/title page is not always allowed.

Table of Contents:

This is a list of the proposal's major sections and corresponding page numbers. Quite often, a federal sponsor will provide the table of contents in the proposal guidelines. This is especially true for proposals submitted electronically. The table of contents should follow your proposal layout to help the reviewer identify key information used for proposal evaluation. If a reviewer cannot find the information required for evaluation regardless if it is actually in the grant application, you will lose these points. These points could be the difference in your application being awarded.

Abstract/Executive Summary/Project Summary:

This section is one of the most important! This section must be well thought out as the reviewers will not get past this page if it doesn't sell your proposal. Although this is one of the first pages of your proposal, it is usually prepared last. All aspects of your proposal should be clearly defined before it can be summarized in one or two pages. It is a self-contained, readyfor-publication description of the project objectives covering: (1) need and significance; (2) procedures; (3) evaluation; and (4) dissemination components. The abstract should stress the end products or project's advancement of knowledge. Reviewers use the abstract to determine if the program should be further evaluated. It is usually 250-500 words in length and limited to one page. Some agencies ask you to write two abstracts: (1) layman terms and (2) scientific terms.


This section gives a specific indication of the expected outcomes of the project, usually stated as goals and objectives, hypotheses, and/or research questions. It may explain how the project relates to the overall goals of a larger program. The purpose should clearly identify both expected short-term and long-term results. Please keep these ideas in mind: · Goals provide overall conceptual orientation to the ultimate purpose of the project. They are abstract in content, broader in scope, less subject to direct measurement, and focused more on long-term perspectives. Objectives are specific and concrete. They are more likely to be measurable and more likely to address short-term or intermediate accomplishments toward a goal. Hypotheses should be stated in such as way that they can be tested by securing information to judge truth or falsity. These should not be stated in the null form and should always be included wherever there is a basis for prediction. Research questions are generally used in lieu of hypotheses in exploratory studies or in projects of a survey research nature. Research questions should be phrased very specifically to indicate the exact nature of the proposed inquiry. The care with which the questions are selected and written will also demonstrate to the reviewer whether you have thought through a particular problem.

· ·


Statement of Need/Problem Statement:

This is a well-documented description of the problem to be addressed and why it is important. If the sponsor reads beyond the abstract, executive or project summary, you have successfully piqued their interest in your research endeavor. You should establish significance, timeliness, and contribution to related existing knowledge or work in progress. The statement of need should also address who will benefit from the research. Consider these purposes of the statement of need: · · · · · · · · A thorough understanding of the issues that the project is attempting to explore or resolve. The importance of these issues, not only to the project participants, but also to the larger society. A critical analysis of the literature in the field and how this project will fill some significant gap. The timeliness of the project and why it should be funded now. The innovativeness of the effort. The relationship of the problem and its proposed solution. The beginning rationale for the research plan. How the need you want to resolve fits the guidelines or "enlightened self-interest" of the potential funding source.

This section should be succinct, yet persuasive. Like a good debater, you need to assemble all the arguments. Then present them in a logical sequence that will readily convince the reader of their importance.

Research Plan/Project Description/Procedures/Method:

This section is typically the longest section of the proposal. It is a detailed technical description of the project. It explains what it is and why it is important and should include sufficient information needed for evaluation of the project independent of any other document. This section is generally limited to 10 ­ 50 pages of text, figures, charts, and graphs. This section of your research proposal can vary depending on the sponsor and nature of the research. However, they usually include a combination of the following subsections: · · · · · · · · · Introduction ­ (usually reserved for revised or supplemental applications) Specific Aims/Objectives ­ a list of broad, long-term measurable objectives and the goal of the research proposal Background and Significance ­ briefly sketch the background leading to the present application, critically evaluate existing knowledge, and specifically identify gaps that the project is intended to fill Preliminary Studies ­ outlines preliminary studies pertinent to the application as well as preliminary experience of project personnel Research Design & Methods ­ describe the research design conceptual or clinical framework, procedures, and analyses to be used to accomplish the specific aims of the research project Human or Animal Subjects ­ information pertaining to the use of humans or vertebrae animals in the research project. There are usually a fixed set of questions o be answered Staffing/Equipment ­ describe who will participate and at what cost and what equipment purchase(s) will be essential Evaluation ­ describe the outcomes of your proposal and timeline for completing each step Literature Cited ­ literature used in the background search as well as literature used in the body of the research plan

The sponsor generally provides a laundry list of information that must be contained within the research plan. However, in the absence of such a list, it is recommended that: · · · · · The research plan match the outcomes/specific aims The research plan includes methods, procedures, timeline, and/or a plan of action The research plan matches the objectives and needs on the dimensions of innovativeness and scope The research plan has sound rationale The procedures are feasible


This section identifies all "key" and `senior" personnel in the proposal. This means that any person involved in the proposal that has a significant impact should be listed as "key" or "senior" personnel. Most proposal guidelines require a curriculum vitae, biosketch, or resume to be submitted with your proposal. This information is used by the sponsor to document the capability of the organization submitting the application and to document the individuals participating in the project's operation. Personnel may be described in several sections of the proposal and as different categories of employment. Most agencies limit the number of pages dedicated to this section to one to four pages per "key" and "senior" personnel. In addition, follow the sponsor's sample. For example, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) require a specific format that must be followed. Do not include information in this section that does not directly relate to what you are proposing. When developing this section please remember these tips: · · · Include title, responsibilities and percentage of time assigned to the project for each type of staff person Tailor the biography to emphasize experiences relevant to this project Mention the sources of other salary support for key positions that will not be assigned full-time

Facilities and Equipment:

This section lists and describes all of the necessary facilities, equipment, and resources that are directly related to this proposal and necessary to carry out the specific aims/objectives. This is not the same as "Facilities and Administration (F&A)" the University uses as the indirect cost rate. This information is specific to your proposal and will only be used in support of your proposal.

Literature Reviews and/or Related Studies:

This section includes a list of relevant and/or significant publications and/or previous research on which this proposal builds. Agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) limit this information within the proposal. Carefully read the guidelines for your program to determine the appropriate reviews and studies to include with your proposal.


This section may or may not be included as part of the proposal. When it is included, it is used to detail the means by which the sponsor will know that the project has accomplished its purposes. It also describes plans for collecting information or data to improve project operation. It states the purpose of the evaluation, type of information to be collected, details on instruments,

data collection, analysis, utilization and how results will be reported. This may also include a timetable for completing each step of your project.


This section may or may not be included as part of the proposal. When it is included, this section describes how proposal information will be shared. Most sponsor guidelines allow travel for dissemination purposes. This travel may include trips to national conventions or to meet directly with the project director from the funding sponsor. However, it is also possible that any reports or products produced by your research will be called a deliverable and handled through our University's contract management team.

Bibliography/References Cited/Literature Cited:

This section is a listing of all the references cited in the proposal. There are several different ways to cite these references but APA style is usually acceptable. Use the sponsor guidelines to determine the specific way they desire to see this information within your proposal. For example, NSF is very specific about including titles in your reference section even though omitting titles may be a generally accepted practice for citing references in your field of expertise.

Other Support (Current, Pending, and Completed):

This section lists or describes current, pending, and/or completed research support an individual is or has received for other projects regardless if the principal investigator received or is receiving a salary from the proposal. Please check the guidelines. In some cases, other support is not required unless requested by the sponsor.

Appendices/Attachments (if allowable):

This section usually includes charts, graphs, written works related to the project, surveys, questionnaires, business plans, IRS documents, annual reports, brochures, letters of support or other materials related to your research. It is important to understand that some sponsors do not allow submission of appendices/attachments or limit the use of appendices/attachments in their proposal guidelines. At no time should this section of the application be used to circumvent the page restrictions or supplement the research plan/project description.

Proposal Writing References

The following is a list of references used to compile this site and is excellent resources to explore with regard to proposal writing: Burns, Michael E. Proposal Writer's Guide. New Haven, CT: Development & Technical Assistance Center.

Coley, Soraya M., and Cynthia Scheinberg. Proposal Writing. Newburg Park, CA: Sage Publications. Gooch, Judith Mirick. Writing Winning Proposals. Washington, D.C.: Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Hall, Mary. Getting Funded: A Complete Guide to Proposal Writing. 3rd ed. Portland, OR: Continuing Education Publications. Kiritz, Norton J. Program Planning and Proposal Writing. Expanded version. Los Angeles, CA: The Grantsmanship Center.

Proposal Writing Links

The following are a list of websites that have additional and/or in-depth information you can use in support of your proposal writing effort.

What to do when you are done writing your proposal?

Click on the link below before when ready to submit the proposal: The above link will provide you specific information concerning the requirements for submitting your proposal through the University of Central Florida. The ORC pre-award staff will assist you in preparing the cover letters, mailings, copies, previewing proposal, budgeting, compliance, and obtaining signatures on documents requiring an authorized representative's signature as well as a host of other functions. PLEASE REMEMBER: Sponsors receive thousands of proposals each year so if you are not funded on the first submission, try, try, again!


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