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Develop the Proposal


"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 


All proposals require common elements working together to make the case for funding. Below we summarize the components of a cohesive grant proposal. When all of these elements are fully developed the grant reviewers will not be left with questions, strengthening the proposal's chances for funding.


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, 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 information that funders post on their websites after awards are made. This section should always be written last. 

Introduction to Applicant or Background Statement

This section describes MSU Denver and documents the university's credibility. It should describe 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. This section should be written first. It is the thesis for the grant proposal.

  1. 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.
  2. The significance describes why this problem or opportunity matters. 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.
  3. What are the causes that led to the current problem or condition? Again, this section can be supported by a literature review and relevant statistics where appropriate.

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. See the Toolkit for examples of logic models.  


The budget provides detailed cost estimates for implementing the Methods and the Evaluation. Think of your budget as the financial description of your project. As such, begin your budget after you have identified the components of your project that will require funding (ie: personnel, travel, equipment, student support, etc.) For detailed information on creating your budget, go to the next menu item, Develop the Budget.

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. See the Toolkit for examples of evaluation plans.  

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 that 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, OSRP and the principal investigator will agree upon the need for an external evaluator. If an external evaluator is deemed necessary, OSRP can assist the PI in identifying an appropriate individual.

Management Plan

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.

References Cited

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. 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 Toolkit for guidance an creating a data management plan.                       

Current/Pending Support  

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 the time of proposal. Read the RFP carefully to determine whether this is the case.

Resumes/Biographical Sketches

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, and the National Science Foundation limits Biosketches to two page. This is generally needed for all PIs, Senior Personnel, and Subawards. See the Toolkit for biosketch templates.

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.

Institutional Review Board (IRB)/Human Subjects Protection Program (HSPP)

Will your project involve research with human subjects? This can range from medical clinical studies to simply collecting personal information via non-anonymized surveys. Funders often request information verifying that the investigator has at least started the human subjects review process at the time of submission or ask for a statement regarding exemption from human subjects. Contact HSPP as soon as possible when drafting your proposal to obtain IRB designation and approval if necessary.  Mike Heathcote, Human Subject Protection Program Manager, can be reached at 303-605-5282 or

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 OSRP for assistance with this.


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