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Suggestion for Writing a Good Proposal

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Gathered from a NSF Grants Conference

"A good proposal is a good idea, well expressed, with a clear indication of methods for pursuing the idea, evaluating the findings, and making them known to all who need to know."

Funding Basic Research is about funding the best, brightest, and clearest of IDEAS.

A good proposal tells a story that is good enough to be of interest to a large audience, not just specialists in the field.

Steps in Proposal Writing:

  1. Carefully read the Program Announcement.
  2. What is the Goal of the program. Do your goals fit? A force-fit is obvious to everyone and reviewers will be looking for it.
  3. What are the Eligibility Requirements? Are you eligible?
  4. Are there Special Requirements for this particular proposal that are unusual for this agency?

Steps in Project Development:

  1. What do you intend to do?
  2. Why is this work important? Especially, to a broad audience...
  3. What has already been done? What will you do that is creative or novel?
  4. How are you going to do it?

It is very important that you not forget the first three steps!

Pitfalls often seen in poor proposals:

  1. The reviewer may say, "This is a good idea, well done, but who cares?"
  2. The reviewer can't figure out what is going to be done - the proposal is just a jumble of ideas.

You will sell yourself short if your proposal speaks only to other specialists. You must develop the wider implications of the work.

Do yourself a favor - both before and during the writing of the proposal, keep the guidelines from the program announcement in front of you. When you are finished, go back and be sure you have addressed all the guidelines.

TELL THE IMPACT of your proposal. A proposal should not be just a "review article." On the other hand, the guidelines are not meant to be a "guide to where the treasure is buried". Don't try to tell the agency or reviewers what you think they want to hear. You must have a good idea that you are committed to doing.

Be Consistent. Page 2 or your proposal should be supported, not contradicted by statements and information on Page 9.

The first two pages of the proposal are very important. It should tell what you are going to do and it's impact!!

If there is published information about the proposal evaluation criteria, pay attention to it. Read your final proposal as if you were a reviewer with the criteria in front of you.

Ask other people to review your proposal, especially people in your department who have been successful with this particular funding agency. Ask your Department Chair for help in identifying a mentor.

Last updated: August 4, 2015

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