Basic Elements of a Proposal

Cover Page

The cover page or title page allows you to present your proposal in a standardized manner. This page summarizes important identifying information: the proposal title; the name, address and telephone number of the project director; the Sponsored Programs’ address and authorizing official / contact name; the agency and program name for the submission; the project’s beginning and ending dates; and / or the budget request. Many agencies use their own specific cover or title page format.

Abstract / Summary

A well written abstract / summary creates the desirable first impression to the program managers and proposal reviewers. The abstract / summary may be disseminated to the public, and hence should not include confidential information. The abstract / summary should encapsulate the entire proposal, conveying who, what, where, when, why and how. Although the abstract / summary precedes the narrative section of the proposal, it is often written last to accurately reflect the entire content of the proposal. Many agencies have specific limitations on the length of the abstract / summary.

Project Description or Narrative

This section describes the need for the project, goals, objectives, and the hypothesis or research questions. The statement of goals presents the vision of the worth and overall contribution of the proposed project. The statement of objectives should be presented in measurable, quantifiable terms. Describe the methods to be used to achieve the desired outcomes. It is helpful, and often a requirement, to create a timeline for the activities which constitute the method or approach to persuade reviewers that the Principal Investigator is organized and able to manage the complex demands of a project.

Budget and Budget Justification

The budget is an estimate of the funds needed to conduct your project by cost category. When developing a budget for a sponsored project, all costs should be identified as Direct Costs to the sponsor, Facilities and Administrative (F&A) costs charged to the sponsor, or other allowable cost sharing resources. In short, what this means is that the way costs are budgeted for a proposal should be consistent with how the actual charges will be incurred when an award is made.

Biographical Sketch / Vitae

The biographical sketch briefly describes the key personnel involved and their contributions to the project. Include a biographical sketch for all key personnel to be involved in the project. Some agencies have specific forms or formats and restrict the amount of information to be included. Others may request full vitae to be included in the appendix.

Current and Pending / Other Support

The current and pending is a listing of grants and contracts that the Principal Investigator and other key project personnel currently have and other proposals that are pending a funding decision. A separate form is usually used for each individual. The information should include the sponsor, title of the project, awarded amount, and total time committed to the project. You may not allocate more than 100% of your time in a given period. Time committed will not always correspond to time budgeted.

Resources / Equipment and Facilities

Describe the equipment and facilities already available to carry out the proposed project, including special equipment, services, field resources, controlled environment or special laboratory facilities, etc. Be sure to differentiate between those facilities and resources that are currently available to support the project and those resources that are needed. Some agencies require use of a specific form.

References / Literature Cited

A reference of pertinent literature is usually required. Each citation should be complete and include the names of all authors, article title, book title, journal name, volume number, page numbers and year of publication. Be careful to follow accepted scholarly practices in listing citations for all source material given in this section. Some agencies may specify a limit of the number of references or number of pages.


Appendices are support material related to the proposal. Each sponsor will have their own preferences and limitation. Typical attachments may include letters of support, statistical tables, cost documentation for equipment, audited financial statements, the institution’s letter of incorporation, and the signed federally negotiated indirect cost rate.

Certifications, Assurances and Other Forms

Some sponsors require certifications, assurances and other forms be completed and submitted with the proposal. Most require the signature of the Authorized Official in Sponsored Programs.