California State University, Fullerton


In general, agencies — federal, foundation, private — require specific formats or forms regarding proposals that are submitted to them. Most provide guidance about content, page limitations and numbers of copies required.
Your proposal will most likely contain most or all of the following elements:

  • Cover page
  • Abstract/Project Summary
  • Table of Contents
  • Project Description
  • Budget and Budget justification
  • Biographical Sketches of Key Personnel
  • Resources (equipment and facilities)
  • References
  • Appendices
  • Certifications and other forms required by agency


In addition, some agencies and organizations offer further guidance and tips for developing proposals specific to their needs. Below are several that provide such information:


Foundation Center

The Foundation Center is a national nonprofit service organization specializing in organized philanthropy; connecting nonprofits and the grantmakers supporting them to tools and information.

10 Steps to Proposal Development

  • Identify the need
  • Gather background information&gt
  • Hone the need
    • What makes your need different from all other needs that are out there?
    • Why should the funder fund you and not the other person?
    • What do the statistics say about the need?
    • Who’s studied the need? What did they find?
  • How will you address this need?
    • What’s new and different about your approach?
    • Is your approach “evidence-based”?
  • What is your timeline for getting the work done?
    • Be sure to include the who, what & when
    • Details
  • What are your anticipated outcomes?
    • Logic Model
  • How will you measure the anticipated outcomes? (Evaluation)
    • How will you know when you’ve accomplished them?
    • What will you count/evaluate/compare in order to know that outcomes have been achieved?
  • Who will make sure your project is a success?
    • Levels of expertise? Years of experience? Examples of experience?
    • Collaborations are important!
  • Organizational Capacity
    • Why is YOUR organization specially equipped to handle this project?
    • What is your organization’s track record?
  • Budget Development
    • Is it in line with the program design activities you are proposing?
    • §o you have adequate staffing?
    • Is the program sustainable????

Proposal Writing Tips

  • Write persuasively – you're selling a concept. You're not writing a term paper.
  • Remember the reader, above all. Write so the reader, any reader, from any profession, can read your proposal.
  • No jargon. No “bureaucrap.” Simple, clear, concise sentences.
  • Be careful not to write sentences that sound pretty but don't say anything.
  • Don’t be redundant.
  • Do re-enforce a concept. Give a different example.
  • Develop the timeline thoroughly.
  • Make goals tangible and quantifiable.

Additional information:

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Department of Education

The Department of Education's mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.

Grant Writing Tips

  • Allow plenty of time to prepare your proposal carefully and thoughtfully. Do not rush through the process.
  • Read the application package in its entirety before starting to write. Be sure you are an eligible applicant and your proposed project addresses the funding priority for Fiscal Year 2003.
  • Follow the formatting guidelines carefully and precisely. For example, if guidelines request a font size of 12-point or larger, do not use 10-point size. Also, if page limitation is set at 25 pages, do not exceed this number.
  • Structure your narrative according to the selection criteria. This helps to ensure that you cover all required information and also makes it easier for reviewers to evaluate your proposal.
  • Be clear, concise, and specific in your responses to the selection criteria.
  • Justify your funding request in accordance with project activities keeping in mind that all costs must bereasonable and necessary to carry out your project. Be specific about how the funds will be used and link them to items in your program narrative. Here are some things to avoid:
    • If there is a limitation on the award amount noted in the application package, do not request funds in excess of that amount. Note that the estimated range of awards is not a limitation.
    • Do not request funds for “miscellaneous” purposes.
    • Do not request funds for anything that is not directly related to the program you described in the narrative portion of your application.
    • Entertainment expenses are usually unallowable.
    • Gifts and incentives for program participants are usually unallowable.
  • Check your budget figures for consistency. The amounts on the application face sheet (ED Form 424), the Budget Information Form (ED Form 524), and in the narrative justification for your budget request must be identical.
  • Proofread your proposal. Ask a colleague who has not been involved in its development to read the proposal. Reviewers will not give your proposal the benefit of the doubt if information is missing, spelling errors change the meaning of sentences, or information is presented in a confusing manner.
  • Use the checklist printed in the application package to ensure that all required information is included. Make sure that your agency's authorized representative signs all required forms. This is usually not the project director.
  • Submit your proposal by the deadline date. Extensions for individual applications failing to meet the deadline will not be granted, except as indicated in the e-Application instructions.
  • If you have any questions, or need additional information, about the grant competition, contact the competition manager listed in the application package for clarification


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National Institutes of Health

The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and apply that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability. It is an operating division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Important Writing Tips

NIH encourages applicants to describe their research in terms that are easily understood by peer reviewers, scientists, Congress and the public.

  • The instructions require that materials be organized in a particular format. Reviewers are accustomed to finding information in specific sections of the application. Organize your application to effortlessly guide reviewers through it. This creates an efficient evaluation process and saves reviewers from hunting for required information
  • Think like a reviewer. A reviewer must often read 10 to 15 applications in great detail and form an opinion about each of them. Your application has a better chance at being successful, if it is easy to read and follows the usual format. Make a good impression by submitting a clear, well-written, properly organized application
  • Start with an outline following the suggested organization of the application
  • Be complete and include all pertinent information
  • Be organized and logical. The thought process of the application should be easy to follow. The parts of the application should fit together
  • Write one sentence summarizing the topic sentence of each main section. Do the same for each main point in the outline
  • Make one point in each paragraph. This is key for readability. Keep sentences to 20 words or less. Write simple, clear sentences
  • Before you start writing the application, think about the budget and how it is related to your research plan. Remember that everything in the budget must be justified by the work you've proposed to do
  • Be realistic. Don't propose more work than can be reasonably done during the proposed project period. Make sure that the personnel have appropriate scientific expertise and training. Make sure that the budget is reasonable and well-justified
  • Capture the reviewers' attention by making the case for why NIH should fund your research. Tell reviewers why testing your hypothesis is worth NIH's money, why you are the person to do it, and how your institution can give you the support you'll need to get it done. Be persuasive
  • Include enough background information to enable an intelligent reader to understand your proposed work
  • Although though not a requirement for assignment purposes, a cover letter can help the Division of Receipt and Referral in the Center for Scientific Review assign your application for initial peer review and to an IC for possible funding
  • Use the active, rather than passive, voice. For example, write “We will develop an experiment,” not “An experiment will be developed”
  • Use a clear and concise writing style so that a non-expert may understand the proposed research. Make your points as directly as possible. Use basic English, avoiding jargon or excessive language. Be consistent with terms, references and writing style
  • Spell out all acronyms on first reference
  • Use sub-headings, short paragraphs and other techniques to make the application as easy to navigate as possible. Be specific and informative, and avoid redundancies
  • Use diagrams, figures and tables, and include appropriate legends to assist the reviewers to understand complex information. These should complement the text and be appropriately inserted. Make sure the figures and labels are readable in the size they will appear in the application
  • Use bullets and numbered lists for effective organization. Indents and bold print add readability. Bolding highlights key concepts and allows reviewers to scan the pages and retrieve information quickly. Do not use headers or footers
  • Identify weak links in your application so the application you submit is solid, making a strong case for your project
  • If writing is not your forte, seek help!

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Health and Human Services

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the United States government’s principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves. HHS represents almost a quarter of all federal outlays, and it administers more grant dollars than all other federal agencies combined.

Tips for Preparing Grant Proposals

  • Include a DUNS Number. A DUNS Number must be included in order for an application to be reviewed. DUNS numbers can be obtained by accessing or by calling 1-866-705-5711. Include the DUNS number next to the OMB Approval Number, which is located in the upper right corner of the application face page
  • Keep the audience in mind. Reviewers will use only the information contained in the application to assess the application. Therefore, the applicant should be sure the application and responses to the program requirements and expectations are complete and clearly written. Do not assume that reviewers are familiar with the applicant organization. Keep the review criteria in mind when writing the application
  • Start preparing the application early. If applying electronically through, please ensure that adequate time is allotted to register and download applicable software and forms
  • Follow the instructions and application guidance carefully. The instructions call for a particular organization of the materials, and reviewers are accustomed to finding information in specific places. Present information according to the prescribed format
  • Be brief, concise and clear. Make each point understandable. Provide accurate and honest information, including candid accounts of problems and realistic plans to address them. If any required information or data is omitted, explain why. Make sure the information provided in each table, chart, attachment, etc., is consistent with the proposal narrative and information in other tables
  • Be organized and logical. Many applications fail because the reviewers cannot follow the thought process of the applicant or because parts of the application do not fit together
  • Be careful in the use of appendices. Do not use the appendices for information that is required in the body of the application. Be sure to cross-reference all tables and attachments located in the appendices to the appropriate text in the application
  • Carefully proofread the application. Misspellings and grammatical errors will impede reviewers in understanding the application. Be sure pages are numbered (including appendices) and that page limits are followed. Limit the use of abbreviations and acronyms, and define each one at its first use and periodically throughout application

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National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation was created to promote the progress of science. It is the funding source for approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America's colleges and universities. The NSF chiefly fulfills its mission by issuing limited-term grants — currently about 10,000 new awards per year, with an average duration of three years — to fund specific research proposals.

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