Parts of a Proposal

The following components are typical for proposals to most agencies. Always defer to the specific solicitation and agency guidance for precise sections, titles, and formatting instructions:

Abstract/ Summary/Specific Aims

The abstract/aims is a significant part of the proposal. The reviewer will probably read this section first to gain an overview of the proposed project.

Depending on type of review panel, this may be a “weeding out” process.  This document, which is usually limited to one page, should concisely convey the problem you are addressing and why it is significant, what you expect to accomplish, the specific approach, innovative methodology and expertise and resources you will employ.  The abstract should be captivating and precise in order to capture the reviewers’ interest.

    Introduction/ Overview

    Why are you seeking support? Demonstrate that the goals of the organization are in alignment with the goals and purpose of the funding agency. The funding agency must be convinced that there is a measured or verifiable need for the activities described in the proposal.

    Need statement/ Problem Statement

    The need is the gap between current conditions and what is ideal.  You must define or describe (and back up with evidence) what is ideal. Why is the proposed program/services/study needed at this time (or in this region, or for this population, etc.) Give appropriate background by review of literature. Relate the problem to regional and/or national issues and to the specific mission of the funding agency; involve relevant populations/stakeholders.

    Goals and Objectives

    Goals and Objectives focus on the purposes, aims and goals of the proposal and by what measure you will define success. Goals and objectives must relate to review criteria/performance measures and goals of the funding agency. Your project will be evaluated on if, and the extent to which, you achieve these goals. Projects may have multiple “types,” i.e. research and outreach, research and education, etc. Goals should inform project activities and be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. Logic Models are a useful tool for considering inputs and activities to produce outputs and outcomes.

    Methods/Work Plan/Timeline/Approach/Intervention

    What activities, interventions, experiments, assessments, will you undertake? Focus on innovation and be detailed, descriptive & specific. What are limitations, potential challenges, strategies for overcoming those? Carefully match activities to stated objectives and goals.

    Agency-specific sections

    Refer to the solicitation to prepare sections as required for the agency. For example: Results from prior support, Broader Impacts and Intellectual Merit (NSF), competitive priorities/ invitational priorities (Dept. of Education), Environment, Innovation, etc. (NIH)

    Capacity (personnel, infrastructure, facilities, management plan)

    Quality of Personnel/Human resources (are qualifications matched to the role and are roles clearly defined?) Is appropriate effort assigned? Don’t forget administrative support if needed/allowed. If you have Post-docs/grad, etc., demonstrate why you are a good mentor. Are there other stakeholders such as industry or community beneficiaries? Advisory panel? Consultants? Evaluator? Collaborators? Facilities and other resources includes office/class/lab space, supplies, laboratories, supplies (technology) Emphasis should be on resources benefitting the project such as libraries, research tools, center expertise, laboratories, instructional facilities, media equipment, and any commitment of institutional resources, including administrative and project management capacity.


    Funding agencies highly stress the importance of proper assessment of the achievement of project goals and objectives – Are you (and to what extent are you) doing what you said you would do? Who will do the evaluation? Describe methods of evaluation, processes, tools, limitations, mitigation strategies, personnel, deliverables (Use appropriate level of space/attention based on review criteria.) Evaluation is part of required project and performance reporting for most funding agencies. Evaluation measures should be linked to project goals and objectives for consistency. 


    Dissemination describes a plan for sharing results of the project.  What will be reported and in what form(s) will outcomes be shared? Typically required of research projects. What audiences/communities will benefit and how? Are there Data Management/open access requirements? Protections of identifiable information? To what extent is the project replicable or transferable in similar populations/environments (broader impact)? How will the project be sustained at the end of the project period?

    Budget & Justification

    Your budget is the fiscal expression of the project and should reflect that throughout the detailed budget justification. The actual dollar request and descriptive justification demonstrate how well you,

    • understand what is needed to accomplish the proposed work,
    • adhere to the guidelines and expectations of the funder, and
    • recognize the importance of the funder’s investment in the work.

    Know the rules and allowable costs and any program/track-specifics, such as maximums, caps, etc.  Is cost-sharing/matching required? Be sure to request adequate funding for all program aspects (e.g. travel, evaluation, participant support.)

    Supporting or Supplementary Documents

    These documents are in addition to the proposal's narrative description and provide further evidence of your capacity to complete the proposed work. They may include, but are not limited to:

    • Letters of transmittal, commitment, support – these have different purposes
    • References (reference manager/citation support)
    • Facilities, equipment, and other resources
    • Post-Doc Mentoring
    • Human Subjects Study Record (and attachments)
    • Data management plan
    • Resource sharing plans
    • Multi-PI management plans
    • Biosketches, Current & Pending Support, Conflict of Interest Disclosure, Collaborators