Writing a Successful Proposal

Jane Hilton, project manager, Grants and Special Projects

Writing a proposal for funding can be overwhelming and takes considerable effort; however, there is no time like the present to take a deep breath and dive in. The writing process is both an art and science. Although it is the science part of the proposal that is primarily being evaluated, the art of presentation should not be excluded. Following some basic steps and allowing adequate time will help you prepare a proposal that speaks clearly and understandably to the reviewer.

Planning and Design

A significant research question that addresses an important problem or need is the first and primary ingredient in a successful proposal. The writing needs to clearly articulate the current situation and present a compelling case as to what difference the research will make and its impact.  Once an appropriate funding source has been identified, it’s critical to read and fully understand the instructions. Follow the required format and pay attention to the evaluation criteria so that you include all the items the reviewers will use to assess the proposal. Interdisciplinarity will strengthen a proposal, so carefully build an integrated research team with the right expertise and qualifications, then identify the roles and responsibilities they will undertake in the research project.

Construction Phase

Time flies so it’s a good idea to develop a schedule for writing and obtaining the necessary institutional support and approvals. Clarify any questions about the funding opportunity from the Office of Research Services, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (ORSIE) or the program officer.  Build the case for the proposal as the probability of achieving the research objectives depends on the feasibility of the proposed research design and methodology.

Once you have completed a draft of the proposal you will need to review and revise (usually more than once) so the content is clear, concise and compelling. As an added measure of critique, have a colleague read the proposal to identify areas that could be better expressed and to ensure all aspects of the research have been thought through.

Formulate the budget and justify expenses leaving room for contingencies but be realistic.

Finishing Touches

Choose a title that is descriptive, specific and reflects the importance of the proposal. Write your summary or abstract last and take some time and care with it. It should introduce the hypotheses and objectives, describe how the research will be conducted and wrap up with the benefit of the research. Proofread the proposal carefully and consider asking someone to perform this task who has not seen the proposal and has no stake in the project. Obtain the appropriate sign-offs and then follow the submission guidelines.

Above all, remember the ORSIE is there to provide support as you take the plunge.