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Write Your Proposal

Learning to write an grant proposal at the dissertation stage has implications that go well beyond the process itself; it is a skill that will be essential to you throughout your professional or academic career.

Proposal Elements

Although each funding agency will have its own (usually very specific) requirements, there are several elements of a proposal that are fairly standard. While these elements are commonly requested in proposals, it is imperative to follow the request for proposals (RFP) precise proposal requirements

Project Summary

Title. Make it clear, accurate, and succinct. This is the first thing the reviewers will see. Make a good impression.

Abstract. Probably the most important part of the grant proposal. It should be absolutely clear to any reviewer reading it, regardless of his/her specific expertise. Write this last.

Some tips for writing the project summary:

  • capture reviewers attention
  • present a new, original, and compelling idea
  • use engaging language

Project Description

Introduction/The ”Hook”. Immediately capture the reviewer's attention. There are many ways to represent the same idea, however, the HOOK tailors the description of the idea to the interest of a particular funder. This is a critical element of your proposal. It will likely determine whether a reviewer reads your proposal with interest or decides to skim it.

Background/Literature Review. Reviewers want to know whether you've done the necessary preliminary research to undertake your project. Literature reviews should be selective and critical, not exhaustive. Be sure to provide enough background in your argument so both generalists and specialists understand your proposal. It is wise to avoid jargon and unnecessary technical terms.

Research Plan. Describe, as specifically as possible, all components of the research methodology, expressed in relation to the specific aims/priorities/grant criteria of the funding agency, i.e., study population, type of data to be used, how data will be collected, how data will be analyzed, and a timetable for the research project (start/end dates, schedule of activities, and projected outcomes). Final decisions about which proposals are funded often come down to whether the proposal convinces the reviewer that the research project is well planned and feasible and whether the investigators are well qualified to execute it.

Some tips for writing the project description:

  • follow the instructions precisely, i.e., answer all of the questions and stick to the format (font, margin, and page limits) requirements
  • present well-organized, focused project plan
  • align your plan with the specific aims/priorities/grant criteria of sponsor
  • avoid being too ambitious or unrealistic

Remember your application will be reviewed by real people not by a monolithic agency. Reviewers are extraordinarily busy people with full-time commitments to their jobs, communities, and families. Make sure your proposal includes absolutely everything they need to evaluate your research project quickly and efficiently!

Make it easy for the reviwers by following the order of the RFP, even use the same headings. The RFP contains most of the essential information you will need to write a competitive proposal, fully responsive to the agency’s funding objectives and review criteria. Convince the reviewer that your project is important and that you are the right person for the job. "Agencies will not fund an idea not embedded in a convincing pattern of narrative detail and performance specificity tightly mapped to funding agency objectives” (Cronan, 2007).



Personal Statement/ Biographical Narrative


Include a reasonable and accurate budget that meets the sponsor's requirements. Clearly explain the costs of the research project (e.g. personnel, travel, equipment, supplies, etc.), sometimes offer a budget narrative/justification, if requested.

Support Materials


  • Sample instruments
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Faculty sponsorship
  • Transcript
  • Resume/CV


Never forget, grant writing is a competition. There is intense competition for a limited amount of research funds.

Writing a grant proposal is not the same as writing a dissertation proposal!

Although there are many similarities between writing a grant proposal and writing a dissertation proposal, there are also significant differences. Consider this:


Writing a GRANT PROPOSAL is...
  • a highly competitive contest
  • a highly independent project
  • judged by an anonymous fellowship committee
  • judged by a select group of faculty members
  • composed of generalists and/or specialists
  • composed of researchers with academic interests related to yours
  • who review your thoughtfully crafted argument (often just a few pages)
  • who review your exhaustively detailed proposal (often thirty or more pages)
  • then are persuaded that your proposal (not the others they have read) deserves to be funded
  • then decide if your proposal (like others they approve) meets the requirements of the department
  • and should win the competition.
  • and should be approved.

Proofread Entire Proposal

Make sure there are ABSOLUTELY no typos, spelling, or grammatical errors. Speling and gramatticle erors wil sink an otherwise competitive propsal.

Avoid jargon.

Review Submission Checklist

Make sure your proposal sticks to requirements:

  • Did you answer ALL the questions?
  • Did you stick to the format (font, margin, spacing, and page limits) and structure requirements?


Submit Proposal on Time