Preparing a Grant Proposal
Elements of a Full Proposal
Sponsoring agencies generally have guidelines for proposal preparation. In a request for award, request for proposal, or other type of formal request, the guidelines can be very detailed with specific forms required to accompany proposal text. Often there are limitations for page length, type size, title length, or supporting documentation. Government agencies have application forms or very specific proposal guidelines, while other sponsors often are less directive. Although the format or presentation of a particular proposal document generally depends on the requirements of the sponsor, if no guidelines are provided, there are some general rules of thumb, and the elements below should be included in all proposals.
Reviewers rely on the abstract to evaluate the proposed project. It should concisely and completely outline all key elements of the proposal. It should also conform to any length restrictions imposed by the sponsor.
The main body of the proposal should be a narrative laying out exactly what will be done in the project, with supporting information and elaboration. It begins with a statement of the need or problem being addressed. No unsupported assumptions should be included. For service projects, the need should be documented through a needs assessment. Research projects should provide a rationale for the need of the project and the impact of projected results. Next, state the overall goals and specific objectives of the project, making sure there is a clear, logical connection between the defined problem and the proposed response. Preliminary studies by the investigator or other scientists should be summarized. Finally, describe the plan of action or methodology, providing sufficient detail for the reader to judge whether the project can be run both efficiently and effectively. Special attention should be given to explaining the need for unusual or large expenses such as equipment, special travel, or use of facilities. References should be included, and, when necessary, a full bibliography. The narrative should demonstrate that all aspects of the project have been considered carefully. Further, it must convince the reviewer of the significance of the problem, the appropriateness of the proposed response, and the ability of the PI and institution to conduct the proposed activities. Be sure its logic is cogent and its organization strong.
Although too often viewed as a tedious technicality, the budget is a key element of any proposal. It outlines the project in fiscal terms. It is often used by reviewers to get a quick sense of how the project is organized.
Usually, the major budget item is salaries. This should be broken down to indicate the number of professional and support staff, and percentages of time to be spent on the project by each individual. Salary compensation should be based on the percent of time the employee will spend on the project.
Base Salary (Salary + Incentive) x n% effort x factor = budget salary request
Personnel should only include Penn State University employees. Salary for investigators at other institutions will be listed under different categories.
- Fringe Benefits
Fringe benefits are expenses directly associated with employment and are applicable to all University salaries and wages.
- Facilities & Administrative Expenses (F&A)
These are expenses essential to the conduct of sponsored activities but which cannot be readily attributed and directly charged to specific individual projects. The F&A rate used by the University is determined by the negotiated with DHHS. F&A is calculated based on the project’s Modified Total Direct Cost (MTDC).
MTDC = Total Direct Costs minus (Graduate assistant tuition remission; each subcontract/subaward portion > $25,000 regardless of period, equipment purchases > $5,000, plant construction, building amortization, and patient care costs)
- Additional Expenses
Other typical budget items include laboratory supplies, travel, equipment, and other miscellaneous costs.
- Cost Sharing
Proposal solicitations in some instances call for institutional cost sharing as a condition for an award. Typically, unless a special exception has been made, cost sharing is not permitted on proposals. More information on the policies surrounding cost sharing can be found in Policy RAG10.
- Modular Budgets
he National Institutes of Health. In this application process, total direct costs not exceeding $250,000 per year are requested in $25,000 increments or "modules" instead of being compiled from detailed and separate budget categories. Only NIH uses the modular budget format. In order to assess the accuracy of a budget, a detailed internal budget must be submitted to ORA with the proposal.
Follow sponsor guidelines for including and/or assembling appendix materials.
Several considerations should be made when writing the full proposal.
- Follow sponsor guidelines. A sponsor may be prejudiced against incomplete or incorrect forms, or failing to supply requested information.
- Address stated criteria. If points are assigned to the various sections of a proposal (as program guidelines will indicate), one weak section may omit the chances of an otherwise strong proposal.
- Use clear, precise language aimed at the target audience. Avoid jargon or unnecessarily technical terminology. It is often helpful in writing the proposal to be familiar with the review procedures used by the particular sponsor.
- Have a colleague review the proposal for strength of logic and clarity of expression.
- Have The Office of Research Affairs review for internal clearance and final approval.
- Allow enough time to secure all necessary approvals and signatures before the application deadline.