Proposal components, formatting, and presentation

Proposal components



Number of copies

Proposal Components

Title or Cover Page

For many agencies, the Title or Cover Page is automatically generated by the electronic research administration system used for submission of proposals (, fastlane, etc.).
Consult program guidelines or agency proposal guidelines for specific information.

Abstract or Summary

Most sponsors require a one-page (or less) narrative summary of the proposed project. The abstract is often used for dissemination or public relations purposes; it should be jargon-free and comprehensible to the lay reader.
Consult program guidelines for specific information on format, length, and required content.

Table of Contents

Certain agencies have specified formats for this section.

The National Science Foundation, for example, requires that the number of pages in the component sections be indicated; providing actual page numbers is optional. The National Institutes of Health call for actual page numbers where a given section may be found.
In the absence of specific directions, pages should be numbered consecutively and the Table of Contents should identify the major sections of the proposal.

Narrative or Project Description

The main body of the proposal should be a clear statement of the work to be undertaken and should include:

  • Objectives and their expected significance
  • The relation of the project to the present state of knowledge in the field, to work in progress by the PI, and to work in progress elsewhere
  • An outline of the general plan of work, including the broad design of activities to be undertaken
  • Description of experimental methods and procedures
  • Description of any substantial collaboration with individuals not included in the budget (such collaborations should always be documented with a letter from each collaborator)
  • Full literature citations (full names of authors, title, and location in the literature; follow program guidelines for format).

A careful reading of the program guidelines and review criteria will help you identify specific information that should be included in the narrative portion.

Additional information might include:

  • Needs statement
  • Description of target population
  • Qualifications of key personnel as they will function in this project
  • Resources and facilities
  • Project management plan
  • Evaluation strategy
  • Dissemination of results
  • Time line

Most agencies impose page limitations on the narrative section, as well as on other sections of the proposal, and disqualify proposals when these limitations are exceeded. Consult the Office of Sponsored Programs for advice as early as possible.

The program guidelines specify the proposal’s content and format; any deviations from printed guidelines must be cleared in advance with a program officer at the agency.

Budget and Budget Justification

Reviewers use the budget as a summary of the entire proposal, so considerable thought should go into its preparation.

Most sponsors provide detailed instructions and printed forms for budget preparation.

The Office of Sponsored Programs have prepared a Guide to Budget Components which will help you complete this.

Additional Information

Biographical Sketch (or Biosketch)

This section should be limited to information about the professional background, affiliations, and publications of key personnel. Consult program guidelines for page limitations and specific requirements.

Facilities, Equipment, or Other Resources

Identify the facilities, major equipment, and other resources to be used in the conduct of this project, their capacities, proximity, and extent of availability to the project.

Program Income

With few exceptions, income derived from services or goods that form part of a project supported in whole or in part by a sponsor must be reported to the sponsor as “program income”. Any Principal Investigator expecting to recover income through a sponsored project should discuss this with the Office of Sponsored Programs.

Current and Pending Support

Many sponsors require that the Principal Investigator and key personnel listed in the proposal disclose their current and/or pending support. While the required format may vary, the response should include:

  • Project title
  • Name of Principal Investigator
  • Sponsor
  • Award number assigned by the sponsor
  • Project start and end dates
  • Award amount
  • Percentage of effort committed

The names of any additional sponsors to whom the current proposal may be submitted should also be included.


Where certifications concerning such issues as Civil Rights, Drug-Free Workplace, Lobbying, etc. are required by the sponsor, the Authorizing Institutional Official who signs the proposal will prepare and sign these forms.

Letters of Collaboration/Letters of Support

These may include Collaborator/Consortia agreement letters; material from subcontractors (budget and justification, current and pending support, letter of institutional approval). As always, consult program guidelines to determine what is allowable and/or necessary.


Follow the sponsor’s guidelines for what may be included in the Appendix.

Certain agencies do not allow the inclusion of appendix material without the specific approval of a program officer. Program guidelines may also specify format and length.

In no circumstances may an appendix be used to circumvent the page limitations of other sections in the proposal.


Some agencies provide a checklist for your use or that must be included in the proposal


Final versions of proposals should be neat, accurate, and well-written.

It is essential that proposals follow sponsor requirements for proposal format.

Sponsors often establish page limitations (particularly for certain portions of a proposal), line spacing, page margins (and requirements), and minimum allowable type size. Requirements should be checked using a standard device for measuring type size rather than relying on the font selected for a particular word processing/printer combination.

Proposals not meeting production requirements (including type size and page length) are subject to rejection by the sponsor.

Page Limits

An increasing number of sponsors are establishing limitations on the number of pages that may be included in the proposal as a whole and in specific sections of the proposal. The guidelines will also specify whether tables, illustrations, and/or photographs are to be considered part of the total number of allowable pages. Failure to comply with these parameters will result in rejection of the proposal.

Page Numbers

Consult sponsor’s guidelines for required or preferred numbering convention.

Production Details

Many sponsors now stipulate what is acceptable for the following production factors:

  • Type font
  • Type size (horizontal & vertical)
  • Margins
  • One-sided or two-sided printing

Since these factors affect the length of the proposal, failure to conform to sponsor specifications may result in rejection of the proposal.

Requirements should be checked using a ruler rather than relying on the font selected for a particular word processing/printer combination.


Guidelines will specify how proposals should be collated and compiled. Most agencies require proposal components to be uploaded to the electronic research administration system as PDF documents.

Final documents should be sent to the Office of Sponsored programs in their PDF format for submission. In the event that a paper submission is requested, there may be stipulations about how proposals are to be bound; if you prepare the required number of proposals, these should be collated and held with paper clips or rubber bands when submitted to Office of Sponsored Programs.

Please do not bind or staple proposals before delivering to the Office of Sponsored Programs.

Number of copies

In the extremely rare instance that a paper copy of the proposal is required by the sponsor, you will need to print a specified number of copies of the formal proposal. In most instances, at least one copy must bear the original signature of the PI and the University’s authorizing official is required to transmit proposals.

Some sponsors may require additional copies of certain pages, so review guidelines carefully. As the majoirity of federal agencies and sponsors require electronic subvmissions of proposals, the OSP is paperless.

Any hard copy submission copies must be made by the department submitting the proposal.

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