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Proposal Development


The proposal is an application to receive funding for a project. It contains information regarding who plans to do the work, how it will be done, and what it will cost.

Follow the guidelines that accompany most application forms; proposals that don't follow the guidelines might not be considered for funding. Pay particular attention to the sponsor's funding interests, average funding levels, and maximum size of awards. Many sponsors also have page limitations for proposal sections as well as the entire document, and specific type size requirements. If they are not followed, the proposal may not be accepted.

A complete proposal or "new" application usually contains the following parts:

  • Title or face page
  • Table of contents
  • Abstract or description
  • Literature review or related studies
  • Personnel
  • Resources - available facilities and equipment
  • Research plan/project description
  • Methodology and timing
  • Budget (discussed under budget development)
  • Budget justification (discussed under budget development)
  • Program income
  • Other support
  • Regulatory requirements
  • Bibliography
  • Appendices (if allowed)

Title or face page

Many sponsors either provide their own title page forms or prescribe a format that usually contains the following information:


  • May be used as a screening device to determine which program office handles the proposal; referral to an inappropriate office could lead to rejection.
  • Sponsors may limit its length.
  • The first few words will be used in later communications.

The principal investigator's or program director's name and address

  • The address must be as specific as possible; all later correspondence from the sponsor to the PI will use this address.
  • Multi-institutional collaborations:
    For F&A/indirect cost purposes, these collaborations must designate one institution as the primary facility. The investigator at that location should be the PI. The other institutions, however, must have designated investigators who assume local authority and responsibility for the project's conduct.

Co-PIs and Co-investigators

  • Co-Investigators: If co-investigators are named in the proposal, they must sign the Proposal Review and Approval Form. The PI must always sign the Proposal Review and Approval Form.

For more information on co-PIs and co-investigators, see Section 2.2.

Beginning and end dates of the proposed project
To determine the start date, contact the sponsor. The sponsor may indicate how long the project can take and the earliest starting date.

Amount of the request
Indicate both direct and total (including indirect) costs.

Signatures of authorized organizational representative(s)
Awards are made to the University, not individuals. Therefore the University has designated the following individual’s signature authority on behalf of the University.

Sponsors may ask the PI to sign in another location.

Confidentiality statement (if applicable)
Helps protect the applicant's intellectual property interests. See "Before Writing the Proposal," section 2.2, for the statement's text.

Table of contents
The proposal should contain a table of contents.

Abstract or description

  • Present a short summary of the information detailed in later pages.
  • Include a synopsis of the project's objectives and the procedures used to meet them.
  • Used by the reviewer to gain a perspective of the study and as a reminder when the project is discussed.
  • May be the only part of a proposal read by the reviewing panel or field reader recommendations.
    Note: Because of this distribution, the abstract should not contain any information which enables a person experienced in the field to fully understand and practice any inventions or new processes described in it. Otherwise, intellectual property rights may be jeopardized. See section 2.2 for further information.
  • Prepare it carefully and make sure the broad summary statements are accurate.
  • Generally limit it to one page, and many sponsors give limits for its length.

Literature review or related studies
The literature review, or related studies, may be its own section, or some formats incorporate it into the research plan.

  • Demonstrate the applicant's grasp of the subject area.
  • Establish the current status of the field.
  • Indicate how the project will advance knowledge in its area.
  • Discuss only a few key studies.
  • Present the material in a manner easily grasped by a nonspecialist.

The "who" of the project. Applications often differentiate between key personnel - individuals who have responsibility for the direction of the research - and other personnel, such as lab technicians.

The project director or principal investigator (PI) is usually the person who devised the project and will be responsible for its financial and scientific management.

There may be a co-principal investigator. Use of this category varies among agencies. Check the sponsor's guidelines to determine if this title can be used and how it is defined.

The co-investigator is usually a faculty member who has the scientific qualifications to conduct at least part of the project. A co-investigator can also be from another institution.

Key personnel information usually consists of two parts that may be found in different parts of the proposal:

  • a list of key personnel and their roles in the project, and biographical data sheets.

List of personnel

  • Specify who will work on the project, in what capacity they will participate (PI, faculty associate, research assistant, etc.), and how much effort or time they will spend on the work.
  • List by name (if possible) all personnel who will be working on the project, whether budgeted or cost- shared.
  • Check any specific requirements for a person's identification and associated responsibilities.

    Note: Administrative and clerical costs cannot normally be charged as a direct cost.

Biographical data sheets

  • Establish the participant's expertise and unique capabilities for participation in the project.
  • Use a common format.
  • Include only relevant information.
  • Do not exceed sponsor's limits.
  • Include research experience, other related background information, and pertinent publications.
  • Include curriculum vitae in the appendix.

Resources: for available facilities and equipment
List any laboratory facilities, computer capabilities, special equipment, and other unique features that make the University the logical place to conduct the project.

Research plan/project description
The "what" and the "why" of the project:

  • Describe in detail what work will be undertaken.
  • Justify why the research should be funded.
  • If contractual, consortium, or subcontracts are included, justify their use and outline the work to be done.
  • State the major objectives clearly and specifically so they may be easily understood by the reviewer.

Methodology and timing
The "how" of the project:

  • Explain in detail how the project will be carried out.
  • Demonstrate to the reviewer that the project is feasible and has a reasonable plan.
  • Describe what variables were chosen and why, control methods, and data collection.
  • Describe the nature of the data analysis and the method of this analysis.
  • If the mode of analysis is to be determined after the data are collected, indicate the anticipated methods.
  • Include copies of questionnaires or other means of data collection in the appendix.
  • Acknowledge error factors and outline the means for controlling them.
  • If the methodology is new, novel to the field, or interdisciplinary, explain it carefully because it might be unfamiliar to reviewers.
  • Allow enough time in the proposed project period for data collection, analysis, and interpretation.
  • If necessary, describe the project in phases:
    • It helps the proposal's clarity.
    • If a sponsor is unable to fund an entire proposal, it may fund certain phases.
    • A re-application to the same or another sponsor can be made for phases the sponsor does not fund.

Program income Program income is gross income earned by the recipient that is directly generated by a supported activity or earned as a result of the award (OMB Circular A-110).

Examples of program income include:

  • Income from fees for services performed such as laboratory tests.
  • Income from the use or rental of equipment purchased under the project.
  • Income from the sale of software or tapes.
  • Registration fees from participants at conferences or symposia.
  • Income from the sale of research materials such as tissue cultures or research animals.

Include information regarding anticipated program income for nonfederal as well as federal sponsors, if program income is anticipated at time of proposal preparation.

It is appropriate to discuss with ORSP whether funded activities might generate program income.

If the sponsor's application form does not provide information on where to include program income, list it in the budget or in a separate section after the budget (budget justification.)

Other support

The Public Health Service defines "other support" as all financial resources available in direct support of an individual's research endeavors. Federal agency proposal reviewers use this information to consider how the applicants spend their time, if their plans are viable, and whether research projects overlap in any way. Other support includes all active and pending funds from local, state, and federal agencies; private associations, nonfederal agencies, foundations, and companies; and institutional resources such as graduate school and deans office awards.

  • Funded projects for which the applicant receives no salary must be listed (some agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, do not require training awards, prizes, and gifts to be reported as other support).
  • To report "other support" on applications, list each of the key personnel in the proposal, excluding consultants, and provide the following information for each person:
    • title and project number of "other support" projects,
    • project period,
    • direct funding level,
    • source of funding,
    • brief description of the project and its goals,
    • percentage of time spent on the project, and
    • summarize for each individual any potential overlap (if requested).

Regulatory requirements
At the time of submission, or shortly thereafter, PIs must have approval certification for proposals that involve any compliance requirements such as those regarding: human subjects, live vertebrate animals, recombinant DNA, and hazardous materials.

Some sponsors will not review proposals until compliance approvals are submitted. See Research Compliance for more information

List all references cited in the proposal.

Verify that the sponsor will accept appendices. Possible appendices include:

  • Curriculum vitae of key personnel
  • Proposed questionnaires or survey instruments
  • Abstracts, manuscripts, patents, or other printed materials directly related and relevant to the project
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