Step 1: Planning a Proposal

Planning and developing a competitive proposal require dedicated professional commitment. It often begins with a literature search to determine critical gaps and how your proposal advances knowledge and impacts your field of investigation. You will be evaluated on your publication and funding history, professional capabilities to lead the project and successfully oversee the proposed specific aims, and institutional capacity for oversight and fiscal monitoring. Each prospective sponsoring agency has mission-specific priorities that often emphasize innovation and impact. Your goal is to prepare a meritorious, well-designed and articulated proposal that corresponds with those priorities, has broad impact on the field of investigation and is worthy of external peer-review.

The following is a guide and rational progression of tasks specific to the Planning Stage for an extramural government grant proposal.

  1. Conduct a literature search for your topic or field of investigation.
  2. Contemplate your hypotheses and proposal design relative to your research and the current literature.
  3. Institutional student demographics may be needed to support your hypotheses.
  4. Identify disciplinary expertise and professionals (internal/external colleagues) needed to successfully achieve your intended goals/objectives.
  5. Determine what resources, e.g., equipment, laboratories are needed and available to successfully conduct your research.
  6. Use the search engines in Find Funding to locate potential grant opportunities.
  7. Review previously funded proposals (a) found under NIH or NSF Resources (b) located via a google search, or (c) obtained from a trusted colleague.
  8. Draft and submit a concept paper (1-2 pages) to the GSP for review and schedule an appointment with the University Director of GSP to discuss your project as an early feasibility measure.
  9. Re-draft your proposal as needed and send to a preferred sponsoring agency contact (i.e., Program Officer) to schedule a phone consultation. This will determine if your proposal is a good match with the agency’s top priorities and if it coordinates with a specific grant type or program solicitation.
  10. Discuss the outcome of your agency communication with the GSP, and a timeline to meet the proposed deadline.
  11. Internal leadership pre-authorizations (now online) are required and must be initiated at least two weeks prior to submission. During this process any unique requirements should be disclosed, e.g., cost-sharing, released time, and/or proposed technology, infrastructure, equipment, and any purchases that will have an ongoing fiscal impact on University resources must be pre-authorized, e.g., equipment that is non-conforming, large-scale or specialized.
  12. Investigate and understand the peer-review process specific to the identified sponsoring agency, e.g., NSF, and guidance on the re-submission process.

Remember, applying for government grants is highly competitive and will often result in one or more failed attempts – do not be discouraged. The written, peer-reviewed critique will serve as an important guide in preparing your revised proposal.


The formal solicitation provides important information on the evaluation criteria and scoring mechanism (e.g., point system) used by a panel of disciplinary peers to evaluate the merit of your proposal. Ignoring the significance of evaluation criteria often results in poor peer-review outcomes. Even well-prepared proposals will meet with steep competition, and first attempts are likely to be unsuccessful. Consequently, the reviewers’ critique will prove invaluable for building a more responsive, innovative and competitive proposal/re-submission.  Remember, reviewers are volunteers, often burdened with many proposals and have limited time for review. Reviewers will quickly lose interest when proposals are less innovation or dynamic, do not conform with the prescribed agency proposal elements and format, and lack relevant literature citations, as examples. Some sponsoring agencies, e.g., NIH Peer-Review and NSF Merit Review, provide a well-vetted and documented process; other agencies are less transparent and may now even provide for a written critique. However, understanding review methodology remains a critical measurement of preparedness.

Research Compliance

Three (3) research compliance areas of significance for FDU faculty are listed below. The first two are required prior to submission of a federal proposal. Please refer to Compliance for detailed information, and/or contact the FDU Compliance Manager.

  1. Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) Training:  All faculty engaged in funded or unfunded research and mentorship activities are required to complete online training in RCR within your disciplinary field using the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) tool. FDU will be developing RCR courseware for comprehensive in-person training as mandated by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
  2. Conflict of Interest (COI) in Research: Investigators submitting federal proposals must review the policy on COI in Research, and submit a Significant Financial Interests (SFI) disclosure prior to formal proposal submission.
  3. Human Subject Protections/Institutional Review Board (IRB): Investigators are encouraged to confer with the IRB prior to formal submission to determine if your proposal meets the definition of human subjects research consistent with Human Subject Protections Regulations Code 45 CFR Part 46.  However, final IRB approval is not required at time of submission, but is required prior to the onset of federally-sponsored research.