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Planning the Successful Federal Proposal

Tomorrow's Research

Message Number: 

... you must demonstrate the urgency to close the gap between what exists now and what ought to be in your special field.


The excerpt below gives some excellent suggestions on how to make

your research proposals compelling and difficult not to fund. It is

from THE "HOW TO" GRANTS MANUAL: Successful Grant-seeking Techniques

for Obtaining Public and Private Grants, By David G. Bauer, Forth


? 1999 by The American Council on Education and The Oryx Press 4041

North Central at Indian School Road, Phoenix, AZ 85012-3397. All rights reserved. Reprinted with



Rick Reis

UP NEXT: How Long Will You Work?

Tomorrow's Research


------------------ 1,213 words -----------------


pp. 115-118



Most grant-seekers begin their proposal with what they propose or

want to do. It is much better to begin by focusing on why there is a

need to do anything at all, including your proposed intervention. To

gain the reviewer's respect, you must show that you are knowledgeable

about the need in a particular area. Your goal in this section of the

proposal is to use articles, studies, and statistics to demonstrate a

compelling reason or motivation to deal with the problem now.

The grantor invariably must choose which proposals to fund this year

and which to reject or put on hold; therefore you must demonstrate

the urgency to close the gap between what exists now and what ought

to be in your special field (see figure 11.1). Your proposed project

will seek to close or reduce this gap.


Figure 11.1


What exists now. What is real What could be. The goal.

What the present situation is. ___________________ The desired state of

affairs, level of



In a research proposal, need documentation involves a search of

relevant literature in the field. The point of the literature search

is to document that there is a gap in knowledge in a particular area.

Currently in the scientific community it is necessary to enhance the

motivation of the reviewer to fund your research project by

suggesting the value of closing the gap, in monetary terms or in

terms of increased knowledge.

In proposals for model projects and demonstration grants, this

section is referred to as the needs statement or need documentation.

To be successful in grant-seeking, you must produce a clear,

compelling picture of the current situation and the desired state.

Grantors are "buying" a changed or better state of affairs.

Creating a sense of urgency depends on how well you document the

need. Since not all proposals can be funded, you must make the

funding source believe that movement toward the desired state cannot

wait any longer. Those proposals that do not get funded did not do as

good a job of

* documenting a real need (perceived as important)

* demonstrating what ought to be (for clients)

* creating the urgent need to close the gap by demonstrating that each

day the need is not addressed the problem grows worse or

that there is

unnecessary suffering, confusion, and/or wasted efforts.


Use the following steps to document a need in a model or demonstration grant:

1. Review the section on performing a needs survey (chapter 2) to assess

whether any of the methods described could help document the need.

2. Use statistics from articles and research (e.g.,

"Approximately __ woman

in the United states were murdered by their husbands or boyfriends last


3. Use quotes from leaders or experts in the field (e.g., "Dr.

Flockmeister said children who are raised in a family with spouse abuse

have a __ percent chance of being abused or of abusing their


4. Use case statements (e.g., "John Quek, a typical client of the family

Outreach Center, was abused as a child and witnessed his

mother and aunt

being abused.").

5. Describe a national need and reduce it to a local number that is more

understandable (e.g., "It is estimated that __ percent of teenagers are

abused by their boyfriend or girlfriend by the time they reach age 17;

this means that at the West Side High School __ seniors in the

graduating class may have already experienced abuse.").

6. State the need in terms of one person (e.g., "The abused spouse

generally has...").

7. Use statements from community people such as police, politicians, and


When documenting what exists in a research grant, include:

1. The latest studies, research articles, and presentations to

demonstrate your currency in the field.

2. Studies that demonstrate the scope and sequence of work in the

field as its current state, and the necessity to answer your proposed

research question before the field can move ahead.

3. A thorough literature search that does not focus only on the

researcher or data that reinforces your research position. Show how

the diversity or conflict in the field reinforces the need to search

an answer to your question.

4. A logical flow of reference to the literature. The flow may

consist of a chronological and conceptual documentation that builds

to the decision to fund your work. Remember, the literature search

should not be a comprehensive treatise in the field that includes

references to every contributor, but rather a convincing

documentation of significant works.


To establish what ought to be, proven statistics may be difficult or

impossible to find. Using experts' statements and quotes to document

what ought to be is much more credible than using your opinion. Do

not put your opinion in the needs statement. In this section you are

demonstrating your knowledge of the filed and showing that you have

surveyed the literature.

Stay away from terms that point to a poorly documented needs

statement. They include the words many and most, and expressions

like, a great number, and, everyone knows the need for. Make sure

your needs statement does not include any of these types of words or


It is relatively easy to say what ought to be in areas such as family

violence or drug abuse, but more difficult when dealing with bench

research. However, it is still important to demonstrate the possible

uses your research could be related to even if you are working in the

hard sciences. Documenting the other side of the gap is a necessity

if you want to close the gap of ignorance in your field.


The needs section should motivate the prospective funding source. One

way to do this is to use the funding source's own studies, surveys,

or statistics. The same basic proposal can be tailored to two

different funding sources by quoting different studies that appeal to

each source's own view of the need. By appealing to the views of

individual sources, you will appear to be the logical choice to close

the gap and move toward reducing the problem.

If the proposal format required by the funding source does not have a

section that deals with your capabilities, the end of the needs

statement is the best place to put your credentials. To make a smooth

transition from the need to your capabilities:

* state that it is the mission of your organization to deal with this problem.

* summarize the unique qualities of your organization that make it

best suited for the job. For example, your organization has the staff

or facilities to make the project work.

* capitalize on the similarities you share with other organizations.

For instance, "Our project will serve as a model to the other

agencies that face this dilemma each day." Such statements will help

the prospective grantor realize that the results of your project

could affect many.

* emphasize that the needs are urgent and that each day they go unmet

the problem grows. For example, "Each year that teacher education

colleges put off comprehensive computer education, a new group of

teachers with limited computer skills enter our schools and the

problem grows.