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Grant Writing Services & Guides

Basic Proposal Format

Proposal Guidelines

In preparing proposals for submission to external sponsors, read the directions and information available in the application material provided by the sponsor. Application packages are often referred to by one of the following: RFP – Request for Proposals; RFA – Request for Application; Application Booklet; Program Brochure or Guidelines.

SP should be contacted as soon as a PI knows he/she will be submitting a proposal.  SP can be of great assistance to faculty/staff in the proposal preparation and review process and will act as a second set of eyes to ensure the proposal meets the RFP requirements.  Whatever the sponsor provides in these instructions should be followed precisely, i.e. page limits, typeface size, and other restrictions are taken seriously by sponsoring organizations and act as the first level of grant review.  If the directions are not followed the proposal is routinely returned to the PI without review.

Sometimes sponsors request a preliminary or shorter proposal (3–5 pages) before asking for a complete final proposal. Often times these pre-proposals are binding, meaning if accepted, the PI needs to further develop the proposal and is not at liberty to change the terms of the pre-proposal.  In this case, the pre-proposal will need University approval before submission.

In the absence of specific directions from the sponsoring agency, the following format to organize the proposal may be used:

Title and Cover Page

SP will assist you in filling out the required forms with institutional information, i.e. Federal ID number, Congressional district, etc.  In the absence of an official sponsor cover page, SP has templates for cover letters using electronic SVSU letterhead.  Common information that is included:  title of the project; brief summary of the project; amount requested; address, phone number, email, and fax number of PI; signature block for PI; signature block for the Authorized Representative (University President); and address, phone number, email, and fax number of Director of SP.

Abstract or Project Summary

Sponsors often request a brief summary or abstract of the overall proposed project. Follow sponsor guidelines regarding the length and content of this abstract. In the absence of specific guidelines or forms, it is often useful to include a brief abstract of no more than one single-spaced page summarizing the project purpose, methodology, costs, timetable, your name, institution, and the title of the project on the abstract page.  Adhere to the four C s of a well-written proposal:  Clear; Concise; Complete; Correct.  Jargon or language specific to a field should be avoided, and all acronyms defined.


The introduction answers the questions of why you are applying, what you are asking for, and who you are as principal investigator. In writing the introduction, try to show how your project interests align with the interests of the sponsor.  Read the sponsor guidelines and follow the directions to explain your project.

Institutional Overview and College Descriptions

Available from SP, this boilerplate provides a brief history of the University, as well as a description of its major facilities and resources, current student profile, and current faculty profile. SP updates these yearly.

Background and Significance

Some sponsors require, and others prefer, to see a short section describing the background of the issue or phenomenon to be studied as well as a clear statement on why the scope of the research will make a significant contribution to the field. This may not be required by all sponsors, but it does help justify sponsor funding decisions.

Project Goals and Objectives

Goals and objectives are not the same and should be dealt with separately.  The goal of your project is what you hope to accomplish as a result of the entire project – If you were wildly successful, what would that look like? Your objectives are statements of precise outcomes that can be measured as project accomplishments and should be specific, measurable, and time defined.

Plan of Action, Methods, Design

This section of the proposal answers three important questions: (1) when you are going to do the project, (2) where the project will be performed, and (3) how you will accomplish each aspect of the work. The plan or methods section will be the longest section of the technical narrative and will present a description of the work to be done in accomplishing the project objectives. It should account for all activities and individuals to be involved in the project. This section of the proposal often includes a time chart/flow chart showing the order of activities to take place.


As evaluation methodologies have become more sophisticated, sponsors recognize that an evaluation leads to more effective project operations and outcomes. A strong project evaluation plan lets the sponsor know that you take your program objectives seriously, are interested in knowing how well you have achieved them, and have a means for disseminating your results to others. A successful evaluation plan is formulated as the proposed project is designed, and has built-in mechanisms for recording information during the life of the project.  Many publications on evaluation are available to help you select an appropriate methodology. SP has resources available at its office.

Bibliography or Works Cited

In writing the proposal, you should also show that you are familiar with the literature on the subject you are investigating. Follow the sponsor guidelines in providing a bibliography or works cited page of materials relevant to the proposal you are submitting. Also, check to see if the bibliography is part of the overall page limitations or in addition to those page limits.

Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Include a CV for yourself and all key members of the proposed project following sponsor guidelines for format and length.

Institutional Review Board (IRB) or Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) Approval

The proposal should specifically state procedures to be followed in the use of human subjects in the project. Adherence to Federal regulations is required by SVSU and its employees. Projects that involve the use of human subjects must be reviewed and approved by the IRB once funded.