The successful development of a proposal often begins with a complete and thorough review of the Request for Proposal or a funding source’s specific programmatic guidelines.
A meticulous review of the guidelines will help you tailor your project to a funding source’s specific interests and will increase the likelihood that you will be funded. Gathering background information on the funding source, such as recently funded projects, can give you hints about their specific interests and objectives. Proposals are most often funded based upon how well your project and the funding source’s interests “match”. A careful review of guidelines and a little background research will help you demonstrate the relevance of your project to the funding source’s interests and objectives.
In general, it helps to think about your proposal from a wider context. Take time to consider the general or long term implications of your research and why your project could potentially impact a wider audience. Attempt to incorporate these implications into your proposal.
Remember that allotting an appropriate amount of time to develop your proposal is of utmost importance. Contacting the OFCGR as soon as possible will help clear as many administrative “hurdles” as possible. Anticipating the unexpected, particularly during a busy semester, will help you avoid the last minute crises often experienced by proposal writers.
Keep in mind that those who review proposals are often reading a number of proposals in a short amount of time. Therefore, write for clarity. Further, it’s best to avoid overusing jargon. As with academic papers, enlisting the help of colleagues to read your drafts can prove invaluable. Colleagues from within your field are, obviously, most appropriate to review content, but invite colleagues from outside your discipline as well. Because they may be less familiar with your subject area, you will be forced to write in the most straightforward terms to convey your ideas. As always, the OFCGR is ready and willing to review your draft and provide commentary.
Often times the best reviewer is the actual funding source. Program officers are often willing to review drafts if they are given a sufficient amount of time. If they are unable to review your entire proposal, you should consider contacting the program officer and discussing the basics of your proposed project. Most program officers are more than willing to clarify an agency’s agenda and can prove to be an invaluable resource.
Keep in mind that not all proposals succeed when they are first submitted. In some cases it is common to approve only the most exceptional proposals on first submission. Therefore, you should not get discouraged if your proposal is denied for funding. However, most grant programs will offer their applicants the opportunity to receive reviewer comments. You should take advantage of this information. In most cases, careful review of the comments will help not only in your current attempt at obtaining funding, but in your future attempts as well. Even those program officers who do not explicitly offer this service may be willing to explain why your application did not succeed via correspondence or a phone conversation. Above all, be persistent in your attempt to find funding and remain open to the suggested revisions. Doing so will dramatically increase the chances of your project being funded in the future.
Proposal Writing Resources
The following are links to on-line proposal writing guides and resources. Many of these links provide agency specific advice and can be extremely helpful. Keep in mind that, while there may be better way to write a proposal, there is no single “right” way. Following the funding sources guidelines may be your best advice.
- Information for Preparing Grant Applications – National Cancer Institute
- The NIH Tool Kit
- National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA)
- The Grant Advisor
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