Writing a Proposal

In the earliest stage of a proposal, there is an idea. The researcher must develop that idea into a clearly articulated goal that can answer the question 'what does the researcher hope to accomplish with the completion of this project'. This overarching goal forms the backdrop for presenting a proposal that can successfully describe a solid and realistic work plan and budget, and provide some assurance to the sponsor that the award will be used to its best advantage.

About Proposals

A proposal is institutional whenever the application is to a federal agency, foundation, or corporation that does not give to individuals, or when the researcher is asking Dartmouth College to help support a project through cost-sharing or indirect costs. Researchers must also realize that each potential sponsor has their own set of guidelines and requirements that they expect to be followed.

The proposal must be able to quickly and easily provide answers to these questions:

  • What will the research accomplish, how much will it cost, and how much time will it take?
  • What is the plan for completing the research?
  • How will the results be evaluated?
  • How does the proposed project relate to the sponsor's interests?
  • Why should you, rather than someone else, do this project?
  • What has already been done in the area of the project?
  • What difference will the project make to: the institution, students, the discipline, or whatever the appropriate categories are identified?

Eligibility to be a Principal Investigator (PI)

Dartmouth College policy states that only full-time faculty members or individuals holding full-time research positions (defined for each academic area in the Appendix) may routinely serve as Principal Investigators on sponsored projects.

Review the full policy.

Proposal Development

There are two schools of thought on proposal writing. The first recommends that a researcher develop a full proposal, then seek to identify potential funding sources. The second approach councils that one develop the research idea, as outlined previously, identify the most promising potential sponsors, then develop the full proposal in a the style and presentation that would be most appealing to the identified sponsor. Both approaches have their merits and weaknesses. The latter approach, however, is most frequently recommended and is assumed in this manual.

Requests for Applications (RFAs) and Requests for Proposals (RFPs) are special types of proposals. They outline specific initiatives (RFA) or requests for services (RFP) and are initiated by the sponsor.

RFAs are formal announcements describe an initiative in a well-defined area and invite researchers in the field to submit a grant application. Attributes of RFAs include: Frequently are one-time competitions.

  • Limited number of awards may be made.
  • A specific dollar amount is allocated to each award.

RFPs are a sponsor's request for bids on a project.

Attributes of RFPs include:

  • Sponsor solicits pricing and/or technical proposals to supply goods or services as specified in the requesting document.
  • The proposal procedure is often complex and must satisfy very specific requirements.
  • Any resulting award(s) would normally be funded by a contract.
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