Getting Started: The Concept Paper
The most universal advice on writing a successful grant proposal is
to present a well written, focused solution to a problem in a logical
progression. This is much easier said than done, and finding the focus
is often the most difficult piece of the puzzle. To find this focus,
we suggest writing a "concept paper." A
concept paper summarizes in two to three pages the entire project from
beginning to end. The point is to take all of the ideas in your head
and put them down on paper as concisely as possible. Writing a concept
paper is a good exercise in defining your priorities and mission, and
can be a useful tool in obtaining valuable feedback before "diving into"
the full proposal.
Organize your concept paper with three sections, which are discussed
in more detail below:
Putting it Together: Writing the Proposal
Following is a suggested format for grant proposals. Many
grant competitions have their own prescribed
format which may require you to modify the suggestions offered
here accordingly .
there are seven major sections of a proposal:
- Table of Contents
- Mission Statement
- Statement of Need
- Project Rationale Incorporating Literature Review
- Project Narrative
- Goals and Objectives
- Proposed Activities
- Facilities and Resources
- Letters of Support/Endorsement
- Relevant Publications (if allowed)
I. Table of
After you write your proposal, create a table of contents.
II. Mission Statement
In 50 words or less, what is the mission of your project? This helps
you clarify the project's primary goal. Most importantly, this allows
the reader to have an immediate understanding of what you are proposing
right from the start without having to search for what you are trying
to do embedded in the narrative of the proposal. Following is an example
of a mission statement from a successful grant proposal:
"Our mission is to establish a self-sustaining, continuing education program to retrain middle managers in the hospitality industry in Croatia with the ultimate goal of making the Croatian hospitality industry more competitive in a global free-market system."
The well-written abstract is the single most important part of the proposal.
Often, initial proposal review, or "first cuts", are based on the abstract
alone. The abstract should not be the last part of the proposal that
is written. Deadline pressures prior to submission of the proposal are
often intense. The writing of this crucial aspect of the proposal should
be given the time and consideration it deserves. The abstract should
be written early in the proposal preparation process, and modified as
needed as the proposal develops. The abstract be understandable to a
scientifically or technically literate lay reader, and it should be suitable
for publication. The abstract should be written in the third person.
It should include objectives, methods to be employed, and the potential
impact of the project.
IV. Statement of Need
This is where you present the problem you are trying to solve. Our advice is as follows:
- Stick to one problem.
- Avoid circular logic in your thinking
and in the development of your statement of need. Circular logic
decrees that the lack of a solution is the problem. Requesting scholarship
funds as a solution to the lack of scholarship funds is an example of
circular logic. A more convincing argument is based on a problem with
a much larger scope. For example, women are greatly underrepresented
in engineering-related fields and scholarship funds will enable more
women to pursue engineering as a career choice.
- Use a logical progression in your
statement of need starting as globally as possible. You will need to
prove that you have an understanding of the problem and the latest research
on the problem. For example, if you are proposing a computer lab to
serve a minority population your statement of need should focus on the
"digital divide." Hence, your statement of need will start with a discussion of the digital
divide in the United States, then it will focus on the digital divide
in Rochester (in this case), then it will focus further on the digital
divide in the specific community you are proposing to work with.
- Close with a discussion of what
else is being done, and lead into the project narrative with a brief
discussion of how your idea is better or different. To do this, you
will need to cite that latest body of research and specific projects
that are currently happening and how yours is different and better.
Preparation is essential, and you are encouraged to pick up the phone
and call people who are working on similar projects, call program officers
at agencies, and gather as much information as possible. This is an
area where the Sponsored Research Services
office can offer guidance, advice, and assistance.
V. Project Rationale Incorporating Literature Review
Any successful grant application must incorporate a strong theoretical basis that is grounded with an extensive discussion of the literature. The rationale for the project comes from what the literature says works, does not work, is missing, needs to be looked at differently, or however you choose to broach this extensive discussion. This is how the proposal demonstrates that the individual making application is incorporating the latest research into the project.
VI. Project Narrative
A project narrative has six main sections. Check the funding agency announcement for a specific outline; some agencies require a different organization of the proposal narrative.
- Goals and Objectives. What are the major goal(s) and objectives of the project? Describe the expected outcomes of this project and how success will be measured in the project (and reference the evaluations section below).
- Proposed Activities. What are the activities that are going to happen during the period of this grant? What are you are proposing to do? What timeframe are you accomplishing this during the project?
- Facilities, Resources, and Project Management. What facilities and resources are available? How is the project going to be managed? Who will provide leadership and management for the project, and who are the people involved in implementing the project? What credentials make this project team unbeatable?
potential funding source, the deliverables of your project are
the justification for your
funding, so it is imperative that you have in
place a comprehensive and accepted method to evaluate your outcomes.
Reviewers will want
to know what works and what doesn't work. Be sure to give this section
its due priority, and pull in an evaluator very early in the process
of developing a proposal. Oftentimes, external
evaluators are included in the budget for projects.
SRS can refer you to persons on campus
who are schooled and well respected in the field of evaluation; contact
us for more information.
Evaluation plans should include both formative
evaluation to inform development of the project and summative evaluation
to assess the
impact of the project on the target audience. Each proposal should
describe a performance evaluation plan that includes goals, objectives,
indicators, and specific measurements for assessing the progress
toward the achievement of the goals. Information on data collection
and analysis should be included.
Examples of indicators that may be
- shortening time-to-degree
- broadening career opportunities
- assessment of the graduate trainees' performance
- impact of the research experience on the career plans of undergraduates
- placement of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows upon
completion of the program
- the participation of women and members of underrepresented groups
The absence of a good evaluation plan may result in the rejection
of a proposal with an otherwise innovative idea and well-described
goals and objectives.
- Outreach and Dissemination.
outreach or dissemination plan is often required by program guidelines
and will enhance any proposal. A proposal should include a detailed
description of activities that disseminate information on the success
and content of the project to other scientists and educators. Dissemination
efforts should be tailored to specific customers and target audiences.
suggested mechanisms for dissemination:
- Serve as a content expert for science/education web sites
- Establish mutual links to suitable science/education sites
- Peer-reviewed journals
- Interim Working Papers
- Books or Manuals
- Nontraditional journals, such as trade journals
- Poster Displays
- Audio-Visual Materials (CD ROM, Videotape,
- Press Releases
- Presentations at conferences
- Conferences with industry specifically for dissemination
- Teleconferences or videoconferences
- Training & Education
- Course Materials
- Distance Learning Courses
- Workshops that provide hands-on experience
- Mentorships to
undergraduate students, high school students, teachers
- Summer institutes for students and educators
- Visit local classrooms as guest speaker
- Assist teachers in developing curricula related to your
- Provide professional development or research orientation
- NETAC (Northeast Technical Assistance Center, located at
NTID) - see their website at netac.rit.edu
- PEPNet (Postsecondary Education Programs Network) - see
their website at www.pepnet.org
- Public Outreach
- Public lecture series
- Public open-house of research facilities
- Host a public science day
- Museum/Library Outreach
- Exhibits at the Student Alumni Union or Wallace Memorial
- Serve as a content expert for a museum exhibit
- Contribute articles to museum publications
- Sustainability. It is important for the potential sponsor to know that the project will not simply end once the grant funds are gone. The best way to do this is it ensure that this is a project that the institution is committed to as a part of the bigger picture and that it will be supported beyond the funding period. It is also important to build in and discuss a plan for growth of the project. Grant funding should be used as seed funding for follow-on funding. The proposed management plan can indicate to the sponsor that not only sustainability, but growth of the project is going to occur.
Multi-year grants are usually awarded contingent upon the successful
progress of the project. Sponsors often require interim technical reports
upon which the decision to continue the grant is based. Others, such
as the National Institutes of Health, require the submission of non-competing
proposals. Specific guidelines, similar to those of the initial proposal
submission, must be followed. Some agencies require site visits in
order to assess the progress of the project. Principal investigators
should review the continuation criteria as soon as the initial award
is made, so as to properly prepare for this important part of the grant
- Bibliography. As mentioned, this needs to be a well-researched project, and a bibliography is an essential component of good, scientific inquiry. If the format is not dictated, any reasonable format will suffice as long as it is consistent.
- Resume. Credentials of the project management will be taken into consideration in every proposal. Check the guidelines to see if there are limits as to pages for a resume or biographical sketch.
- Letters of Support/Endorsement. If the proposed project is a partnership, letters of support from the listed partners are required. In any situation, letters of support from carefully selected individuals and/or organizations may be in order. For example, on a recent proposal to host a conference targeting secondary school teachers, we enclosed letters of support from school districts and the teachers' unions.
Publications (if allowed). The funding announcement or guidelines
will explain if you can attach relevant publications (such as a paper
you wrote last year that further provides the rationale for your project).
If you are uncertain about attaching anything further to your proposal, check with SRS.
Last Edited: 2003-12-17 ac