Proposal Writing Tips

Generally speaking, in your proposal you should explain your project idea, situate your work in the context of relevant scholarship, present your objectives, and describe your approach to this project. How does your work contribute to your field of study? Make sure to adhere to the page limits and other specifications! The ability to edit your argument to fit a specific length and audience will prove useful for academic presentations and interviews in the future.



A well-written proposal presents a clear vision of a project through an organized and logical chain of reasoning. Writing successful proposals entails the use of several types of writing, including explanation, description, and persuasion. Sponsors endorse proposals that demonstrate both an innovative idea and a feasible approach to completing the research project. Avoid vague language or generalizations. Express your knowledge of the subject and consideration of certain variables directly, while adhering to the page limits and specifications of the application instructions. Do not exceed the page or word limits. Proposals should employ language that can be easily understood by non-specialists. Avoid the frequent use of jargon or technical terms, especially out of context.


Defining the scope of your research is a crucial aspect of your proposal that can affect the viability of not only your application but also your scholarly work. In planning the research proposal, you should delimit the topic so as to be able to complete the research within the time frame and budget of the award. This requires thoughtful consideration of your research approach and objectives as well as awareness of the existing body of research. You should present a realistic proposal that is neither overly ambitious nor too narrow, according to the type of project and field of study. Demonstrate that you can complete your proposal, given the opportunity.


In your proposal, you are expressing your ability to achieve your research goals, convincing the sponsor that funding your project will be a fruitful endeavor. For this reason, many proposals require supporting documents such as a research plan or schedule and a budget. In addition to these materials, you may want to include practical information about your research plan that demonstrates your awareness of certain issues. For instance, you may have already made arrangements or secured research approval from a host institution or sponsor. Other aspects to consider may involve the availability of the source materials and the required language proficiencies.


Pro-Tip by a Graduate Student

Bess Ruff, Recipient of PEO Scholar Award (2021); NSF INTERN Fellowship; Women Divers Hall of Fame Advanced Dive Training Grant

“When writing or talking about the broader impacts of my research, I have found success in being specific. To do this, I find it helpful to frame research within the context of a distinct problem or issue with which a member of the general public (i.e., a reviewer) would be familiar. For example, I contextualize my research on marine aquaculture development through the lenses of a growing global population, rising demand for seafood, and declining wild fisheries. I follow up this framing by highlighting 1) how my work specifically addresses or confronts these issues and 2) who specifically will use and/or benefit from the findings of my work and how. I think this strategy really resonates with reviewers and interviewers because it anchors your research in a narrative they can easily follow, and they can envision the distinct ways in which your research will be impactful. It also shows that you have given deliberate and purposeful consideration to the societal implications of your work. "


Workshop: Successful Funding Proposals

Join Mike Mitchell, Program Manager for The Career Center, Program Manager for Strategic Initiatives and Proposal Development, Office of Research Development in this workshop entitled ”The Ins and Outs of Proposal Writing.” This session goes over the essential points to address in an award application, indicates what to look for in a winning proposal, and provides tips and strategies to support clear, concise, interesting, and persuasive writing.

Workshop: Communicating the Significance of your Research

Explaining your research to a broad audience of fellowship reviewers can be challenging. In this interactive workshop with Dr. McCall, Assistant Director at OGFA, we will practice pitching the significance of your research to your target audience and refining the answer to the elusive “so-what” question.