- Develop your idea in a summary or outline format to clarify the program elements and project scope.
- Create a budget wish list by reviewing your summary and listing anything and everything that is going to cost money, i.e. faculty, staff and/or student's salary and fringe benefits, supplies, travel, STEM tuition/equipment, participant incentives, etc. This allows you to conduct your funding search with an eye on the true costs of your project. The budget can be modified and adjusted later in the proposal stage. This is just to give you an idea of the costs. Your GCS pre-award specialist will be more than happy to help you with this.
- Locate a funding source that is compatible with the scientific, programmatic and financial scope of your project. A selection of funding opportunities is listed on our website. Search engines, such as Research Professional are also available for this purpose.
- If you are unable to find a suitable vehicle that meets your financial needs, you may need to reconsider the scope or scale of your project at this point.
- Once you have found a suitable funding vehicle, you can begin to prepare a proposal tailored to the specifics of that funding agency. Develop a time line for your proposal preparation. Above is a sample time line to show that preparing a grant submission is not something you want to wait until one week before the deadline to start, especially if this is your first submission. This time line was presented on the website of NIAID.
- Read and follow the agency guidelines carefully to ensure your proposal will be in compliance with their requirements. Provide a copy of, or link to, these guidelines to your GCS pre-award specialist as soon as possible.
- Revise your budget according to the agency guidelines. GCS will assist you with this.
- After you have revised your budget, the scope of your project in response to this particular solicitation will be better defined, allowing you to draft your proposal.
Your specialist will be able to assist you in all stages of proposal development. Please keep them informed of your progress and ask if you need any help along the way. The Office of Grant & Contract Services web page has several helpful links.
A proposal is essentially a persuasive essay. You are trying to persuade a sponsor to spend their research dollars on your proposal above all others. Keep in mind the general rules for persuasive writing while you are drafting your proposal. In addition to the information we have provided below, click here to view a very good resource for basic writing tips and techniques that can help you refresh your skills from time to time and the National Institutes of Health’s NIAID All About Grants page provides a wealth of information that can be applied to any proposal.
- Peer review is one of your greatest assets. Contact a senior or funded member of your department and ask them to read your proposal.
- Unless the solicitation forbids it (and some do) it is perfectly acceptable for you to contact the program manager and make sure your proposal is a good fit for them. If it is not, they may point you in another direction.
- Legibility is important. Use the largest font size you can. The best font (and one that some agencies require) is Arial/Helvetica. Twelve point is best but you can get away with eleven.
- But that doesn’t leave me with enough room to explain my research you say? Tip number four: Be Concise! Don’t use ten words to say what you can in five.
- Use the active voice in your writing. Keep it interesting and conversational. You want the reviewer to come away excited about your idea, not feeling like they just attended a ten hour lecture directly after an international flight.
- While good persuasive writing will address the potential flaws in an argument or direction, it should also explain why you will be able to avoid those pitfalls. Be assertive in your ideas while still acknowledging room for debate and the value of other opinions.
- Don’t use jargon or, if you need to, explain it the first time you use it. While your reviewers will be experts, not all of them will necessarily be experts in your specific field.
- The most important part of your proposal is actually not the project narrative. It is the summary. The majority of reviewers in a crowded panel arrive having only read your summary and rely on your primary reviewers to enlighten them on the project as a whole. Anyone picking up your summary should be able to understand why your project is more important that any one else’s. This is also the part of the proposal that will become part of the public record, so avoid jargon and do not include any confidential or proprietary information.
- FOLLOW THE SPONSOR GUIDELINES!! This cannot be said enough. Failure to follow the formatting and limitations imposed by the sponsor can result in the return of your proposal without review. UTA has had proposals returned for compliance reasons. Although you may not feel the bio-sketch or current support are the most important parts of your proposal, not complying with the sponsor requirements can get your proposal sent back.
- Last, but definitely not least, always have others, whether they are in your department or not, read and edit your proposal. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are important. If you misspell a word that could have been caught by spell check or another set of human eyes it is going to stand out like a sore thumb. It’s easy to fall in love with our own words and lose perspective while writing something we believe in. Another set of eyes can help spot wordiness where the author may see a cunning turn of phrase. If you ask your GCS pre-award specialist and are able to get your proposal to us with enough lead time, we will be happy to provide editing assistance and a pair of layman’s eyes.
There are a great variety of online writing resources available to you. We have included links to some of them here, but remember, the Office of Grant and Contract Services is an asset as well. Any time you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to call on us.
The merit review criteria are the guidelines that reviewers follow when deciding which proposals to fund. They are incredibly specific to that agency and can provide a treasure trove of information on how to prepare and format your proposal. The review criteria can be called by a variety of names, i.e. Merit, Selection, Evaluation, or Performance. When writing your proposal, keep these criteria in mind. When you are responding to a specific criterion it may be helpful to address the question directly or use some of the terms from its description to highlight your responsiveness to their program.
Some agencies will assign a percentage of the proposals score to individual criterion. Others view the proposals responsiveness to the criteria as a whole. NSF, for example, gives equal weight to both the intellectual merit and the broader impacts of a proposal while, the Department of Education assigns points for need, significance, and quality. The criteria will vary from agency to agency and from proposal request to proposal request, so familiarize yourself with the review or selection criteria for the solicitation you are responding to.
Examples of Merit Review Criteria:
Just because your proposal was not funded does not mean that you are walking away empty handed. Many agencies will provide you with the reviewers’ comments on your proposal. Since these reviews are based on the Merit Review Criteria discussed previously, they will give you an indication of where your proposal was deemed weak. Go over these comments carefully, rethink your proposal, and then redraft. Unless the program prohibits resubmissions, you will most likely be able to submit again taking these comments into consideration. A declination can be an incredible opportunity to learn if you choose to treat it as such. The NIH-NIAID site has excellent recommendations about what to do next and your GCS pre-award specialist will be more than happy to help and advise during the resubmission process.
- The National Institutes of Health has provided an invaluable tool for the proposal writer with its Annotated R01 Grant Application and Summary Statement.
- The Department of Health and Human Services “NIH RePORTER” (formerly "CRISP") system also allows you to look up proposals that have been funded.
- The Department of Education has a variety of sample proposals available here.
- Keep in mind that proposal guidelines may change over time. Something that was permitted under previous solicitations may not be permissible now.
This information below should be helpful to you in preparing your proposal. The links provided are all external sources, so please remember that UTA and the Sponsor’s proposal submission policies are the ones that will be enforced. What is allowable at one institution may not be at another. If you have questions about any of the information you find here, please do not hesitate to contact your specialist.
Grammar and Language Usage
Other universities research office web sites
- The University of Wisconsin – Madison
- University of Massachusetts – Amherst
- University of Notre Dame
- The University of Pittsburgh
- The University of Nebraska
National Institutes of Health
National Science Foundation
Department of Education
Department of Energy
Department of Justice