Proposal Guide: Sections of a Typical Proposal
The elements outlined in this page are generally required on all proposals. However, not all of the elements are necessary for every proposal and the list is not exhaustive. Always review and understand the sponsor guidelines for instructions on proposal preparation.
Some agencies include specific title pages in their application packages. If the sponsoring agency does not supply a formal title page, it is suggested that the title page should, at a minimum, include the following:
- The title of the project (Some agencies limit the number of characters allowed);
- The full name of the institution: University of Houston;
- The PI’s name, email address, university phone and fax numbers, and the university address, including the appropriate 4-digit mail code found after the zip code;
- The names of any co-PIs and their contact information;
- The name of the agency to which the proposal is being submitted;
- The duration of the project;
- The amount of funding that is being requested;
- The PI’s signature and date signed; and
- The signature of the Director of Office of Contracts and Grants and the date signed.
The abstract, or summary, should be a condensed version of the proposal, usually ranging from 250 words to one page of text. The abstract should concisely state the significance of the research, what is to be accomplished, and the time span of the project. It should generally be written in a manner that is understandable both to a layman and to the scientific community. The abstract is extremely important in creating a favorable first impression of the proposal and could be used by the sponsor to create a permanent public record of proposals that have been submitted and/or funded.
Table of Contents
The table of contents should list the major sections of the proposal and give the specific page where each different section of the proposal begins. It is not necessary to include all subheadings in the table of contents, but it should be detailed enough for reviewers to easily locate the section or sections they are interested in without having to search through the entire proposal.
Project Description/Statement of Work
The project description, also called the statement of work, is the heart of the proposal. The PI should go into as much technical detail as necessary to explain the intent of the project and how it will be accomplished. This section will be thoroughly reviewed by experts in the field. The project description might include the following items:
- The objectives, or the intended outcomes, of the project. These may be presented as general or specific accomplishments, but it is imperative that they be thoroughly considered and well defined. Poorly defined objectives may result in not having enough time to complete the objectives or in not budgeting enough money to complete the project.
- The procedures, or how the PI will carry out the project. These may be organized in several different ways: By activities tied to specific procedures; by functional categories such as planning, development, and implementation; or by major time blocks. The sequence and timing for each part of the project should be clearly stated, and the PI should be sure that there is enough time allowed at the conclusion of the project for preparation of the final report for the agency. The PI should be realistic about how much he or she can accomplish in the period of time reserved for each part of the project and should remember that the individuals reviewing the proposal will recognize an overly optimistic timetable. If applicable, the procedures should address how any participants in the project will be chosen and what their role in the project will be. If the project is large, the PI also may include an explanation of how it will be administered and define the responsibilities of any advisory groups or organizations with which he or she plans to work. A proposal can be greatly strengthened if letters of agreement to participate from cooperating organizations or consultants are included, and many sponsors actually require such letters.
- A description of the evaluation design, if required. The evaluation, which is usually carried out both during the project and at its conclusion, can be done in a number of ways. Its basic intent is to determine if the project successfully met its objectives.
- A statement of how the research results will be disseminated. For example, dissemination of results may take the form of publication in professional journals, a conference or workshop, a project newsletter, production of audiovisual materials, travel to a meeting to present the results to interested parties. See information on the NIH Data Sharing Plan.
- An introductory statement indicating the name of the PI, the names of other researchers involved in the project, and the number of graduate students and support staff available to the project. If applicable, it may be helpful to indicate the full range of support staff available to the PI (laboratory technicians, glass blowers, and/or machine operators, for example), both within the PI’s department and at the University in general. It is important to remember, however, that if a commitment is made of a specific level of effort that will be provided for the project at no cost to the sponsor, it must be documented and approved on a Cost Share Commitment Form.
Proposals should include a list of the currently available references to pertinent literature in the field but the reference section of the proposal does not need to be an exhaustive list of all publications on the topic. The list must include any resources referenced in the abstract or project description/statement of work. Some sponsors have a specific format in which the references must be supplied.
Budget and Budget Justification
Preparing the budget is one of the most difficult and time-consuming aspects of proposal preparation. A PI needs to calculate with reasonable accuracy the major costs associated with performing the research outlined in the body of the proposal. An underestimated budget might lead reviewers to conclude that the PI does not understand the extent and complexity of the research and should therefore not receive funding. Conversely, an extreme overestimate of the funds required to complete the project could lead to disapproval for the same reasons. See Proposal Budgets.
Biographical Sketch/Curriculum Vitae
Biographical data should be included with every proposal to convey information such as the educational background, areas of interest, research capabilities, and publications of the PI and the other researchers associated with the project. Many agencies have specific formats and page limits for Bio Sketches.
Equipment and Facilities
Proposals should include a section on the equipment and facilities to be used on the research project. These may be items of equipment that the PI is requesting to purchase with funds received from the sponsor, or they may be items currently at the university which will be available for use on the project. It is critical that major items of equipment – whether they are being requested from the sponsor or being made available by the university – be clearly identified so that reviewers will not question whether or not the PI will have the materials necessary to perform the research described in the proposal.
Current and Pending Support
Agencies usually require that PIs and other senior personnel on the project disclose all of their research that is currently funded or pending review. The format of this section and the information required vary among agencies, so specific program or agency guidelines should always be consulted for guidance.
Appendices may be used to indicate data of peripheral benefit to the research, such as reprints of articles, subcontract data, letters of support from collaborating institutions, etc. However, many sponsors severely restrict the use of appendices, so the specific program or agency guidelines should always be consulted when preparing this section of the proposal.
The Director of the Office of Contracts and Grants is the authorized signatory for the University of Houston. FACULTY MEMBERS, DEPARTMENT CHAIRS, DEANS, DIRECTORS, AND/OR DEPARTMENTAL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATORS ARE NOT AUTHORIZED TO SIGN PROPOSALS AND THEREBY OBLIGATE THE UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON.
The OCG Director’s signature certifies that the proposal has been properly reviewed, is complete and accurate, has the appropriate prior approvals, and meets the requirements of the sponsoring agency as well as the University. This endorsement also certifies that the University of Houston is recovering the maximum allowable F&A costs except in those cases where the sponsor has limited the University's F&A cost recovery or acceptance of a lower indirect cost rate has been justified in writing by the Principal Investigator, and approved by the Vice President for Research, as being in the best interest of the University. In addition, the endorsement of the Director of the Office of Contracts and Grants certifies, on behalf of the University, that the certifications required from the Principal Investigator have been obtained.