Organizing and Writing the Proposal

The grant application process may be intimidating or even overwhelming for someone who has not had much experience in this area.  There are many Web sites and publications available that provide useful information and guidance.  Some of the Web sites are available through the GCS Web site and publications can be checked out from the GCS library.

    Most sponsors require the same basic information although the format and forms will vary.  The nature of the information required is usually available in the sponsor’s guidelines.  Although the format varies greatly from one sponsor to the next, the general information usually includes the following elements:


   The cover page is usually a form provided by the sponsor.  It identifies the proposal and is often signed by both the applicant and an official at the University who is authorized to sign for the institution.  Whether an application form is provided or not, the same information is required:

  1. Project title
  2. Sponsor name
  3. Name and contact information of Prinicipal Investigator (PI) or Project Director (PD)
  4. Submission date
  5. Project/funding period
  6. Total funds requested
  7. OGCS contact information
  8. Name, title and contact information of individual authorized to sign for the University (NOTE:  this is NOT the PI, PD, PI's chair or PI's Dean.)
  9. Signatures of the PI/PD and University representative


   This section is optional depending on the length and complexity of the proposal and the requirements of the sponsor.  It provides an outline and assists a reviewer in finding his or her way through the proposal.


   The abstract is a one page summary (approximately 500 words) of the essential information in the proposal.  It should be clear and concise and emphasize:

  • the timeliness, significance and need for the project
  • the specific objectives
  • the general procedures and methods proposed
  • the anticipated impact and expected benefits

   A well-written abstract is very important because some funding decision‑makers may only read this section and the reviewers’ comments.  The applicant should also be aware that some sponsors request that the abstract be written in lay language and not use any jargon or scientific terminology.


   This is sometimes referred to as the narrative section.  It is the main body of the proposal and the section on which the decision is based. It is sometimes referred to as the narrative section. The applicant must use this section to present his or her argument as to why the project should be funded.  The basic idea is expressed, the philosophy or underlying premise is explained, the methods are described, and the ultimate purpose of the data is stated and defended. In this section it is important for the applicant to demonstrate his or her enthusiasm for the project and knowledge of the field, and yet make it understandable to the least knowledgeable of anticipated reviewers.  The project description contains these basic components: 

Introduction: This should be a brief summary of the problem (or need), proposed method of solution, and anticipated outcomes.  The introduction may contain information showing that the applicant is well acquainted with previous and current studies and literature in the field, and that the proposed project will advance or add to the present store of knowledge.  

Problem Statement:  This is a statement of need for the project and the significance of the project.  It defines the project rationale and explains the significance of the proposed idea as it relates to the sponsor’s area of interest. 

Goals and Objectives:  These should be presented in a way that will logically justify the expenditure of funds for the project.  Goals are generally statements that indicate the overall direction of the project and desired outcome. Objectives are specific statements of the expected accomplishments of the proposed.  This section usually includes a description of the outcome in measurable terms and the criteria for measuring the acceptability of the outcome. 

Procedures and Methods:  This is a detailed description of the approach to be used in the proposed activity and may include step-by-step techniques and time estimates. Figures and tables are also frequently useful in clarifying the project.  Proposals with a poorly defined and designed methodology are destined to fail. In general the procedures and methods section will answer the following:  

  • What is going to be accomplished?
  • How is it going to be accomplished?
  • What specific protocols or procedures will be followed?
  • Why were these methods selected?

Evaluation: This section presents the overall evaluation process.  Project evaluation will demonstrate the following: 

  • progress to determine whether the project is being implemented as planned
  • actual outcomes to determine the extent to which the objectives are achieved
  • feedback necessary to assess whether modifications to the project are necessary

Dissemination: Many sponsors, especially private foundations, require a dissemination plan to be included in a proposal.  This section emphasizes any reasonably anticipated outcomes or activities and the how they will be made available to a broad audience.  Dissemination is designed to stimulate ideas, suggestions and constructive criticism from individuals or groups with similar interests.

References: This section should be included only if literature has been cited in the proposal narrative.  The number of references should be kept to a minimum.  


   The total amount requested in the budget is determined by the needs of the project and the limitations set by the sponsor.  It should reflect the activities and associated actual or estimated costs of achieving the objectives stated in the proposal.  In a real sense, the budget is the culmination of the planning process undertaken in the preparation of the proposal.  The budget format should follow the instructions of the sponsor and is frequently required on the sponsor’s form.  For multi-year projects, the budgets are usually broken down for each year, with a separate cumulative total.  Since this is often the most confusing part of proposal preparation, applicants are urged to contact OGCS for assistance.  The budget will include: direct costs; F&A costs; cost sharing/matching; and budget justification. 

Direct Costs: These fall into several categories and are costs that are incurred as a direct result of activities specified in the proposal.  

  • Salaries/Wages:  The applicant may request salaries for any personnel who will be working full- or part-time on the project.  The amount of time an individual will spend on the project is expressed as a percentage of effort.  The sponsor will usually indicate if there are any restrictions associated with the level of support that can be requested (such as a dollar amount or the number of summer months).  Overtime compensation or salary supplementation is usually unallowable.

  • Fringe Benefits:  Different fringe benefit rates apply to the different types of employment at the University.  The rates are subject to change at the beginning of each fiscal year and cover costs such as health insurance, worker’s compensation and retirement contributions.  Fringe benefits are direct costs related to the amount of salary that is requested.  These are not to be confused with F&A costs (see below).   The applicant should check the OGCS Web site for the current rate or contact his or her departmental administrative assistant or OGCS for assistance.

  • Expendable Supplies:  This category may also be referred to as consumables, materials, or M&O (materials and operations).  It consists of items purchased for office, laboratory and/or instructional purposes that are directly related to the project activities.  Applicants should be aware of the difference between “supplies” and “equipment” (see the Equipment section below for a definition).  Items that do not meet the definition of Equipment must be purchased as supplies, regardless of how they will be used in the execution of the project.
  • Equipment:  Each equipment item the applicant intends to purchase, should the proposal be approved, must be listed in this section.  Sponsors are reluctant to approve the purchase of equipment unless it is clearly indicated as essential to the performance of a specific task or activities set forth in the proposal.  Sponsors may also restrict or prohibit equipment purchases.  Under most circumstances, equipment cannot be purchased from a grant or contract unless the specific item was listed in the proposal budget.  The University’s definition of equipment is any stand-alone item that costs $5,000 or more and has a life expectancy of one year or more.
  • Travel: The applicant may request funds for domestic and foreign travel if allowed by the sponsor.  The type and extent of travel should be clearly related to specific objectives of the project, and details should be presented in the Budget Justification.  The State of Texas and the UT System have set maximum meal and lodging rates, established rental car agreements, and contracted for reduced airline fares.  The rates are found in the latest UTA Traveler's Aid and in various memoranda of the UTA Business Office Travel Section.  It is best to contact them for current rates and travel requirements when making travel estimates.  Allowances for meals and lodging outside the continental U.S. are determined by the Department of Defense Joint Travel Regulations for Civilian Personnel, Appendix A.  Again, this publication is available in the Travel Section of the Business Office for estimating foreign travel.
  • Publication Costs: Included in this category are the costs of preparing and publishing the results of the activities conducted under the sponsored project, including reports, reprints, page charges, necessary illustrations (art work, graphics, photography), etc.
  • Subcontracts: This category contains any contractual arrangements to be entered into by the University with another university or a company should the award be made.  Evidence must be provided that the other entity is aware of the proposed subcontract.  This may be in the form of a letter of intent to subcontract, that includes a statement or scope of work and a budget.  The sponsor will indicate in their guidelines whether subcontracts are allowed and, if so, the documentation that is required to be included in the proposal.
  • Consultants:  If the applicant plans to use a specific person as a consultant, that person should be named in the proposal.  Consultant services should be justified and information should be furnished on the consultant's expertise, primary organizational affiliation, compensation rate, and number of days or percent of time expected to serve.  Consultants are non-UTA employees.
  • Other Direct Costs: These may include payment to human subjects, duplicating fees, service charges, repair and maintenance contracts on major equipment, computer time, long-distance telephone and fax charges.  These items must be listed in the budget or budget justification.

F&A Costs:  F&A, or indirect costs (IDC),are probably the most difficult part of a proposal for applicants to understand.  Applicants are strongly encouraged to contact OGCS for assistance in preparing the budget, especially in calculating the indirect costs. 

  • Definition:  Indirect costs (also referred to as F&A [Facilities and Administrative] costs or overhead) are costs that are common to a number of activities and cannot be easily assigned to a specific project.  They are real costs and include areas such as: administration (University and departmental); facilities maintenance and operation (utilities, janitorial services and repairs); and depreciation and use allowance. The rates that apply for the University are negotiated and established by the federal government, and are subject to change each fiscal year. The OGCS Web site contains information on the current rates.
  • Calculation:  The F&A costs for a project are calculated by applying a specific rate to a portion of the direct costs.  If the full F&A rate is allowed by the sponsor, the University rate is applied to the modified total direct cost (MTDC).  The MTDC is equal to the total direct costs minus equipment, tuition/stipends, and any subcontract amounts over $25,000. If the sponsor restricts the F&A cost rate, the sponsor rate is applied according to sponsor's published F&A policy.  OGCS requires that sponsor guidelines indicating restricted or prohibited F&A cost rates be included with the proposal.

Cost-Sharing: Some sponsors require that the grantee institution commit to share in the overall cost of the project.  Any cost-share commitment must be approved by the applicant’s chair, dean and the Vice President for Research.  In addition, UTA account numbers must be provided and approved as indicated on the Cost-share Authorization Form (available on the OGCS Web site).  While the University will generally support mandatory cost-share if it is deemed overall to be beneficial to the University, voluntary cost-share is discouraged.  The OGCS Web site contains the most current Cost Sharing Policy.  Cost-share can be provided in a number of ways, some of which may be specified by the sponsor.

  • Contributed Effort: If salary has not been requested for an individual who will be working on the project, the amount of salary the University pays for that individual to spend that amount of effort on the project is considered contributed effort. This should include the appropriate fringes in addition to the salary.  (Account number required.)
  • In-Kind:  This is support by the University or an outside entity in the form of facilities, supplies, and/or time.  A dollar value is assigned to this contribution but an actual dollar amount is not donated.
  • Matching Funds:  These are actual funds that are set aside for the project and may be provided by the University and/or an external entity.  (Account number required.)
  • Unrecovered F&A Costs:  This category can be used as cost-share if allowed by the sponsor.  It is the difference between what the University would recover if the full indirect cost were allowed by the sponsor and what the sponsor actually allows.  It consists of the indirect costs on the total modified direct cost of the project (i.e. the direct costs requested from the sponsor plus all the cost-share amounts less excluded amounts—see “F&A Cost Calculation”) less the F&A costs allowed by the sponsor.

Budget Justification: This is the section in which all costs, especially any unusual costs, associated with the proposal must be presented and explained.  Some sponsors will ask that specific categories or requests be detailed in the budget justification.  The narrative should be straight-forward and show clearly how the budget item relates to the work described in the project.


   The sponsor will often indicate the specific information they require about the applicant and other individuals listed on the proposal.  The biographical sketch may include the standard background information (such as employment and education) but may also contain information about the applicant’s experiences in mentoring graduate students.  The number of relevant publications listed in this section may also be restricted by the sponsor.  It is important that the applicant follow the guidelines for this section carefully.

Biographical Sketch Templates:
(1) NIH Template
(2) NSF Template


   The sponsor may request information on any existing awards or pending proposals on which any of the key personnel in the proposal have been listed.  It is important for the applicant to realize the sponsor will look closely at the amount of time each person has committed to the current proposal relative to the amount of time that has already been committed for other projects.


    The applicant should present in this section information regarding the environment, equipment and support services available for performance of the project.  The applicant cannot commit to construction or renovation of specialized facilities or areas unless he or she has gone through the proper channels within the University to obtain official approval. Facilities Template.


   Some projects involve work that requires review and approval by designated committees.  These approvals are necessary to comply with University and sponsor policies and may be required before the proposal is submitted or reviewed by the sponsor.  The OGCS Web site contains more detailed information about the policies and procedures for approvals as well as application forms.  Any project that involves the following requires special approval.


   All research that involves human subjects must be approved by the University’s Human Research Review Committee (HRRC).  Some sponsors refer to this committee as the Institutional Review Board, or IRB.  HRRC approval is required for any project that involves human subjects, regardless of whether or not external funds have been requested for the project.


    All research that involves vertebrate animals must be approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC).  As with human subjects, any project that involves vertebrate animals, regardless of whether or not external funds have been requested for the project, required IACUC approval.


    Research that involves potentially hazardous materials, such as toxic chemicals, infectious organisms, and recombinant DNA, must be reviewed and approved by the University’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety.  Any questions regarding the classification of hazardous materials and the procedures for obtaining approval should be directed to that office.


   The use of radioactive materials in any project must be approved by the University’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety.  This approval is separate from any approvals for the use of other hazardous materials.


   Intellectual property is any invention, discovery, technology, creation, development, or other form of expression of an idea that arises from the activities of the researcher, whether or not the subject matter is protectable under the patent, trademark or copyright laws.  The University of Texas System has an Intellectual Property Policy handbook that is available at Office of Technology Management.  Under this policy, when intellectual property results from work performed on University time, using University facilities, or with any University support, any invention or discovery that the creator believes may be patentable must be submitted for consideration through the UTA Intellectual Property Committee.  If the System does not desire to exploit its interest in the intellectual property, whether by seeking patent protection or otherwise, the creator is notified, and is thereafter free to deal with the intellectual property as he/she chooses.  Additional information on this issue is available on the GCS Web site.