Writing a Grant Proposal
Generating an idea and identifying a potential funding source (or sources) is
the hard part. Writing a proposal is relatively straight forward. The Office
of Sponsored Programs can provide assistance in a variety of ways:
The earlier you involve us in the process, the more help we can provide.
searching for funding sources;
serving as a sounding board;
reviewing outlines or drafts;
providing information about UW-P, UW-System, the state,
or the region;
writing portions of the proposal;
laying out the budget;
obtaining the necessary approvals; and/or
editing the final draft.
Many funding sources will provide an outline for you to follow, or a series of
questions for you to address. If the source does not, then follow a scheme like
There should be a clear, easily discernible relationship between these four parts.
The problem section should focus on a particular need, the solution section should
outline a specific series of activities which will address that need, the evaluation
section should outline a method of evaluating how the solution met the problem,
and the budget should show how much each element of the solution will cost and
where the money will come from.
- The Problem. First, establish the need for your project. What problem
exists that cries out for a solution? Who is affected by this burning problem?
What is the cost we pay for leaving this problem unsolved? Be as forceful
and dramatic as you can without stooping to purple prose.
- The Solution. Second, show how you will solve this problem. Describe
your project step by step, taking pains to demonstrate how each step will
address the problem and promote a solution. Provide whatever information the
reader will need to be persuaded, and no more.
- Evaluation. Third, describe how you will evaluate whether or not
your solution solves the problem. Most sources require an extensive evaluation
section. For those that don't include it anyway; the readers will be impressed
that you are thinking that far ahead. Evaluations can be formal or informal,
formative or summative, internal or external, depending on the project and
the funding source. Make sure that your system of evaluation will, in fact
demonstrate that the need described in the first part was addressed by the
solution you propose in the second.
- Budget. Many reviewers look at the budget first, before they read
the narrative. They assume that the budget shows what the proposal is all
about in just a few pages. Consequently, your budget should serve as a brief
summary of your project: detailed enough to give a clear idea, but concise
enough to hold the reviewer's attention. The various items in the budget should
follow the same order as the activities you propose in the narrative. If your
project will receive funds from several sources (e.g. from UW-P match as well
as from the funding source) make that clear in your budget. The Office of
Sponsored Programs can help you prepare your budget, can tell you the correct
fringe benefit and indirect cost rates, and can check your math.
Remember to consider your audience when writing grant proposals. Most federal
agencies recruit working faculty and researchers to review proposals; thus the
readers are likely to be folks just like you, in a similar or related field. Therefore,
you need not explain every technical term you use, but you should provide enough
information to allow the educated layperson to make a judgement. Foundations and
corporations frequently use in-house staff who are well-educated, but perhaps
not in your field. Assume that these readers are educated laypersons who need
a little more background information.
And remember that the point of your grant proposal is to get the grant. Many faculty
become used to writing journal articles, monographs, reviews, etc., where the
point is to reach a true and defensible conclusion. With that sort of writing
you must consider all points of view, balance your judgement, and temper your
enthusiasm. In many of the sciences, you use the passive voice to imply objectivity
and conceal the passion you (presumably) felt when generating your ideas. But
in grant proposals, you should not consider other points of view, you need not
balance your judgement, you should not temper your enthusiasm. Enthusiasm, even
passion, get the reviewer's attention. Except for proposals that will be reviewed
by scientists, use the active voice. Don't conceal any relevant information, but
don't include anything that is irrelevant to your argument just because it is
Finally, ask several people to read your proposal as if they were reviewers. Ask
them to mark every place in the narrative where they were puzzled and had to page
backwards for information, or had to look ahead to see where you were headed.
Those places need work. Your narrative should provide the reviewers with every
piece of information they need as they read along, so they never have to look
backward or forward. The Office of Sponsored Programs will be delighted to read
your proposal, of course, but you should also ask a colleague who has not seen
it before to review it for you.
Most government agencies put severe constraints on what can be included in your
budget, on the maximum amount you can apply for, on indirect costs, etc. Pay attention
to these specifications they provide. Foundations are usually less constrictive.
But for both public and private sources, your budget should clearly and concisely
state both where the money is going and where it is coming from. Most of the budgets
I write follow a format something like this:
Requested of UWP Total (funding contribution source)
Writing a budget on a spreadsheet makes life easier. When you change figures or
add items (and you will--no budget is correct the first time it is written), the
spreadsheet will recalculate percentages and totals automatically. The Office
of Sponsored Programs can write your budget for you, can help you set it up, or
can review your figures.
- Personnel - (list all the personnel who will work on the project, their
rates of pay, and the percentage of their time they will contribute to the
- Fringe benefits - (list categories of personnel--faculty
and academic staff, classified, LTE--and their respective FB rates)
- Travel - (list all travel by trip, with cost breakdowns)
- Equipment, material, supplies - (list by item or category)
- Consultants or contracts - (list any consultants to be hired, or subcontracts
to be let)
- Total direct costs - (the sum of 1-6)
- Indirect costs
In order to submit an application for external funding, you must obtain an institutional
signature from an authorized university administrator: The Chancellor, the Vice
Chancellor, or the Associate Vice Chancellor. No one else can commit UW-P to
a grant proposal. In order to get that signature, you must fill out the Transmittal
Form for Sponsored Projects form and the Financial
Disclosure Statement for Federal Proposals. Copies may be found online or at the Office of Sponsored Programs, 516/517 Pioneer Tower.
The financial disclosure statement is imposed on us by some federal funding agencies.
Each investigator involved with the project should sign a financial disclosure
statement (photocopy as necessary). Completed forms may contain sensitive information;
consequently they come directly to the Director of the Office of Sponsored Programs.
The Transmittal Form for Sponsored Programs
must be signed by co-investigators, your department chair, your dean, the Director
of Sponsored Programs and the Vice Chancellor.
These requirements are not bureaucratic roadblocks designed to make the lives
of faculty and staff more difficult. Federal, UW System, and UWP policies require
the financial disclosure information. Department chairs and deans want to know
what is being applied for so that they can allocate resources appropriately; the
Accounting Office wants to know that the correct rates were used for fringe benefits
and indirect costs; the Office of Sponsored Programs wants to be able to brag
about applications and successes; the Vice Chancellor wants to know what wonderful
things the faculty is up to. No one wants these requirements to get in the way
of applying for or winning a grant.
Filling out the forms and chasing down the signatures takes time. Remember that
you must carry out these steps before the proposal leaves campus; therefore you
must allow enough time before the deadline. In order to make this onerous process
as easy as possible, the Office of Sponsored Programs will obtain the last two
signatures on the approval form if you bring us a completed proposal, signed financial
disclosure forms, and a Transmittal form signed by the chair and the dean. Not
only that, we'll make the required copies and we'll mail or ship the proposal
by whatever means are necessary to get it there under the deadline--all at our
expense. The Office of Sponsored Programs requests that all proposals be submitted
to our office 10 days before the due date, this gives our office time to review
the proposal, check the budget and to give the grant writer time to make revisions.
Our favorite way to help you with grant proposals is to work with you from the
beginning of the process: generating an idea, searching for a funding source,
serving as a sounding board while you develop your proposal, responding to and
editing your narrative, writing the budget, and so on. When we are that involved,
it is easy for us to help you clear the final hurdles. When we only hear about
a proposal on the day it is due, it is more difficult to obtain signatures, make
copies, etc. But we do the best we can.