Proposal Content

There is not a uniform proposal format accepted by all funding agencies. Many sponsors have specific guidelines, instructions and/or forms to be used in the preparation of proposals. Be sure to read and comply with the sponsor's proposal development guidelines. Agencies may not accept proposals that do not comply with their guidance. Realizing this requirement, there are some commonalities with most proposals. This page provides common elements associated with most proposals.

Typical Proposal Content

Cover Page

A cover page is used to summarize key elements of the proposal and to indicate that the university has approved submission of the proposal. For many sponsors the principal investigator's signature on the face page certifies that he/she is familiar with and will accept the conditions published by the sponsor that will govern any award resulting from the proposal.


Every proposal should include an abstract of 50-250 words on a separate page immediately following the cover sheet.

Table of Contents

Include a table of contents for other than very brief proposals. Only major topic headings need be listed for proposals of moderate length. In lengthy proposals, subheadings as well as lists of tables and figures should be included.

Problem Statement / Needs Assessment

The project to be undertaken should be described and the specific objectives to be achieved stated clearly. The need for the study and/or the significance of its outcomes should be presented convincingly and realistically. A sound rationale for the project, which relates the objectives of the study to the larger issues in the field, should be included.

Related Studies/Review of the Field

Almost every proposed project will extend, correct, or improve upon work that preceded it. Each project should be placed in the context of earlier, directly related work. This part of the proposal should demonstrate the PIs command of, and ability to critically assess, the field.

Study Design / Methods / Time Lines

The PI provides evidence of ability to plan and conduct a study that will achieve the specific objectives.  The material should be organized logically and in the order in which the study will be conducted. Protocols, procedures, techniques, methods, data to be collected, data analysis and anticipated outcomes and problems should be discussed.

Preliminary Results

Whenever the PI has not demonstrated through published work that he/she has mastered the proposal methods or that a particular method can be adapted or applied to the work proposed, it is very useful to include preliminary results.


Many sponsored programs require an evaluation of the implementation and outcomes, especially in education and social sciences. Depending on the type of evaluation (summative or formative), 10% of the proposal budget may need to be allocated to evalution. 

Key Personnel

Identify all professional and technical personnel who will participate in the project by name and title whenever possible. Include brief biographies of key personnel if called for by the proposal guidelines. Do not provide a full curriculum vitae unless expected by the funding agency.

Management Plan

Include a management plan which specifically delineates who will do what and when it will be done if the proposed project is a large one.

Facilities Available

The PI should describe university and/or other facilities that are available to conduct the study, or which will be made available, if an award is made.

Letters of Support / Endorsement / Commitment

Whenever a proposed project requires assistance, cooperation, financial support or collaborative effort by an other individual or organization, a letter from that entity identifying their contribution and willingness to provide support should be included in the proposal. Federal entities like to see letters of commitment rather than letters of support. Commitment letters address the contributions offered by the institution and department while letters of support provide no such assurance.