Common Proposal Elements

Most funding agencies specify proposal forms and formats and provide guidance about content, page limitations, and the number of copies that are to be submitted.

The funding agency guidelines should be strictly adhered to when preparing and submitting a proposal. Proposals typically contain the following elements:

Cover Page

Most agencies specify the format for the cover page and provide special forms to summarize basic administrative and fiscal data for the project. If a funder does not issue a printed form or require a specific format, NU-RES can issue a signed cover letter to include with the application.

Abstract/Project Summary

The abstract project summary describes the major objectives of the proposed research and serves a variety of purposes. Agencies often use the abstract project summary in assigning the proposal to the appropriate study section for review. Reviewers use the abstract project summary to gain an initial perspective of the key concept of the study and its significance. After funding is secured, the abstract project summary may be used for entry into national databases.

Project Description/Scope of Work

This section is the most important part of any proposal and is the primary concern of the technical reviewers. The scope should include sufficient information needed for evaluation of the project, independent of any other documents. It should include an explanation of the objectives in clear and concise terms and a description of the procedures to be followed in carrying out the project’s objectives.

References Cited

Reference information for sources cited in the proposal is typically required. References should include names of authors, the article and journal-title, book title, volume number, page number, and year of publication.


The budget sets forth the project costs and usually consists of a form or spreadsheet with the budget detailed as line items and a budget narrative (also known as a budget justification) that explains the various expenses.

Biographical Sketch

A biosketch is a brief outline of a researcher’s curriculum vitae (CV) and is typically required for all key personnel. The biosketch highlights specific research experience, related publications, and other important biographical information with regard to the professional personnel.

Current and Pending

Most funding agencies require information on the present support and pending proposal of key personnel. The same type of information must be supplied both for active awards and for pending proposals and typically includes the funding agency of the project, project title, project period, total project costs, the effort devoted by the investigator.

Facilities and Resources

This section of the proposal identifies and describes the facilities and resources that will be used in the proposed research. If there are multiple performance sites, then resources available at each site should be described.

Additional documents, when applicable and/or required by funding agency, may include:

  • Cost sharing commitment letter(s)
  • Consultant commitment letter(s)
  • Subrecipient commitment letters(s) and proposal(s) (Statement of Work, Budget, Budget Justification, etc.) signed by the Subrecipient’s Authorized Institutional Representative
  • Certifications and Representations
  • Data Management Plan
  • Human Subject, Vertebrate Animal Research documentation
  • Letters of Support

Last Updated on March 29, 2024