Closely follow the guidance included in the RFP when developing the proposal. In every case the PI is the subject matter expert and the primary person responsible for generating the core content of Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.
The OSRP Grant Writer provides technical assistance in the development of proposals including, but not limited to:
- Assisting in program planning to meet requirements of the RFP
- Reviewing proposal drafts for proofreading and editing needs as well as alignment with RFP requirements
- Assisting in interpreting agency guidelines, including contacting the program officer on the PI’s behalf
- Providing institutional or boilerplate information and statistics
- Recommending and acting as a liaison with an external evaluator, as needed
- Drafting letters of support/commitment
- Creating a checklist to help the PI ensure they are including all proposal components
- Completing assurances and certifications (other than IRB)
- Uploading proposal components into the submission portal (Grants.gov, Fastlane, etc.)
- Initiating electronic authorizations via the Proposal Transmittal Form
The Research Manager also assists during the proposal development stage with conducting research for grant proposals, including:
- Compiling demographic/statistical information
- Assisting the PI in conducting literature reviews
- Creating graphics such as Gantt charts or organizational charts
We recommend the investigator or team of developers meet with the OSRP staff early in the writing process to go through the funding announcement, set a timeline for proposal development, and establish roles and expectations for all proposal development team members.
Fitting the Pieces Together
Most proposals will require some common elements that work together to make the case for funding. The following chart represents the components necessary to develop a cohesive grant proposal. Without any one element fully developed, the grant proposal will have holes and the reviewers will be left with questions. When grant reviewers have a lot of questions about a proposal, it will not likely be selected for funding.
Introduction to Applicant
Describes the applicant agency. Documents its credibility.
Describes the applicant's credentials to address the problem, implement the methods, and achieve the objectives.
1) The Problem describes the current condition that is causing concern in the community.
2) Why it matters.
3) Causes of the Problem describe what led to the current problem or condition - how did we get here?
Define specific changes in the problem expected to result from the methods. Program outcomes relate to the problem that has been described.
1) Outcome Evaluation describes a plan to measure the degree to which the expected outcomes are achieved.
2) Process Evaluation describes a plan to determine the degree to which the methods are implemented as planned.
Shows resources that will support this project after grant funds end.
Describe the activities the applicant will undertake to address the problem. Methods relate to the causes of the problem.
Provides detailed cost estimates for implementing the Methods and the Evaluation. Shows all revenues and other resources that will support the project.
Reproduced from The Grantsmanship Center, Los Angeles, CA
"A good research project is a
creative, important idea, well
grounded in theory, clearly
expressed and convincingly
justified, and with appropriate
methods and expertise for pursuing
the idea, evaluating the findings,
and making them known to all."
-National Science Foundation
Guidance on common proposal narrative elements
Abstract or Executive Summary
Depending on the funder, this is either a brief overview of the project or a summary of the end results you expect to report to the funder. It is often the first item program officers and reviewers see. For example, at the National Science Foundation program officers are provided with all the project summaries received for a particular grant competition so they may review them and select peer reviewers as appropriate. Your abstract is also often what funders post on their websites after awards are made. This section should always be written last.
Introduction to Applicant or Background Statement
Describes MSU Denver and documents credibility. Describes MSU Denver's credentials to address the problem, implement the methods, and achieve the outcomes. This section should be tailored to the specific project being proposed. It is a good place to discuss previously awarded grant-funded projects that are similar in nature to the proposed project.
Problem Discussion or Statement of Need
There are three parts to the statement of need.
- The problem or opportunity - describes the current condition that is causing concern in MSU Denver's community or that is an opportunity to make an impact. Do not focus only on the "lack of something." Also provide well documented statistics that describe what does exist.
- The significance - why does this problem or opportunity matter? How does this issue impact MSU Denver's ability to fulfill our mission? Consider and document the regional and national impacts and how the project addresses the funder's requirements and priorities. Give the reviewers a sense of urgency in addressing the problem.
- The causes - what led to the current problem or condition? Again, this section can be supported by a literature review and relevant statistics where appropriate.
This section should be written first. It is the thesis for the grant proposal.
Project Description/Research Plan
This proposal section is the area in which you will describe the activities that MSU Denver will undertake to address the problem. Typical sections within the project description (aka, research plan) include Project Objectives and Activities, Anticipated Results, Proposed Approach and Rationale. The Project Description should logically flow from the statement of need. Logic models are often useful both for planning purposes and as a way to present the information within this section of the proposal.
Logic Model Example #1 (128 KB)
Program Outcomes or Impact
Defines specific changes in the problem expected to result from the methods. Program outcomes relate to the problem that has been described.
Process and Outcome Evaluation
Process evaluation determines the degree to which the methods are implemented as planned. Outcome evaluation measures the degree to which the expected outcomes are achieved. The evaluation plan should be clearly connected to the methods and activities. One way to represent this in a proposal is to create an evaluation plan table that extends naturally from the logic model.
Evaluation Plan Table Example #1 (137 KB)
NSF Guide to Evaluation ( 336 KB)
The Question of External Evaluators
The purpose of the external evaluator is to draw objective conclusions regarding the project's impact from the outcomes achieved and the data gathered throughout a grant project. In many cases, the grant-making agency stipulates in the RFP that an external evaluator is required. When this is the case, the grant-making agency expects a reasonable proportion of the direct costs (10 - 15%) will be allocated to the external evaluation. If the RFP does not stipulate that an external evaluator is required, a close reading of the scoring rubric/evaluation criteria is critical to determine if one should be brought in.
During the proposal preparation process, the OSRP and the principal investigator will agree upon the need for an external evaluator. If an external evaluator is deemed necessary, the OSRP can assist the PI in identifying an appropriate individual.
Frequently, a federal RFP will ask for a management plan. This is the place to describe key personnel and their roles and qualifications, as well as the qualifications and expectations of the external evaluator, if appropriate.
Future Support or Sustainability
This section documents the resources that will support this project after grant funds end. Grant-making agencies expect a reasonable assurance that the project will become institutionalized after external funding ends, or in other words, that the University will carry the burden of the cost for continuing the project. If there is not an expectation that the project will be sustained, be sure to explain and justify that.
Other Proposal Components
The format required for references cited varies from agency to agency. Often the applicant is asked to cite references in whatever format is standard in that field (APA, MLA, CSE, etc.) and other times the funder requires a specific format. The OSRP can assist with the formatting and final presentation of the references cited.
Description of Facilities, Equipment and Resources
Provide the funder and the proposal reviewers with an understanding of the institutional resources including facilities, equipment and relevant ongoing programs available at the University or a partner institution for this project. Some funders have specific formats for this section.
Data Management Plan or Data Archiving Plan
Agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Justice require a separate statement regarding how the investigators will manage, disseminate and share data resulting from the project. See the NSF Grant Proposal Guide (GPG) for more information.
Other resources for writing this section:
Most sponsors have specified formats for provision of this information. Current and pending support details are usually needed for all key personnel, not just the principal investigator, so you will want to request this information from your collaborators early in the proposal process, if required. Some agencies collect information about your current and pending projects when they are contemplating an award rather than at time of proposal. Read the RFP carefully to determine whether this is the case.
Funders rarely want to see a full-version CV of every PI, co-PI and Senior Personnel. NSF and NIH have specific formats for a biosketch. The Department of Education often requests a condensed 2-4 page CV. This is generally needed for all PIs, Senior Personnel and Subawards.
NSF Biosketch Template (28 KB)
Letters of Commitment
If the proposed project requires evidence of institutional support or there are outside partners or collaborators involved, you may need to provide documentation of commitment in the form of letters. Request these types of documents early in the proposal development process to ensure you have them well before the deadline.
Human Subjects and Responsible Conduct of Research
Funders often request information verifying that the investigator has at least started the human subjects review process at time of submission or ask for a statement regarding exemption from human subjects. See the Institutional Review Board Website for more information as well as the Regulations page on this website. If students will be involved in research, funders also want to be assured that some form of training is in place to ensure responsible conduct of research.
NSF Protection of Human Subjects Policy ( 122 KB)
Research at Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) Impact Statement
Some funders (notably, NSF) encourage equal footing for primarily undergraduate non-research focused institutions like MSU Denver by allowing an RUI designation on any proposal involving research, whether or not students will be involved in the research. Applicants with an RUI designation have an opportunity to submit an additional five pages wherein they describe how the grant would strengthen the research infrastructure at the institution. Most of the RUI Impact Statement will be tailored to the specific proposal, although some general information about MSU Denver should be included. Contact the Grant Writer for assistance with this.