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Division of Title III Administration and Sponsored Programs

Proposal Development

A good proposal, whether it is research, training or curricular development, requires time. Oftentimes one is forced to speed up proposal development because of impending deadlines, but often times one knows far enough in advance to make adequate plans. Many granting agencies have more than one deadline; it may be more profitable to miss a deadline rather than submitting an application that is not very well prepared.

Proposal writing is a difficult exercise. It requires organization of thought, clear communication, and a logical sequence of ideas. Under the procedure of meeting a deadline it is especially difficult to produce a coherent, precise, and concise application which represents one’s work in the most favorable manner possible. An especially useful aid in helping the researcher develop their ideas and prepare for proposal deadlines is the concept paper. The concept paper is a brief sketch of a project idea, which serves as an advance organizer for the full proposal, and provides a medium to assess the idea in a number of contexts. This brief paper of 2-4 pages helps applicants organize, think through and refine their idea so that it can be shaped into a fundable proposal. Once written, concept papers can be used in a variety of ways: (1) obtain feedback from colleagues; (2) identify resources needed; (3) bring collaborators on board; (4) determine boilerplate which will be needed; (5) identify potential sponsors; (6) pre-proposal contact with sponsor.

While deadlines often govern the proposal writing process, they are generally cyclical. Therefore, researchers can work toward a deadline instead of being driven by it, if they are prepared with a concept paper. Since writing and research productivity are derived from personal commitments, the concept paper is a means of establishing priorities and building upon background, training and experience. They are aids in thoughtfully arriving at the type of commitment, which advances researchers’ interests and contributes to knowledge.

Some ideas are not fundable, either because they are not important, because the timing is not yet right, or because there is no support available. The concept paper can help forecast the viability of an idea and suggest strategies for redefining it, remodeling it, aggressively pursing it, or abandoning it. Since the effort invested in writing a concept is less demanding, it is a practical exercise, which can serve as an early success indicator. Research funds are highly competitive. The quality of applications is critical to their acceptance for award. By generating the proposal on a smaller scale and systematically iterating it, you can considerably enhance its chances for success.




Obtained from the “Guide for Proposal Development” prepared by the Ohio State University Office of Sponsored Programs; Creswell, J. (2003), Research design: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approach; Leedy, P.D. & Ormrod, J.E. (2005), Practical research: planning design; Yin, R.K. (2004), Case study research: design and methods, and CFDA Appendix VI: Developing and Writing Grant Proposals. . The following reflects VUUs standard for the development of proposals.

Proposal Components

There is no standard format for proposals. Each application should be developed in accordance with specific program instructions. The text should be organized and keyed to the evaluation criteria published in the guidelines. Although the narrative outline should follow program specific guidelines, there are components which are common to all proposals and the following should be recognized as the basic framework for translating an idea to a well ordered form:


Contains information about the legal applicant and the proposal: the principal investigator, the title of the project, the agency to which the application is being
submitted, the date submitted, duration of the project, contact persons for questions or negotiation; institutional approvals; and amount requested.

The title deserves special attention. It carries the image of the project. Since it is entered, scanned, and indexed in information systems, it should be precise and telling. Keep it short, but appropriately descriptive.


This page summarizes the key features of the proposal. It should include a statement of the objective, methods, and significance condensed to a page or less. The main points of the text should be covered; it should be informative to others and understandable to a lay person.

The reviewers usually read the abstract first to gain a perspective on the study; use it later to remind themselves of the nature of the study when the project comes up for discussion; it may be the basis for assignment by the sponsor to a specific review group.


Define the problem in specific and realistic form. Avoid too grandiose or too trivial statements. Why has this problem been chosen for study? What are the causes of the problem? Why does the study need to be conducted? Provide documentation and relevant, carefully selected, statistics. State why the sponsor favors this project
over all other applications.


The problem statement and need for the study, as well as, the methodology, will have their foundation in the literature. For example, what is known about the area of inquiry; how does the study relate to what is known; why has the particular approach to the problem been selected? Citations should be analytical, highlighting the essence of an author’s work and describing strengths, weaknesses, comparisons and points of departure. It is important to demonstrate your familiarity with the field. Any pertinent reference that is overlooked may be one that the reviewer expected to see cited. The bibliographic selection will reflect the author’s scholarship and credibility.

If there is no literature bearing on the problem, indicate what sources were consulted; also offer reasons why there is a vacuum. Cite those works, which come closest to the problem and explain why they fall short. If the literature is overwhelming, select only those sources, which bear directly on the problem.

This part of the proposal is not usually a discrete section. Usually it is worked into the flow of the entire narrative so that it provides a conceptual framework. Two points should be kept in mind. First, the proposal cannot be written and then the literature search done. Second, the reviewers will probably be some of the leading authorities in the field and will be looking for particular references; demonstrating your knowledge and understanding of the state-of-the-art is critical. All citations in the text should be compiled in a Selected Bibliography/References section.


These are precise, measurable statements of the expected outcome of the project. Theycan be phrased as objectives, or questions to be answered or hypothesis to be tested. They present the terms of the study by establishing parameters. Carefully selected, they create the specific focus for a manageable project; expressed in epic statements they propose a project, which attempts to do more than it could hope to realize. If they are too narrow, the study may appear to be trivial. Striking a balance keeps the project realistic and manageable. Number and list them so that anyone reading the proposal knows exactly what you seek to achieve. Ask yourself if the objectives lend themselves to operational definitions and if the hypotheses and questions are testable. If they do not, redefine them until they do.


Often, especially in the case of highly competitive grants, there will be a Request for Information (RFI) related to introductory and prerequisite research of studies performed prior to the proposed project. It is useful therefore and to the researcher’s advantage to include a proposal section summarizing experimentation or studies that have been completed in preparation for the primary investigation being proposed. Funding organizations want some assurance that their research dollars are being put to the best possible use, and also want to learn what has led the investigator to formulate his or her present set of objectives. In many such cases, it may be impossible for the researcher to qualify for funding without the inclusion of some well-organized preliminary work.


This section gives evidence of your ability to plan and conduct the study. What activities are proposed to carry out the objectives, to test the questions and hypotheses? What is the rational for the approach?

The procedures should be carefully detailed. In a research proposal, discussion of the methodology should include what data will be collected, accessibility of data, who and how will the data be collected, and how will the data be analyzed, sampling procedure, controls, and subjects.

Justify where necessary the appropriateness of the study design and research methods. Address sample size, selection, and application of statistical methodologies. If you are going to develop curriculum, explain existing sources to be used and why selected, what form it will take, content, filled testing, how it will be used, who will use it, and how it will be made available to users. If you are proposing to do a training program, it should explain what material will be used, who the participants will be, how many, how they will be selected, where the training will take place, how long and who the trainers will be. Let the reader know you have developed a complete plan of action.


Carefully consider if an explicit plan should be included in your proposal and decide what factors will have to be assessed. Consult an evaluation specialist if you have no training or background in evaluation methodology. Clarify for the reviewer who will conduct the evaluation, their qualifications to do so, and their plan for doing it. This maybe a service provided; an outside consultant, someone on campus, or an organization set up for such purposes.


Be sure you have clearly in mind what contribution the study will make. Can the process or the outcomes be duplicated, adapted, or generalized? What accomplishment can the agency take to Congress to support budget requests? Either as an advancement of fundamental knowledge or as an instrument of applied science, the impact of the study must be made clear. Will the results have local, regional, or national significance? What difference will your project make (the eternal before and after question)?




The results of any study must be made available to potential users for application or replication. How will you do it? Dissemination vehicles include presentation at a
professional meeting, publication of an article, holding a conference, and utilizing any existing networks. Plans for this effort should be discussed when it is clear that an agency considers this activity a criterion of evaluation.


Identify key staff members, including yourself, highlight their backgrounds, and comment on the special contribution their expertise will enable them to make. Describe
their specific responsibilities and show their relationships in an organizational chart. If other departments, institutions, or organizations will be participating in the project, discuss their input and what the lines of communication will be.

If consultants or an advisory board will be used, identify people or at least describe the backgrounds and capabilities, which you will seek. Explain the role, exactly what they do and when, as well as, why they are needed. Try to contact individuals before the proposal is submitted to get their agreement to participate.

Let the reader know you understand your own limitations and weak areas as well as your strengths. Provide an activity chart, which lists tasks across the project time period. This can range from a simple bar chart to a critical path chart. The ordering of event dates for completion, and staff responsibilities for implementation in a diagram may help the reader visualize and summarize the work plan.











General university facilities or special features should be narrated. Equipment, systems, administration, resources – all should be highlighted as appropriate. While much of it can be boilerplate for any proposal you write, it should be adapted for each application to call attention to those support systems, which have special relevance to the proposed project. Curricula vitae for all key staff members and consultants are integral to the application.

Letters of support and endorsement help (and may be necessary) to demonstrated evidence of cooperation from participating organizations or individuals. Access to
subjects, sites, and data collections must be made clear.

Budget Consideration

Proposal budgets must be carefully prepared with attention given to details. They must not be exorbitant, but realistic in terms of reaching proposed goals.

1. Basic Steps in Budgeting a Proposal

A. Specify the start and end dates of the project budget period.
B. Decide which budget line items are required by the project.
C. Price the items.
D. Justify budgetary requests, in narrative form, where needed.
E. Seek written approval from university administrators before submitting budget to

2. Checklist for Proposal Budget Items

A. Personnel
1. Academic Personnel
2. Research Associates
3. Research Assistants
4. Graduate Students
5. Interviewers
6. Computer Programmer
7. Evaluators
8. Secretaries
9. Editorial Assistants
10. Technicians
11. Hourly Personnel
12. Release Time
13. Salary increases in proposal for new year


B. Fringe Benefits (@ 30% of salaries and wages for faculty & staff)
2. Retirement
3. Group Ins. – Life
4. Group Ins. – Health
5. Unemployment
6. Worker’s Compensation

C. Consultant Services
1. Consultant fee
2. Travel
3. Subsistence
4. Supplies for consultant

D. Subcontracts

E. Computer Costs
1. On-line Time
2. Job runs
3. Data Storage
4. Computer software
5. Computer use

F. Equipment
1. Fixed equipment
2. Movable equipment
3. Office equipment
4. Equipment installation

G. Materials and Supplies
1. Office Supplies
2. Communications
3. Test materials
4. Questionnaire forms
5. Duplicating materials
6. Animals
7. Animal Food
8. Laboratory supplies
9. Glassware
10. Chemicals
11. Electronic supplies
12. Report materials and supplies
13. Miscellaneous
14. Periodicals & Books
15. Instructional material

H. Travel
1. Administrative
2. Field Work
3. Professional meetings
4. Travel for consultation
5. Air Transportation
6. Mileage
7. Registration fees
8. Per diem
9. Hotel
10. Auto rental/taxi/bus/metro/train

I. Other Expenses
1. Duplication services (reports, etc.)
2. Printing
3. Publication costs
4. Photographic/graphic services
5. Space rental
6. Equipment maintenance
7. Equipment rental
8. Human Subjects payment
9. Workshops
10. Telephone (line charges; long distance)
11. Postage
12. Honoraria

J. Indirect Costs

K. Cost Sharing (if required)

L. Trainee Costs
1. Stipends
2. Dependency allowance
3. Trainee travel
4. Tuition & fees
5. Training supplies