Winthrop University: Grants and Sponsored Research Development - Proposal Development

Proposal Development

GSRD is happy to assist you in preparing your proposal. We provide information, training, and one-on-one support to faculty and staff who are developing a proposal. We will help you navigate the proposal submission process and create a work plan to meet the internal and external deadlines.
View these steps for general guidelines on how the proposal development process flows.


Parts of a Proposal

Proposals for external funding usually have the essential sections described below. This is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the sponsor's requirements. Read and re-read your request for proposal to make sure that you include all items that each individual sponsor requires.

Cover Letter

  • Required or optional
  • Information normally includes: name, title, institution and address, phone number, email address, funding opportunity title and number, project title, brief project summary
  • Length:
    • Usually no longer than one page
    • Follow sponsor's instructions

Abstract / Executive Summary / Project Summary / Project Description

  • Extremely important element
  • First and last impression of project
  • Summarizes project significance, goals and objectives, methodology, evaluation, impact of work
  • Does not include tables, figures, charts, or graphs
  • Length:
    • Usually no longer than a page
    • Sponsor may specify set number of lines or words


  • Establishes the University's credibility to undertake the proposed project
  • Highlights strengths that will directly benefit the sponsor
  • Provides pertinent data about the University's capacity to support the project including resources, demonstrated expertise in research or project area, and unique capabilities invaluable to the success of the project
  • States University's mission, goals, and success stories
  • Length:
    • Usually no longer than a page
    • Sponsor may specify set number of lines or words

Problem Statement / Background / Significance

  • Selective literature review
  • Provides significant statistical data on current status of relevant area
  • Identifies problem or gap in knowledge, programs, methods, etc. that your project will address
  • States what issue you are addressing and why it matters
  • Demonstrates how you will build on what has already been done
  • Shows how your approach will be original
  • PI may include own data related to or preliminary to proposed project
  • Length: Varies / Read sponsor's guidelines

Specific Aims / Goals and Objectives / Purpose of Project

  • Goals: broad, general, primary outcome, overall strategy, vision
  • Objective: precise actions taken to achieve goal; SMART: specific, measureable, attainable, realistic, time-bound
  • Central hypothesis of a research proposal
  • Research questions
  • Length: Varies / Read sponsor's guidelines

Project Plan / Research Plan / Research Strategy / Methodology / Approach / Statement of Work

  • Heart of the proposal
  • Connects the aims/goals with the activities
  • Addresses the actions taken to solve the stated problem
  • Answers what and how project will be done
  • Clearly describes activities, resources, processes
  • Includes a timeline with milestones
  • Discusses expected outcomes
  • Describes qualified personnel and tasks to be performed
  • May include visual aids including tables, charts, graphs, Gantt charts, Logic Models to graphically display project process
  • Highlights innovative, cutting-edge features
  • Includes constraints, limitations, potential challenges
  • Length: Varies / Read sponsor's guidelines

Evaluation Plan

  • Two types
    • Formative: assesses project activities and their effectiveness throughout the life of the project
    • Summative: measures outcomes, effectiveness, and project impact on the problem
  • May require external evaluator
  • Length: Varies / Read sponsor's guidelines

Dissemination Plan

  • Answers what will be shared, how it will be shared, with whom, when, and where
  • Discusses resources available and potential dissemination partners
  • Addresses potential barriers to communication
  • Length: Varies / Read sponsor's guidelines

Sustainability Plan

  • Contains a clear, long-term vision for the project (Key: early planning for this during project development)
  • Determines funding strategy for institutional support, extramural funding, other resources
  • Involves engaging key partners throughout the process
  • Length: Varies / Read sponsor's guidelines


  • Provides funding agency with a clear picture of your anticipated financial needs
  • Go to Budget Preparation page
  • Length: Sponsor may have specific form or format for the budget. Read guidelines.

Budget Justification / Budget Narrative

  • Details for what, how, when, and why the funds requested are to be used
  • Go to Budget Preparation page
  • Length: Sponsor may have specific form or format for the budget justification. Read guidelines.

References / Bibliography

  • Placed at the end of the text
  • Uses consistent style throughout
  • Length: Usually no page limit or limit may be included in entire page limit for proposal. Read sponsor's guidelines

Appendix / Supporting Materials

  • Supports the proposal but there is no space to include in its body
  • Letters of Support
  • Biographical Sketches, CVs, or Resumes
  • Past, Current, and Pending Support
  • Technical Documents
  • Advertising Documents
  • Surveys or Other Questionnaires
  • Informed Consent Forms
  • Miscellaneous charts, graphs, tables, and other illustrations
  • Length: Varies. Read sponsor's guidelines.

See The Components of a Proposal — How to Successfully Win Grants (PDF - 735 KB) for a detailed tutorial on proposal development.


More Information

Visit these websites for more information on grant writing:


Go to Budget Preparation

Last Updated: 8/1/19