Development of a successful proposal involves many steps, from understanding grant terminology and writing the abstract to developing a detailed budget, then pulling all the components of the proposal together. The following pages contain useful information to assist you in this process.
If you have questions about the first/next steps regarding your external proposals, contact information for Proposal Development Specialists (for pre-submission information) and Sponsored Program Coordinators (for award negotiation and modifications) can be found on the Pre-Award Contacts page. For general questions, call the Office of Research Services (ORS) at 325-4757 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) is also a great resource for proposal development and can help faculty find and secure external funding, partner with collaborators, and broaden their impact. To learn more, visit the CFE website. Also, here are some Proposal Quick Tips to check out as you begin to develop your proposal.
These are research/sponsored projects and grant-related terms and acronyms commonly used in proposals, agreements, and contracts. If you are looking for a term or acronym and cannot find it, contact Research Information Services (RIS). NOTE: these terms are based on federal definitions which may not match some sponsor (state/local) definitions.
When you are developing a proposal and trying to meet the requirements of the sponsor for the proposal being submitted, it is important to understand some concepts behind the structure of guidance. A federal sponsor will have legal requirements that flow down from the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). These are primarily in the CFR 200 Title 2 series related to grants/sponsored projects management; you will hear these referred to as "the cost principles." The federal sponsor will usually have a general guideline on what they want in parts of the proposal (which can also include proposal review information and award terms and conditions). Many times, they will issue a specific solicitation for some objectives on which they want proposals to focus. There may also be state, local, and university policies that need to be met for an application to be considered legal and correct. As guidance flows down it usually becomes more restrictive (See Charts).
The system the sponsor is using for the solicitation may have guidelines on file content or construction.
Note that sometimes program officers are not aware of differences between submission system requirements and solicitation requirements, or more than one program officer wrote the solicitation so you may have what appears to be conflicting or duplicating information. An example of this would be when the solicitation says to load a one-page abstract but the form in grants.gov is four pages. Your Proposal Development Specialist will try to resolve these issues for you when they become aware of them.
This means you will normally ALWAYS have more than one set of guidance you need to follow in order to construct a correct/complete proposal submission, especially for a federal sponsor. It is also not uncommon to find that separate guidance is published for award management that you will need to review especially once notified of an award.
If you have a non-federal sponsor such as a commercial entity or non-profit, it is not uncommon for there to be limited guidance. Many times, they will refer to the federal cost principles or expect them to be used in your proposal submission and award management. They may have a proposal submission system, subscribe to a system, or may ask that the proposal be submitted via email or hard copy.
A proposal is a request for support of sponsored research, training, or other creative activity submitted in accordance with the funding sponsor's instructions.
Types of Proposals
Pre-Proposal, Preliminary Proposal, Letter of Intent, Notice of Intent, Statement of Intent, Statement of Interest, Concept Paper, White Paper, Random Order of Magnitude, etc.
These types of proposals are requested when a sponsor wishes to gather information to research conflicts of interest (for possible review panel formation), make initial decisions regarding the sponsor’s interest in the research being proposed, and minimize an applicant’s effort in preparing a full proposal.
They may be initiated by the PI to the program officer (especially in the case of a white paper). They may be recommended or required by a sponsor as part of the submission process. If they are required, not submitting one usually means the PI will not be able to submit a full proposal later. Some sponsors provide feedback to the PI based on these submissions to either assist in the full submission or provide guidance for a future attempt. Sometimes feedback is only provided if the PI requests it.
These types of submissions are usually brief—a letter, an abstract, a sponsor-provided form, a short (3- or 4-page) document, etc. The sponsor will usually specify format and length if they are requesting one. The PI may need to provide information on how the project will be conducted, why it has merit, and the composition of the team.
A pre-proposal establishes a foundation for discussion; it does not normally commit the PI or the university to anything. (Be aware that some sponsors may recognize a pre-proposal as a commitment.) Prior to a submission, an information sheet must be submitted. Since these proposals often do become the basis for negotiation for funding, if a budget or university commitments are included in the submission, Proposal Services will route for the appropriate university signatures before the submission.
Note that a one-page document (or very short paper) may be useful for contacting program officers if you are unsure of which solicitation/program is the best fit with your project. It is recommended that you seek guidance from experienced colleagues and the Center for Faculty Excellence in drafting this document.
Unsolicited Proposal. This type of proposal is submitted to a sponsor that generally has not issued a specific solicitation but is believed by the investigator to have an interest in the subject. The unsolicited proposal is developed around general agency guidelines, within a specific subject field, where the scope of the project is not limited by specific solicitation guidelines. For most agencies, unsolicited proposals may be submitted anytime, although there may be target submission dates set to meet particular review panel meetings. It is recommended that you contact a program officer or a person at the agency to gauge interest and their policy on unsolicited proposals (many may ask you to submit a white paper first).
Solicited Proposal (Response to a specific program). This category can include Broad Agency Announcements (BAA), Requests for Proposal (RFP), and Requests for Quotation (RFQ). A proposal submitted to a specific program should conform to the solicitation guidelines issued by the agency. Proposals submitted in response to a BAA are usually accepted at any time during a specified time frame, which may be as long as two or three years. To respond to an RFP or RFQ, the proposed project would have to fit the needs described in the specific work statement developed by the funding agency. An RFP or RFQ is usually specific in its requirements regarding format and technical content and may stipulate certain award terms and conditions (many agencies also have general guidelines that are used in conjunction with the specific solicitation). They usually have a “hard” deadline; if the proposal arrives late, it normally will not be considered. Also, most are one-time solicitations to fit a specific need that may not recur.
Note: NASA considers these types of proposals to be Responses to RFPs; they have solicited proposals where they reach out directly to a PI and ask for them to submit a proposal, usually specifically targeted by the NASA program officer.
Continuation or Non-Competing Proposals. This is a request for financial assistance for a second or subsequent budget period within a previously approved project period. This type of proposal confirms the original proposal and funding requirements of the multi-year project. Continued support is usually contingent on satisfactory work progress, as verified in a required report, and the availability of funds in the sponsor’s budget. Many sponsors cannot do this type of proposal if it is requested with less than 6 months of the award period remaining and when that occurs, may ask the PI to submit a Renewal or Competing proposal.
Renewal or Competing Proposals. These types of proposals are requests for continued support for an existing project that is about to terminate and, from the sponsor’s viewpoint, generally have the same status as an unsolicited proposal. Competing continuation proposals compete with other competing continuation, competing supplemental, and new proposals for funds.
Supplemental Proposal. A supplemental proposal is a request for an increase in support during a current budget period for expansion of the project's scope or research protocol, a special need, or to meet increased administrative or equipment costs unforeseen at the time of the new, non-competing continuation or competing continuation application. Some supplemental proposals have shortened proposal packages, and some are full packages. Some examples of supplemental proposals include Research Experience for Undergraduates, Diversity Supplements, Travel/Conference Attendance Supplements, Facilitation Awards for Scientists and Engineers with Disabilities (FASED), etc.
Budget Revision or Revised Proposal. This is where the sponsor has requested specific changes in the budget or other parts of the proposal in a possible step toward funding. It is very common to see budget reductions and/or changes in scope of work (and we have seen increases on occasion). Normally the PI is contacted (and should immediately contact ORS as these usually have a short response time). While a request to do a revision is generally good news on the road to getting funded, no award commitment is made by the sponsor at this point.
Proposal Update. This is where portions of a full proposal are replaced after submission. Only limited sponsors allow this, and many restrict the timing and what portions of the proposal can be updated. This can be requested by the program officer or by the PI. Normally, they are to correct information or to add a forgotten or updated item (such as publications list) prior to the review panel.
Just in Time Proposal. This is proposal information that is submitted at the request of the program officer/sponsor. Normally, it is an indication of possible award decision or that the proposal is in final review for consideration of award. Sponsors that do JIT proposals normally request current and pending information (or updates), detailed budgets or updates/revisions, and sometimes a variety of other information. Normally, the PI is contacted (and should immediately contact ORS as these usually have a short response time).
Special Proposals. Many federal agencies have special proposals – they may have one-time instructions and due dates, or they may have mechanisms for them on a recurring basis. They not only may be agency specific but may be Department/Division specific such as Labs/Centers under NASA. Some examples are Conference Proposals, Travel Proposals, Fellowships, Training, Rapid Response (to natural disasters), etc. These are usually not tied to an award that is in progress (which would be a Supplement). Note: Some of these special proposals may not be tied to funding announcements or solicitations done through postings in grants.gov or SAM but may be announced via sponsor websites or list serves (if the sponsor has divisions they may be announced on division list serves). Non-funding examples are internships, access to special equipment, labs, or computing resources.
It is possible that a PI may have work related to a project that will be done by another organization or person. Depending on their involvement in the project they may be considered a subcontract/subaward, vendor, or consultant. The decision on what the person or organization is may vary on each proposal they are included in, as it is primarily the determination of the involvement and not based on who the person or organization is. A subcontract usually has a high level of involvement, possibly involved in programmatic decisions and publication authorship.
OU personnel also may be involved in other organizations as a subcontract, vendor, or consultant. There are limitations/parameters on each of these types of involvement. If an OU PI feels their involvement is as a consultant, it can only be within the limited framework of the University’s Consulting Policy. Vendor services related to OU PI performing them are usually only appropriate if the PI involved has established a recharge/service center with the VPRP. An OU person cannot be a consultant on an OU proposal (they need to be in area A or B of the budget form); a retired OU person may be a consultant but they need to ensure the timing and amount of funds will not jeopardize their retirement (confirm with HR).
If you are the PI on a proposal, you have certain responsibilities to ensure you, the university, and the sponsor have interests protected and that actions are done in accordance with sponsor requirements and other compliance items. It is the PI’s responsibility to be aware of these general responsibilities.
If you need help determining if you are or have a subcontract, vendor, or consultant, refer to this matrix.
Having a subcontract on a proposal or being a subcontract on a proposal usually means that the submitting organization needs a package of information to document there is a subcontract. If OU is the submitting organization, we require the below documents regardless of whether the submission package requires the inclusion of any information from the package or other documents. If the submission is not a full proposal, it is possible only a letter of intent or email from the organization’s Sponsored Projects Office may be needed (work with your PDS). It is not legal or ethical for OU to indicate on a proposal submission of any type that a subcontract organization is involved, by name, if we have not obtained intent documentation from the organization.
Common items needed for a subcontract with OU include these elements.
Involvement of a subcontract on a proposal increases the time needed to obtain documents for internal routing to be done and should be taken into consideration by the PI. If OU is the subcontract, the submitting organization will need time to include our materials in their internal routing, and we need to do our process for the items being submitted as well.
Also note that if a subcontract is involved in a proposal that requires cost share, they are normally expected to bear their portion of the cost share on their funds unless the PI has 3rd party cost share that will cover it or receives approval from ORS.
Terminology for various decisions and status may vary by sponsor, so you should check their guidelines for more specific information.
Invite/Not Invite (decision final). This decision is normally used in preliminary types of proposals where the PI has sent in some type of short synopsis of their research idea and the sponsor indicates they are firmly interested (INVITE) or not interested (NOT INVITE) in seeing a full proposal (either at this time or against the solicitation in question). The PI should not proceed to submit more materials related to this research idea at this time if they have a NOT INVITE decision. Usually the sponsor will only accept INVITED final submissions (and some submission systems will lock out non-invited proposals).
Encouraged or Discouraged (decision discretionary). This decision is normally used in preliminary types of proposals where the PI has sent in some type of short synopsis of their research idea and the sponsor indicates they are interested (ENCOURAGE) in seeing a full proposal (either at this time or against the solicitation in question) or not interested but willing to see if the PI’s full proposal sways them (DISCOURAGED). If the PI wishes to submit and has a DISCOURAGED decision, they will be allowed to submit but should not be surprised if the proposal is not selected for review or for funding. Normally you should only proceed after a DISCOURAGE decision if there is material you are adding or including to the full proposal that was inadequately covered or missed in the initial submission.
Reject (usually decision final). The proposal is either not selected for review or for funding. Within Cayuse, the university’s pre-award software and submission assistance software, you may see status of Reject on proposals that have been submitted that are over a year old (usually 18 months) as a housekeeping effort; should a funding surprise come in, the status is easily changed out of ‘rejected’.
Pending. This may mean the proposal is between status changes. Depending on the sponsor, if a proposal is in pending status for a while it can mean there is an issue and you should follow up on it.
Accepted/Approved. This may mean the submission was accepted by the submission system or the program officer. It may not mean the proposal is complete or viable for review – it may just mean that it proceeded to the next step. It could also mean (especially if Approved) that it has been favorably reviewed and is being considered for funding (check sponsor guidance).
Under Review/In Review. This could mean under review for compliance checks by various offices after submission; it could mean it is being checked or reviewed by the Program Officer for compliance or assignment to a review panel; or it might be in the review panel process. Usually either sponsor website or general guidelines can help you determine the terms definition for your particular sponsor, or you should consult with the program officer.
Selected/Not Selected. This may mean the submission was selected by the Program Officer/Sponsor for review, award, or for processing to the next step (check sponsor guidance).
Withdraw (final status). Withdrawal of a proposal removes it from the consideration for review (or possibly submission). This action can be done by the sponsor (usually for failure to meet guidelines) or the sponsor may ask a PI to withdraw a submission to prevent a conflict (wrong review panel, possible funding of another proposal for the PI). The PI can withdraw or request a withdrawal (to prevent a conflict in awards/proposals, or if issues have arisen where the proposed work can’t be performed, such as illness). The university can withdraw a proposal if it does not represent OU well, is out of compliance, or if it is not an official submission (not selected for a limited competition or that it has not been internally routed).
Award/Funded (final status with caveat on available funding and possibly other requirements). Proposal has been selected for award. It is possible to be notified that a proposal is awarded or approved and NOT funded. Many times, when a sponsor does this, they will say the proposal was approved but was below the pay line (in other words they wanted to fund it, but they didn’t have enough funds). Sometimes if funds become available the sponsor will re-visit and fund these proposals (rare, but possible). DO NOT proceed with work or spending related to a notification of award. If you must start spending for some reason, talk with Research Financial Services as you may be able to receive permission for advance spending if you or your department are willing to provide funds to cover the expenditures should the award not be processed by the university. An award notice may come several weeks or months after a PI has received word from their program officer of selection. Also, although rare, it is possible an award won’t be accepted by the university (terms of the award aren’t acceptable) or that it will be withdrawn by the sponsor during the award process (for example, due to a short fall in funding or some type of emergency that resulted in funds being pulled, like a national disaster or Congressional budget delays or changes).
This terminology can also vary by the sponsor but here is general guidance.
Target Deadline. The proposal will be accepted after the target deadline. If you miss a target deadline, it usually means you may miss a review panel or meeting related to the funding process and they will hold your proposal until the next panel or meeting is done (consequential funding impact as this delay may range from weeks to months) (recommendation is considered Target same as Deadline).
Deadline. No acceptance after the deadline date; no exceptions except unusual circumstances and this varies by sponsor. Some have no exceptions, e.g., NSF closed, natural/anthropogenic disaster, organization unable to submit, death in family.
Submission window. Sponsor accepts proposals from start to end of submission window dates; end date is the same as a deadline date. Sponsors normally do this when they have recurring review panels.
No Deadline. Some sponsors accept proposals whenever the PI wants to submit them (throughout the year). We are seeing this primarily in some NSF Divisions, but the review times still seem to be running about six months.
If a deadline is after 5 pm and must be submitted by ORS, then special permission must be obtained from the ORS Pre-Award Services Director or Executive Director for a PDS to be tasked to work past normal office hours (rarely approved, especially last minute). PI should also note that ORS is normally closed when the campus is closed; should campus closure be due to a weather or other non-normal event, we will assist in coordinating with sponsors to try and obtain deadline extensions if needed. PIs are advised that they should always try to submit 1-2 days ahead of the deadline to allow time for possible submission errors to be announced and (if possible) resubmission. Internal routing should be accomplished before submission as the internal routing is the action that gives permission for the PI/ORS to submit an official proposal on behalf of the university.
Several federal sponsors have a policy of extending to the following business day if a deadline falls on a weekend or holiday. Confirm this policy if you are not certain the sponsor has it (NSF and NIH both do this extension).
If you are doing a collaborative submission by multiple organizations (normally NSF), each organization must submit their portion before 5 pm their local time or the entire proposal is rejected.
If no deadline time is given, it is normally assumed to be 5 pm local.
Watch deadline times in solicitations, as they may be set for different time zones or unusual times such as 3 pm Eastern. Sponsor deadlines of after 5 pm local time mean the submission must be done by 5 pm if the submission is being done by ORS.
This section covers establishing and maintaining personal items related to research such as Biosketch, Literature review, Collaborators file/info, Networking, Fit with Sponsor, etc. Several of these sections we would advise investigators to contact the university’s Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) for assistance.
As a faculty or staff person decides they want to follow a course of research or in getting projects funded by external organizations, it becomes important that they strategically position themselves for success. See the following tips and suggestions for building your research profile.
While the Office of Research Services (ORS) understands that there may be times investigators are given short notice to develop a proposal submission, we often receive questions on what would be a good proposal timeline. Based on research and discussions with other research administrators/proposal development personnel, the ‘ideal’ timeline is provided below.
Note that whatever an investigator-projected deadline for submission is, ORS will provide as much support and assistance as possible in meeting that deadline — within reason and our ability to support other proposals in progress. The earlier a PI starts the process (via information sheet submission) with ORS, the better we can support the proposed submission.
The budget template below is provided as a courtesy; however, it is recommended you contact your Proposal Development Specialist (PDS) so they can provide a template adjusted to fit the solicitation/parameters involved in your proposal (if you are not sure who your PDS might be, submit an information sheet for the proposal or refer to the PDS/SPC contact list.
Use of an OU budget template is required for any proposal being submitted by OU personnel. This spreadsheet is preloaded with the current Fringe Benefits, GRA Tuition, and IDC rates (full rate).
CAUTION: Using any other budget template either from a sponsor, another organization, or one that is self-developed may delay the proposal process. Only the proposal budget developed by the PI with ORS assistance is considered an official budget.
If you wish to request Activity Codes other than Research (like Other Sponsored Activity) and/or if you want to request a lower indirect cost rate such as Off Campus, read the instructions, and complete a Request_Activity_Code_Reduced_IDC_ Form, and send it (with appropriate documents) to your PDS prior to finalizing your budget for the internal routing of the proposal.
If you need current indirect/Facilities and Administrative rates or other information such as mileage or per diem, refer to the website tab on Rates and Reports.
To view a training video focused on how to use the ORS Budget Template, visit ORS Training and Development.
The OU budget is just for OU Norman campus entries apart from funds put under consultant or subcontract lines. It may also be beneficial to look at Post Award Object Codes to see examples for types of common research expenditures. Only a budget prepared by the OU PI with OU ORS is considered the official budget (after routing). If someone else is preparing a budget for you or if you are not using the OU spreadsheet template, you will be delaying your proposal process because the budget will have to be redone by the appropriate people on the internal form.
As you consider the budget for your research proposal, CHECK THE SPONSOR GUIDELINES – many times they will say in detail what they want to see in the budget and if there are any required or excluded items. If the solicitation does not cover the budget items, see if the sponsor has general guidelines (most do). Be aware that some sponsors may give you the start date, budget limits or ranges, and year range/duration. The timing of actions in your research (milestones, tasks, objectives, deliverables) should affect your budget. Take into consideration if the budget has a need to be set on a certain calendar or fiscal year basis and what the sponsor’s fiscal year is.
Salaries & Wages
Support for salaries and wages is requested as a percentage of your effort based on current income and appointment. Calculate your current salary, divided by your appointment (9 or 12), times the percentage of effort, times the number of months. Note that the OU Budget template (the spreadsheet received from your PDS after the info sheet is submitted) will automatically calculate the amount of salary when you enter the effort and time.
Things to consider:
Fringe benefits are costs associated with salaries that are incurred by the university and must be included on sponsored programs. The rate for the fringe benefits is tied to the appointment of the person/position. Included (dependent on appointment) may be:
Things to consider:
Equipment, as defined by the federal government AND the university's rate agreement, means an article of nonexpendable, tangible personal property having a useful life of more than one year and an acquisition cost of >$5,000 per unit.
Things to consider:
Travel expenses may include:
Participant Support Costs
This budget category refers to costs of transportation, per diem, stipends, and other related costs for participants or trainees (but not OU employees or persons employed on the grant) in connection with sponsored conferences, meetings, symposia, training activities, and workshops (‘sponsored’ here means the agency is sponsoring a special conference or meeting; usually this area is only used if the Investigator is hosting some type of workshop or training event, NOT a meeting).
Things to consider:
Other Direct Costs
This budget category refers to costs directly associated with the project that fall into the following subcategories:
Facilities & Administrative Costs (F&A) (also known as indirect costs or IDC)
The applicable F&A rate, negotiated with the university’s cognizant federal agency, must be used in computing F&A (IDC) for all sponsored research/activities. Check the guidelines for any restrictions. If you feel Activity Codes for non-research activities or off campus may be appropriate, talk with your PDS on the approval process.
The University of Oklahoma's rate agreement is based on Modified Total Direct Costs (MTDC), which consists of all total direct costs (salaries and wages, fringe benefits, travel, other direct costs, and subcontracts/subgrants up to the first $25,000 of each subcontract/subgrant).
If the sponsor restricts rate collection, then the ORS policy is to calculate on Total Direct Costs base, provided the sponsor has not also restricted that.
No one may negotiate or agree to a rate other than the full research rate in the University’s Negotiated Indirect Cost Rate Agreement (NICRA) except for the President, Provost, Vice President for Research and Partnerships, or their designated, legally appointed representatives (such as the OU team that assists with the rate negotiation, the persons and/or committees that approve different activity codes or rates outside of the negotiated agreement parameters).
The university policy on cost share is not to voluntarily commit cost share when the sponsor does not require it. When you start formulating your cost share package, work with your PDS to depict it on the OU internal budget (they may need to add lines or adjust formulas). Various approvals/proof may be needed to validate the cost share availability. Some sponsors will restrict what can be in the cost share package. Subcontracts are expected to bear the amount of cost share tied to the funds they are requesting. If they are not able to, the OU PI can obtain 3rd party cost share to cover it or may ask for consideration for OU to provide it (only for non-commercial subcontracts).
To view a training video focused on Proposal Budget Basics, visit ORS Training and Development.
The budget justification for your proposal is the word picture that provides more detailed explanations for your budget (spreadsheet, chart, form). There are some agencies such as DOE with a budget spreadsheet they call a budget justification which merges some numbers and written explanation of the budget into one location. Some sponsors want the budget justification in more than one format (fiscal year, calendar year, task or milestone breakdown, real year, etc.) or may ask for special charts or other information to be included.
Be sure to check for sponsor guidelines in the amount of detail they want to see in the budget justification. Most want an entry for each line of spending in your budget spreadsheet; some want very detailed information on the figure and how you arrived at it plus the source of your calculations.
YOUR BUDGET JUSTIFICATION SHOULD NOT LOOK THE SAME FOR EVERY PROPOSAL THAT YOU DO (NEITHER SHOULD YOUR BUDGET). If you submit to the same programs on a routine basis, the review panel may see more than one proposal from you and it will be very apparent that you have taken no time to really develop a budget for the work you are proposing to do. Also, while the proposal is your best guess at the budget now, many sponsors do not like huge shifts in the funding, and you may need to ask for permission to move funds around.
It is very common that sponsors may request changes to the budget after submission especially as a step prior to award (usually for a budget reduction). Whenever any change is to be made in the budget of a pending proposal that has been submitted to a sponsoring agency, ORS must be notified. Most sponsors will contact the PI to initiate this change. It is very important for the PI to immediately notify ORS so all necessary actions can be taken; usually these are relatively quick turn items of less than one to two weeks.
Once ORS is notified, the appropriate Sponsored Programs Coordinator (SPC) and/or Proposal Development Specialist (PDS) will work with the PI to determine if the revised budget must be processed and rerouted for university approval (if necessary, the revised budget, justification, and any accompanying change in the scope of work must be processed with the same signatures/levels of approval as the original proposal to ensure that all parties who signed the original are aware of any changes which might affect the original approval).
PIs are cautioned that should you be informed of a budget reduction, you should not automatically respond to the sponsor that the original proposed objectives/statement of work can still be accomplished. It is acceptable to modify the scope or reduce tasks/objectives if you have a significant budget reduction. If the scope is not going to be modified then you need to address in your Budget Impact Statement or new budget justification how this is going to be accomplished (possibly by institutional support). Otherwise, it appears to the sponsor that you initially asked for more funding than was needed to accomplish the proposed work.
Don't give up. A proposal may have to be submitted several times (with changes each time) before it is funded. If your application is unsuccessful, read the reviewers' comments. It may be worth rewriting and submitting in the next submission cycle.
Most agencies specify proposal forms or formats and provide guidance about content, page limitations, and how the proposal is to be submitted. The following elements are common in many proposals. DO NOT USE THE INFORMATION PROVIDED HERE IN LIEU OF THE SPONSOR'S GUIDANCE.
The OU Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) can assist with research plans and proposals, facilitating collaboration, funding and resource development tools and strategies, capacity building opportunities, and research writing groups and services.
Cover Page/Title Page
The proposal cover page or title page allows you to present your proposal to the agency in a standardized manner to simplify processing and review. Follow the instructions carefully and fill in all of the blanks. Some agencies, such as the National Institutes for Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), will reject a proposal if the title is one space too long or the font type is the wrong size. The title is very important; it should be descriptive, brief, and easy to remember.
When an agency does not use a specific cover or title page, a generic cover form should be used which provides much of the same basic information. A cover/title page should include the title of the project, the sponsor's name and address, the principal investigator's (PI) name and address, the Office of Research Services' address and the authorizing official/contact name, the amount requested, the dates of the project, and the date submitted. Some sponsors may request additional information. If the sponsor requires a signed cover/title page, then signature lines for the PI and authorized official should be added at the bottom of the page.
The abstract/summary can be the most important part of the proposal. A well-written abstract/summary creates the first impression reviewers have of the proposed work and may determine whether the rest of the proposal is reviewed. Although the abstract/summary precedes the narrative section of the proposal, it should be written last to accurately reflect the entire content of the proposal. The abstract/summary should briefly summarize the project (generally no more than 200-250 words or one page), the background and significance, the objectives, the methodology you plan to use, and the evaluation. Some agencies use keywords from the abstract/summary to assign the proposal to the appropriate agency office or review group. A few agencies such as the National Science Foundation have very specific instructions about the content of the abstract/summary.
Table of Contents
If your proposal is longer than four or five pages, you should include a Table of Contents listing the different sections contained in the proposal and referencing the specific page where each section begins. This allows reviewers easy reference to specific information and presents an overview of how your proposal is organized. Review the guidelines carefully for proposal content and formatting requirements and structure the table of contents accordingly. Some agencies will provide a standard form for the table of contents. In cases where this is not provided, a generic table of contents can be used.
Project Description/Project Narrative
This section is the heart of the proposal. The agency guidelines generally specify what information to include in the narrative, but a guideline to follow includes:
If the proposal is a resubmission to the same agency of a previously rejected proposal, be sure to consider reviewer comments in the rewrite.
Budget and Budget Justification
Biographical Sketch/Vitae for Key Personnel
Briefly describe the key personnel involved and their contributions to the project. Where specialized personnel (glassblowers, instrument technicians, computer specialists) will be provided without cost to the project, they should be specified. Identify and justify the use of consultants or subcontracted services on the project. In addition to these brief descriptions, include curriculum vitae of all key personnel to be involved in the project. Some agencies, i.e., NSF and NIH, have specific forms or formats and restrict the amount of biographical information to be included. Others may request full vitae to be included in the appendix.
Current and Pending Support
The Current and Pending is a listing of grants and contracts the Principal Investigator (PI) and other key project personnel currently have awarded and other proposals that are pending a funding decision. A separate form is usually used for each individual. The information should include the sponsor, title of project, awarded amount, total time committed to the project, and location of the project. Some agencies require a brief description of these projects and a statement showing any overlap or duplication.
Resources/Equipment and Facilities
Describe the equipment and facilities already available to carry out the proposed project, including special equipment, services, field resources, animal care facilities, controlled environment, special laboratory facilities, etc. Differentiate between those facilities and resources that are currently available to support the project and those resources that are needed. Some agencies require a form for "available resources and facilities."
A reference of pertinent literature is usually required. The agency guidelines may specify a limit on the number of references or a limit on the number of pages. Each citation should be complete and include the names of all authors, the article and journal title, book title, volume number, page numbers, and year of publication. Proposers should be careful to follow accepted scholarly practices in listing citations for all source material given in this section. Remember to list bibliographic citations only in this section. Do not attempt to add additional information that might lead the agency to conclude that it belongs in the project narrative.
Appendices are support material related to the proposals which are not a direct part of the proposal. Be as brief as possible. Such information might include lengthy tables and charts, test instruments, journal reprints (if appropriate), and/or letters of support. These materials should be contained in the Appendices and listed in the Table of Contents. Check the guidelines; appendix material may not be allowed.
Certifications, Assurances, and Other Forms as May Be Required by the Sponsor
Some sponsors require certifications, assurances, and other forms be completed and submitted with the proposal. Many require the signature of the Authorized Official and should be completed for inclusion with the routing documents. Check the guidelines and consult your Proposal Development Specialist for assistance.
OU provides some resources for writing/developing research proposals, but the bulk of the responsibility rests with the PI of the proposal. This section covers some tips and resources to assist you.
Read the solicitation and make sure that if the sponsor provides general guidelines, you also read those. The majority of the format and content errors generated on proposals are due to not following instructions. This is also the easiest way for a sponsor to eliminate proposals under review.
Use your peer, mentor, and colleague networks to review your proposal for content and typographical errors. If you have a team writing parts of the proposal, allow time for all the parts to be assembled to ensure page limitations are met and to work on the flow between sections.
ORS does not provide proofreading services for proposals. If there is time prior to submission, we will check formatting and whether required sections or files are all present. Unfortunately, the PI may plan time to allow this and then due to last minute proposals your PDS may not have the time to perform this function; we will try our best. On some larger proposals or for a more inexperienced PI we will try to provide more support such as initial review. We will help provide templates for as many items as we can (such as biosketches).
The OU Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) can assist with research plans and proposals, facilitating collaboration, funding and resource development tools and strategies, capacity building opportunities, and research writing groups and services.
Most federal agencies (and some other funding organizations) will have tips and information on writing your proposal on their website; be sure to look. NIH and NASA have extensive information available on writing a winning proposal. There is also a lot of information on the web – just be careful when doing downloads, not only from a virus perspective but also possible charges/fees. Many sponsor organizations will provide copies of either all or parts of prior awarded proposals.
Develop a relationship with the program officer(s) in the agencies you will be approaching for funding. Send them a white paper on your ideas and ask if they have suggestions or if this particular idea is in line with their funding priorities. Many will provide comments back to you and if your idea doesn’t fit, they may introduce you to the person you need to talk with in another area.
Volunteer to be a reviewer. This is a way for you to see the process from the other side and learn what the reviewers are really looking for and what makes a winning proposal stand out from the other submissions. Many program officers appreciate people who volunteer to review and it is a way you can start a relationship with them. Do not assume because you are new in the field that you would not be picked to be a reviewer; many panels will have one or more younger or lay persons on the team to ensure the proposals selected make sense to the average person.
Writing an Effective Research Proposal
NIH Grant Writing Tips
Hints on Preparing Research Proposals
Some NASA related information plus link to "how to" guide
S.J. Levine, Michigan State University – Guide for Writing a Funding Proposal