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Proposal Sections

Most funding agencies specify in their published guidelines or application forms the preferred format for proposal preparation, which should be followed whenever possible. Electronic versions of some forms for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes for Health (NIH) are available through the SPS website. If proposal format instructions or forms are not provided by a funding agency, SPS recommends that Principal Investigators (PI) follow the outline described in the following pages. 

There are basic elements, listed here and described in detail throughout this section, that are relevant to most proposals:

Electronic Proposal Clearance System (E-PCS) - internal use only
Title or cover page
Abstract or summary
Table of contents
Technical narrative
Budget and budget justification
Project personnel
Current & Pending Support
Facilities description
Appendices - vitae, reprints, letters of support, other related or required attachments

Title or Cover Page - Format and Required Elements

Most private funding sources and a few federal agencies do not provide standard forms for the cover page. In this case, the following information should be provided to assist agency staff and proposal reviewers in identifying the application:

Title of project
Request-for-Proposal (RFP) number, program number, or current grant number if a continuation application
Sponsor name and address to whom application will be submitted
Applicant's name and address
Project start and end dates (proposed)
Dollar amount requested
Principal investigator's name and address; signature
Authorizing institution official's name and address; signature
Other agency required signatories (contracting officer, dean, financial administrator, etc.)

Most federal agencies and some private sources have posted their application guidelines and forms on the web. The standard format is PDF and PIs are encouraged to purchase the inexpensive Adobe Acrobat Exchange product that reads and converts files to PDF. 

Assistance completing the Institutional Information on an Agency Specified Form or on a PI created Cover Page may be located at insert link to GM_CoverPage&InstInfo.doc

Abstract or Summary

The abstract should be a clear, concise statement of the major objectives and scope of the research, usually in 200 words or less. Descriptions of the problem to be studied, methodologies to be employed, anticipated results, and their significance should be included. The abstract serves several purposes: as an initial overview for the review panel members and for publicity and administrative or legislative presentations by agency staff. Therefore, it should be succinct and able to stand alone.

Table of Contents

The table of contents is a list of the headings and beginning page numbers of the major sections of the proposal. It should also include separate listings of tables and figures, if these are extensive throughout the body of the proposal, and make reference to appendices.

Technical Narrative

An introduction to the technical portion of the proposal, unless otherwise specified, should give a brief description of the proposed project, its background, and current state of the research. The importance and relationship of the area of research to the mission of the potential sponsor should be included. Some introductions are limited by the sponsor to specific information, such as the revisions made in the proposal since a prior, unfunded version was submitted; how the supplemental proposal could benefit the current, funded project; or a summary of results of prior supported work.

The main body of the proposal is the technical narrative or project description. It is a detailed statement of the work to be undertaken and should include the following:

  • specific aims of the study and long-term objectives;
  • background and significance of the research and its relation to existing knowledge;
  • findings of any preliminary studies;
  • experimental design and methods;
  • past and proposed collaborations related to the work;
  • tentative sequence or timetable for completing the proposed work;
  • involvement of human subjects, vertebrate animals, hazardous materials, genetically-engineered organisms, or other special conditions;
  • plans for evaluation and dissemination; and
  • any other considerations required by the sponsor or the research.

The technical narrative is followed by a relevant and current listing of complete literature citations (authors, title, book or journal, volume and page numbers, and year of publication).

Budget and Budget Justification

The budget should be designed on the basis of the technical narrative; that is, it should reflect, in fiscal terms, the proposed work and resources required to complete the work. The budget justification accompanying the budget figures should explain, by budget category, the calculations used in determining the total cost for each category, as well as any special or unusual circumstances. A budget that underestimates the cost of completing the proposed research is as detrimental to the success of the proposal as a budget that overestimates the cost. SPS, on behalf of the UO, requires a detailed budget for all proposals, even in those cases where an agency does not require such detail. It is important for SPS to have such detail when evaluating whether adequate funds are being requested for the proposed work and the allowability of budgeted expenses, per Office of Management of Budget (OMB Circular 2 CFR Part 200).

The proposal budget is the best estimate of project costs at the time of proposal submission. Current rates for salaries, services and supplies, equipment and maintenance, travel, and tuition should be used as a basis for developing the budget.   OMB Circular 2 CFR Part 200 http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/circulars/a021/a21_2004.html should also be the tool used for determining allowability of project costs. Given that project periods normally begin 6 to 9 months after proposal submission, it is important to prepare a budget that will cover projected expenses, such as salary increases each January for academic appointments or fringe benefit rate increases each fall, by using current rates plus reasonable percentage increases. For example, a current 9-month academic year salary, increased 5%, would be a fair estimate of a salary rate for a project beginning after January 1 of the following year. Fringe benefits and F&A rates are fixed for a given period and current rates must be used. The Quick Reference Card (QRC) provides the most current rates. Budget figures should be rounded to whole dollars.

To adjust for inflation over the life of a multi-year project, it is recommended that 7% increase for tuition and 5% increase for all other direct cost budget categories be included in each successive budget period. 

Budget forms and detailed instructions for preparing this portion of the proposal are provided by some agencies. These should be carefully followed. Where no forms or instructions are provided, the budget templates and Quick Reference Card should be used. The budget templates can be found at the SPS internal forms page.

Other direct web links to University policies, rates and definitions for budgeting purposes include:

Tuition and fees
Travel and Per Diem Rates

Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the University of Oregon and the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTF), the UO hires graduate students as GTFs for teaching, research, and administrative appointments.   The agreement states that, “Departments and programs will give priority to GTF appointments. Employing units will hire graduate student employees only when unique or unusual circumstances arise that cannot be accommodated by an increase in the Full Time Equivalent (FTE) of current GTFs and/or the creation of new GTF appointments in the department or program.” 

That means that grants will budget for GTF appointments over hourly wage jobs for graduate students, including during the summer term, except for unusual cases. Under the terms of the agreement, GTFs are appointed at a minimum of .20 FTE and a maximum of .49 FTE per quarter, unless an overload that exceeds .49 FTE is approved by the Dean of the Graduate School. The minimum appointment of .20 FTE equates to 88 hours of employment responsibilities per quarter, or approximately 8 hours per week, based on a full-time workload of 1312 hours for 9 months. If a graduate student is expected to work in excess of 8 hours per week, a GTF appointment is the appropriate mechanism for hiring the student.

Since GTFs at .20 FTE or above are exempt from payment of tuition (the instruction fee)for up to 16 credit hours taken in any term to which the appointment applies, budgets must include tuition for GTFs at the resident in-state rate. Tuition will not be charged during the summer term if the student is not required to enroll for credit to meet program or degree requirements.

Health insurance costs and part of the non-instructional fees are also covered under the GTF contract. For GTFs paid on grants, the appropriate insurance costs per term including summer and a per term fee subsidy will be charged to the grant. For more detail, see http://orsa.uoregon.edu/web/proposals/budget/quick_reference.pdf.


Project Personnel

Biographical information on all key personnel should be included in the proposal. Some funding agencies provide forms for this purpose and others allow for the attachment of curriculum vitae (also called biographical sketch) at the end of the proposal. Generally, within the allowable space, the following should be included for each profile: post-secondary education, research training and professional experience; employment history; honors; professional memberships; and major (relevant) publications (often limited by number or to a specified time period). The names of the principal investigator's own graduate and postdoctoral advisors, as well as current and past collaborators, also may be required. 

Current and Pending Support

Most federal agencies and some private sources require complete information on current and pending support from all sources for the principal investigator and other significant staff members on the proposed project. Information usually requested includes each individual's percentage of effort or person-months devoted to each project (depending on agency specifications), title and brief description of the projects, award amounts, project periods, overlap of research activities, and program income expected, if any.

Facilities Description

This section may be an integral part of the proposal narrative or an appendix to the proposal, depending on the application guidelines. The facilities description may start with a broad overview of the institution including its faculty and programs, number of students, library holdings, graduate programs and other pertinent information. At the least, the PI's department or institute/center should be described, in terms of personnel, laboratories, equipment, and technical support and shared resources relevant to the proposed project. In proposals requesting equipment, care should be taken in explaining the need for the equipment that may duplicate or replace existing equipment. Similarly, facilities and field sites should be described for projects conducted wholly or partly off-campus.


Application guidelines regarding allowable appendices should be carefully read. Some agencies limit, or disallow completely, appended materials. Items that may be allowable or required as appendices are vitae, reprints, supporting letters, and other supplementary materials pertinent to the proposed project. It is advisable to include all information essential to the review of the proposal within the narrative portion of the proposal, as appendices are not always sent to individual reviewers.