Proposal Preparation

Solicited Proposals

All of the federal agencies provide guidelines that describe the procedures to follow in preparing an application for funding. These guidelines are published and made available at no cost to interested persons, institutions, businesses, etc. Included in these guidelines are such things as:

  • deadline date for submission of the proposal
  • total funds available for awards; approximate number of awards to be made; range of award amounts
  • applicant eligibility criteria
  • program priorities
  • review/selection criteria
  • required proposal components
  • procedures for submitting the proposal (number of copies, mailing/delivery information)
  • agency point of contact

Proposal Components

In instances where explicit guidelines are not specified by a potential funding source, a complete proposal will most often respond to the journalistic inquiries of who? what? where? when? why? and how? From beginning to end, the proposal should "flow" in a manner which suggests that it is a well-conceived and well-structured document. Included in such a document are the following components.

  1. Abstract. The abstract should clearly and concisely address the following:
    • Need (importance, timeliness of the project)
    • Objectives (realistic, quantifiable)
    • Methodology/Procedures (should match the objectives and include your knowledge of related work)
    • Significance/Impact (relationship to other disciplines/universality)
    • Available resources and personnel
    • The abstract should be written last as a concise statement of the full proposal. Reviewers will read the abstract first to gain a perspective of the project and its expected significance, or use it as a reference during discussions with other readers. Care should be taken to highlight key concepts.
  2. Table of Contents. The Table of Contents should list all of the major topics of the proposal, including appendices; however, it need not be included in brief (3 to 5 pages) proposals.
  3. Introduction. The Introduction should identify the institution and the area(s) involved in the proposed program. What are its goals and how does the project help to attain those goals? Who will be involved? This section should also discuss the qualifications of the investigators. One or two page staff vitae are preferred and should be placed in the Appendix section unless otherwise requested.
  4. Problem Statement/Rationale/Need. This section should include a well-documented and realistic description of the problem and your proposed solution(s). Include relevant statistical data to support your assessment of the problem. Does this project duplicate an existing program? Why do the project now?
  5. Objectives. This section should state clearly what you intend to accomplish. Objective statements should focus on the 'ends' to be achieved rather than on the methods (means). Whenever possible, objectives should be stated in quantifiable terms (Example: to raise the reading proficiency of 25 tenth graders by one grade level over a twelve-month period).
  6. Methodology and Timetable. This section should fully describe the means to be employed in achieving the objectives. Equally important in this section is the need to show familiarity with methods previously tried and their results. The methods should follow a logical sequence and support the premise that it is more likely to prove successful. Major activities should be identified and set within a timetable for orderly presentation. Research that involves human subjects requires certain approvals and safeguards and should be discussed in this section, if applicable. Procedures for obtaining Institutional Review Board approvals for matters concerning human subjects in research may be found at
  7. Evaluation and Dissemination. This section represents an essential element of any proposal. The evaluation provides final evidence of success or failure for both the University and the funding source. It serves to measure needed changes or adjustments in programs lasting more than one year. Subjective evaluations are generally discouraged as they focus primarily on opinions and feelings of participants. Objective evaluations are preferred, as they will likely include pre- and post- test instruments, interim testing or other examinations of observable circumstances. Who will conduct the evaluation? How does its cost compare to the total cost of the program? What will be done with the results?
  8. Budget Great care must be taken when assigning costs to your project. The budget must provide a complete financial picture of the project to include all necessary, reasonable and allocable costs. According to NIH guidelines, "the best strategy is to request a reasonable amount money to do the work, not more and not less because:
    • Reviewers look for reasonable costs and will judge whether your request is justified by your aims and methods.
    • Reviewers will consider the person months you've listed for each of the senior/key personnel and will judge whether the figures are in sync with reviewer expectations, based on the research proposed."

    The two categories of costs included in federal budgets are Direct and Indirect Costs.

    • Direct Costs are "those costs that can be identified specifically with a particular sponsored project, an instructional activity, or any other institutional activity, or that can be directly assigned to such activities relatively easily with a high degree of accuracy". (OMB Circular A-21, Section D.1) Examples include:
      1. Salaries, Wages and Fringe Benefits
        • Faculty
        • Research associates
        • Predoctoral and postdoctoral fellows
        • Student wages
      2. Supplies and Materials
        • Chemicals
        • Laboratory supplies
        • Computer software
        • Books
        • Minor equipment (costing $500-$4999)
        • Photographic supplies
        • Tools
      3. Other Direct Costs
        • Travel
        • Postage
        • Subcontracts
        • Equipment
        • Consulting services
        • Long distance telephone costs
        • Student/Participant support
    • Indirect Costs those that are incurred for common or joint objectives and therefore cannot be identified readily and specifically with a particular sponsored project, an instructional activity, or any other institutional activity (OMB Circular A-21, Section E.1) Examples include:
      • Utilities
      • Salaries of personnel engaged in a broad range of departmental support activities
      • Depreciation on buildings and equipment
      • Purchasing, accounting, payroll and other general support activities
      • Library costs

      The University has a Negotiated Rate Agreement with the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services that sets the rate to be applied and the direct cost items on which the rate is applicable. At present, that rate is applied to Modified Total Direct Costs (MTDC). These costs include, but are not limited to: salaries and wages, fringe benefits, materials and supplies, services, travel, and sub-awards up to $25,000 each.

      These base costs do not include capital expenditures (buildings, individual items of equipment, alterations and renovations); rental/maintenance of off-site activities, student tuition remission and student support costs (e.g. student aid, stipends, scholarships, fellowships). Specifically, excluded from MTDC are equipment, that portion of subcontracts exceeding $25,000, alterations and renovations and student support costs. Contact the Office of Sponsored Programs for information on the current rate or see

    Primary budget categories will include the following:

    • Personnel/Salaries and Wages- When salary support is on less than a full-time basis, particularly for the principal investigator (PI) or project director, the budgeted amount should be based on the applicable base salary or hourly rate and/or percentage of effort that will be devoted to the project. Please consult the Office of Sponsored programs regarding estimated annual salary increase percentages.
    • Student/Participant Support – Included in this category are items such as stipends or subsistence allowances, fellowships and tuition support, undergraduate salaries and scholarships, travel allowances and registration fees paid to or on behalf of participants or trainees (but not employees) in connection with meetings, conferences, symposia or training projects. Note: No indirect costs may be charged against participant costs. All research grants are expected to provide some form of student support unless prohibited by the agency/organization being solicited.

      Funds provided for participant support may not be used by grantees for other categories of expense without the specific prior written approval of the cognizant Program Officer.
    • Fringe Benefits –The University has a federally negotiated fringe benefit rate that must be applied to personnel salaries and wages. Please consult the Office of Sponsored programs regarding the fringe benefits rate as these rates are subject to change. The current rate can also be located at
    • Travel- includes the expenses incurred by project staff for transportation, lodging, subsistence and related items (tolls, gratuities, parking, etc.). Full details on both domestic and foreign travel should be provided. The University has an established Travel Policy that governs all travel expenditures to include external funding. A copy may be obtained from the Business Office.
    • Supplies and Materials- consist of consumable items, raw materials for fabricating project items and computer software.
    • Equipment- includes items with an estimated cost exceeding $5,000 per unit and having an estimated life of more than one year. Indirect costs are not applicable to this category. Agency guidelines should be carefully checked to determine whether specific items of equipment are among allowable costs. Equipment items costing less than $5,000.00 (for each item) must be listed under the "supply" line item (and indirect cost charges will apply to those items).
    • Alterations and Renovation- includes work required to change the interior of an existing facility so that it may be used for a currently designated purpose or adapted to meet a programmatic requirement.
    • Other - includes items not readily assignable to another category. For example, rental costs (space, equipment, furniture), costs for shipping and handling, communications (postage, facsimile transmissions, and toll calls), library acquisitions, Internet access fees, computer time, printing, duplicating, evaluation, participant support, conference fees, and consultation. Consultant fees and expenses should be included in this category unless guidelines provide for a separate listing. The fee basis for consultants should always be shown.

Basic Steps to Follow in Developing a Proposal

  • Discuss the solicitation/announcement with your immediate supervisor to determine feasibility and appropriateness with respect to the department's program plans.
  • As soon as the decision is made to submit a proposal, complete and submit an "Intent to Submit a Proposal" form for approval to the Department Head, Dean, Provost (or Vice President), the Vice President for Development (if soliciting a corporation, foundation or individual), and lastly to the Director of Sponsored Programs.  The Office of Sponsored Programs, via ImageNow, will notify the PI when all signatures have been received and pursuit of the opportunity is approved.
  • If appropriate, discuss the proposal under development with a representative of the funding agency prior to its submission. Such contacts serve to help investigators focus their ideas more fully on the requirements of the agency.
  • Thoroughly read and re-read the solicitation to ensure that you fully understand the application guidelines and requirements.
  • Develop the full proposal in keeping with the solicitation guidelines. The proposal should be discussed in detail with immediate supervisor as it is being developed.
  • Complete the Proposal Narrative/Statement of Work.
  • If required, seek budget assistance from the Office of Sponsored Programs. All persons who develop proposals are encouraged to include, unless prohibited by program guidelines, student aid or students as salaried personnel (e.g. research or laboratory assistance, tutors, counselors, mentors, etc.), technology support, equipment, release time, travel and full indirect cost reimbursement. If these categories are not included a written justification must be provided to the Office of Sponsored Programs.
    • Prepare a budget justification that details why the costs are programmatically necessary and how they are calculated.
    • Remember Proposals that include university matching dollars, indirect cost recovery variances, new space or regulatory clearances, require institutional approvals. Extra time should be allowed for these approvals.
  • Complete the "Request to Apply for Grant Form" and submit it, along with a complete copy of the proposal. Allow sufficient time for signers to thoroughly review the proposal.
  • Proposals with established deadlines should be submitted to the Office of Sponsored Programs at least seven (7) business days prior to the deadline.
  • The proposal should be in its final form when submitted to the Office of Sponsored Programs. This will allow sufficient time for review, recommendations, revisions and timely submission to funding agencies.
Financial Support for Research Overview
the Proposal
Proposal Routing
& Approval Procedures