Proposal Development: A Path to Competitive Proposals

          The process developing a competitive grant or research proposal can seem like a complicated and daunting one. Breaking it into a series of phases can help an investigator along the way. By structuring the process around an original idea, compelling research question, or an identifiable and persistent need, an investigator can begin thinking about the grant proposal process in familiar terms and within the context of their teaching, research, or service goals. Once identified, the pathway to funding involves developing a preliminary concept with an explanation of the research and a preliminary budget, and searching various sources for programs with an alignment toward the project or activity. Once funding is identified, the investigator can begin to gather the resources needed to refine and structure their proposal to fit the submission requirements of the grant. Once written, and prior to final submission, all grant narratives and budgets must be received and processed by the Office of Grants and Sponsored Programs (OGSP). The OGSP staff is available to assist with every step of this process.

During proposal development, the faculty/principal investigator’s responsibilities include:           

  • Consult colleagues, journals, and professional sources to determine the purpose, need, intellectual/service merit, and broader impacts of the proposal.
  • Develop a concept paper to describe the proposal (who, what when where why and how much?). The concept paper will specify the research question (or project need) and help to structure arguments for funding the proposal. Develop a research or action plan and preliminary cost estimate. Consider IRB and research review and data management plans early. Many elements of a proposal can be prepared with a firm idea and can be adapted later.
  • Notify the College or Department Point of Contact for the University Grants Council. The PoC is appointed to represent the College/Department as a liaison to OGSP and to assist to find and organize resources.
  • Notify OGSP as early as possible when considering external funding. Early notice allows OGSP to provide greater support locating resources and developing proposals.
  • Circulate concept papers among colleagues. Seek input to refine the idea early and often.
  • Research potential external funding opportunities. Contact colleagues and professional contacts. Attend professional workshops, seminars, and webinars to learn about similar projects. Use University Grants Council contacts, websites ( and Grant Resource Council (GRC) Grant Search engines.
  • Download and read the Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA), Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) or Request for Proposals (RFP). Re-read the notice and note eligible applicants, eligible activities, period of performance, and availability of funds and cost share requirements. Review the notice's content requirements for information on the sources and availability of evidence to support the proposed project.
  • Re-read the NOFA, FOA, or RFP (many potential applicants skip this step and miss valuable information or even neglect required elements of a proposal. Make note of deadlines and of submission requirements (paper, electronic, and which systems).
  • Research the funding agency and become familiar with the structure of the organization, its mission and strategic plans, and any opportunities that align strategically between UNA, partners, and the funding agency.
  • Research funded projects from the agency. Obtain copies of previously successful proposals.
  • Review the reporting and administrative requirements for the agency. A sound work plan will not overlook the effort required to manage the project, in addition to carrying out the scope of work of the proposal.
  • Contact the agency's Program Officer (PO) with any questions requiring clarification.
  • Develop an outline of the proposal including narrative(s) and supporting documents. OGSP can assist.
  • Import a crosswalk to the outline with important NOFA, FOA or RFP details. Most proposals give details about what reviewers expect. An outline and crosswalk give them consistency between the NOFA, FOA, or RFP and the proposals, making it logical and easier to follow for a reviewer. OGSP can assist.
  • Develop a list of outside stakeholders and outside partners. Contact each to gauge willingness to contribute. Develop primary support letters for active participants.
  • Internal communication with internal stakeholders is critical. A good proposal will understand the internal management systems and will have the support of other programs where necessary to accomplish the work.
  • Develop a proposal review timeline. Build in adequate time for approvals. Anticipate breaks and periods of intense work (e.g. midterms, finals, and advising periods). Inform OGSP and other partners of times when scheduling conflicts may occur so they may respect the scheduling demands of the investigator.
  • Prepare a preliminary budget and staffing plan and provide to Department Head, Dean or Director for feedback and approval. Provide notice of cost sharing requirements and consider the source of those contributions. Secure preliminary approval of any release time, stipends, or other r financial requirements, including cost share, requested in advance of seeking final approvals.
  • Draft your narratives, abstract and other proposal elements. OGSP may provide comments and suggestions at the invitation of the investigator.
  • Develop the proposal budget and budget narrative, ensuring the budget reflects the narrative and the narrative reflects the budget. Consult with OGSP for input into budget and cost considerations, including indirect costs.
  • Make certain that the proposal and the budget comply with all federal or other funding agency policies as well as with UNA policies related to expenses, travel, and allowable costs, and OGSP policies related to the use of funds.
  • Prepare supporting documentation, letters of support, biographical sketches, works cited, and any other supplemental materials required for submission.
  • Complete the Request for External Funding Proposal Routing Form and provide a complete copy of the proposal and all documents required for submission to OGSP at least 7 business days in advance of the submission deadline. Arrange for submission by OGSP at least 48 hours in advance of the deadline (earlier if possible).  Failure to meet these deadlines may affect the submission of the proposal. 

UNA Grants 101 Canvas Course

  • Custom course developed for the UNA campus community to provide an overview of grants at UNA.
  • Enrollment by request. Please email to request access.
  • Two modes of instruction: 5 hours instruction-only course or 18-hour certificate course. 

National Science Foundation

National Institutes of Health