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Proposal Writer's Guide

by Don Thackrey


I. Introduction

Writing a proposal for a sponsored activity such as a research project or a curriculum development program is a problem of persuasion. It is well to assume that your reader is a busy, impatient, skeptical person who has no reason to give your proposal special consideration and who is faced with many more requests than he can grant, or even read thoroughly. Such a reader wants to find out quickly and easily the answers to these questions.

These questions will be answered in different ways and receive different emphases depending on the nature of the proposed project and on the agency to which the proposal is being submitted. Most agencies provide detailed instructions or guidelines concerning the preparation of proposals (and, in some cases, forms on which proposals are to be typed); obviously, such guidelines should be studied carefully before you begin writing the draft.

Two Preliminary Steps.

You will benefit by consulting two persons at an early stage in the planning of the proposal: your department chair (or dean) and the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects (ORSP) project representative who maintains liaison with the sponsoring agency you have in mind.

The department chair, whom you will eventually be asking to approve the proposal and thereby endorse your plans for staff and facility commitments, should be informed of your intentions and especially of any aspect of the proposed project that might conceivably affect departmental administration or your departmental duties. Early discussion of potential problems will smooth the way for the proposal later. Several schools and colleges have assistant or associate deans with special responsibilities for sponsored programs. These persons can provide valuable help and advice both in substantive and administrative matters.

DRDA project representatives are a general source of help for the whole process of planning and writing the proposal. They can give you the latest agency guidelines, know the deadlines, can explain funding peculiarities that might affect your preparation of the proposal, can sometimes put you in touch with others at the University in similar work or capable of helping you in some way, can judge whether any additional University officials need to be informed at an early stage about your proposal, can help you work out a detailed budget appropriate to the work you wish to undertake, and in general can raise the pertinent questions that must be resolved before the proposal will be approved for submission by the University. These questions may concern, for example, human subjects review, the use of animals, potential conflicts of interest, off-campus work, subcontracting, space rental, staff additions, consultants, equipment purchase, biological hazards, proprietary material, cost sharing, and many other matters.

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|