All funders provide guidance on rules and expectations for a proposal at the agency and program level. Below is the Office of Sponsored Research's (OSR) outline of the general process for developing and submitting a proposal to an external sponsor.
Depending on funder guidelines, some of all of the following may be required in a proposal. Always follow the agency guidelines when writing the proposal!
Common Elements of a Proposal
1. Executive summary or abstract states the project description clearly, usually in less than two pages (much less for some agencies). Many abstracts require information about the applicant and his/her credibility, the need or problem addressed, objectives, methods, total project cost and amount being requested.
2. Background describes the college and applicant, establishing the credibility of each. It may include the College mission and history, relevant facilities and/or equipment, PI qualifications, evidence of relevant accomplishments, long-range goals and current similar programs and/or activities. Reasons for including collaborators and their credibility should be included.
3. Need statement explains why the research or project is necessary, why now, and why the applicant and college are best suited to do the work. Supporting statistical data should be included. This section may also be termed “Intellectual Merit” and/or “Broader Impact.”
4. Program goal(s) and objectives include proposed project outcome, accomplishments, or changes realized, addressing the stated needs. Include the overall goal(s) and specific objectives or ways in which the goal(s) will be met, with at least one goal stated for each problem or need.
5. Methods describe the process by which objectives will be achieved. Include a chronological description, actions to accomplish objectives, impact of proposed activities, how they will benefit the target population and/or community, who will carry them out, a timeline of activities, and long-term strategies for sustaining the project. (Items 5 and 6 may often be presented in a table format for clarity and to save space, if necessary.)
6. Evaluation measures performance or results of the project. State who will be conducting the evaluation, at what point(s) in the project, and when and how results will be used. Evaluation is particularly important in pilot or demonstration projects and any project involving undergraduate research. If using external evaluators, they should be identified and brought into the process as early as possible.
7. Dissemination of results may include publication, program replication, and/or other means. State that the funder's support of the project will be acknowledged in conformance with their wishes. Many agencies require a detailed data management plan.
8. Budget is described in detail in the next section.
9. Supplemental information such as letters of support and letters of commitment (from key personnel indicating willingness to participate in the project) show broad support for, and participation in, the program. Assurances, certifications, college financials and other information may be required and is typically obtained by the OSR at PI request.