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Tarleton Grant Writing Workshop Generic Strategies for Competitive Proposals


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Title: Tarleton Grant Writing Workshop Generic Strategies for Competitive Proposals

Tarleton Grant Writing Workshop Generic
Strategies for Competitive Proposals
  • Mike Cronan, PE (inactive)
  • Director, Office of Proposal Development, Office
    of the Vice President for Research, Texas AM
  • http//opd.tamu.edu/

AM System Coordination
  • Dr. K. Lee Peddicord, System Vice Chancellor for
    Research Federal Relations
  • Tami Davis Sayko, System Associate Vice
    Chancellor for Research Federal Relations.
  • Dr. Peddicord and Ms. Sayko are to research
    promotion what Jerry Lee Lewis is to the piano.
    (Texas AM research administrator comment)
  • http//tamusystem.tamu.edu/offices/research-federa

Office of Proposal Development
  • Supports faculty in the development and writing
    of proposals
  • Supports center-level initiatives,
    interdisciplinary research teams, junior faculty,
    and diversity initiatives
  • Helps develop research partnerships at Texas AM
    and among System institutions and the Health
    Science Center
  • Offers a full suite of training programs to help
    faculty develop and write more competitive
  • OPDWeb http//opd.tamu.edu/

OPD Member List
  • Jean Ann Bowman, PhD (Physical Geography/Hydrology
    ), earth, ecological, and environmental sciences,
  • Libby Childress, Scheduling, workshop management,
    project coordination, libbyc_at_tamu.edu
  • Mike Cronan, PE, BSCE, BA, MFA, Center-level
    proposals, AM System partnerships, new proposal
    and training initiatives, mikecronan_at_tamu.edu
  • Lucy Deckard, BSMS, MSMSE, New faculty
    initiative, fellowships, engineering and physical
    science proposals, equipment and instrumentation,
  • John Ivy, PhD (Molecular Biology), NIH biomedical
    and biological science initiatives,
  • Phyllis McBride, PhD (English), proposal writing
    training, biomedical, editing,
  • Robyn Pearson, BA, MA, social sciences and
    humanities proposals, editing and rewriting,

Presenter Background
  • Mike Cronan 20 years at Texas AM University
    planning, developing, and writing successful
    research and educational proposals to federal
  • Developed and built the TEES Office of Research
    Development Grant Writing (Director,
    1994-2004) restructured the Texas AM University
    Office of Proposal Development (Director,
  • Authored over 60 million in System-wide
    proposals funded by NSF Texas AMP, Texas RSI,
    South Texas RSI, Texas CETP , CREST Environmental
    Research Center, Information Technology in
    Science, among others.
  • Named Regents Fellow (2000-04) by the Board of
    Regents for leading, developing writing System
    partnership proposals funded by NSF and other
    federal agencies.
  • B.S., Civil/Structural Engineering, University of
    Michigan, 1983
  • M.F.A., English, University of California,
    Irvine, 1972
  • B.A., Political Science, Michigan State
    University, 1968
  • Registered Professional Engineer (Texas 063512,

Open Forum, QA Format
  • Curious? Please ask questions
  • Questions will help direct, guide, and focus the
    discussion on proposal topics.

Presentation topics
  • Introductory comments
  • Identifying funding solicitations
  • Analyzing the solicitation
  • Analyzing the funding agency
  • Understanding the review process
  • Writing the proposal narrative
  • Checklist for writing the proposal

Types of University Proposals
  • Research (basic, applied, applications, mission,
  • Educational
  • Institutional (e.g., McNair, GAANN, STEP)
  • Direct to applicant (e.g., NSF Fellowships,
    dissertation grants)
  • Hybrid research and educational (REU)
  • Small , few PIs
  • Large , multiple PIs, center-level
  • Supplements to grants (NSF, NIH)

Applications based research
Funding unlikely to pan out…
  • Grand visions
  • Ambitious plans to improve the world, or your
    corner of it
  • Administrative infrastructures
  • Bricks mortar
  • Unfocused ideas enthusiasm

If you dont write grants, you wont get any
  • Target the proposal at the intersection where
  • research dollars are available
  • your research interests are met
  • a competitive proposal can be written within the
    time available.

Narrative Detail
  • Agencies will not fund an idea not embedded in
    a convincing pattern of narrative detail and
    performance specificity tightly mapped to funding
    agency objectives.

Searching for funding
  • Develop search protocols to fit research
  • Know relevant agencies
  • Learn grant cycles.

Focus on your research interests
Search in the right places
Searching for research funding
  • Define a general disciplinary domain of interest
    (e.g., science, social science, humanities,
    education, health and biomedical sciences,
  • Characterize the nature of the research interests
    within the disciplinary domain (basic, applied,
    applications, contract, mission agency)
  • Identify funding agencies whose mission,
    strategic plan, and investment priorities are
    aligned with the specific research interests
  • Focus on this subset of agencies in the search
    for funding opportunities, a process that may go
    through several search iterations until the
    researcher converges on a reasonable alignment of
    research interests with possible funding sources
  • Further align research interests with funding
    agency funding opportunities by reviewing past
    funding solicitations, agency mission statements,
    strategic investment plans, and related

OPD-Web Funding Opportunities
Grants. gov
  • The Grants.gov web portal serves as a single
    point of access for all federal agency grant
    announcements. New funding announcements from
    federal agency are posted to this site daily, and
    a range of other features allow subscribing to
    email funding alerts, linking to agency web
    sites, and searching for funding among agencies.

Receive Grants.gov Funding Email Alerts
Search Browse Grant Opportunities
  • http//www.grants.gov/applicants/search_opportunit
  • http//www.grants.gov/search/agency.do

Search Grants.gov Opportunities
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Reading the proposal solicitation
  • The Request for Proposals (RFP) also called
    the Program Announcement (PA), Request for
    Applications (RFA), or Broad Agency Announcement
    (BAA) is one common starting point of the
    proposal writing process.

Reading the proposal solicitation
  • Other starting points to the proposal process
    include investigator-initiated (unsolicited)
    proposals, or, common to the defense agencies,
    white papers and quad charts.

Reading the proposal solicitation
  • The solicitation represents an invitation by a
    funding agency for applicants to submit requests
    for funding in research areas of interest to the
    agency or foundation.

Program Solicitation
  • It is used continuously throughout proposal
    development and writing as a reference point to
    ensure that an evolving proposal narrative fully
    addresses and accurately reflects the goals and
    objectives of the funding agency, including the
    review criteria.

Program Solicitation
  • The RFP contains most of the essential
    information the researcher needs to develop and
    write a competitive proposal that is fully
    responsive to the agencys funding objectives and
    review criteria.

Program Solicitation
  • The RFP is not a menu or smorgasbord offering the
    applicant a choice of addressing some topics but
    not others, depending on interest, or some review
    criteria but not others.
  • The RFP is a non-negotiable listing of
    performance expectations reflecting the stated
    goals, objectives, and desired outcomes of the

RFP Read Follow Directions
Map your expertise to the RFP
  • Is it a fit?
  • Is it really a fit?
  • No partial fits allowed
  • No wishful thinking
  • Close doesnt count
  • If you are not a fitdont submit

You and the RFP need to be like…
The RFP as Treasure Map
  • Follow directions
  • Review step by step
  • Understand it
  • Understood by all PIs
  • Keep focused
  • Dont wander off path

No irrational exuberance!!
  • Understand the RFP for what it is…not what you
    want it to be…
  • It is not a speculative investment…
  • Invest your time, resources, and energy wisely

Contents of the RFP
  • Agency research goals, objectives, and
    performance expectations
  • Statement and scope of work
  • Proposal topics to be addressed by the applicant
  • Deliverables or other outcomes
  • Review criteria and process

Contents of the RFP
  • Research plan
  • Key personnel, evaluation, management
  • Eligibility, due dates, available funding,
    funding limits, anticipated number of awards,
    performance period, proposal formatting
    requirements, budget and other process
    requirements, and reference documents.

Reviewing the RFP
  • It is not a document to skim quickly, read
    lightly, or read only once.
  • It defines a very detailed set of research
    expectations the applicant must meet in order to
    be competitive for funding.
  • It needs to be read and re-read and fully
    understood, both in very discrete detail and as
    an integrated whole.

Reviewing the RFP
  • The RFP sets the direction and defines the
    performance parameters of every aspect of
    proposal development and writing.
  • Read it word by word sentence by sentence
    paragraph by paragraph and page by page.
  • Know it well, both at the macro and micro level

Reviewing the RFP
  • Focus
  • Carefully
  • On
  • Directions.
  • Dont
  • Get
  • Distracted.

Reviewing the RFP
  • Clarify ambiguities if unresolved--
  • Get clarification from a program officer.
  • Ambiguities needs to be resolved prior to
    proposal writing so the proposal narrative maps
    to the guidelines with informed certainty.

Reviewing the RFP
  • A well-written RFP clearly states the funding
    agencys research objectives in a concise and
    comprehensive fashion, and is devoid of
    wordiness, repetition, and vaguely contradictory
    re-phasing of program requirements.

Reviewing the RFP
  • Not all RFPs are clearly written.
  • Sometimes the funding agency itself is unclear
    about specific objectives, particularly in
    cutting-edge research areas.
  • Where there is ambiguity, keep asking questions
    converge on clarity.

Never be timid about contacting a program officer
for clarification
  • Timidity is never rewarded in the competitive
    grant process.

Role of the RFP in Proposal Organization
  • The RFP provides the key instructions for the
    construction of a competitive proposal.
  • It defines the expectations of the funding agency
    and the domain of research performance.

Role of the RFP in Proposal Organization
  • Use the RFP to develop the structure, order, and
    detail of the proposal narrative.
  • Use the RFP as an organizational template during
    proposal development to help ensure every RFP
    requirement is addressed fully.

Role of the RFP in Proposal Organization
  • Copy the requirements in each section of the RFP
    into the draft text, including the review
    criteria, as a template for the proposal.
  • This template provides initial section and
    subsection headings to guide preliminary
    responses that mirror the program solicitation

Role of the RFP in Proposal Organization
  • Reviewers will expect to see the narrative
    text in the same general order as presented in
    the RFP, along with the review criteria, since
    that ordering conforms to instructions given to
    reviewers by program officers.

Role of the RFP in Proposal Organization
  • Using the RFP as a template to create a
    proposal outline makes it easy for reviewers to
    compare the proposal to the program objectives
    and review criteria.

Reading Material Referenced in the RFP
  • If the RFP refers to any publications, reports,
    or workshops, it is important to read those
    materials, analyze how that work has influenced
    the agencys vision of the program, and cite
    those publications in the proposal in a way that
    illustrates the topics are acknowledged and

Analyzing the funding agency
  • Analyzing the mission, strategic plan, investment
    priorities, and culture of a funding agency
    provides information key to enhancing proposal

Know the funding agency
  • In marking our 50th anniversary Dr. Rita R.
    Colwell, former NSF Director, we are celebrating
    vision and foresight. The recently retired
    hockey-great, Wayne Gretzky, used to say, "I
    skate to where the puck is going, not to where
    it's been."
  • At NSF, we try to fund where the fields are
    going, not to where they've been.
  • We have a strong record across all fields of
    science and engineering for choosing to fund
    insightful proposals and visionary investigators.

Analyzing the funding agency
  • Competitiveness depends on a series of
    well-informed decision points made throughout the
    writing of a proposal related to arguing the
    merit of the research and culminating in a
    well-integrated document that convinces the
    reviewers to recommend funding.

Analyzing the funding agency
  • Funding agencies have a clearly defined agenda
    and mission.
  • Funded grants are those that best advance the
    mission of the funding agency.
  • If a proposal does not meet an agency's mission,
    it will not be funded.

Analyzing the funding agency
  • Having a "good idea" by itself is not enough.
  • Good ideas must be clearly connected and
    integrated with a specific solicitation.
  • The funding agency funds research that supports
    their mission.

Know what was recently funded
  • Learning about recently funded research in your
    area helps you understand what an agency is
    looking for in the review process
  • Review abstracts of funded proposals on agency
    web sites
  • Talk to the principal investigators of funded
    proposals in your area
  • Obtain copies of funded proposals
  • Ask the PI
  • Ask the agency (funded proposals are public)

Finding information on funded projects
  • NSF Award Search Site
  • http//www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/index.jsp
  • NIH Award Search Site
  • http//crisp.cit.nih.gov/crisp/crisp_query.generat
  • Dept. of Ed. Awards Search
  • http//wdcrobcolp01.ed.gov/CFAPPS/grantaward/start
  • USDA Awards Search
  • http//cris.csrees.usda.gov/
  • NEH Awards Search
  • http//www.neh.gov/news/recentawards.html

Learn about proposals funded by foundations
  • Foundation Center (Find Funders)
  • http//foundationcenter.org/findfunders/
  • Foundation Finder
  • http//lnp.foundationcenter.org/finder.html
  • 990 Finder
  • http//foundationcenter.org/findfunders/990finder/
  • http//foundationcenter.org/findfunders/990pffly.p
  • http//foundationcenter.org/getstarted/tutorials/d

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Analyzing the agency mission
  • Funding agencies are not passive funders of
    programs, but see themselves as leaders of a
    national dialogue on scientific issues, research
    directions, and driving the national agenda
    through research solicitations.

Analyzing the agency mission
  • A strong proposal allows the funding agency to
    form a partnership with the submitting
    institution that will carry out the agency's
    vision and mission.
  • The applicant must understand the nature of this
    partnership and the expectations of the funding
    agency, both during proposal development and
    throughout a funded project.

Analyzing the funding agency
  • Knowledge about a funding agency helps the
    applicant make good decisions throughout the
    entire proposal development and writing process
    by better understanding the relationship of the
    research to the broader context of the funding
    agencys mission, strategic plan, and research
    investment priorities.

Analyzing the funding agency
  • Who is the audience (e.g., program officers,
    reviewers) and what is the best way to address
  • What is a fundable idea and how is it best
    characterized within the context of the agency

Analyzing the funding agency
  • How are claims of research uniqueness and
    innovation best supported in the proposal text
    and reflective of agency research objectives?
  • How does the applicant best communicate his or
    her passion, excitement, commitment, and capacity
    to perform the proposed research to review

Analyzing the funding agency
  • Mission
  • Culture
  • Language
  • Investment s
  • Strategic plan
  • Org chart
  • Management
  • Program officers
  • Reports, pubs
  • Web speeches
  • Public testimony
  • Review criteria
  • Review process
  • Review panels
  • Project abstracts
  • Current funding
  • Solicitations

Analyzing the funding agency
  • Differentiate between funding agencies by
    mission, strategic plan, investment priorities,
    culture, etc.
  • Researchers in the social and behavioral sciences
    and the physical, computational, and biological
    sciences may have research opportunities at
    several agencies, e.g., NIH, NSF, DOD, EPA, but
    these agencies are dissimilar in many ways.

Analyzing the funding agency
  • Research focus within disciplines
  • Research that is basic, applied, or applications
  • Research scope and performance time horizon
  • Exploratory, open-ended research, or targeted to
    technology develop
  • Multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary
  • Classified, non-classified
  • Proprietary, non-proprietary
  • Independent research, or dependent linkages to
    the agency mission, e.g., health care, education

Analyzing the funding agency
  • Differentiate between basic research agencies
    (e.g., NSF, NIH) and mission-focused agencies
    (e.g. DOD, NASA, USDA).
  • Differentiate between hypothesis-driven research
    and need- or applications driven research.
  • Differentiate research at disciplinary
    boundaries, e.g., social sciences

Basic research agency
  • Independent agency and management
  • Independent research vision, mission, and
  • Award criteria based on intellectual and
    scientific excellence
  • Peer reviewed, ranked, and awarded by merit
  • Focus on fundamental or basic research at the
    frontiers of science, innovation, and creation
    of new knowledge
  • Open ended, exploratory, long investment horizon
  • Non-classified, non-proprietary

Mission-oriented agencies
  • Scope of work tightly defines research
  • Predominately applied research for meeting
    near-term objectives, technology development and
    transfer, policy goals
  • Predominately internal review by program officers
  • Awards based on mix of merit, geographic
    distribution, political distribution, long term
    relationship with agency program officer,
    Legislative, and Executive branch policies
  • Classified and non-classified research
  • http//opd.tamu.edu/seminar-materials/seminar-mate

Mission-Oriented Agencies
  • Have a specific, focused mission
  • All research funding must clearly advance that
  • Research often a small part of overall budget
  • Often have intramural research
  • Shifts in focus and priorities within the overall
    mission may change rapidly often short time
    horizons for research payoff
  • Often sensitive to changes in political

Analyzing the funding agency
  • Agencies often speak in a dialect unique to them.
  • Echo the language of the funding agency back to
  • This is important in writing the proposal
    narrative, and helps to frame arguments more
    clearly and make them more easily understood by
    program managers and reviewers.

Addressing Review Criteria
  • A competitive proposal must clearly address each
    review criterion, and the proposal should be
    structured so that these discussions are easy for
    reviewers to find, compare, and contrast.

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Addressing Review Criteria
  • The description of review criteria is a key part
    of the solicitation.
  • The description of review criteria is a key part
    and the proposal template.
  • Make the reviewers job easier by using language
    similar to that used in the solicitation.

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Understanding the review process
  • When evaluating a grant application, reviewers
    will not only consider the quality of the ideas,
    but also the extent to which the application
    addresses the funding agencys review criteria.
  • Therefore, it is important to identify these
    review criteria, understand exactly how the
    agency defines them, and determine the relative
    weight (if any) that the agency assigns to each
    of them.
  • This information can then be used to develop an
    application that clearly addresses these criteria
    and that is therefore much more competitive.

Identify the review criteria
  • Most agencies publish standard review criteria on
    their web pages and in each solicitation.
  • Some programs will have additional review
    criteria specific to the solicitation.

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Understand the review process
  • The review process varies from agency to agency
  • The review process may include a peer review of
    outside experts from related fields an internal
    review by agency personnel or a combination of
  • Most agency review processes share some common
    features. At most agencies, for instance, an
    application will first undergo a merit review
    and, depending upon the results, an
    administrative review.

Difference between NSF NIH
  • This is a fundamental difference between NIH's
    and NSF's selection methods--by the end of the
    NIH review, applications are ranked alongside
    other entries according to an overall numerical
    priority score. At NSF, proposals are not given a
    numerical rating but are classified according to
    written "recommendations."
  • Fred Stollnitz, program director at NSF explains
    further "When panels review, the reviewers put
    each proposal into categories such as
    'outstanding,' 'good and should be funded,' 'not
    ready in its present form,' or 'decline.' "
  • A particularly vocal reviewer could influence the
    final rating of the panel or where the proposal
    should be classified, but because there is no
    absolute score, only opinions are noted in the
    review analysis report--not actual decisions. An
    opinionated NIH reviewer on the other hand could
    affect the scores an application receives and so
    alter its ranking.
  • Source http//nextwave.sciencemag.org/cgi/conten

NSF review panelists
  • NSF panelists convey their opinions and
    recommendations in a panel summary. They
    compose an overall analysis of review for each
    proposal that incorporate factors such as the
    panel summary, subject area, available resources,
    and the potential impact of the research. They
    then make final award decisions with the division
  • Proposals that receive lower classifications by
    the panel can sometimes be funded over "higher
    rated research proposals because their overall
    assessment by the program officer is more

NSF review panelists
  • The budgetary consideration also plays a key role
    in the decision-making process. The program
    officer doesn't just make 'yes' or 'no'
    decisions, explains Stollnitz. They have to
    balance all those proposals that should be funded
    with the actual funds that are available.
  • Sometimes a proposal classified as good and
    should be funded submitted by an investigator
    with minimal existing funds may be given the edge
    over an outstanding proposal submitted by an
    established and well-funded candidate.
  • Source http//nextwave.sciencemag.org/cgi/conten

NSF proposal process and timelines
NSF example review criterion 1
  • What is the intellectual merit of the proposed
  • How important is the proposed activity to
    advancing knowledge and understanding within its
    own field or across different fields?
  • How well qualified is the proposer (individual or
    team) to conduct the project? (If appropriate,
    the reviewer will comment on the quality of prior
  • To what extent does the proposed activity suggest
    and explore creative and original concepts?
  • How well conceived and organized is the proposed
  • Is there sufficient access to resources?

NIH review criteria
  • Significance. Does the study address an important
  • Approach. Are the methods appropriate to the aims
    of the project?
  • Innovation. Does the project employ novel
    concepts or methods?
  • Investigator. Is the investigator well trained to
    do the work?
  • Environment. Does the environment contribute to

Developing the proposal narrative
  • Contrary to what some people seem to believe,
    simple writing is not the product of simple
    minds. A simple, unpretentious style has both
    grace and power. By not calling attention to
    itself, it allows the reader to focus on the
    message.--Richard Lederer and Richards Dowis,
    Sleeping Dogs Don't Lay, 1999.

Craft of writing
  • Good writing lies at the core of the competitive
    proposal. It is the framework for crafting and
    structuring the arguments, ideas, concepts,
    goals, performance commitments, and the logical,
    internal connectedness and balance of the

Charles Mingus on Grant Writing
  • Making the simple complicated is commonplace
    making the complicated simple, awesomely simple,
    that's creativity.

Albert Einstein on Grant Writing
  • If you can't explain something simply, you don't
    understand it well."
  • Most of the fundamental ideas of science are
    essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be
    expressed in language comprehensible to everyone.
  • Any fool can make things bigger, more complex,
    and more violent. It takes a touch of genius--and
    a lot of courage--to move in the opposite

The proposal is the only reality
  • A proposal is not unlike a novel or a movie. It
    creates its own, self-contained reality. The
    proposal contains all the funding agency and
    review panel will know about your capabilities
    and your capacity to perform. With few
    exceptions, an agency bases its decision to fund
    or not fund entirely on the proposal and the
    persuasive reality it creates.

Good writing is more than mechanics
  • Strong, comprehensive, integrated knowledge base
  • Organizational clarity (stepwise
    logic/connections sequencing)
  • Structural clarity (integrative logic logical
  • Argumentative clarity (reasoning ordering
  • Capacity for synthesis
  • Connect, connect, connect

Good writing is more than mechanics
  • Descriptive clarity (who, what, how, when, why,
  • Clear, consistent vision sustained throughout
  • Comprehensive problem definition corresponding
    innovative solutions
  • Confidence in performance and excitement for your
    ideas must be instilled in reviewers

Grammar and spelling count
  • Proposals are not graded on grammar. But if the
    grammar is not perfect, the result is ambiguities
    left to the reviewer to resolve.
  • Ambiguities make the proposal difficult to read
    and often impossible to understand, and often
    result in low ratings. Be sure your grammar is
  • George A. Hazelrigg, National Science Foundation

Internal consistency synthesis
  • A competitive proposal must be internally
    consistent by language, structure, and argument
  • All internal ambiguities must be resolved.
  • The competitiveness of a proposal increases
    exponentially with the capacity of the author to
    synthesize information.

Internal consistency synthesis
  • Synthesis represents the relational framework and
    conceptual balance of the proposal.
  • It is the synaptic connections among concepts,
    ideas, arguments, goals, objectives, and

Ideas matter (Slogans are not Ideas)
  • Shaping ideas by language is hard work.
  • Do not confuse slogans, effusive exuberance, and
    clichés with substantive ideas.
  • Show the reviewers something new by developing
    ideas that are clear, concise, coherent,
    contextually logical, and insightful.
  • Capitalize on every opportunity you have to
    define, link, relate, expand, synthesize,
    connect, or illuminate ideas as you write the
  • Connect, connect, connect! (E.M. Forrester).

Positioning to submit
  • Find an appropriate solicitation
  • Review the solicitation in detail
  • Assess your capacity to perform
  • Map your expertise to the RFP
  • Assess your capacity to write a competitive

Poor planning Everybody has a plan--until they
are shot at, Colin Powell
  • Match the RFP
  • Schedule a timeline
  • Start proposal early
  • Partnerships take more time
  • Collaborator compatibility
  • Let ideas develop slowly
  • No midnight warriors
  • Periodic calibration to RFP
  • Define and schedule development tasks
  • Anticipate the unexpected

Poor Process Planning
  • What do you control?
  • Proposal narrative
  • Collaborators
  • Budget
  • What do others control?
  • Routing signatures
  • Budget approvals
  • Submission
  • Data requests
  • Institutional support

Keep focused on development tasks
  • Define and develop goals objectives
  • Plan narrative iterations
  • Who does what and when
  • Review and assess progress of goals objectives
  • Budget process by task

Anticipate the unexpected
  • Some ideas dont work out
  • Some partnerships dont work out
  • Some budgets dont work out
  • Some proposals dont work out

Project Summary/Abstract
  • May be the only section read by some reviewers
  • Use it to give a clear, concise, and complete
    overview of the proposal
  • Start with the global vision of the proposal
  • Provide finer grain detail goals, objectives
  • Emphasize significance
  • Describes expected outcomes
  • Hook the reviewers

Proposal Introduction
  • Compressed version of proposal
  • Summary overview of response to RFP
  • Vision/global response
  • Performance details linked to objectives
  • Integrate ideas and concepts
  • Connect multiple research strands
  • Explain how
  • Explain synergy
  • Explain outcomes and importance
  • Roadmap to entire proposal

Resubmitting proposals
  • Take reviewers comments to heart, but not
    necessarily as inerrant
  • Assess next step
  • Start over
  • Major renovation
  • Minor renovation
  • Re-conceptualize

Write for the reviewers
  • Reviewers are typically given multiple proposals
    to review, and often tight timelines for
  • While you may be viewing your grant application
    as the magnum opus of your life's ambitions and
    plans--for the next 5 years anyway--a reviewer
    sees it as one of six to 12 other "magnum opii"
    projects to evaluate. (Source
  • The proposal needs to clearly present everything
    the reviewers will need to read, understand, and
    evaluate the proposed research project

Intrigue the Reviewers
Write for the reviewers
  • Synthesize key concepts and articulate the
  • between the overarching goal and the specific
  • between the specific objectives and the
  • between the hypotheses and the approach,
  • between the approach and the expected outcomes,
  • between the expected outcomes and the
    significance and broader impacts of the project.

Create reviewer-friendly text
  • Divide the proposal into the required sections.
  • Place the sections in the required order.
  • Use parallel structure at both the section and
    sentence levels.
  • Incorporate logical paragraph breaks.
  • Open paragraphs with clear topic sentences.
  • Discuss important items first.

Create reviewer-friendly text
  • Avoid the use of inflated language.
  • Use declarative sentences.
  • Define potentially unfamiliar terms.
  • Spell out acronyms and abbreviations.
  • Employ appropriate style and usage.
  • Use correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
  • Run a spell-check and proofread the application.

Introductory writing tips
  • The abstract, proposal summary, and introduction
    are keythat may be all many reviewers read and
    it is here you must excite and grab the attention
    of the reviewers
  • Reviewers will assume errors in language and
    usage will translate into errors in the research
  • Dont be overly ambitious in what you propose,
    but convey credibility and capacity to perform

Introductory writing tips
  • Sell your proposal to a good scientist but not an
  • Some review panels may not have an expert in your
    field, or panels may be blended for
    multidisciplinary initiatives
  • Agencies reviewers fund compelling, exciting
    science, not just correct science
  • Proposals are not journal articlesproposals must
    be user friendly and offer a narrative that tells
    a story that is memorable to reviewers

The proposal introduction
  • Serves as reviewers road map to the full text
  • Opportunity to make most important points up
    front and organizes the conceptual framework of
  • States vision, concepts, goals, objectives,
    outcomes, and deliverables
  • Briefly tells who you are what you are going to
    do how you are going to do it who is going to
    do it why you are going to do it and
    demonstrates your capacity to perform

Beware of boiler plate dont copy paste
  • Boiler plate refers only to the application forms
    required by the agency, not the narrative
  • Thinking of the proposal narrative as boiler
    plate will result in a mediocre proposal
  • Begin each proposal as a new effort, not a copy
    paste be cautious integrating text inserts
  • Strong proposals clearly reflect a coherent,
    sustained, and integrated argument grounded on
    good ideas

Checklist for writing proposals
  • Preparing to write
  • Developing the hypothesis research plan
  • Preliminary data research readiness
  • Writing the proposal
  • Post review process
  • Competitive resubmissions

Preparing to write
  • Understand the program guidelines in planning,
    developing, and writing the proposal.
  • What should be your relationship with program
  • Develop a sound, testable hypothesis.
  • Ask senior faculty to review assess
    competitiveness of ideas and research,
    particularly appropriateness to agency research
  • What do you need to know about funding agency
    culture, language, mission, strategic plan,
    research investment priorities?
  • What do you need to know about agency review
    criteria, review process, review panels?

Developing the hypothesis research plan
  • Who is your audience (agency, program officers,
    reviewers) how do you best address them?
  • What is a fundable idea and how is it best
  • How are claims of research uniqueness and
    innovation best supported in the proposal text?
  • Can research plans be overly ambitious?
  • What are important distinctions to note between
    mission focused agencies and basic research
    agencies in proposing research plans?
  • Differentiate between hypothesis driven research
    application driven at basic research and
    mission agencies?
  • How do you best communicate your passion,
    excitement, commitment, and capacity to perform
    your research to review panels?

Preliminary data research readiness
  • What evidence needs to be presented to show the
    proposed work can be accomplished?
  • What evidence of institutional support for the
    research, e.g., facilities, equipment
    instrumentation, is important to demonstrate?
  • What counts as preliminary data and how much is
  • How do you best map your research directions and
    interests to funding agency research priorities?
  • What do you need to know about research currently
    funded by a particular agency within your
    research domain, e.g., through reports,
    publications, journals?

Writing the proposal
  • Who do you need to impress with your research?
  • How do you tell a good story grounded in good
    science that excites the reviewers and program
  • The successful proposal represents an
    accumulation of marginal advantage accrued at
    decision points over a period of weeks or months
    to ensure the proposal is competitive for
  • What are key decision points in proposal
  • How do you best plan and schedule proposal
  • How do you use program guidelines as a proposal
  • Importance of good writing, clear arguments, and
    reviewer friendly text, structure, and
    organization in proposals
  • What are other core competitive characteristics
    of a successful proposal needed to complement
    research merit?

Post review process
  • Respecting views of peers
  • Response to reviewer comments
  • Discussion of reviews with program officers
  • Discussion of reviews with senior faculty
  • Reviewing the reviews
  • How do you make an assessment of reviews as a
    reliable guide for the next funding cycle?

Competitive resubmissions
  • How do you best plan and position for a
    competitive resubmission?
  • How do you conduct a reassessment of the
    intellectual merit and excellence of your
    research based on reviews?
  • How to you assess if a research direction should
    be abandoned, or the research submitted to
    another agency?
  • What are strategies for identifying more
    appropriate research directions and funding

Finally…Be confident
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