Writing Successful Grants

In addition to communicating your concept or idea, your proposal must meet sponsor guidelines and expectations to be successfully funded.

Consider Your Reviewer(s)

Consider first, the reviewer. Many competitive programs utilize review panels (especially for the Program Director. The more competitive the program, the more reviewers will look for reasons to reject proposals early on.

Use clear, accessible language. Stick with direct statements and an active voice. Avoid insider jargon and acronyms.

Match Funding to Proposal

Verify the program/proposal match. Study the program goals and eligibility, and make contact with the program officer before starting your proposal. Send a brief (2-3 short paragraphs) overview of your proposed project. Always inquire about alternative, more appropriate funding sources. Always remember: the program should fit your current funding priorities!

Organize the Information

The funding source will usually specify the contents and exact order in which the proposal should be submitted. Please do not be creative or improve on the funder's procedures. Some common components are described below.

  • Abstract (consider writing your abstract last; it will allow for more concise, project specific information)
  • Problem Statement or Significance of Research
  • Project Purpose (overall goal and specific objectives)
  • Research Design or workplan (activities and timelines)
  • Applicant qualifications and capabilities
  • Evaluation Plan
  • Budget (summary and justifications - refer back to the research design/workplan) - See Budget Preparation for more detail.
  • Appendix (everything else)
  • Prove the Importance of Your Project. State your purpose and case for need up front; build a compelling argument. Cite an authoritative source in support of your project/program.

Establish the Benefit, Need & Objective

Establish the need for the project and the benefits derived. Be realistic. Distinguish between long-range goals and the short-range objectives for which funding is being sought. Our eyes are often bigger than our stomachs and we take on more than is possible within the time or funding constraints. Develop a clear timeline for your objectives. Clearly define the focus of the project, including its limits. Clearly identify the means of evaluating the data or the conclusions. Clearly describe the connection between the objectives and the methods to show that the approach is carefully developed and thought out. Plan of Action, Methodology and Design. While the description outlines in more general terms what the project is about and how long it will take to complete, the action plan spells out in specific steps and procedures how the project will take place.

Illustrate Your Concepts

Specify major tasks and timelines. Use flow charts, calendars, etc. to visualize the project on a single page.

Touch on Every Criteria

Read the evaluation standards carefully, then reference them in the project narrative. Touch all the bases, not just the ones you're comfortable with. Reviewers will use the criteria to score your proposal.

Avoidable mistakes often include: late submission, narrative too long, fonts, margins, spacing too small, signatures or certifications missing, budget narrative missing, insufficient number of copies, inappropriate binding. The Grants and Contracts Office is here to help you with this. Remember: the sooner you contact us, the sooner we can help you submit a competitive proposal.

Current & Pending

Many funders request that applicants supply information on any active and pending support. The potential funders review the faculty/staff time allocations and other potential resources for funding in the pending section.


Evaluation represents the logical conclusion to the proposal and sends a clear message to the sponsor that the project is clearly thought out and that the PI is concerned that the stated goals have been achieved. A well developed evaluation process can create more carefully articulated project objectives.

Best Practices (resources)

NSF's Merit Review Process (recording)

NSF's Merit Review Process (recording)

NSF's Merit Review Process (recording)

CSU Faculty Research Proposal Development Webinar (recording)

Handouts and slides (for CSU Faculty Research Proposal Development Webinar).

CSU Faculty Research Proposal Development Webinar (recording)

CSU Faculty Research Proposal Development Webinar (recording)