Writing Successful Proposals


Match request to proposal

Review the program goals and eligibility, and reach out to the program officer before beginning your proposal.  Verify the program/proposal match your request.  The program should fit the agency's current funding priorities!

Consider your reviewer(s)

The reviewers appreciate clarity.  It shows that you have read the guidelines and will decrease the likelihood of your application being rejected for easily resolved issues.

Use clear, concise, and direct language.

Organize the information

The funding source will usually specify the contents and exact order in which the proposal should be submitted.  Follow the funder's procedures as closely as possible.  Common proposal components are described below.

  • Abstract (it will be concise, project specific information)
  • Problem Statement or Significance of Research
  • Project Purpose (project goals and specific objectives)
  • Research Design or Project Workplan (timelines and deliverables)
  • Applicant qualifications and capabilities
  • Evaluation Plan and Dissemination of Results
  • Budget (summary and justifications – refer back to the research design/workplan)
  • Appendix (everything else)
  • Prove the Importance of Your Project (the purpose and compelling argument to support your project)

Establish the benefit, need, and objective

Establish the need for the project and the benefits derived; must be a realistic need and benefit.  Detail the objectives and the goals that the funding will help you reach.  Develop a clear and realistic timeline.  Define the focus of the project.  The connection between the objectives and the methods should be carefully developed, thought out, and easily distinguishable for the reviewers.

Demonstrate your concepts

Be specific!  Major tasks and timelines should allow the reviewers to visualize the project.

Review the Program/Proposal

Write to the program/proposal and make sure that the evaluation standards are referenced in your project narrative.  All aspects of the program/proposal should be included, including pieces your project may not directly address. 

Current and Pending Support

Funders often require applicants to supply information on any active and pending support.  Your appendix may include letters of support to document this support.

Evaluation and Dissemination

Evaluation is the conclusion to the proposal and it shows the sponsor that the project is clearly thought out and that the stated goals will be achieved.  In addition, the dissemination of your project's results is important to reviewers to reflect how the project's efforts will be shared with a broader community (this should tie directly to the funder's program priorities). The sooner you begin your proposal the more time it allows Sponsored Programs, colleagues, and staff a chance to review and comment on your proposal before submission.