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Research Proposals - Parts of a Proposal

Parts of a Proposal

Proposals for sponsored activities generally follow a similar format, although there are variations depending upon the sponsor and whether the PI is seeking support for a research grant, a training grant, or a conference or curriculum development project. Be sure to follow the outline contained in the sponsor’s guidelines. The following generic outline is generally focused on the components of a research proposal. (The follow-on section describes format variations required for other kinds of academic programs.)

A. Research Proposals

Typical parts of a research proposal are outlined below. Note that examples are pulled from databases of awards from either federal agencies (i.e., NSF and NIH) or foundations.

(new) Cover Letter

This (usually optional) letter may be used to convey information that is pertinent to the review of the proposal. Make sure you identify your name, the University of Michigan, project title, RFP or and specific funding mechanism if any. Depending on sponsor’s regulations, this letter may be used to request a reviewer or a specific study section with special expertise in your field, or to identify conflicts with potential reviewers. Sometimes this letter is used to explain special circumstances, e.g., budget outside of limits, missed deadline, unique subawards, request to send in delayed preliminary data results before review date. State if you have attached any special approval documentation pertaining to any of the above.

The Title (or Cover) Page. 

Most sponsoring agencies specify the format for the title page, and some provide special forms to summarize basic administrative and fiscal data for the project. Generally, the principal investigator (PI), his or her department head, and an official representing the University sign the title page.

(New) A good title is usually a compromise between conciseness and explicitness. One good way to cut the length of titles is to avoid words that add nothing to a reader's understanding, such as "Studies on...," "Investigations...," or "Research on Some Problems in...." The title needs to: match interests of reviewers; use appropriate key words; be specific to the work to be accomplished; and be long enough to distinguish it from other studies in the field, but not too long to bore the reader. Examples of good titles are: “Applications of the motivic Becker-Gottlieb transfer,” “Advancing engineering education through virtual communities of practice,” “Structural controls of functional receptor and antibody binding to viral capsids,” “Active tectonics of the Africa-Eurasia zone of plate interaction in the Western Mediterranean.”

Up Next: Research Proposals; Abstract or Summary


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