Proposal Planning

On this page:

Prepare to Write
Coordinate with Campus Resources
Best Practices in Proposal Planning
Develop a Proposal Submission Strategy
Proposal Planning and Writing Resources (Federal Sponsors)

Prepare to Write

The next step in the proposal lifecycle is to plan the development and submission of your proposal. This will ensure that your proposal is well written, responsive to the Request for Proposals (RFP) and that it is complete and ready for submission by the deadline. Consider the following questions before you begin to write.

• What do I want to do and why do I want to do it?
• What are the short-term and long-term objectives and outcomes of my work?
• How will I execute my project? Are the facilities and resources I need available?
• What does success look like? How will I evaluate and assess my progress?
• Does my project require expertise I don't have? If so, can I form strategic collaborations?
• Can I make a case for feasibility based on previously published or preliminary work?
• Do I have alternative approaches in mind, if my hypothesis is not supported or my objectives are not attainable?
• If awarded, will I be able to commit the necessary level of effort to the project?

Coordinate with Campus Resources

Your departmental/unit business office

The UA provides both distributed and centralized assistance for proposal administration and development. When planning to develop and submit a proposal, please contact your departmental research administrator or business manager. The content in this section is expanding and will be updated throughout the year, contact us with updates. 

Research Development Services

  • We support UA faculty in the development of a technically sound, responsive, and competitive proposal narrative. We coordinate with you and your departmental/unit business office to work within the established timeline. To learn more about our services, visit How to Engage RDS .
Planning a large/complex proposal?
Large and complex proposals benefit from extensive pre-planning and management. To learn best practices visit:
Large/Complex Proposals

Best Practices in Proposal Planning

Why proposals fail

These are some of the most common reasons why proposals fail.

  • Failure to address sponsor requirements
  • Lack of experience/track record
  • High-risk project with no contingency plan
  • Lack of clarity
  • Proposal is not compliant (e.g. line spacing, pages)
  • Lack of front-end planning
  • Lack of rationale for project aims/objectives
  • Lack of identified pitfalls (potential problems) and proposed alternatives
  • Lack of a clear evaluation and monitoring plan
  • Proposed activities do not align with project aims/objectives

Describe your competitive advantage

Seek opportunities in your proposal to describe how you, your collaborators, your research, and your environment differentiate you from your competitors. Also consider timing: Why is now the perfect time to do your proposed project?

Personnel-related Advantages

  • Unique capabilities, competencies, and strengths
  • Effective management style (Particularly important for large/complex, multi-investigator proposals)
  • Exemplary past performance
  • Productive publication record (For collaborative proposals, productive record of joint publications)
  • “Thought leadership” in chosen field

Technical Advantages

  • Original technical approach
  • One-of-a-kind instrumentation
  • Rare access to instrumentation

Institutional Advantages

Regional Advantages


Pay attention to the structure

Depending on the funding source, requests for proposal (RFPs) vary on proposal structure: some give detailed instructions whereas others are vague. That said, the following best practices apply to all proposals.

  • Mirror the RFP’s section numbers, titles, and terminology
  • Number or title sections and refer to them this way. Don’t use “See above” or “See below”
  • Clarify vague language in the RFP with your Program Officer, e.g., for NIH proposals, where should preliminary data be included?
  • Respect page limits, i.e., don’t use other proposal components (e.g., Appendices) to expand on your proposal narrative.

Write, review and revise

One of the most effective ways to increase your competitiveness for funding is to have your draft proposal reviewed by your peers. The following guidance has been adapted from industry-wide best practices in business development.

  • Strategy Review: Also known as a “pink team” review is a critical review of your idea, this review focuses on the principal ideas and scope of the project. The pink team review can identify major gaps or deficiencies, and significantly improve the design of your proposed work. It should also identify missing elements, which may cause you to reorganize your proposal.
  • Full-Proposal Review: Also known as a “red team” review, this is a critical review of your complete draft. This review focuses on how well your written proposal responds to the requirements of the RFP. The red team review can identify missing elements and weak sections. Critiques should highlight deficiencies in the flow of the document rather than the approach.
  • Final Review: Also known as a “gold team” review, this is a critical review of your final draft, this review focuses on the details such as use of acronyms, terminology, figures and tables, formatting, spelling, and grammar. The gold team review can catch minor errors that could leave reviewers with a negative impression

Pink, red, and gold team reviewers read the RFP prior to evaluating your work to understand the requirements and apply the same review criteria that will be used by the agency’s review committee. Consider including the following types of members on your peer review teams:

  • Peers in your field of research
  • Peers in a different, but related, field of research
  • Peers with no specialized knowledge of your field of research
  • Peers who have received funding from the agency you are applying to

Additional tips

  • Be considerate of your peer reviewers, allow them enough time to read the RFP and your draft, and be able to provide critical feedback.
  • Allow yourself enough time to incorporate changes based on critical feedback.
  • Download this sample timeline (coming soon) for internal review of your proposal.
  • Download this sample rubric (coming soon) for internal review of your proposal.

Develop a Proposal Submission Strategy

Additional Information Coming Soon

This section will provide guidance on how to develop a proposal submission strategy, including a timeline for proposal development over a multi-year period.

Proposal Planning and Writing Resources

Grant writing resources

NIH resources

NSF resources

DoEDU resources

CDMRP resources

NASA resources

USDA resources

NEH resources

USAID resources

European Research Council

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