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Find Funding Prepare a Proposal Route and Submit a Proposal Manage an Award


Once a funding opportunity has been identified, principal investigators (PIs) prepare a proposal. Some federal agencies have specific application forms and/or their own Web-based submission systems (e.g., NSF uses FastLane), while other sponsors may have a less structured application process.

PIs should download the most up-to-date version of the application forms, policies, and procedures and adhere to the sponsor’s requirements.

Common Elements of a Proposal 

The elements of a well-written and skillfully prepared research proposal will specifically address the requirements of the Request for Proposal (RFP), Program Announcement/Solicitation, or Award Opportunity. 

A proposal will typically consist of: 

  • Face Page/Cover Page: The cover page captures general data elements about a proposal, such as:
    • Principal Investigator's name, address, phone number;
    • Title of proposal;
    • Sponsor name and address;
    • Period of performance with start and end dates;
    • Amount requested;
    • Institutional information; and 
    • Signature of Institution's Authorizing Official. 
  • Abstract: The abstract outlines the proposed research, including objectives, methodology, and significance of the research.
  • Statement of Work or Research Plan: The statement of work or research plan should provide a full and detailed explanation of the proposed activity, typically including project goals, specific aims, methodology, and investigator responsibilities.
  • Budget and Budget Justification: The budget includes a reasonable estimate of the financial support required to conduct the project, including justification of budget expenses. Typical budget categories include:
    • Direct Costs; 
    • Indirect Costs; and
    • Cost Sharing.
  • Additional Information: Additional information may consist of the following:
    • Current and pending support. The sponsor may require a listing of investigators and key project personnel on current awards and pending proposals.
    • Letters of support from non-university investigators may also be required. If the proposal is a fellowship, a mentor support letter may be required.
  • CV or Biographical Sketch: The CV or Biographical Sketch may be required for all key project personnel.
  • References: A list of all references needs to be cited in the proposal.
  • Checklist (NIH and others): A checklist shows the breakdown of the indirect cost rate calculations.