Proposal Advice

A great proposal, no matter how wonderful the idea is, can still be rejected if it is not presented correctly. Here are several golden rules of grant writing that will help you develop your proposal.

Before you begin writing:

  • Define your project: Start by developing a clear vision of what you want your project to do. Ask yourself what the ultimate goal is. What do you want to produce or prove? Then ask yourself what will it take to reach this goal.

  • Find the Right Funding Source: Make sure that the funding source is the right one for your proposal by looking at several considerations. Does the mission of the agency and the priority of the program you are considering match the goal of your project? Is TAMUK eligible and are you as PI eligible for this program? Also, does this funding source award enough money for your project? Many government agencies operate multiple grant programs to support different priorities. If your idea does not conform with one of their priorities, it would be best to seek an alternate funding source.

  • Contact the Project Officer:  With a clear vision of what your project entails, contact the Project Officer of the funding source and discuss your proposal idea. Ask if they feel that your project is an appropriate fit to their priorities for the year. They may ask you to send a one page description. Also, ask them if they would be willing to review a draft of the proposal before it is officially submitted.

  • Read and Reread Guidelines: Read the guidelines and follow them explicitly. Understand that the funding source spent a lot of time deciding how they wanted the proposals to be formatted and what they should contain. Understand that your special formatting will not make your proposal stand out, it will make the proposal be rejected.

  • Remember the Deadlines: Note what the deadline for letters of intent and proposal submissions are, and realize that deadlines are nonnegotiable. If you can't submit the proposal in time, then wait until the opportunity comes around again. Some agencies have more than one funding cycle or set of deadlines with a one year period. Be realistic and prepare a proposal for the most suitable timeframe.

While writing the proposal:

  • Keep it Simple: Avoid complex sentence structures. The proposal should be as clear and concise. This includes using shorter words rather than long, obscure ones whenever possible. Also short frequent paragraphs are better than long, detailed paragraphs. Remember that not all reviewers may share your background or have your level of expertise. While you don't want to "dumb down" your proposal, it ought to be simple, understandable and yet reflective of your experience.

  • Keep it Active: Write in an active, declarative voice. Use "I am..." rather than "I will..." or "I should..." Passive writing is not only boring, it is harder to read. An active voice engages the reviewer to look at your proposal than rejecting it because it is too hard to get through.

  • Avoid Proposal Pitfalls: Using jargon, and acronyms can hurt even the best proposal.  Jargon adds to confusion and creates overly bloated language. If you need to use acronyms, spell out the whole name at the first occurrence in the proposal, put the acronym in parenthesis, then use the acronym throughout the rest of the paper.

  • Stick to the Facts: State what you know is fact and support that fact. Avoid editorial statements and personal opinions because they will hurt you if the reviewer doesn't agree with your viewpoint.

  • Use Appropriate Language : Where possible, use the language of the guidelines to help make your point. Also, if the guidelines are divided by headings, use the same or similar headings in the same order as outlined in the guidelines in your proposal. This helps show the reviewer how closely your project aligns with their interests.

  • Get Their Attention: Write a strong first sentence and a strong ending. You want the reviewer's interest captured quickly and you want them to remember your proposal after they finish it.

  • Create a Justified Budget: Your budget will be the driving factor in your proposal. Develop it first, then make sure your proposal supports each item in your budget.

  • Be Realistic: Make your budget and your time constraints realistic. The reviewer will know if something isn't possible due to lack of time or personnel. The budget should limited to just what you need for your project. For instance, if you need a $5,000 computer for your project, then asking for a $20,000 computer will be seen as excessive.

  • Use Illustrations to Highlight Points: Where possible, use pictures, graphs or charts to emphasize your project.

  • Discuss the Project's Sustainability: Include a discussion of your plans for your project after the grant has ended. No funding agent will want to think that the project ends when the funding ends.

After writing the proposal, ask:

  • Is it Consistent? Make sure all the parts of the proposal agree with each other and any extra material you are going to include. If your government profile states you do a certain type of work, then your proposal should be in that type of work.

  • Do I provide the expertise required?  Be honest with yourself about your background and your level of expertise in covering the work in your project. If you are using other people to fill in gaps in the expertise, make sure their qualifications are discussed in the proposal. Also identify all the other key personnel who will assist you in completing the daily work. Don't let the reviewer wonder if you have taken on more work than you can handle.

  • Is it as error free as possible?: Make sure your language is clear, your spelling and grammar are correct. Sloppy proposals indicate a sloppy worker.  If possible, get a colleague to read over the proposal and make suggestions. Ask them to consider if the science of the project is correct and if it is clearly presented as well as looking at grammar and spelling.

This page was last updated on: June 23, 2014