The statement, “the importance of a well-written proposal cannot be overemphasized,” has been used so often in reference to proposal preparation that it has become a cliché. Yet it remains a fact that often the proposal document itself is the most significant factor in the approval or disapproval of a project.
The term ‘well-written’ is generally interpreted to mean only clarity, conciseness, and absence of jargon. While these points are important, it is even more critical that the proposal demonstrate:
- That the idea for the project is important and addresses a significant need.
- That the Principal Investigator has done a thorough job of selecting the best method of solving the problem or implementing the project design.
- That the Principal Investigator recognizes the dimensions of the problem, is familiar with the literature and research in the field, and possesses the requisite skills to complete the project.
- That the facilities available are adequate to complete the project or that they can be made available either by the institution or with funds from the award.
- That the stated objectives are reasonable and can be accomplished in the time frame set forth.
Remember that unless you are well known to the funding agency and to the reviewers, the proposal document is your only opportunity to convince them of the merit of your project.
If you are careless in your preparation or do not comply with the funding agency’s instructions you create a negative impression which may cause your proposal to be rejected during the initial screening process. Should this occur, your proposal could be eliminated from competition without ever being evaluated on the basis of its intrinsic worth.
In writing your proposal, the following should be stressed:
- Read all forms and instructions carefully. Have a colleague not involved in the writing of the proposal review it to see that all requirements have been met, or arrange for a draft review by your contact in the Research Administration office.
- Write with clarity and conciseness. Proposals are seldom judged on length. Since readers must review scores of proposals, do not irritate them unnecessarily with excessive prose.
- Adapt the language of the proposal to the audience in the funding agency. Highly technical phrases or words should always be explained unless they are commonly used. Do not, however, try to make the proposal a training manual.
- Explain all abbreviations and acronyms.
- Do not bury the significant points of the proposal under too many introductory phrases. The reader should not have to spend time sorting the important from the unimportant, but should be able to grasp all points on the first reading.
- If appropriate, use underlining, capitalization, and headlines to highlight significant parts and to make the proposal more readable. Word processing packages have the capability to highlight information in many ways (some of which have been demonstrated in preparing this document). Plan on providing enough time for you or your typist to take advantage of these techniques.
- Do not use jargon unnecessarily.
Keep in mind that a good proposal serves many different purposes beyond meeting the requirements of a federal agency or private foundation.
For example, a proposal:
- Provides the Principal Investigator with an opportunity to develop a well-planned work schedule. Thus, many of the start up problems which occur during the initial months of the grant can be anticipated and therefore eliminated.
- Provides an overall framework for management of the project by establishing in advance the rules of the game. If, for example, you wish to have your project evaluated by a national authority in your field, include the request in your proposal. You will not have to negotiate this point at a later date since it becomes one of the conditions under which the funds are received.
- Forces the Principal Investigator to review the available resources of time, money, personnel, facilities, etc. to ascertain whether they are adequate to complete the project.
- Serves as one of the better ways of coordinating staff activities toward common objectives. An accomplishment upon which you can build future programs and activities.