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MSU Home :: Proposal Planning

2. Proposal Planning

There is no "one size fits all" solution to successful proposal writing. Competitive proposals, however, do share many common elements. Strong proposals are reasonable in scope, supported by evidence drawn from authoritative sources, concisely written, persuasive, and flow logically from one section to the next.

According to the National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA), the leading professional organization for sponsored research professionals, some additional characteristics of successful proposals are:

  • The idea is new and innovative
  • The idea is timely
  • The clear need for the project can be documented
  • The project will make a difference and influence advancement of the field
  • The project is cost-effective

Two key success factors in becoming a strong proposal writer are planning and practice. Overall, proposals should reflect the thoughtful planning of an applicant. Proposals written in haste, without ample lead time and the inclusion of all relevant stakeholders, often fail. Even if funded, a project that lacks a strong action plan may be poorly implemented, giving the funding agency a negative impression of the PI, the organization and its ability to manage external funds.

"Practice makes perfect" is an oft-repeated mantra that holds true in grant writing. The more proposals a person writes (and reviews!), the better he or she understands what elements work - and which ones fail. Also, because proposals that do not get funded can be modified and resubmitted, the time spent crafting a grant proposal is never time wasted.


Before you begin drafting a proposal, it is important to do some preliminary work. Once you have read the guidelines and discussed your ideas with your chair, dean or other superiors, consider the following actions:

  • Will you be partnering with other faculty? Other institutions? If so, schedule meetings with them as soon as possible to discuss details.
  • Define the scope of your project. What is the problem? Why is it significant? What do you intend to do to solve it?
  • Research previously funded proposals from this particular program. Are these projects similar to the one you are proposing?
  • Conduct a literature review - in other words, what's already been done to address similar problems?
  • Beyond the necessary institutional approval, will your project involve human or animal subjects? If so, approval from IRB or IACUC may be necessary.

Concept Paper

The goal of the activities mentioned above is to not only help solidify your project, but also to produce a 1-2 page concept paper. A concept paper helps clarify your ideas and is something to share with colleagues and potential partners/consultants. Additionally, many private foundations (as well as state and federal grant making agencies) require a concept paper to be submitted for review prior to the submission of a full proposal.

A logical organization for a concept paper is as follows:

Concept/Problem Statement Define the problem and place it in context.
Need and Significance Why is this problem important? Make sure to cite authoritative sources.
Project Plan Describe how the project will be implemented. Identify the specific, measurable steps necessary.
Required Resources Estimate the necessary budgetary requirements for your proposed project.

After these steps have been completed, contact ORSP to schedule an appointment. ORSP staff can assist in developing the narrative, drafting a budget, or answering any other questions you may have.


Research and Sponsored Programs Calendar

Research News

      • The Appalachian Regional Commission has awarded MSU a $500,000 grant to continue the Appalachian Rural Dental Educational Program, an initiative started in 2011 with the University of Kentucky and the University of Pikeville to increase the number of practicing dentists in Appalachia, and provide a campus-based oral health awareness program. For more information, click here to view the official news release.
      • The Office of Accounting & Financial Services has released the 2014-2015 Fiscal Year Fringe Benefit Rates for all sponsored program budgeting. These rates are in effect for grants and contracts beginning on or after July 1, 2014. For more information, please contact the Office of Research & Sponsored Programs at 606-783-2010.
      • The US Environmental Protection Agency, through the Kentucky Division of Water, has awarded Morehead State University a three-year, $376,893 grant for implementation of the Triplett Creek Watershed Based Plan. Led by Environmental Center Director April Haight, the project aims to reduce nonpoint source pollutant loads in the Triplett Creek Watershed and meet water quality standards by implementing a plan that calls for a range of best management practices that target sediment, bacteria, nutrients, and other pollutants. Additional information about this project can be found here, or by contacting April Haight at 606-783-2455.
      • The Kentucky Environmental Education Council has awarded Morehead State University a $112,000 grant to administer the Kentucky University Partnership for Environmental Education (KUPEE). KUPEE focuses on achieving systemic change in the way universities prepare educators and future leaders by ensuring environmental education is central to colleges of education across the Commonwealth. Led by Biology Professor Brian Reeder, KUPEE is a partnership between MSU and Eastern Kentucky University, Kentucky State University, Murray State University, Northern Kentucky University, and Western Kentucky University. For more information about the project, please contact Brian Reeder at 606-783-2957.
      • The US Department for Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has awarded Morehead State University a 3-year, $267,064 grant to design and implement a campus Suicide Prevention Program on all of MSU's campuses.  Directed by Mental Health Counselor Carol Barnett, the project seeks to create a Suicide Prevention Program that will systematically create a campus environment that is safer for all students, staff, and faculty, to intervene and assist those at risk for suicide, and to create an enhanced infrastructure to promote a cultural change regarding the perception of mental health. For more information about the project, please contact Carol Barnett at 606-783-2123.




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