A Check List: Developing A Competitive Proposal

  1. Begin with an idea; toss it around with colleagues on your campus and elsewhere.
    (Without a good idea...no proposal is competitive.)

  2. Write a one-paragraph goal statement: what would you like to have accomplished in the next five years/three years.
    (The process of developing a proposal is the same as developing a road-map for the future for your life as scholar.)

  3. Consider issues of timing; is this the right time in your professional life, for your personal life?
    (With a five/three year plan, you can consider options and opportunities.)

  4. Think about what will be needed to realize this anticipated future.
    (What does your resume look like now?)

  5. Write a one-paragraph need statement: what needs to be different, in classroom and lab, in your research.
    (Again [as with #2], an undertaking that duplicates what you are already doing in respect to your scholarly endeavors.)

  6. Begin a portfolio into which everything relating to your idea, goals, and plans is collected.
    (At some point in the process of developing the proposal, you will need to document how and why this project will make a difference...to whom.)

  7. Rewrite statements of goal and of need; share with colleagues.
    (Proposals are reviewed by colleagues; the process of developing a proposal should also involve colleagues.)

  8. Review those statements, and prepare a draft plan of action for the proposed project.
    (There comes a point, after thinking about goals and needs, when it is important to think about specifics...to move beyond vision to plan.)

  9. Think about the larger context for your project.
    (Again, the specific plan must be contextual: why does this have to be done, be done now, to whom will it make a difference and how will they know?)

  10. Prepare a timeline for proposal preparation, including:

    • identifying who can provide what assistance on your campus

    • identifying colleagues elsewhere who will have valuable advice and counsel

    • reviewing materials from funding agencies

    • contacting and working with funding agencies

    • drafting and vetting each section of the proposal

    • determining what appendices/supporting documents will be needed

    • understand institutional polices for proposal submission and grants administration.

    (It should take about six months to come to this point: wrestling with an idea, sharing with colleagues, thinking about timing and context.)

  11. Think about what will happen after the grant is awarded, after the project is completed, after the grant period.
    (Any single project should make sense in relation to the professional and personal future/s for those to be involved.)

  12. Identify potential funding sources and study guidelines.
    (The 'driver' for the project should be the idea, not what agencies are funding; yet it is critical to know about agency priorities, programs, and policies.)

  13. Prepare first complete draft:

    • goal: what you intend to accomplish

    • need: what problem you propose to address; what questions to ask; hypotheses to explore

    • plan of action: aims and methods to achieve goals

    • evaluation: how you will know if you succeed or not; if you will have made a difference

    • dissemination: who needs to know about your project and how will they know

    • budget/timetable: what will it take to achieve the goals, in money and time.

    (If the process has worked to this point, some of the above already exists in embryonic form; the process of proposal development is, in part, putting on paper some of the dreaming and discussing that has already taken place.)

  14. Bake bread.
    (A metaphor for taking time to pause and reflect-- on vision and need, plan and priorities.)

  15. Review specific sections (budget, evaluation, dissemination) with on-campus experts.
    (Few people take advantage of all available resources to develop a competitive proposal.)

  16. Assemble appendices/supporting documents.
    (These are activities that often are left to the last minute, but in reality require much thought and time.)

  17. Reread guidelines; contact agency staffers.
    (A proposal that does not follow guidelines goes immediately on the 'no' pile; agency staffers can become colleagues in the process of translating an idea into an meaningful project).

  18. Prepare final draft; get wide vetting. Ask for comments from colleague who have a fresh view on the project.
    (Now the work becomes serious, and significant time needs to be set aside.)

  19. Diagram the relationship between the parts, using a grid, 3x5 cards, a computer.
    (Make certain that there is visible a 'thin-red-line' of clarity and intent that links: goals, aims and objectives, strategies and steps, budget and time-table.)

  20. Bake bread.
    (Understand the value of letting the text sit, of reviewing as if it were a piece of scholarly writing.)

  21. Reread proposal; get all ducks in a row.
    (What are the potential red-flags, in regard to agency priorities, institutional/departmental priorities, relationship of this work to that of others-- on your campus and beyond?)

  22. Ask yourself questions that reviewers will be asking.
    (Does this project fit into agency priorities; how does it relate to the work of others; are the right questions being asked [what is the evidence that these are the right questions...]?)

  23. Judge the writing as though it were an essay presented by a freshman student.
    (Does the care with which the proposal is presented reflect the capacity of the proposers to undertake quality work?)

  24. Mail and celebrate the completion of a scholarly endeavor!