Proposal Writer's Guide

by Don Thackrey


IV. Dealing with Short Deadlines

Having the time and leisure to follow the foregoing outline methodically is something of an ideal. It is far more common to discover that a proposal deadline is only a week and a half away, your co-workers are out of town, and you're left with their classes to teach, a whole proposal to write, and a hint of the flu. If you find yourself in this situation, several niceties of orderly procedure can be slighted, but the following steps emerge of paramount importance.

First, start (don't finish) with the sponsor's guidelines. Mark them as you study, noting such things as deadline (for mailing or arrival?), number of copies, where to mail, and so on. Look for such requirements as the collection of institutional data which, were it left to last, could not be gathered. The guidelines will also probably specify certain topics or questions that must be addressed. If you can reasonably say anything at all on these topics, you should use the sponsor's exact phrases as your headings. You may even wish to borrow some of the language of the guidelines if it fits naturally into the framework of your proposal. If the sponsor is looking for "transdisciplinary" approaches to the problem, you would do well to use that term rather than say, interdisciplinary or interdepartmental to describe the same activities.

Second, after you have studied the guidelines, if there are sections that are either too vague or too specific for comfort or convenience, check with the project representative to see if she has a clarification. If she does not, she may call the appropriate program officer at the agency for you or give you the number of the person to call. In either event, two ends will be served: the project representative will be alerted to your intentions to submit, and the information you will receive will help focus further the task of preparing a rush proposal.

Third, break the proposal up into small and simple subsections--especially if more than one person will be writing. Give each subsection headings and subheadings (referring again to the guidelines), and write slavishly to this outline. Using subheadings liberally will not only help you organize your material but will also guide reviewers through your perhaps not altogether flawlessly organized narrative. For facilitating last-minute corrections in the typed copy, start new sections and major subsections on new pages, and don't number pages, except lightly in pencil, until the last step.

Fourth, compare your budget and your text to insure that for every cost figure a corresponding activity is mentioned and justified in the text.

Fifth, pay special attention to the abstract. Having rushed through the narrative, you will find that careful construction of the abstract will serve both as a summary of what you intend to do and as a check on whether you have omitted any essential topics.

Proposal Writer's Guide: | PWG Contents | PWG Introduction | Parts of a Research Proposal | Title Page | Abstract s | Proposal Table of Contents | Background Section | Description of Proposed Research | Resources Descriptions | References | Personnel | Budget | Appendices | Proposals for Academic Programs | III. Inquiries to Private Foundations | IV. Dealing with Short Deadlines | V. Why Proposals Are Rejected|