Most guidelines provide their own headings/structural template and page restrictions. It cannot be stated too often: Do not stray from the guidelines. If you aren't provided a structural template, then format the proposal so it is easy to follow. Use headings to break the proposal up into sections. If it is long, include a table of contents with page numbers. (With many online federal grant applications, the TOC is automatically generated upon submission).
Abstract/Executive Summary: The abstract provides reviewers with their first impression of your project. It may also serve as their last impression when they go over final recommendations. The abstract should contain the key elements of your research project: the general purpose, specific goals, research design, methods, and significance (contribution and rationale). Be as explicit as possible in your abstract. For clarity, you could use the phrase “The objective of this study is to …”
Introduction: The introduction should cover the key elements of your proposal.
- Statement of the problem and purpose of the research - Background and rationale for the project, establishing the need and relevance of the research. How is your project different from previous research on the same topic? Will you be using new methodologies or covering new theoretical territory?
- Research goals or objectives - List only the principle goal(s) or objective(s) of your research and save sub-objectives for the project narrative. Identify the anticipated outcomes of the research and match up to the needs identified in the statement of problem.
- Significance of the research – Reviewers want to see your evaluation of pertinent works and how it fits into the significance of your research. A review of the relevant literature should be selective and critical, not exhaustive.
Project Description: The project description should supply all of the details of the project, including a detailed statement of problem, research objectives or goals, hypotheses, methods, procedures, outcomes or deliverables, and evaluation (including other potential outcomes or limitations) and dissemination of the research. This may require several subheadings.
For the project narrative, pre-empt or answer all of the reviewers’ questions. Don’t leave them wondering about anything. Explain why the methodology you’re using is best suited for your research questions, or explain the advantages of the methodology.
Clearly and explicitly state the connections between your research objectives, research questions, hypotheses, methodologies, and outcomes. Address the limitations or some possible alternative outcomes of your research. Such transparency lends to objectivity and is looked upon favorably by reviewers. These steps make the process a bit easier for your reviewers.
Personnel: Explain staffing requirements and qualifications. Be very explicit about the skill sets of the personnel (you will probably include their Curriculum Vitae as part of the proposal).
Budget: Go to this page for more information