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Writing a Better Proposal

A grant proposal is primarily a description of a problem to be solved, the work to be done, the concept to be investigated or developed. The proposal also contains a budget. It may include other sections or attachments (such as letters of support or endorsement). Given the increasing competitiveness of the grant proposal funding environment, it is more important than ever before that a proposal be better than the competitors -- if it is to be successful and funded.

The following are helpful hints for writing a successful proposal:

  • Submit a clearly presented and organized proposal; it should include a clear statement of the problem, arguments demonstrating the value of conducting the research or the program, and information to convince reviewers that the work can progress effectively.
  • Pay particular attention to the abstract - often the first part to be read and sometimes the only part read given the large volume of proposals that many reviewers evaluate - and make sure the abstract reflects the contents of the proposal.
  • Explain why the applicant is uniquely qualified to do the work.
  • Use data to strengthen arguments and avoid unsupported general statements.
  • Make sure the budget is realistic for the work proposed.
  • Describe clearly the qualifications of the personnel who will do the work.
  • State clearly and in detail the objectives and methodology of the work.
  • Describe the availability of necessary equipment or facilities.
  • Avoid work that replicates the work of others or previously done work.
  • Follow all program guidelines carefully -- be sure to include all required sections, forms, or other documents and accurately complete all forms.
  • Do not overlook the obvious -- make sure words are spelled correctly and use correct grammar.
  • Match the proposed work to the funding agency's mission; most agencies sponsor projects that meet or have the potential to meet a particular need of society and/or significantly advance a field of knowledge.
  • Do not hesitate to contact the funding agency to discuss an idea for a proposal; many agencies actively encourage such preliminary discussions and it is often possible to establish a productive relationship with the funding agency's program officer. 
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