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Grant Writing - Developing Proposal

Understand the Grant Funding Mechanism

Sponsor solicitations may be in the form of Request for Proposals (RFPs), Request for Applications (RFAs), Notice of Funding Opportunity Announcement (NOFA), Broad Agency Announcements (BAAs) or Program Announcements (PAs).  

Read The Solicitation

  • Review all instructions and deadlines
  • Review applicant criteria to ensure eligibility
  • Identify the sponsor’s central goals
  • Clarify submission process and method

You may want to development a checklist of all required proposal elements, timeline for proposal development, and narrative outline based on the scoring rubric or key section headings as a first step.  

Understand Sponsor Requirements and be Responsive

Based on the grant funding mechanism and its requirements, is your project a fundable idea?

  • What are the goals and mission of the sponsor?
  • Does your project align with the overall goals of the solicitation and/or sponsor?
  • What value are you providing to the sponsor? How does your project advance the agenda of the sponsor?
  • Call the Program Officer
  • What relationships have you built with the sponsor? Can you submit a concept or white paper for feedback before making a formal submission?

Some questions you may ask yourself

  • What gap in knowledge or service will this work fill?
  • Does this work build on previous work? Which work?
  • Does this work solve a fundamental challenge facing the field?
  • Does this work duplicate other work?
  • How does this work contribute to the field in the short and long term?
  • Is this work a priority for the field?
  • Is the project justifiably innovative or state-of-the-art?

Build a Competitive Proposal

A successful grant proposal:

  • Has clear, measurable goals and objectives, research questions and/or hypotheses
  • Is tightly structured with all elements supporting the project goals and objectives
  • Clearly describes exactly what is going to be done, why, how and by whom
  • Is directly relevant to current problems, issues, challenges or gaps in knowledge in the field
  • Is bold or transformative, innovative yet practical
  • Has a strong indication of return on investments (ROI) and/or sustainability
  • Model replication, where feasible or applicable
  • Includes collaboration – interdepartmental, interdisciplinary projects/ideas

Write the Project Narrative

Most sponsors have specialized requirements and provide a narrative template which should be included in the solicitation but may be in their proposal guide or on their website. Common core elements include:

  • Statement of the Problem
  • Literature Review
  • Conceptual Framework
  • Hypotheses or Research Question
  • Methodology/Strategy
  • Scope of Work
  • Management Plan
  • Staff and Institutional Qualifications
  • Budget

When preparing your narrative, consider the following:

  • Describe precisely how the money will be spent (who, what, when, where, why)
  • Third-person future is preferred (“Drexel will…”)
  • Show alignments with the sponsor goals
  • Articulate the impact of the project concretely

Prepare the Project Budget and Budget Narrative

Most sponsors have a required budget template. Some required very detailed budgets broken down into tasks. It might be helpful to develop the budget in a separate spreadsheet using categories that make sense internally as you scope out your project narrative. Typical budget line items include: 

Direct Costs
  • Personnel
  • Fringe benefits 
  • Tuition and Other Support
  • Equipment (durable, long-lasting)
  • Other Direct Costs (expendable, short-term)
    • Travel
    • Materials & Supplies
  • Contractual

Indirect Costs (F&A)

Please refer to the Direct and Indirect Costs matrix [PDF] for assistance in creating your detailed budget.

Once you finalize the budget you would like to submit, you can translate the budget onto the sponsor’s template for the submission. 

The budget narrative must be specific and consistent with the project narrative. Things to consider:

  • Show a clear method of calculation for each item
  • Link each item back to proposed activities and sponsor goals
  • Use the same terminology that you used in the project narrative
  • Make sure the information is outlined in a clear and concise manner

Prepare the Appendix

Attachments and ancillary documents, when place in the appendix, should be organized. Sponsor and solicitation requirements may vary, but often include:

  • Biosketches/CVs
  • Quotations or documentation for specific budget items
  • Detailed project timelines
  • Letters of commitment or Memoranda of Understanding (MOU)
  • Agency-specific documents

Be sure to carefully track all of your appendix items.

Write the Proposal Abstract

An abstract is a summary of your proposal narrative, and should include a summary of the need of the work, hypothesis, major objectives, and potential impact of the project. This section of your proposal should be written last. 

Sometimes “abstract” is used interchangeably with “project summary” and “executive summary.” Other times, “project summary” and “abstract” are defined separately. It all depends on the sponsor.

Review the Proposal/Application Package and Submit

Review the completed proposal and application as a whole.

Follow Drexel’s internal review and submission process:

  • Complete the COEUS record
  • Route to obtain internal approval for submission in advance of the Office of Research 3 days prior to the sponsor’s deadline compliance check
  • Be sure you are registered with the appropriate sponsor eRA system, e.g., Workspace, eRA Commons, FastLane, and other required submission portals

Working with your Pre-Award Administrator during the proposal preparation process through the submission process will help to ensure an on-time submission to the sponsor.

Vertebrate Animals Section in grant applications

Watch the Vertebrate Animals Section e-module on the NIH website.