Table of Contents
The Table of Contents would typically include the items below.
- Title of Proposed Project
- Project Summary
- Project Duration
- Organization Background and Information
- Statement of Need
- Project Description
- Goals and Objectives
- Project Design
- Management of Project
- Budget and justification of requests
Nearly all proposals are reviewed electronically now, and if a funder is not yet using this method, they will likely use it in the future. Proposals should use a standard, single-column format for the text. Avoid using a two-column format since it can cause difficulties when reviewing the document electronically.
Guidelines typically clearly define any directives with regard to page and text formatting.
- Margin and/or Line spacing (single-spaced, double-spaced, etc.)
- Established page limits per sections (e.g., 25 pages for the project description)
- Text type and Type size (Times New Roman, 12 pt.)
Small type size makes it difficult for reviewers to read the proposal; consequently, use of small type not in compliance with the above guidelines may be grounds for the funder to return the proposal without review. Adherence to type size and line spacing requirements is also necessary to ensure that no proposer will have an unfair advantage by using smaller type or line spacing to provide more text in the proposal.
Abstract or Project Summary
The proposal must contain a summary of the proposed activity suitable for publication, not more than one page in length. It serves as a critical piece of the proposal and is often the reviewer's first impression. It should not be an abstract of the proposal, but rather a self-contained description of the activity that would result if the proposal were funded. The summary should be written in the third person and include a statement of objectives and methods to be employed. It must clearly address in separate statements (within the one-page summary) the following.
- The intellectual merit of the proposed activity; and
- The broader impacts resulting from the proposed activity.
It should be informative to other persons working in the same or related fields and, insofar as possible, understandable to a scientifically or technically literate lay reader. While this is a requirement on NSF grants, this is not always a requirement on all grants. Consult your grant officers and funder contacts about whether this is an important piece of your proposal.
Project Description/Program Narrative
The project description is the main body of the proposal and should include the following elements.
Statement of Need or Problem to be Addressed. This section is the background and rationale for the project. It should establish the need and importance of the project and provide an adequate perspective in which to evaluate the impending objectives, procedures, and methods of evaluation and dissemination.
Objectives. Indicate the expected outcomes of the project, preferably in measurable terms.
Project Design or Methodology. This is the plan of action for how the objectives will be achieved. In non- research-related projects, this section usually begins with a description of the overall approach, its relevance, effectiveness, and how it is innovative. Then it provides details on methodology, the population being addressed, and how anticipated problems will be managed. In research projects, the design, population sample, instrumentation, statistics, and data analysis must be outlined. Also, if human or animal subjects will be used, plans for their use and care must be detailed, as well as reasons for why they are needed.
Evaluation. This section outlines the procedures you will use to assess the project's outcomes. This section may specify the kinds of data to be collected and the methods by which it will be analyzed, disseminated and utilized.
Dissemination. Funding agencies want their grants to produce maximum impact. This section specifies how the project products or results will be disseminated to others – maximizing the impact of their investment.
Facilities. This section is not appropriate in some proposals but essential in others. This section specifies facilities required and how they will be provided. Special equipment necessary for the project may be identified in this section.
Personnel. This section outlines the ability of the grantee to successfully complete the project. Exhibit prior relevant experience, and describe the grantee's access to necessary facilities, labs, and equipment that are important to the project's success. Most importantly, list all key personnel who will work on the project and include their curriculum vitae. Also mention any consultants who will work on the project, and provide evidence (a letter or e-mail) of support and participation.
Timeline. To assist in the reviewer’s comprehension of how your project will evolve, include a well-developed timeline for project activities. Describe how long (days, months) specific tasks or components of the project will take to complete.
Organization Structure. A well-planned project will be more successful. Be sure to think through the management of the project, the responsibilities of those involved, and how the services rendered will be delivered. Include an organizational chart(s) illustrating how the organizational structure for the person responsible for the project will interact with the organizational structure for the services rendered. Each area of responsibility should be distinguishable, and should include the title and name of the responsible person(s).
Work Breakdown Structure. Present a work breakdown structure for providing the Services. The work breakdown structure should be presented with sufficient detail to determine the reliability of schedule and costs presented by Respondent elsewhere in the Proposal Documents.
Assurance Programs. Briefly describe any of the Programs that might be in place at your facility and how they will be applied to the services provided.
Project Schedule. Provide information regarding proposed scheduling of the services. The milestones specified in the table should correspond to the work breakdown structure.
Create a realistic timeline to complete writing the proposal (in weeks or months). List essential tasks in the first column and identify when they will be accomplished on the timeline. This will assure you maintain focus and stick to deadlines as you develop your project's proposal. Be sure to plan ahead and submit your proposal before the deadline. Many funders now require online proposal submission, and occasionally their sites are overwhelmed and/or down when the deadline rolls around. If you plan to mail your proposal, be sure to allow enough time for it to reach the funder. Work with your grant officers to facilitate the submission of your proposal. They can also overnight a proposal on your behalf. Be sure to schedule around weekend and/or holiday deadlines and scheduled interruptions of mail delivery. A deadline is a deadline, even if it falls on a Sunday.
An accurate and comprehensive budget is a necessity for the success of a proposal. A budget lacking sufficient detail may indicate to the sponsor that you have not completely anticipated the resources needed for your project. Many funders will be able to judge your probable needs from reading your narrative. If your budget seems too high, they may conclude that you are trying to secure more funding than you actually need which may lead to a negative conclusion. On the other hand, if you significantly underestimate your needs, the funder may conclude that you don't really understand the full dimensions of your project. Be as accurate, reasonable and detailed as possible.
A project budget generally contains three elements: direct costs, F and A (indirect costs) and total costs.
Direct Costs are those which can be easily attributed to a particular project. Examples include salaries, wages and fringe benefits of those who will work on, and be paid from, the grant. Project costs, such as supplies and materials, travel, equipment, consultants and evaluators, and other items that directly relate to the project are other examples.
Facilities and Administration (F&A) commonly referred to as "indirect" costs are those that the University incurs for common or joint objectives that cannot be easily identified within a particular project. Examples of F and A costs are: maintaining and operating a physical plant, utilities, general administration, the library, use of capital assets, and staff services such as for purchasing, payroll, and accounting. These costs are typically expressed as a percentage of components of the direct costs. Pacific uses an F and A indirect cost rate (36% as of 2010) of the total direct costs. It is Pacific University policy to recover the full indirect cost rate on all projects, unless there are specific requirements by the funder that disallow indirect costs be charged to the grant, in which case this should be shown as part of the University’s contribution to the project.
Total Costs are direct costs plus F&A costs. In preparing your budget you should attempt to recover all costs – both direct and F&A – for your proposed project.
If allowed, appendices may be included with the proposal. Appendices may include CVs, letters of support, charts, photos, graphs and other supplemental materials that are clearly relevant to a complete presentation of the proposed project. If any item is not clearly relevant, it should not be included.
Supplemental materials may include:
- Background Data
- CVs of Key Personnel
- Previous Relevant Project Results/Publications
- Letters of Support/Commitment
- Large/Complex Diagrams
- Brochures or Other Publications
Be sure the program guidelines allow for the above information.
Proposal Writing Dos
- You must understand the mission and area of project interest of the agency, foundation and program for which you are applying. Funders don't fund projects outside their area(s) of interest.
- Thoroughly read and adhere to the application guidelines
- Contact your grant officer(s) early in the process. Use them as a resource!
- Touch base with the funder’s program officer prior to proposal submission to discuss your project and to ask questions. This is perhaps the most important step in securing your grant award.
- Seek to pursue original research or project ideas. By providing a well focused research plan your research will not wander from the primary purpose.
- Be clear and concise
- Use font, spacing and typeface as indicated by the guidelines
- Address possible problems and how you will provide solutions
Proposal Writing Don'ts
- Don't be unnecessarily wordy. Eliminate the use of jargon and acronyms. Make your writing understandable to the lay person, unless the funder's reviewers have technical expertise in your area of research.
- Don't collaborate with Co-PIs that have little relevant and applicable experience needed to support the project
- Don't request personnel, equipment, supplies or any other items that have no relevance to the research or project. Reviewers will immediately see through this.
- Don't conduct research that is already being performed elsewhere. Do a thorough literature review to ascertain whether this research is already being done elsewhere. The project idea should be innovative and unique. Be sure to list key references.
- Don't deviate from the guidelines. Stay within the specified page limits, margins, line spacing and font size.
- Don't be overly ambitious. Plan a realistic project and a reasonable amount of work.