Proposal Development

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Example Timeline to Develop a Proposal

​​12 - 6 Months Prior to beginning the proposal process

​​Identify relevant program opportunities that appear suitable for your project in terms of their objectives and the awards given to other like-institutions. Conduct continuous, thorough literature review to identify gaps in knowledge and experts in the field. Obtain abstracts from awarded proposals, speak with successful PIs. Begin planning your proposal: identify specific aims of your project based on your literature review, preliminary data, and overall vision of your research project. Give considerations to the corresponding budget needs for each phase or task of your project.

​​3 - 5 Months Prior to Sponsor's Due Date​

​​Obtain final solicitation from funding source and read it very carefully; create a checklist of agency requirements. Notify ORSP. Contact Program Officer (schedule a phone call, or a visit to their office); prepare a one-page, concise overview of your project for the PO to review in advance of the phone call/meeting. Identify and contact collaborators. Begin writing the research plan, put it aside for a bit, then edit, and continue writing.

​2 Months Prior to Sponsor's Due Date

Notify Chair/Dean that a proposal will be submitted to the funder. Work with ORSP to prepare first drafts of budget and budget narrative; notify Dean of any cost-sharing or space needs. Initiate proposal in Funder's web portal; Give ORSP access (NSF, NIH). Request biosketch or CV from senior key personnel, Solicit Letters of Support or Collaboration (there is a difference!). Complete any required training regarding IRB, & Conflict of Interest. Share first drafts for peer review - Incorporate feedback and edits into research plan: rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Prepare/Submit IRB Application, if applicable. Continue writing research plan, finalize project title.

​1 Month Prior to Sponsor's Due Date

Incorporate feedback and edits into research plan: rewrite, and rewrite. Finalize proposal budget with well-defined budget narrative. Work with ORSP to initiate the internal review process​ (i.e., routing).

​2 Weeks Prior to Sponsor's Due Date

​Final budget and proposal complete, ready for proof/polish. Work with ORSP to initiate routing process; review compliance, secure Dean's approval.

​1 Week Prior to Sponsor's Due Date

​Write Abstract/Summary. Continue proof/polish.

5 Business Days Prior to Due Date

​Completed routing form, final budget and proposal received by ORSP.

If the routing form, final budget and the proposal are not received by ORSP at least 5 working days in advance of the deadline, we cannot guarantee timely submission of your proposals. Many funding sources require applicants to upload proposals through a web-portal, hit the Submit button, and then standby for verifications and error messages, which can take anywhere from 5 minutes to as much as 36 hours. Remember, your competition often resides at other institutions across the entire nation; as everyone begins to upload their proposals, the processing time in the web portals slows tremendously, and it is possible to submit, sit in a queue, and still not make the deadline. We want to avoid submitting any proposal on the sponsor's actual due date because its risky, not to mention stressful.

​2-3 Days Prior to Due Date

​The ORSP is authorized to submit all proposals on behalf of Jacksonville University and its faculty. The ORSP will notify faculty when the proposal is submitted, and all verifications are received.

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Proposal Types

Letter of Intent (LOI)

While LOIs do not need to be formally routed for internal approvals, they should be reviewed first by the ORSP, especially if there is any reference to budget requests. Many funding agencies request LOIs so they can prepare in advance and have enough reviewers available to score the full proposals.

Pre-Proposal (Preliminary Proposal, Pre-Application)

Pre-proposals provide greater detail on the scope of the project than the LOI, but not as much as a full proposal would include. Generally, they are used by sponsors to determine eligibility and suitability of the project in advance of inviting a full proposal submission. They normally consist of the project goals, methodology, and proposed budget. These do not have to be routed, but they must be reviewed by the ORSP before submission, particularly because of the budget information being requested by the sponsor.

Full Proposal

This consists of a complete application with all required forms and attachments, and certifications by the ORSP attesting to JU's adherence to federal and state regulations, as well as JU's internal policies. All full proposals must be received by ORSP at least 5 days before the sponsor's deadline to allow for the required internal approval routing process.

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Proposal Classification


The proposal has not been previously submitted to the sponsor.


A proposal that was submitted to the sponsor and not initially selected for funding . Likely, the PI has restructured the original proposal based on reviewer feedback and is resubmitting for the sponsor's consideration.

Non-competing Continuation

Often used for multi-year awards. Suppose a full proposal was awarded $500,000 over 4 years. Although the funding is expected to be disbursed in predetermined amounts each of the four years, awardees may be required to submit continuation proposals in years 2, 3 and 4 so the sponsor can officially release the funding for that new year.

Competing Continuation

A proposal that is based on a previously funded application, and submitted to the sponsor requesting their consideration of renewed funding.

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Application Guidelines/RFPs

The sponsor's request for proposal (RFP) is a key part of the process. Think of it as your road map to a successful submission: it tells you exactly what to include and what not to include in your proposal, where to include it, how to format it, and how to submit the package for review. Do not stray from the RFP and do it your way. While your way may likely be more efficient and logical, you must follow the funding source's directions and templates. Many sponsors place limits on page length, margins, fonts, etc. In a time of increasing competition for limited funding, there is little room for error.

  • Download the online version or print a copy of the application guidelines/RFP from the sponsor.
  • Read the guidelines at least twice, then put them down and walk away for a bit.
  • Come back, and read them again.

The RFP requirements normally take precedence over the generic requirements for a funding agency especially as it pertains to federal sources; often, both must be followed precisely. Most agencies will not even consider a proposal that is incomplete, out of compliance, or late.

Many RFPs also include the basic criteria reviewers will be using to score proposals. To ensure a competitive proposal, carefully review and respond to every item in the review criteria section of a RFP.

Helpful links to common funders’ general guidelines: NSF Guidelines; NIH Grant Process Overview

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Proposal Components


This brief summary gives the reviewer an overview of the project's objectives and methodology and significance. This is one of the most important parts of your proposal: it is often read first, and if it is not well-written, creative or interesting, a reviewer may feel less compelled to read deeper into the proposal. An abstract should clearly state the significance of the project, the goal(s), methods to be used, and a statement on the anticipated outcomes. For NSF, the Project Summary serves as the abstract.

Project Description (Narrative)

The project narrative should be responsive to the RFP, and organized following the same exact headings used in the RFP. This is so reviewers don't have to hunt for the answers to the criteria they are using to score your proposal. Most sponsors indicate the number of pages they will accept, and some dictate acceptable fonts and font size. The narrative should be well-written, well-organized, concise and easy to read. It typically includes the following components: statement of need/intro, project objectives, methodology, evaluation plan, and dissemination of results. Think of your reader and make the content easy to understand; using tables, charts, bullets and graphs are great ways to present your information, sponsor permitting.

References Cited/Bibliography

Here is where you present evidence that you have done your due diligence, and are up to date on the latest findings and research on your given topic. You may cite your own works, and keep in mind your reviewers may possibly be those whom you cite.

Biographical Sketch

Most sponsors have a format or template for submitting the biosketch. Follow their template exactly, and only provide what is being asked for. Never include your home address, private email or home phone number.

Dissemination/Data Management Plan

Sponsors often want to know how the data/results will be collected and securely stored, as well as how the results will be made available to the general public.


JU defines capital equipment as a tangible article that has a useful life of more than one year and an acquisition cost of $5,000 or more. Be sure to clearly justify this expense in your budget narrative.


This is your fiscal expression of your project; every item in the budget should be easily linked to an action in the Project Description, and vice versa. Be realistic about your numbers; avoid padding the budget, and conversely, avoid 'low-balling' the numbers to make your project more appealing to reviewers.

Budget Narrative

This is your written rationale for the numbers given in the budget. Do not skimp on detail; show every calculation, and explain why each item, particularly travel and equipment costs, are critical to carry out your proposed project.

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