Proposal Development for Graduate Students


Key Proposal Strategies

  • Give yourself plenty of time. Writing a winning proposal takes several weeks, even months.
  • Be familiar with general grant terms: REPAs, IRBs, RCE & More Acronyms
  • Carefully evaluate the funding agency and the specific guidelines for the grant for which you are applying. Choose a funder whose mission statement fits your type of research. Then tailor your proposal to fit the review criteria of the funding agency. 
  • Use simple, non-discipline specific language. Avoid jargon. Review committees are comprised of scholars from a variety of disciplines. Your proposal needs to be accessible to a general, educated audience.
  • Collaborate: Share your proposal with other graduate students. Give it to your adviser to review. And collaborate with grad students outside of your department (see the Collaborate section of this site). Because review committees draw from a wide variety of academic disciplines, you will only benefit from working with other students and professors from outside your own department. 
  • Revise, rewrite, edit, proofread, and re-edit. Be meticulous about writing, spelling, and punctuation. Don't allow your dissertation or major project to go unfunded because of typos or sloppy formatting.
  • Your application must be submitted on time. Funders will not consider any late applications.
  • View additional writing resources and tips. 

The University Libraries offers hands-on and online workshops co-sponsored by the Office for the Vice President for Research (OVPR)

Funding search engine online training and support:

Introduction to Grant Resources at the University of Minnesota Libraries (video)

Foundation Directory Walk-Through

Internal Funding Walk-Through

International Opportunities Walk-Through

Pivot Walk-Through

SPIN Walk-Through

Web of Science Walk-Through

Additionally, research development workshops, roundtables, and presentation are offered throughout the year for Graduate Students to gain exposure and knowledge to the research happening at the University of Minnesota.

Writing Proposals for ACLS Fellowship Competitions, by Christina M. Gillis

U of Michigan's Proposal Writers Guide

A helpful overview of the various sections of proposals. Don't miss the "why proposals are rejected" section.

Social Science Research Council, Art of Writing Proposals

An essay offering sound advice for those writing social science proposals or proposals in the arts and humanities.

10 Red Flags in Grant Writing

Advice from Jude Mikal, a research scientist at the University of Minnesota, and Sarah Grace,  a Ph.D. student and teaching and learning resource specialist in the Office of Academic Affairs at the University of Arizona. Mikal has worked for 10 years as an on-site grant reviewer, consulting with faculty and designing programs aimed at educating faculty on best practices in grant-proposal writing.

Foundation Centers Short Course

Grantspace, a service of Foundation Center, offers a number of on-demand trainings regarding searching for grants, project budget, proposal writing and more.

Grant Proposal Writing by Stephen Wilbers

Advice from a local writing expert.

NIH Application Tips

Lots of good advice for everyone here, including non-scientists.

NSF Guidelines

Full instructions for preparing NSF proposals.

Suggestions for Building a Strategic Budget

A proposals budget is a careful calculation and documentation of all the money needed to conduct a proposed project. It has two parts: budget and budget justification. Both are important elements of a persuasive proposal.

A persuasive budget flows logically from the proposal's research and methods. It is broken into one-year segments and presents each line item separately.

A strategic budget accurately fits the proposed project. In review, an unrealistically skimpy or unduly padded budget can count heavily against the project. An unrealistic budget suggests that the investigators don't know what they're doing.

The budget is both an estimate and a firm offer on the part of the University. Once an award has been made, changes to the budget must be renegotiated in light of the funders guidelines.

Some sponsors establish dollar limits for first-year direct costs, with maximum increases for following years. Proposals that exceed the limits may be rejected.

A strategic budget complies with the sponsor's guidelines. If the sponsor will not allow office equipment purchases, or limits such costs as travel or publication support, follow the instructions!

Do not neglect to include indirect costs. Check the F&A (indirect) Cost Rate Chart for current rates. If the sponsor allows only a certain rate, get that rate in writing and submit the document to SPA with your proposal.

Use current inflation and fringe rates. EGMS will automatically calculate correct rates for budgets prepared online.

Budget Justification

Most federal agencies require applicants to justify the need for each budget line item. To identify which items must be justified and what information to include, read the grant application instructions carefully. The budget justification is usually a separate prose section of the project description. When the justifications are brief and straightforward, they may be inserted in the budget itself beneath each line item.

Generally, one should justify the following costs:

Personnel (position title, % effort or person months, name of each person if known)

Fringe benefits (list rates used)

Honoraria (by name of each person, if known)

Travel (destinations, durations, transportation, lodging, meals)

Equipment (individual pieces listed separately)

Materials (specific types)

Subcontracts (name of company, tasks, duration)

F&A (indirect) cost rates and base.

Special categories related to the project, such as photocopying or reproduction; fees (e.g., at archives), consultants, participant incentives, etc.

Building Your Budget: Links to Useful Information

Facilities and Administration Rates (F&A), sometimes referred to as Indirect Cost Rate (IDC)

U of M Policy Library

Charging of Direct and Facilities and Administrative (Indirect) Costs

U of M Travel Services, contains rates and policy information.