Proposals and Getting Funded
A good source for information about Grant Writing :
Outline of topics
Develop a strategic plan for your research
Stake your claim
Get to know your program officers
Before you write
Writing the proposal
Myths about proposals (NSF)
Characteristics of successful faculty members
New or Continuing
Available Resources: Needed Resources:
Plans for obtaining facilities or instruments
Stage 1: Development
Stage 2: Implementation
Stage 3: Dissemination
Plans for recruiting students and
Beginning Field Work or
Setting Up Laboratory
Formal PublicationsWeb Sites
Honors & M.S. Theses
Creating a Strategic Plan
do if not
Proposal writing (also see handout for tips)
1. No one single formula for success
Just as there is no one single “scientific method”
2. But there are good things to do, and things to avoid
3. This is not a research paper – the goals are very
different, and therefore so should be the structure and
4. You are asking people to give away their money to
you, to “invest” in you. You have to work hard to
convince them that you and your project are worth it.
5. Learn to love reading
6. Practice writing
Stake your claim
1. Let people know what you are doing!
• Reviewers, panel members, and program directors
should know of your work
2. Blow your own horn (at the right time and in “tune”, of
3. Publish papers, write proposals
4. Balance your time spent on activities that are
complementary to your research and help maintain your
reputation as an expert (reviewing proposals and
publications, organizing workshops, presenting papers
at meetings, being a journal editor, professional
committees and boards, public outreach, popular media
such as interviews for magazines or newspapers, etc.).
Contact your Program Officer
1. Email a request for a time to call them
2. Seek them out at meetings
3. Build a relationship
• Always do a review if asked
• Volunteer to be on a panel
• Always reference your grant number on everything
do you (talks, papers, websites, etc.)
Your Program Officer…
1. Is a scholar in your field (usually) who knows what
everybody is doing & is formative in directing the
scholarship of your field; Can be permanent or temporary
1. Coordinates & runs the review process
2. Executes or makes funding decisions, depending upon
1. Oversees grants, budgets, etc.
1. Advocates for your field in competition with other research
areas and budget priorities.
1. Continues to work with you throughout your grant and is
interested in your success
Ask your Program Officer…
(After doing your homework)
1. Does your program fund this type of research?
2. What are the program budget and success rate; how
many proposals in a competition?
3. What is the typical size of a successful „new
investigator‟ project in this program?
4. What is the review and decision making process in this
5. Are there special programs for which I qualify and how
can I be considered for them?
6. Are you aware of other agencies or organizations that
fund this kind of project?
Exercise: Professional Introductions
• What interests you?
• Why it is important? Why should it be
Before you start to write
1. Carefully read the relevant Grant program announcement
2. …and again!
3. Know what forms you will need and what department or
institutional support you will need
4. Know all relevant deadlines
5. Know the exact formatting rules
6. Know what the review process will be (ask your program
7. Know the criteria for evaluating your proposal
8. Work with the budget/grant staff at your university &
department to understand the process
• Know your audience: mail reviewers, panel
members, program officers
• Remember --- the reviewers are as busy and overworked as you
are, and are usually not getting paid for their reviews
• Focus on the Big-Picture Important Scientific Question
• Use a “Backwards by Design” approach
• Start with a goal-driven science-driven question, and work
backwards to determine what you will need to do to make it happen
• Clearly State the Goals/Objectives/Hypotheses
• Don‟t make the panelist/reviewer guess what you are trying to do
• Clearly define the hypotheses you will be testing
• Define the experiments/modeling
• Describe how the results of your experiments/models will
support or reject the different hypotheses
• Describe as many possible outcomes (and their implications)
from your experiments/models as possible
• However, do NOT predict the results of your study
• If it is that obvious, why should they fund it?
• Instead, use preliminary data to support your hypotheses
• Make sure your project has no obvious avenues for failure
• e.g.:, don‟t make the second part of your project dependent
upon a particular outcome or result from the first part
Writing Proposals: Format
• Follow the Proposal Guidelines carefully!
• Due Date, # of pages
• Margins, point size, vertical and horizontal spacing
• Use headings and subheadings to make your proposal more
• Don‟t use jargon or lots of acronyms. Be careful with math.
• Spread out figures/tables/charts to try to break up text. Be
conscious of layout and the aesthetics of the page.
• The reader should be able to get the whole project from the
figures and figure caption.
• Color figures are OK, but suppose a reviewer prints it out on a
Writing Proposals: Style
• Write in such a way as to make it as easy as possible on the
reviewer. Don‟t make the reviewer work hard to read the paper
• Write in a simple, clear, clean style. Eschew obfuscation.
• Imagine that you are writing front-page newspaper stories (not
rambling magazine feature stories).
• Look at a front-page newspaper story. The main point is given in
a headline, then in a secondary headline, then in the first
sentence, then in the first paragraph.
• Humor is delicate. Be careful with it.
Writing Proposals: Style
• The first sentence of your Abstract and Project Summary and
Project Description should always begin with something like “We
• Repeatedly go through the exercise of: Tell them what you are
going to say, say it, and then tell them what you said.
• In each section, have a clear statement, perhaps in bold, that
summarizes the main point of that section.
“The people involved in the project are…”
“The PI has demonstrated the ability to carry out this experiment
“The hypotheses that we will be testing are…”
“The mechanisms that we will use to assess the success of our
Writing Proposals: Establish your credibility
Reviewers comment on the competence of the PIs and if they
have the capability to carry out the proposed project.
• Provide results from prior research; 1-2 pages per 15-page
• Don‟t oversell yourself, but make sure that your strengths and
abilities are there for the reviewer to see
• An impression of competence is displayed by little things as
well, such as taking a common-sense approach, the
coherence of your arguments, attention to detail, citation of
existing literature, lists of publications and accomplishments
Writing Proposals: Establish your credibility
A great way to show competence is through pilot studies,
demonstrations, test runs, etc.
• If you will be doing computer modeling of data, do a test run
with synthetic data to see the kinds of results you might come
• If you are doing lab work, show a set of experimental data
• If you are doing surveys, do a small sample
Writing Proposals: Citing Literature
Make sure that any papers that you cite are in your reference
Don‟t pad the reference section with references that you don‟t cite.
Don‟t overwhelm the reader with references – there is no need to
justify obvious statements with citations.
It is very important to demonstrate that you know the current
literature and cite important/relevant references.
Cite studies that are close to your study, that provide external
benchmarks and related measures.
Be sure to cite a references of potential reviewers.
Writing Proposals: Structure
Follow an “Hourglass” structure, with 3 parts:
Why is this important?
Where are the gaps?
2. Specific Project
How will you fill the gaps?
Details of Proposed Work
Plan for Assessment
How will you know if and when you meet
3. Broader Implications and Impacts
Writing Proposals: TIME
Take the time to write a good grant proposal
• Start early, and write in small amounts
• Allow time to edit and revise; it is obvious if it is
• If you don‟t take the time to write a good
proposal, will you take the time to do good
research? Why should they fund it?
What are the obstacles to you having the “Time” to write?
Writing Proposals: Bio/CV
Biography should be tailored to each grant
Do not expect to be able to use one CV for all grant
It should be edited with the specific goal of aligning as
closely as possible with the project at hand
publications, activities, etc., accordingly
Budget and Budget Justification
• Be as accurate and detailed as possible. Get bids or
estimates (travel, publications, equipment, etc.)
• Don‟t hesitate to include line items for small things
• Build in inflation for multiyear grants
• Ask for what you need – do not underestimate.
• The more justification you give (including actual research
amounts), the less a program officer is likely to reduce your
• Utilize your budget/grants support staff for help & advice
Writing Proposals: Project Summary
• The Project Summary is NOT an abstract, but rather a
summary of the entire project: goals, expected
outcomes, hypotheses to be
tested, methodology, participants, duration, cost, etc.
• It is like a mini-proposal; The reader should have a
complete understanding of the project from it.
• Write this LAST, after everything else
Writing Proposals: Suggesting Reviewers
• Take this seriously!
• Choose people who know your work, but are not direct
• Be aware of conflicts-of-interests (collaborators on past
projects, post-doctoral advisors, spouses, etc.).
• Cultivate reviewers
Send them reprints
Invite them to give department seminars
• Ask a senior colleague/mentor for a pre-review
Writing Proposals: NSF
How will this change our understanding of the world?
How do we know you will be able to do what you propose?
Does the project explore creative, original, or potentially
Are there societal or public benefits to the research effort?
Will any publicly-accessible products, data sets, codes, educational
materials, museum displays, media products, (etc.) be produced?
What educational opportunities are you providing?
Are you allocating sufficient resources to the broader impacts?
Writing Proposals: NSF Review Process
1. Program Officer
Checks to make sure it meets basic criteria
2. “Peer” Mail Reviews (people like you!)
For NSF: aim for about 5
Numbers AND comments important
3. Program Officer
Decides on which proposals to have panel consider.
Provides additional feedback for program.
Often helps rank proposals.
Some programs (AGS in NSF) do not use panels
5. Program Officer
Makes the funding decision.
Take advantage of special opportunities
Packard Fellowship http://www.packard.org/what-we-
DOE Early Career Awards http://science.energy.gov/early-
HHMI Professorships (for undergrad research)
Opportunities at your institution for early career
If you are funded!
• Allow yourself one day of celebration, then go back to
• Use the funds wisely, with an aim toward future funding.
How will this fund fit into your larger portfolio of grants?
• Let others know of your project. Stake your ground.
If you are not funded….
• Allow yourself one day to mope,
then go back to planning.
• Assume that you will resubmit. (Think of baseball)
• Read the reviews very carefully to determine if you can revise
the proposal to meet their concerns. If not, is there another
agency that would be better suited for it?
• Take reviewer comments seriously (just like a paper)
• Identify in your resubmitted proposal the areas of the proposal
that are new/in response to reviewer comments
NSF proposals – Myths and Facts
EOS article, 18 Dec 2012 (data are from Ocean
Sciences Program, which is part of Geosciences
Junior investigators have just as good of a chance of getting
funded as their senior colleagues
For Broader Impacts, it is better to do one thing well then to
propose a multi-faceted program for many different groups
60-75% of proposals funded are first submissions; 20-22% are
second submissions. Only 5-10% of those funded were third
Complete your strategic plan worksheet
What are some potential funding sources for this research?
If funded, what is the timeline for this research?