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Elements Found in Most Successful Proposals

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The following list (collected from various sources and provided by Rebecca Claycamp, assistant chair, Department of Chemistry, University of Pittsburgh), may help principal investigators anticipate areas where their proposals could be strengthened. 

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Elements Found in Most Successful Proposals 

General Considerations 

1. Relates to the purposes and goals of the applicant agency. 
2. Strictly adheres to the content and format guidelines of the applicant agency. 
3. Is directed toward the appropriate audience--i.e., those who will review the proposal. 
4. Obviously addresses the review criteria of the funding source. 
5. Is interesting to read. 
6. Uses a clear, concise, coherent writing style, free of jargon, superfluous information, and undefined acronyms -- i.e., it's easy to read. 
7. Is organized in a logical manner that is easy to follow. 
8. Calls attention to the most significant points in the proposal through the use of underlining, differences in type, spacing, titles, and appropriate summaries. 
9. Is paginated from beginning to end, including appendix when directly appended to the proposal.
10. Makes appropriate use of figures, graphs, charts, and other visual materials. 
11. Is meticulously proofread so that it has few (if any) grammatical errors, misspellings, or typos.

The Proposal 

12. Has title that is appropriate, descriptive, and (perhaps) imaginative. 
13. Unless it is brief, has a table of contents that is straight-forward and accurate. 
14. Has a clear, concise, informative abstract that can stand alone. 
15. Has clearly stated goals and objectives that are not buried in a morass of narrative. 
16. Follows naturally from previous/current programs or research. 
17. Documents the need to be met or problems to be solved by the proposed project. 
18. Indicates that the project's hypotheses rest on sufficient evidence and are conceptually sound. 
19. Clearly describes who will do the work (who), the methods that will be employed (how), which facilities or location will be used (where), and a timetable of events (when). 
20. Justifies the significance and/or contribution of the project on current scientific knowledge or a given population of people or a body of writing/art. 
21. Includes appropriate and sufficient citations to prior work, ongoing studies, and related literature. 
22. Establishes the competence and scholarship of the individual(s) involved. 
23. Does not assume that reviewers "know what you mean." 
24. Makes no unsupported assumptions. 
25. Discusses potential pitfalls and alternative approaches. 
26. Presents a plan for evaluating data or the success of project. 
27. Is of reasonable dimensions not trying to answer all the questions at once. 
28. Proposes work which can be accomplished in the time allotted. 
29. Demonstrates that the individual(s) and the organization are qualified to perform the proposed project; does not assume that the applicant agency "knows all about you." 
30 Includes vitae which demonstrate the credentials required (e.g., do not use promotion and tenure vitae replete with institutional committee assignments for a research proposal.) 
31. Documents facilities necessary for the success of the project. 
32. Includes necessary letters of support and other supporting documentation. 
33. Includes a bibliography of cited references. 

The Budget 

34. Has a budget which corresponds to the narrative: all major elements detailed in the budget are described in the narrative and vice versa. 
35. Has a budget sufficient to perform the tasks described in the narrative. 
36. Has a budget which corresponds to the applicant agency's guidelines with respect to content and detail.