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The Basics of Proposal Writing

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The Basics of Proposal Writing

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  1. The Basics of Proposal Writing An Introduction to Writing a Successful Grant Application

  2. Introductory Comments: Is it about the money? Yes and No • Why write a grant proposal? • Can you afford to support the projects that interest you from your own or your institution’s resources? • Ultimately successful grant seeking must be driven by your professional goals, the quality of the research or project, the institution’s mission and the needs of the potential grantor, not simply the money.

  3. Introductory Comments: Traits of a Good Proposal Writer • Is clever • Plans well • Prepares extensively • Takes input and criticism in a positive manner to improve ideas and presentation

  4. Introductory Comments: Be Proactive not Reactive • Start the proposal preparation process early • Don’t be either to narrow or too general in your approach • Learn about your potential funding source(s) • Develop a quality assurance process • e.g. have a pre-submission review team read and comment on the proposal

  5. Introductory Comments: Innovation Counts • In submitting a proposal you are marketing your ideas, the capabilities of you and your organization, and possibly those of your partners, to get the proposed work done in an effective manner. • Grant seeking is an entrepreneurial activity and the competitive nature of grant funding encourages innovative ideas that will solve the problem in the most effective manner.

  6. Introductory Comments: You Must Have Goals • Identify your long term goals • Your professional goals • Goals of the research • Get to know your field • The people • The funding sources • Begin networking – professionally and socially • Be prepared for rejection • Stick to your goals – but consider flexible solutions

  7. Identifying Sources of Funding: The Grants Marketplace

  8. The Grants Marketplace: Federal Government Funding • Federal and State funding accounts for more than 75% of all money granted (note that this is money granted, if contracts are included the percentage would increase to well over 90%). • Types of Federal Grants • Categorical Grants – address a specific area of programmatic concern • Block Grants – Pass categorical grant money to the state for administration following state rules. • Formula Grants – funds allocated according to set criteria such as number of individuals below the poverty level. Specific to a problem area or geographic region and must pass through an intermediary such as a city government. • Cooperative Agreement or Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) - An award similar to a grant, but in which the sponsor's staff may be actively involved in proposal preparation, and anticipates having substantial involvement in research activities once the award has been made.

  9. The Grants Marketplace: State Government Funding • In terms of dollars most of the state grants come from federal block and formula grants. • States can develop their own priorities for distribution of these federal funds. • States may add restrictions in addition to those imposed in the federal guidelines, use a peer review system, or use elected officials or political appointees to review applications. • States also create their own programs and review may or may not be by state-wide criteria.

  10. Types of Grant Opportunities • Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) - An announcement of a federal agency's general research interests that invites proposals and specifies the general terms and conditions under which an award may be made. • Investigator-Initiated Proposal - A proposal submitted to a sponsor that is not in response to an RFP, RFA, or a specific PA. • Program Announcement (PA)- Describes existence of a research opportunity. It may describe new or expanded interest in a particular extramural program or be a reminder of a continuing interest in an extramural program. • Parent Announcements – A form of PA used by the NIH, span the breadth of the NIH mission in order to ensure it has a way to capture “unsolicited” applications that do not fall within the scope of targeted announcements. 

  11. Types of Grant Opportunities • Request for Applications (RFA) - Announcements that indicate the availability of funds for a topic of specific interest to a sponsor. Proposals submitted in response to RFAs generally result in the award of a grant. Specific grant announcements may be published in the Federal Register and/or specific sponsor publications. • Request for Proposal (RFP) - Announcements that specify a topic of research, methods to be used, product to be delivered, and appropriate applicants sought. Proposals submitted in response to RFPs generally result in the award of a contract. Notices of federal RFPs are published in the Commerce Business Daily.

  12. Contracts • Contract - A mechanism for procurement of a product or service with specific obligations for both sponsor and recipient. Typically, a research topic and the methods for conducting the research are specified in detail by the sponsor, although some sponsors award contracts in response to unsolicited proposals.

  13. The Grants Marketplace: Private Foundations

  14. Types of Private Foundations • National General Purpose Foundations • These foundations have interests in several areas and fund projects that will have a broad impact. • Special Purpose Foundations • Define their area of interest specifically • Community Foundations • Want to make a difference in the communities in which they are based • Family Foundations

  15. Patterns of Foundation Funding • Education is the largest recipient of foundation funds (25%) followed by human services (17%), health (16%), and the arts (12%) • Higher education receives more support than any other aspect of eduction (15% compared to 6% for K-12)

  16. Identifying Potential Foundation Funding • Define your project, its goals and the specific actions you will take to achieve those goals • The Foundation Directory is the source for information on sources of 92% of all foundation funding. • The Foundation Directory may be accessed on-line in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs Administration.

  17. The Corporate Marketplace

  18. The Corporate Marketplace: Education & Health & Human Services • Corporate giving comes in two forms – directly from the corporation and from corporate foundations • The guiding principle of corporate giving is self-interest – “this-for-that” – corporations do not usually give away money, they invest it. • The latest IRS rule allows up to 10% of their pre-tax gifts and grants to not-for-profits as a tax deduction • Education and health and human services are the two biggest recipients of corporate contributions

  19. The Corporate Marketplace: Culture & the Arts • Can you demonstrate that employees of the corporation come to performances or sites • Do employees of the corporation volunteer at the performances or sites • Do you interact with local agencies involved in the same activities • Do you offer activities such as family and school activities that will assist the corporation in recruiting employees

  20. Entering the Proposal Writing Process

  21. Maximize Lead Time • Having time to write a compelling proposal is essential • This begins with a proactive and early search for funding opportunities • You must create the quality time to produce the proposal from generation of the idea through gap analysis to submission of the proposal

  22. You Do Not Want to Get This Review “The problems with this grant are legion, but if I go on to detail them I will have spent more time on the review than it appears the applicant did in his preparation of the proposal.”

  23. General Guidelines for a Proposal • Nothing beats a good idea • Be realistic – You’re probably not going to solve the problem of world hunger with your proposed project • Make the presentation clear and simple • Make the presentation easy to read • Present yourself, or you and your collaborators, as the one person or group who can solve the problem of interest to the funding entity • Prepare a realistic budget and thoroughly justify it

  24. Nothing Beats a Good Idea • Articulate a worthwhile, single, focused objective • Articulate Specific Aims that are clearly related to one another and logically fit under the umbrella of the overall objective • Present gaps in our knowledge • Plant the seed for achieving each specific aim by presenting the questions to be asked which will fill the gaps

  25. Develop Your Idea • Define the problem that you want to address • Collect and critically analyze background information related to the problem • Develop, don’t force, the preliminary idea • Assess the potential for success in solving the problem based on your idea • Seek constructive input/criticism from knowledgeable colleagues • Refine the idea to maximize its potential for impact on your field

  26. Assess Your Idea • Critically asses whether or not you have the necessary expertise, resources, personnel and preliminary data to be competitive • Find the agency that fits your idea • Know what an agency can fund • Funding your proposal should be compatible with meeting the goals of the agency • Contact the program officer and listen closely and carefully

  27. Sell Your Idea: The Successful Sell • Make a good first impression • Be well-prepared • Be credible • Deliver a clear message • Provide supporting documentation • Include appropriate endorsements • Have something special to offer • Be persistent

  28. Sell Your Idea – Convey Enthusiasm • You must be enthusiastic about your idea and maximally convey this enthusiasm to the reviewers • A major key to success in grant-writing is to create enthusiasm in the reviewer such that he becomes an advocate for your proposal • If at all possible get to know who your reviewers will be • Articulate a worthwhile, single, focused objective • Articulate Specific Aims that are clearly related to one another and logically fit under the umbrella of the overall objective

  29. Sell Your Idea • Present gaps in our knowledge • Plant the seed for achieving each specific aim by presenting the questions to be asked which will fill the gaps • Tell the reviewers what to expect for their investment

  30. Needs or Gap Analysis • You must convincingly establish the need for the solution to the problem you are interested in. • Just because it is obvious to you doesn’t mean it’s obvious to a potential grantor. • What is the problem that requires a solution? • What will happen if this problem is not solved? • What is the gap between what exists now and what ought to be or would be if the knowledge existed to solve the problem? • Why should grant funds be used now to solve the problem and reduce the gap?

  31. Does Needs Analysis Apply to the Basic Research Grant • Yes – You must know the literature in your field in depth such that you can generate hypotheses which are based on what is not now known, but must be known to advance the field. • You must be on the “cutting edge”. • You do not want to have your idea labeled as “old science”

  32. Writing the Proposal: General Points

  33. Conceptual Model Of A Proposal Idea Supporting Concepts & Data Details of the Plan Appendices (Use sparingly if permitted at all)

  34. The Four Most Important Elements of Grant-Writing • Read the Instructions, understand the Instructions, Follow the Instructions • Read the Instructions, understand the Instructions, Follow the Instructions • Read the Instructions, understand the Instructions, Follow the Instructions

  35. The Four Most Important Elements of Grant-Writing • AND THEN REALLY READ THE INSTRUCTIONS • Read the correct instructions • Read all of the instructions • Read the current instructions • Read the RFA and PA especially well as these are supplied to the reviewers

  36. You Must Present the Proposal So That It Answers These Questions • What positively singles out this grant application from all others under consideration? • Why is this grant special and, therefore, deserving of support?

  37. Make The Presentation Clear And Simple • Assume total ignorance on the part of the reviewer • Provide all of the simplest conceptual background • No abbreviations or acronyms without definition • Use diagrams to illustrate concepts • Use formatting for emphasis • Be redundant

  38. Make The Presentation Easy To Read • Put yourself in the position of the reviewer • Do not be wordy – write like Hemingway, not Faulkner • Tell the reviewer what he is supposed to think and write • Do not force the reviewer to hunt through the application for information

  39. Make The Presentation Easy To Read • Use simple declarative sentences • Avoid complicated words, unusual abbreviations (always define an abbreviation that is not common to the area), and tortuous syntax • Avoid “weak” words that may introduce doubt into the mind of the reviewer about your ability to do the work • Example “We will try to establish conditions for –” vs. “The following variables will be considered in order to establish conditions for ---”

  40. Order of Preparation • Write the Specific Aims and Hypotheses first, then the Narrative, then the Justification and Background and finally the Title and Summary or Abstract

  41. Present Yourself As The Greatest Expert In The Field • Know the literature in depth and breadth • Do not make statements without attribution or preliminary data • Do not be reluctant to admit shortcomings • Seek collaborators or mentors when your expertise cannot be documented

  42. Present Yourself As The Greatest Expert In The Field This is an important research project, which can be accomplished in timely fashion because the personnel, methods and equipment required for the successful completion of the research are already in place. The PI and co-investigators are well qualified to accomplish the goals of this application. The PI and co-investigators have worked closely together for several years, as evidenced by peer-reviewed papers which are relevant to the current proposal. The PI will be responsible for the organization of the research project and for the overall administration of the program. The PI has extensive experience in investigation of opioid-mediated signaling pathways and innate immunity. One Co-I has extensive experience in neuroscience and in glial biology. Another Co-I has extensive experience in cellular biology of neuroscience and another Co-I is experienced in researching signaling pathways. The research team will continue to interact via weekly lab meetings, email, phone and direct interaction.

  43. Be Realistic • Ask questions which are answerable • Provide tantalizing preliminary data as evidence that the questions are worth asking and answerable • Propose technical approaches which are within the realm of your published technical expertise OR provide preliminary data • The volume of work proposed should be proportional to the time of support requested and your other obligations

  44. Significance • Does the proposed work address an important problem? • If the aims of the proposal are achieved how will the problems addressed be reduced or how will scientific knowledge be advanced? • What will be the effect of this work on the paradigm used in the field or what effect will there be on concepts and methods that drive this scientific field?

  45. Significance: Especially for NSF • What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity • How does the activity advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training and learning? • How well does the proposed activity broaden the participation of underrepresented groups? • To what extent will it enhance the infrastructure for research and education, such as facilities, instrumentation, networks and partnerships? • Will the results be disseminated broadly to enhance scientific and technological understanding? • What may be the benefits of the proposed activity to society?

  46. Approach • Are the conceptual framework, design, methods, and analyses adequately developed, well-integrated, and appropriate to the aims of the project? • Does the applicant acknowledge potential problem areas and consider alternative tactics?

  47. Innovation • Does the project employ novel concepts, approaches, or methods? • Are the aims original and innovative? • Does the project challenge existing paradigms or develop new methodologies or technologies?

  48. Environment • Does the environment (facilities, availability of relevant expertise, etc.) • Does the proposed activity or experiment(s) take advantage of unique features of the environment or employ useful collaborative arrangements? • Is there evidence of institutional support?

  49. Writing the Proposal: Some Specific Suggestions

  50. Background And Significance • Provide just enough background information so the reviewer appreciates what you are proposing • Extraneous information is distracting • Compartmentalize information with bold headings, key words and sentences • Make use of diagrams and cartoons to describe processes and concepts • Use a terminal sentence pointing to your goal at the end of each compartment