Preparing a Competitive Proposal

How to Prepare a Competitive Proposal

Start with a great idea and develop it into structured project. Identify a prospective funder whose interests match yours, and read their application instructions carefully. Think of these guidelines as rules when preparing your proposal.

Within the narrative, clearly communicate the current situation (baseline) and where you will bring the situation by grant period end (outcomes).  Highlight the difference that the funders' support will make. Make your objectives more persuasive and believable by using  SMART--Specific, Measurable, Ambitious, Realistic and Time-limited.

Write to your audience, which is the reviewers that will score your proposal. Be clear and direct. Proposal reviewers  may or may not be specialists in the discipline and likely won't spend much time reading your proposal. Avoid jargon and acronyms. Make your proposal interesting, informative, persuasive, AND concise, orderly, and aesthetically-pleasing.

Resources for Preparing a Competitive Proposal

National Science Foundation's Guide for Proposal Writing: This guide contains the advice NSF program officers give in answer to the question, "what makes a good proposal?"

Twenty Tips for Writing a Research Proposal: Demonstrating that effective proposal writing knows no political boundaries, this post from an Australian environmental scientist contains sage advice for any scientist seeking research funding.

The Art of Grantsmanship by Jacob Kraicer:  An experienced expert on the peer-reviewed proposal process, Dr. Kraicer distills his hard-earned wisdom into this guide which gives the reader a proposal preparation timeline.

Murder Most Foul: How Not to Kill a Grant Application: The first part in a six-part series published by Science magazine focuses on the importance of the proposal title.

On the Art of Writing Proposals :This nine-page article from Social Science Research Council, directed to applicants for SSRC grants, provides excellent general proposal advice applicable across many academic disciplines and funding agencies.

Writing a Successful Grant Proposal: This six-page article from the Minnesota Council of Foundation provides good general proposal preparation guidance.

Foundation Center's Proposal Writing Short Course A short course especially relevant for foundation grant seekers (less so for federal agency grant seekers).


Grant Writing: Strategies for Developing Winning Government Proposals by Patrick W. Miller, Ph.D. Patrick W. Miller and Associates (2009). Excellent book for those who plan to write a proposal to a government agency. Complete and well-organized, with summaries at the end of each chapter.

Grantsmanship: Program Planning & Proposal Writing. By Norton J. Kiritz. Updated and expanded by Barbara Floersch. The Grantsmanship Center (2014). Widely considered to be a classic in the field. Describes how to approach each section of a proposal in lively and accessible prose.

How to Write Knockout Proposals by Joseph Barbato. Emerson & Church (2004). A quick, useful read. Tips on style, content and relationships.

Winning Foundation Grants: A Foundation CEO Reveals The Secrets You Need to Know by Martin Teitel. Emerson & Church (2012). Readable book describes what happens behind foundation doors. The author's insights are informed by experience on both sides of the equation: as grant seeker and grant maker.