I am often asked to advise faculty on how to develop a
competitive proposal and for suggestions about the total process of
seeking grant support for professional development as
After almost fifteen years in this area, my file on 'how-to' of
proposal writing is full to overflowing. But my experience in
working with faculty is that the most beneficial approach is not to
give answers or advice, but rather to challenge faculty to ask
themselves questions at each stage of proposal development. The
following are some questions I have asked.
Have you researched the funding agency for whom you are
preparing the proposal?
To whom have they awarded recent grants? Do you know, have you
contacted any of those people? Have you determined any anticipated
new directions? Do you know how the review process is undertaken?
(Specialists, Generalists etc..) Have you studied annual reports
and guidelines carefully? Do you know if staff are receptive to
personal visits or phone contacts?
Have you made use of every possible resource on your
campus to develop a competitive proposal?
Have you asked a colleague (preferably some one who had success
with proposals) to read a draft? Have you discussed the process
with the college grants officer? Do you have the necessary
institutional commitment for time, space, computer, additional
Does your proposal clearly articulate a specific activity
designed to address a specific issue to be undertaken by a specific
Have you 'sold' yourself, established your credibility, as a
person competent for the task? Do you have a sense of the proper
parameters for the project - or are you about to save the world?
Can you tell this is a proposal written by a person - to a
Is the proposed project significant? To whom? To you as a
teacher/scholar, to your students , to your institution , to your
discipline, to society?
Is there a direct relationship between the identified
problem/need and the activities you have outlined and the support
you are requesting?
Does the budget present a clear picture of the resources
needed? Have you asked for too much or too little?
Is it clear how this project fits into you personal plans for
growth as a teacher/scholar?
Is it appropriate for this point in your academic career? Is it
a logical 'next step' for you, building on previous research,
classroom responsibilities, professional goals? Why now?
What will happen after the grant period? How will you know if
you have succeeded in what you set out to do? What will you have to
Will a specific course, or the departmental curriculum, new
changed/strengthened? Will you be able to present your results to
your peers, in a scholarly journal/book or at a professional
Is this seed-money, a pilot project, or interim stage of a
larger project? Does this project have wider application, is it
replicable in similar settings? To whom will reports be submitted,
Is it clear from the beginning of the project how you intend to
evaluate- during the grant period, at the end? Is there an
implicit long-range plan for your growth as teacher/scholar, for
strengthening your institution, for advancing your scholarly
field? What do you intend to do next?
Does the very presentation of the proposal reflect the
quality of your work?
Have you followed the guidelines precisely? Does it make
inviting reading - good margins, sections (outlines) clearly
marked? Is it a good reproduction? Are the appendices appropriate,
clearly labeled and referenced? Are there no misspellings,
rhetorical ramblings, vague assumptions?
A Final Question: If you were teaching Freshman English and
this proposal was presented as a weekly theme, what grade would you
Is it well-written, is there a logic in the flow of the
argument? Is there a thesis coherently stated and cogently argued?
Does the introduction give an implicit for what follows and the
summary remind the reader of each pertinent point? Is it
jargon-free, in the active voice, as succinct as possible? Does it
follow basic rules of good writing?
Many of these questions are similar to those by proposal
reviewers, who, whether they are intelligent lay persons or
disciplinary experts, must be able to recognize several key points
1) that the request is an appropriate one for the funding source
2) that the proposed project has significance beyond the
3) that the principal investigator demonstrates clear
understanding of the issue and of reasonable and creative (and
replicable) approaches to addressing the issue.
Hopefully by now you are convinced that proposal writing takes
work, creativity, work, imagination, work, persistence, and more
work. That is all true. But the very process can be integral to the
on-going process of development as a teacher and a scholar. The
process of developing a proposal requires you to do some intentional
institutional planning, to put your dreams on paper, and to claim
that your ideas merit support. This is a risk. But it is a risk
worth taking. I wish you all success.