Develop Proposal and Budget

Table of Contents

The Table of Contents would typically include the items below.

Page Formatting

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.

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.

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.

Project Management


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&A (indirect costs), and total costs.


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:

Be sure the program guidelines allow for the above information.

Proposal Writing Dos

Proposal Writing Don'ts