McMaster University

McMaster University

Elements of a Successful Proposal

General Considerations

  1. Relates to the purposes and goals of applicant agency.
  2. Strictly adheres to the content and format guidelines of the applicant agency.
  3. Is directed toward the appropriate audience (i.e. those who will review the proposal).
  4. Clearly addresses the review criteria of the funding source.
  5. Is interesting to read.
  6. Uses a clear, concise, coherent writing style, free of jargon, superfluous information, and undefined acronyms (i.e. it's easy to read).
  7. Is organized in a logical manner that is easy to follow.
  8. Uses headings so that information can be found easily.
  9. Calls attention to the most significant points in the proposal through the use of underlining, differences in type, spacing, titles, and appropriate summaries.
  10. Is paginated from beginning to end, including appendix when directly appended to the proposal.
  11. Makes appropriate use of figures, graphs, charts, and other visual materials.
  12. Is so meticulously proofread that is has few (if any) grammatical errors, misspellings, or typos.

The Proposal

  1. Has title that is appropriate, descriptive, and (perhaps) imaginative.
  2. Unless it is brief, has a table of contents that is straight-forward and accurate.
  3. Has a clear, concise, informative abstract/executive summary that can stand alone.
  4. Has clearly stated goals and objectives that are not buried in a morass of narrative.
  5. Follows naturally from previous/current programs or research.
  6. Documents the needs to be met or problems to be solved by the proposed project.
  7. Indicates that the project's hypotheses rest on sufficient evidence and are conceptually sound.
  8. Clearly describes who will do the work (who), the methods that will be employed (what), which facilities or location will be used (where), and a timetable of events (when).
  9. Justifies the significance and/or contribution of the project on current scientific knowledge or a given population of people or a body of writing/art and socio economic benefit when appropriate.
  10. Includes appropriate and sufficient citations to prior work, ongoing studies, and related literature.
  11. Establishes the competence and scholarship of the individual(s) involved.
  12. Doesn't assume that reviewers "know what you mean."
  13. Makes no unsupported assumptions.
  14. Discusses potential pitfalls and alternative approaches.
  15. Presents a plan for evaluating data or the success of project.
  16. Is of reasonable dimensions (i.e. not trying to answer all of the questions at once).
  17. Proposes work which can be accomplished in the time allotted.
  18. Demonstrates the individual(s) and/or organization are qualified to perform the proposed project; doesn't assume that the applicant agency "knows all about you."
  19. Documents facilities necessary for the success of the project.
  20. Includes necessary letters of support and other supporting documentation.
  21. Includes vitae which demonstrate the credentials required (e.g., Don't use a promotion and tenure vitae replete with institutional committee assignments for a research proposal.)
  22. Includes a bibliography of cited references.

The Budget

  1. Has a budget which corresponds to the narrative: all major elements detailed in the budget are described in the narrative and vice versa.
  2. Has a budget sufficient to perform the tasks described in the narrative.
  3. Has a budget which corresponds to the applicant's agency's guidelines with respect to content and detail.

Proposal Titles

Weak: Genetic Diversity in Luidia Clathrada
Better: Genetic Diversity in the Starfish Luidia Clathrada

Weak: Three Plays by Eugene O'Neill
Better: A Comparison of Female Characters in Three Eugene O'Neill Plays

Weak: Improving Math Education in Elementary Schools
Better: Innovative Instructional Materials to Improve Math Education in Elementary Schools

Weak: Preparing a New Agenda for Minority Education at the University of Iowa (What's at the University...the agenda or minority education?)
Better: Minority Education: Preparing a New Agenda for the University of Iowa

Weak: Special Studies Directed at the Simplification of Analytical Procedures Concerned with Identification of Blood Proteins
Better: Methods to Simplify Analytical Procedures Used to Identify Blood Proteins

Weak: Uses of Marine Plant Species in Food Production to Bring About Reductions in Food Costs
Better: Uses of Marine Plant Species in Food Production to Reduce Food Costs

Weak: New Perspectives in Learning
Better: New Perspectives in Learning: A Program to Facilitate the Retention and Graduation of Minority Students

Weak: Regulation of K Secretion by the CCD
Better: Regulation of Potassium Secretion by the Cortical Collecting Duct

Weak: CT Versus MR in the Diagnosis of Brain Disorders
Better: Computer Tomography (CT) Versus Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MR) in the Diagnosis of Brain Disorders

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