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Planning for Proposal Development

All proposals for external funding must be reviewed and approved by Sponsored Projects Services. This is accomplished by creating an Electronic Proposal Clearance (EPCS) record. The EPCS record must be completed and finalized a minimum of three business days prior to the due date. Faculty and staff are not authorized to submit proposals for the university without SPS review and approval. Please contact your Pre-Award Sponsored Projects Administrator for further detail: http://orsa.uoregon.edu/index.cfm?topLevCat=orsa&page=orsa_staff.

Before writing a proposal, principal investigators (PIs) should be aware of all the University of Oregon (UO) policies that affect activities conducted on or with University facilities and resources, regardless of funding source. All Federal and Agency specific policies must be followed as well.

To ensure the most competitive proposal, it is critical that the PI make the following assessments prior to approaching a potential funding source:

  • The needs and priority interests of the funding agency
  • PI’s own qualifications and project requirements
  • The infrastructure and management requirements of the project
  • The financial scope of the project

The PI should also:

  • Conduct a literature review
  • Consult colleagues about the proposed project, and solicit ideas and assistance
  • Review government regulations and other requirements, e.g., security, licensing
  • Review relevant government regulatory and compliance issues

Identification of an Agency’s Needs
To begin, it is advisable to research the agency’s areas of interest, general purpose, and activities and previous grant disbursements. This will help determine eligibility and gauge the competitiveness of the proposal. In addition to researching materials and resources available through the Sponsored Projects Services (SPS) website at http://orsa.uoregon.edu/, it is advisable to contact agency staff and determine their interest in the proposal concept. This can be done by telephone, office visit, letter of intent, or a combination of these. Agency program officers often welcome this type of contact. A request may also be made to be included in the SPS list serve for Funding Opportunities.


The PI’s Qualifications and Project Requirements

It is essential to assess the PI’s ability to execute the project – not only to determine capabilities and expertise but to consider essential questions such as status to be a PI, UO research policies, availability of staff, safety and security requirements, equipment, time and other institutional support, including financial commitments.

Budget Requirements

Define the financial scope of the proposed project early in the process in order to determine whether the project’s needs can be met by the agency.

Literature Review

An exhaustive bibliographic search is recommended. This can help avoid duplication of existing studies, as well as identify studies that can support the work and provide citations that will enhance the proposal presentation. This search may also include contacting previous award recipients engaged in similar research.

Consultation with Colleagues

Ongoing consultation with colleagues is recommended through the entire proposal development stage. Frequently, colleagues have valuable agency contacts to share.

Regulatory Review

Government regulatory requirements may increase sponsored project costs. A review of human subject research requirements, animal research requirements, conflict of interest disclosure requirements, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), security, Department of Commerce Export Control, and Federal Acquisitions Regulations (FAR) Defense Federal Acquisitions Regulations (DFAR) requirements should be conducted to identify specific costs such as animal care, drug testing, hazardous waste disposal, security safeguarding, or export control licensing requirements. Theses costs should be included in the budget as direct costs when applicable.

Agencies provide general information on how to prepare unsolicited proposals, usually in a general proposal guide, application booklet or on the web. They also publish specific requirements by programs, usually found in program announcements, Request for Proposals (RFP), Request for Applications (RFA), or other notices. Some agencies, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), publish a Guide for Proposal Writing. There are also many books and articles available on this topic.

Proposal writing includes attention to technical requirements. The text must be in a clear type face and conform to agency-imposed specifications on format (size of font, width of margins, number of pages, etc.). In addition, published agency guidelines, questions, or issues should be addressed and followed closely (e.g., relationship to previous work, plan of evaluation, etc.). These may be used as section headings or topic sentences.

Where no specific guidelines are available (e.g., for many foundations), it can be useful to think in terms of the information that the sponsor would need to have about the University, discipline, project, and principal investigator in order to make an informed funding decision. This material should include basic facts about the size and nature of the University and its scholarly resources (libraries, laboratories, etc.), as well as information about the proposed project that places it within the theories and practices of its larger discipline. 

The description of the proposed work (a work plan, statement of work, or project narrative) must be written in sufficient detail to allow reviewers to determine what the project hopes to accomplish, if project personnel have the necessary expertise to accomplish the goals and objectives, if the budget is reasonable, and is the project cost effective, if a reasonable timeline is proposed, and whether evaluation and dissemination plans are adequate. The project description should include a plan of work and methodology as well as a discussion of the relationship of the proposed project to the scholar's immediate and long-range study or research objectives. Where appropriate, refer to preliminary work on the project, special language skills or experiences that suit the scholar to the project, and intended publication or other dissemination of the findings. In short, make it as easy as possible for a reviewer to defend your proposal at the meeting of a panel or foundation board.

When available, specific sponsor guidelines for content and format should be followed. However, the questions below can serve as a checklist in drafting the proposal text. 

_____ Is the problem clearly defined and the need for support of the project justified?

_____ Are the objectives clear and measurable?

_____ Is the significance of the expected outcomes explained?

_____ Are the methodologies sufficient and appropriate for accomplishing the work?

_____ Is the proposed scope of work reasonable for the timetable presented?

_____ Are the qualifications of the project personnel adequate?

_____ Are the institutional resources adequate and available?

_____ Does the evaluation plan measure the accomplishments of the objectives?

_____ Does the budget reflect the proposed work and are costs reasonable?

_____ Does the project involve any compliance issues, e.g., human subjects, animal care, conflict of interest, etc.? If so, have they been properly addressed?

_____ Are the post-award plans detailed, including dissemination of the findings?

Examples of recently successful proposals are invaluable aids in proposal writing; samples are available in Research and Faculty Development (RFD) or through faculty colleagues. There are also a number of handbooks or guides, such as Mary Hall's Getting Funded: A Complete Guide to Proposal Writing, 3rd edition, and "A Guide for Proposal Writing," from NSF https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2004/nsf04016/print_toc.htm. Whatever resources one consults during the writing process, it is important to have feedback from others: an RFD staff member, a colleague here or elsewhere, or someone who can identify statements that are unclear or that would benefit from revision.