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All proposals require common elements working together to make the case for funding
“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
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.
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.
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. OSRP can provide boilerplate documents for university statistics and standard descriptive language.
There are three parts to the statement of need. This section should be written first. It is the thesis for the grant proposal.
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.
Define specific changes in the problem expected to result from the methods. Program outcomes relate to the problem that has been described.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Agencies use your current and pending support information while selecting the peer review panel, to avoid potential conflicts of interest with collaborators serving as reviewers.
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 instructions.
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.
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 [email protected]
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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