The staff of the Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE) at the National Science Foundation (NSF) often provide informal guidance to proposers. Staff members give workshops on proposal writing, answer questions by phone and e-mail, and talk to potential awardees at professional meetings and at NSF. The following is the essence of the advice often given to inquirers. These suggestions for improving proposals were collected from a variety of sources, including NSF Program Directors, panel reviewers, and successful grantees. Ultimately, most proposals are peer reviewed in panels consisting of colleagues in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines or related fields, and the success in obtaining funding depends in great measure on reviewers’ judgments and their written reviews.
While this Guide may provide valuable information for proposal writing in general, it was specifically prepared for programs in DUE. Because programs, priorities, technologies, funding levels, and many other details change, advice in this Guide will also change with time. Following the advice given here certainly does not guarantee funding although we hope it will help applicants write better and more competitive proposals. Another factor that must be considered is that NSF receives many more proposals that are worthy of funding than there are funds to support. National priorities and the desire for a balanced portfolio of projects influence what is ultimately funded.
We hope that you find this Guide informative. NSF, together with creative partners, makes an important difference in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.
“What makes a good proposal?” A good proposal stems from a good concept. The best proposals are those to which the reviewers respond, “Of course, I wish I had thought of that!” The most important thing is a project that will benefit undergraduate education and directly improve student opportunities to learn. That said, however, the proposal must be written in sufficient detail to allow reviewers to understand:
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