Guide to the Proposal Writing and Submission Process
at the University of Virginia
note that this information was accurate at the time of original publication.
For more updated information, please visit the Office
of the Vice President for Research and Public Service.
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The grant seeking process
to explore research ideas is a critical component of a successful academic
career at the University for both faculty and graduate students. Yet the
pro- posal writing process, from idea conception through submission to
a Sponsor, is often intimidating. First-time researchers can have a difficult
time understanding the process of submitting a proposal for sponsored
programs at UVa. This adds tension to an already stressful situation.
is an effort to decipher the proposal writing process into understandable
and implementable tasks for first-time researchers. Larry and Virginia
Decker, authors of Grantseeking: How to Find a Funder and Write a Winning
Proposal, divide the fund-seeking process into six activities:
contact with a funding source
a proposal and following up
focuses on the first four activities, from generating a good research
idea to submitting your proposal to a potential Sponsor. Research can
be funded by either sponsorship or donations.
A sponsored program,
whether it be funded research, fellowships, exhibition or training programs,
is any contract, negotiated grant, or other form of award that is made by
a corporate, federal, industrial or professional Sponsor and that contains
clauses regarding the financial monitoring of funds and/or technical reporting
requirements. A sponsored program has the following characteristics:
What is a sponsored program?
funds a specific project or topic of research.
only teaching or research faculty members may submit proposals and act
as Principal Investigators (PIs). Graduate students with projects usually
need to work with a faculty advisor.
requires formal technical and/or accounting reports, possibly special
services, special equipment or proprietary interests (often called deliverables).
makes award to the institution, not to the individual. The institution
commits to providing the deliverables and assures that the project will
be completed in conformance with the Sponsor's special requirements.
Most projects are funded by Sponsors. A sponsored program involves a contract
between the University and the Sponsor, not between the researcher and
the Sponsor. Sponsored funding leaves the responsibility for the financial
reporting to the Office of Sponsored Programs at the University. You,
the researcher, must take responsibility for all accounting and bookkeeping.
Most departments have support personnel to assist you in this process.
This includes keeping track of the balances and spending in order to double-check
the itemization of expenses on the University budget reports, which are
usually current except for open commitments. Normally, you are also responsible
for reporting on project activities.
A gift is handled
differently than sponsored funding. A gift is usually a check that is
provided to a Principal Investigator or school without any financial monitoring
requirements or technical progress report. Gifts are often managed by
foundations for each school, such as the Virginia Engineering Foundation
for the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Check with your research
administrator for details on how to proceed with gifts.
Where to find help at UVa (or Research administrators)
sponsored research at UVa is handled through the Office of Sponsored Programs.
Each school has a designated office or research administrator for handling
the faculty's proposal writing efforts. The responsibilities of research
administrators, as well as guidelines for proposal writing efforts and
the submission process, vary from school to school within the University.
This document highlights general guidelines which apply throughout. For
detailed information on proposal requirements for a certain school, you
should contact the appropriate research administrator (see appendix B).
a good research idea
The first item
essential to the proposal process is a good idea. It is often useful to
generate a list of your best ideas from which to work. In developing the
list, you, as the Principal Investigator, should take into consideration
your professional interests; the state of the art in your discipline; the
state of the world, the economy, the environment; and any other factors
which will help identify new and important research questions. Brainstorming
with a group may aid in this effort as might the TRC handout on Idea Mapping.
ideas that are creative or innovative, that build upon the strengths of
all involved personnel, and that take into account institutional capability.
You need to think in terms of: "What is my product?" and "What am I selling?".
When selecting a product or research idea, you need to make sure it is
something with which you will be comfortable for the long-term funding
Once you have
generated creative ideas, you need to answer several questions:
If you are responding
to an RFP (Request for Proposal) or if you have a potential funding source
in mind, remember to consider the mission of those sources when developing
- What problem
or need have you identified?
- Who has
the need or problem?
- What other
individuals or groups will be affected by its resolution?
- Has anyone
tried to tackle this problem before? If so, what were the results?
- How will
you tackle the problem differently? Why can you expect different results?
- Can you
implement the idea, given the existing resource constraints (e.g.,time,
money, available personnel, etc.)?
- What difficulties
can you expect to encounter in solving this problem?
these questions and solving problems, you can refine your research idea.
- Who will
benefit from the results of my work?
- The nation
through increased scientific knowledge?
- The national
- The University?
- State agencies?
At this point,
your idea should be fairly well formulated, and you need to address personnel
and resource issues. Larry and Virginia Decker suggest asking the following
You may also need
to address the ownership of the research results. What will be the division
of the potential resultant technology? In other words, how will the rights
to the results be shared by the University, the funding source, and the
researcher? This must be especially clear if a patent is involved.
- Who is going
to do what?
- How are
these persons qualified?
- What resources
will they need?
- Will they
- Who else
is likely to be involved and how?
- Where will
the work be done?
- Are the
facilities capable of handling the work or do they need to be modified?
questions have been addressed, you are ready to tackle the full development
of the idea into a pre-proposal or concept paper.
The concept paper
paper, one to two pages that detail the "meat" of the proposal, should
- a description
of the research to be performed,
- how it will
- why it is
important (in general and, if applicable at this point, the specific
- who will
be involved and what will their duties be,
- the resources
that will be required,
- the duration
of the project, and
- the expected
paper in a way that will help you clarify your ideas and get colleagues'
comments. The final format of this paper will be dictated by the application
requirements of the particular funding source being targeted.
proposals are written in response to an RFP from a particular funding source,
research can first be tailored to meet the interests of the researcher before
a funding source is identified. A concept paper can help guide you to a
potential funding sources (Of course, if the proposal is in response to
an RFP, then you will not need to identify potential funding sources unless
submission to several agencies is possible). Primary sources of funding
Identifying potential funding sources
databases allow a user to search through announcements and RFPs for various
agencies. University research administrators can tell you how to access
these databases. Available databases include:
- the federal
- the state
Information Exchange (FEDIX)
by telephone 1-800-232-4879
electronically telnet fedix.fie.com
information about actual grants given. DIALOG is available at Alderman
Library. The agencies included in this system are:
Aeronautic & Space Administration
of Naval Research
and Urban Development
Programs Information Network (SPIN) On-line database of federal and
foundation funding sources
and Technology Information System (STIS) NSF program announcements
In addition to
the database systems, announcements are displayed in many publications,
Contract and Grants Weekly
Research Funding Bulletin
- NIH Guide
Science Foundation Bulletin
- UVa's "Opportunities"
- The Foundation
& Corporate Grants Alert
Targeting a specific funding source
have found a funding agency, you will probably need to adapt your idea
to their requirements. To do so, ask questions such as these:
Do you provide enough (but not too much) detail to persuade your
audience that you are in control of the necessary resources and
ideas? What are the special interests or perspectives of the funding
Do you present your information in a logical and orderly manner?
Do the subtitles, the amount of text, and general writing style
signal to the reader clearly which are your major and minor ideas?
Do you explicitly say why your project is relevant to the funding
information in your concept paper to work out any focus changes that
you think will help target your potential Sponsor. Once this is done
you are ready to pull together all of your resources for an effective
Once a funding
source has been targeted, a good pre-proposal strategy can insure a
better chance of obtaining funding from the funding agency. You can
use your preproposal or concept paper to generate feedback from colleagues
and your potential Sponsor, thus strengthening the possibilities of
to your department chair as soon as you know that you want to submit
a proposal. It is important that you have their support and approval
for your efforts.
sure that you have current guidelines, addresses, and contacts for
the Sponsor. Guidelines are usually updated annually. Research priorities,
formats, and contact personnel change frequently.
Sponsors (e.g., NSF Engineering Education) require the submission
of a preproposal, including a preliminary budget. If you are submitting
a formal pre-proposal, you must obtain University approval because
such an exchange may be contractually binding. If, on the other hand,
you are simply exchanging drafts with program offices, you may proceed
without formal approval.
personal contact with the Sponsor. Discover the relevant technical
program officer in your research area, and discuss the proposal in
advance. The agency program officer is the individual most directly
interested in your field of research who usually heads a research
program directed at those interests. Discuss your submission with
the program officer by phone and, if possible, face-to-face. You can
find out about funding levels, level of interest and appropriateness
of your project, program requirements, and so on. Personal contact
may increase the likelihood of your receiving a grant. If nothing
else, you will probably receive useful preparation suggestions.
your two-page concept paper to meet the goals of the targeted Sponsor.
Direct this paper to a specific audience, mainly the program officer
at the funding agency which you are targeting.
positive feedback on the concept paper from the potential Sponsor,
set up a personal interview to get specific comments:
methods and likely peer reviewers.
you have received feedback from the program officer, you can write the
good proposal is:
to pursue the proposal and ensure a successful outcome,
to evaluate the findings or outcomes,
to communicate the results; whether by paper, conference, patent,
persuasive proposal links you and your ideas with the funding agency's
money and resources as well as with their primary objectives. Your research
idea must meet one of the funding agency's primary needs in order to be
worth their implementing it. In order to make this link, you must accomplish
A proposal is a sales document! You must sell your ideas by convincing
the funding agency personnel why they should use their scarce resources
to fund you!
As another option,
you might send a letter of inquiry with a prospectus directed to a specific
funding source. A letter of inquiry introduces your research idea to the
program officer. With such a letter, you seek to discover appropriate funding
programs for the intended research as well as specific funding application
formats. In some cases, this document is enough to obtain funding; if so,
the Sponsor and University must address contract issues before the research
proposal formats will vary by sponsor and by university, we provide below
a suggested proposal format that you can use as an aid in discussions
with colleagues, department chairpersons, and research administrators.
I. Cover Page:
title, to whom the proposal is being submitted, who it is submitted by.
The cover page is completed on forms provided by the Sponsor, if available.
page: (optional) The title page provides contractual information (total
funding requested, project period, administrative contacts), and signatures
of authorized officials (if not on Sponsor form).
Abstract: One-page description of overall project goals and objectives,
the significance of the work, and the relevance to the Sponsor's aims.
IV. Project Description
and objectives of project
B. Rationale and significance: potential importance of work to the Sponsor,
to the academic discipline, etc.
and procedures (hypotheses)
and activities to achieve goals and objectives
evaluation plan (if required by Sponsor)
Special facilities and equipment needed/available to help meet objectives
Funding Agreement (should be included if you are dealing with a
Curriculum Vitae: The vitae needs to demonstrate that you have the training
and experience needed to meet and complete the research objectives. (Some
Sponsors limit the page length.)
VI. Current and
pending support (if required by Sponsor): lists the proposals presently
funded or under consideration by other Sponsors.
Budget: Needs to conform to format requested by Sponsor. Usually involves
and assurances if requested by the Sponsor.
Letters of support
a powerful set of allies
proposal writing and submission process involves many parties beyond the
initial researcher or proposal writer. In order to insure effective and
efficient processing of a proposal, you should make every effort to assemble
a powerful set of allies for the proposal who become a juggernaut of persuasion.
How to create a powerful set of allies:
the proposal writing process early.
the guidelines and scope of your audience.
from your strengths.
the program officer early and frequently (but not so frequently that
you are a nuisance!).
working on final proposal efforts, work backwards from the budget
through the abstract.
and revise (always) with the audience in mind.
in contact with the appropriate research administrator.
feedback along the way. Do not wait until the end to solicit feedback.
Submitting the proposal
to contact the appropriate research administrator or, for SEAS, the
Pre-Award Administration office. If you are approaching a foundation
or corporate funder, your proposal must first be cleared by the Development
Office before submission. In both cases, see your research administrator
for specific procedures. He or she will schedule the proposal in their
"processing pipeline," begin to prepare or refine budgets, and advise
you of any special approvals or protocols needed to support the proposal.
When contacting the research administrator, have the following information
complete proposal to meet Sponsor requirements. A typed copy of the
text (project description), figures, bibliography, curriculum vitae,
and other required forms and information.
of budget requirements: personnel and time spent on the project, laboratory
supplies, equipment, travel, etc., including a justification for these
on the Sponsor: name of technical contact, address, number of special
protocols and approvals if your research involves DNA techniques,
if human or animal subjects are used, and if radioactive materials,
hazardous chemical waste, or infectious agents are used. Such needs
requires a committee review and special paper work which can take
up to one to two months for University approvals.
copy of the Sponsor's guidelines or announcement in case your research
administrator does not have them.
this review is complete, the research administrator forwards the proposal
to the Office of Sponsored Programs. The Office of Sponsored Programs,
located in Carruthers Hall, must approve each proposal before it is submitted
to a potential Sponsor. This approval process takes approximately three
days to complete. In addition, the research administrator works with the
Office of Sponsored Programs to insure compliance with federal regulations
regarding lobbying, drug-free work environments, etc.
process for sponsored research:
Department needs to review and approve the commitment of personnel,
School must approve the commitment of personnel, resources, as well
as the Sponsor requirements, and also insure that any school guidelines
and requirements are met.
Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) is responsible for approving proposals
on behalf of the University. It ensures that contracts satisfy the
necessary state statutes and University regulations, executes contracts,
and establishes research accounts.
Proposal review process
proposal has been submitted by the University to the potential Sponsor,
the wait begins as the Sponsor reviews the proposed idea. The time frame
for the entire proposal reviewing effort, from the submission of the
proposal to confirmation of funding from an agency, is agency- and program
-dependent. It can take approximately three months to hear from CIT,
and six months to hear from NSF, whereas the DOD and DOE can take as
long as eighteen months to two years. In addition, the length of funding
is variable. For instance, funding from NSF is provided for projects
lasting approximately two and a half years. Many state agencies, such
as CIT, provide funding for periods of one year.
After approval of funding
the research funding has been approved by the Sponsor, the University
and the researcher are left with the task of administering the grant,
conducting the research, and evaluating the project. Research administrators
can aid the researcher in maintaining adherence to regulations as well
as helping them seeking additional funding or funding continuations. Carrying
out the grant-funded project is as important and as difficult as getting
the grant. Keep in mind that approval means that the job has just started!
In summary, some
your proposals to those most likely to be interested; do not restrict
your initial submission to small agencies.
a mentor, preferably one who has obtained funding from your targeted
agency. Talk with your mentor about structuring and writing your proposal,
expressing your ideas, and so on. Your chances of receiving funding
are enhanced by collaborating with senior faculty. However, you should
"get out from under their wings" within two years.
the proposal writing process keep the program officer up to date on
any changes in direction and ask for feedback. The program officer
can tell you about emerging areas of interest, balance of topics,
and the geographic, ethnic, and gender distributions that must be
maintained within the program.
or not your proposal is funded, ask the program officer for feedback
on improving your proposal writing skills.
despair if your proposal does not get funding the first time. Try
the probability of success is lower for a first time submission.
your ideas. Contact the University News Service to publish research
results. Positive publicity may aid future funding efforts.
of the entire process as a proposal pipeline; do not submit only one
proposal and wait to hear before submitting others.
A - Grant proposal submission schedule
the proposal submission process will vary in length, a guideline suggested
by Bill McDermott, Research Administrator for the Curry School of Education,
follows. Note that this schedule is only a suggestion. Please contact
your appropriate research administrator well ahead of time to coordinate
your specific schedule.
Proposal Submission Schedule
days before submission date, Sponsor identified
days before submission date, Chair approval of concept paper
days before submission date, Chair approval of complete outline of:
abstract, text, table of contents. Begin coordination with research
days before submission date, Confirm approval of all procedural, business
and research issues AND/OR submit to appropriate UVa official for
verbal approval of cost sharing plans
Subjects IRB approval
and/or copyright issues
plan (Draft descriptions and classes)
of space or other space issues
with Development personnel
joint projects, coordinate with other departments or schools The listed
items constitute a business plan for the proposal.
days before submission, Proposal finalized
days before submission, Receipt of any proposed subcontracts
days before submission, Last changes/adjustments in proposal
days before submission, Final typing (printing) and typing all application
days before submission, Preparation of approval package with all attachments
and necessary forms
days before submission, Department and Principal Investigator formal
days before submission, Dean's approval
**Insert 3 additional days for joint projects with other UVa schools/departments**
days before submission, Reproduction, binding and packaging
days before submission, Put in mail or deliver to courier
typifies the efforts and schedule you will need to keep when answering
a Request for Proposal (RFP). Keep in mind that proposal efforts that
are not yet targeted at a specific funding agency should precede this
schedule. In general, final materials should be submitted to your research
administrator at least five working days in advance of the Sponsor's mailing
deadline. You must allow more time if your proposal involves faculty from
other schools or institutions, cost sharing, or special approvals.
administrators aid your efforts by reviewing the proposal to be sure that
it meets the University's requirements as well as the Sponsor's requirements.
This review includes checking the prepared budget for pertinent details
such as inclusion of indirect costs, travel expenses, equipment; noting
staffing requirements; and insuring that all documentation is complete.
should contact the grants advisor associated with their school for discipline-/area-specific
information. Please also visit the Office
of the Vice President for Research and Public Service.
APPENDIX B - Research Administrators
C - ResourcesThe
following is a list of potential publications to aid in your proposal
writing. All are available through the University library system or at
the Teaching Resource Center as indicated.
Larry and Virginia Decker. Grantseeking: How to Find a Funder and
Write a Winning Proposal. [Teaching Resource Center Library]
Proposals that Succeeded. (Case Studies) New York: Plenum Press, 1983.
Herman. The Consultant's Guide to Proposal Writing: How to Satisfy
Your Client and Double Your Income. New York: Wiley, 1990. [Darden
John W. The Grant System. Albany: State University of New York
Press, 1987. [Alderman Library]
David R. How to Prepare Research Proposals. Second Edition,
Syra- cuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1989. [Clemons Library]
Armand. Grantsmanship and Fundraising. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage
Publishers, 1984. [Education Library]
Lawrence, F. Proposals That Work: A Guide for Planning Dissertations
and Grant Proposals. Second Edition, Newburg Park, CA: Sage Publishers,
1992. [Clemons Library]
Judith B. Foundation Fundamentals: A Guide to Grantseeking. Fourth
Edition. New York: Foundation Center, 1991. [Alderman Library
Roy. Guidelines for Preparing Proposals. Chelsea, MI: Lewis
Publishers, 1985. [Darden Library]
Liane. Going for the Gold: Some Dos and Don'ts for Grantseekers.
Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services, 1989. [Alderman
Tom. Persuasive Business Proposals: Writing to Win Customers, Clients,
and Contracts. New York: AMACOM, 1992. [Darden Library]
Dorin. Get Funded!: A Practical Guide for Scholars Seeking Research
Support from Business. Newburg Park, CA: Sage Publishers, 1992.
Ron. How to Write Winning Proposals for Your Company or Client.
New York: Wiley, 1990. [Darden Library]
dataline is accessible only through a computer, either by modem or through
a network. Research administrators can help you locate phone numbers
of individual program administrators if you need to speak directly with
should contain an overall estnnnnnnimate of project costs in lieu of a
detailed budget. An informal proposal does not need to be processed through
the formal review and approval procedures of the University. However,
it is suggested that budgetary matters be discussed with the research
administrator for your particular school or department to ensure that
the estimated overall cost is realistic for the proposed project. A lack
of correlation between the proposed project and its estimated costs may
lead to immediate rejection. If
you get to know people within the agency or industry (when approaching
an industry getting to know a project leader interested in your research
can be helpful) from which you are soliciting funds, the lead time can
be reduced significantly.
like to thank the participants in the proposal writing seminar held in
the fall of 1992: William Wulf, Alf Weaver, Bernard Carlson, Thomas Hutchinson,
Regina Carlson, and Bobbe Nixon. Their thoughts and insight, along with
the information provided by William McDermott of the Curry School, provided
the basis of this document. I would also like to thank Julia Pet-Edwards
and Marva Barnett for reviewing and editing the pamphlet; their comments
greatly added to the value of the document. And finally, thank you to
Freda Fretwell, for being a constant source of cheerful support.
Publication of the Teaching Resource Center, University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4136
By Jennifer Tyler, Graduate Student Associate, TRC (1992-93)
Edited by Annamarie Black, Coordinator, TRC (1994-96)
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