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Proposal Writing Information

If you are thinking about writing a proposal, you need to follow these steps to make your experience more successful.

  1. Create a summary or outline of your idea to describe the basic elements of your project.
  2. Create a preliminary budget (NSF Budget Justification Template)
    based on what you feel you will need for the project.  The budget should include faculty salaries, faculty fringe benefits, staff, GAs, student workers, supplies, equipment, travel, etc.  This will let you know the minimum amount of money that you will need in order to do your research.  The budget can be modified later during the submission steps.  OSP can help you if you need it.
  3. Find a funding opportunity that matches your project and the finances that you require.  You may have to keep looking for a while depending on your project.
  4. Read over the guidelines for the opportunity that you have found.  Make sure that you highlight the important parts.  You can tailor-fit your proposal to the agency's criteria.  Use our Required Documents Checklist to help guide you along.  You should change the checklist to fit the requirements the agency lists.
  5. Revise your budget to ensure compliance with their guidelines and submit the budget to The OSP for review.  Let OSP know when you will submit the proposal to them for external review, routing, and submission.
  6. Keep your Proposal Administrator in the OSP informed as to your progress and your deadline.
  7. You may want to contact a senior faculty member or a mentor and ask them to read your proposal.  If they have experience submitting proposals, they might be able to point out something that you overlooked.
  8. Use the largest font allowable.  Many agencies will state exactly what font and size you should use.  Arial/Helvetica 12 point is commonly required.
  9. Be concise and explain your research without run-on sentences.
  10. Try to make your proposal interesting and conversational.  Do not lecture and expound.
  11. Keep in mind that the reviewer might not be an expert in your field.
  12. Be sure to follow all of the sponsor's guidelines!  If you do not adhere to their formatting and other guidelines, your proposal may be thrown out without being reviewed.  Make sure all aspects of your application follow the same rules regarding formatting.
  13. Have someone in your department or even outside your department read your proposal.  Have them check for content, but also for spelling, grammar and punctuation.  You have seen the proposal a lot and may not see what others might.
  14. If you are able to send the OSP your proposal soon enough, we do have external grant reviewers under contract who can read over it and make suggestions before you submit to the sponsor.  This should be done at least two weeks prior to the deadline.

Merit Review Criteria

The merit review criteria are guidelines that the reviewers follow for choosing which proposals to fund.  Each agency has specific criteria that they follow.  Please be sure to check the guidelines of the funding opportunity that you have selected and use it when writing your proposal.  Make sure to address their requirements.


National Institutes of Health (NIH) Guides

National Science Foundation (NSF) Guides

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Guides

DoD and DoEd Guides

Industry Guides

DoE, NASA, STEM and DHS Guides

NIST Guides

DOT (Department of Transportation)


DOJ (Department of Justice)

Merit Review Criteria Examples