Guide to Proposal Development and Submission Process

Guide to Proposal Development and Submission Process


In 2006, The IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI (SLA) hired its first grants analyst so that faculty researchers could have a resource person right here in the School to assist with all aspects of the proposal submission process. Since then, we’ve learned a lot about how to help both early- stage researchers and seasoned veterans alike navigate the complex process of developing and submitting proposals to both internal and external funders. The purpose of this guide is to break down a very complex process into key points, rather than be a comprehensive user’s manual.

Funding Organizations want to support research!

Funding agencies and programs want to give away money to qualified researchers whose projects will contribute to knowledge or serve a public benefit. Your job is to convince them that your project will produce results that contribute important knowledge to their areas of interest, and you are qualified and competent to do the work. Despite their different goals and terminology for application components, they all share a strong commitment to supporting what they deem the important work of researchers.

Proposal Writing is Persuasive Writing

Put very simply, grant proposal writing is persuasive writing, rather than scholarly writing. Your proposal must persuade the funder’s review committee that your project will contribute to knowledge within the discipline and across disciplines and that you are the best person to do the work. Every document in an application participates in telling the story of what will be learned from the proposed project, why it is important to know, and how to know that the conclusions are valid.

Think like a Reviewer

Review committees commonly consist of members from multiple disciplines who volunteer their time to review several proposals in a funding cycle. They make award decisions based on the project’s merit, not your need for funding or publications! They won’t take the time to tease out important questions, or struggle with discipline-specific jargon. A persuasive proposal will grab the reviewer’s attention on the first page with assertive, easy-to-understand language. Its bold headers and underlined statements will show the reviewer in a quick scan that you have completed the required sections and addressed the evaluation criteria.

Plan Ahead

Proposal development and writing is time-consuming. It takes time to deepen your idea into a project whose significance is well-understood, whose goals and objectives are clearly stated, and whose methodology is recognized as the best way to accomplish the stated goals. It’s a good idea to talk to the agency’s program officer to get feedback on whether or how the project’s goals and methods fit into the agency’s current funding emphases. Program officers may also recommend another division in the agency more likely to be interested. Send your draft to colleagues and to experienced researchers with external funding track records, including the SLA Associate Dean for Research Jeff Wilson. Solicit an educated layperson’s critique from the SLA Grants Analyst Edith Millikan. Each time you incorporate feedback into your work, it will become more persuasive, more crisply written and easier to follow for your reviewers.

It’s also time-consuming to prepare and gather all the supporting documentation agencies require. These administrative components of a proposal are just as important to the overall presentation as the technical components. They require attention to detail, clarity of language, and demonstration of competency, none of which can be accomplished if they are done in a hurry. They must be just as responsive to the funder’s guidelines and evaluation criteria as the project narrative or research plan.

We recommend you read the guidelines multiple times throughout your writing process. It’s also a good idea to review the application package so you know how many documents will be needed and from whom. Be sure to be respectful of your collaborator(s)’ busy schedules by giving them time to assist you in writing the project narrative and write a thoughtful letter of support.

Work with the SLA Research Office

Please notify Associate Dean Jeff Wilson and/or Grants Analyst Edith Millikan of your plans to submit a proposal early in your process. As mentioned above, Jeff Wilson is an experienced researcher who can provide both a unique review of your proposal draft and advice on working with the agency.

Edith’s role is to provide expert advice and planning for handling the administrative supporting documents, as well as provide the educated layperson’s reading of your proposal draft. We suggest making an appointment with Edith 6-8 weeks before the submission deadline to discuss budget needs, collaborators, and subcontracts.

Edith will also prepare the accompanying budget justification. She will ensure both documents follow the agency’s guidelines and tell the same story your as your narrative does.

Supporting Documentation

Most funding agencies require a substantial number of supporting documents for proposals. These documents play an integral role in making the entire proposal persuasive and convincing, so it is important to give them sufficient attention to accomplish that goal. They should be error free in order to demonstrate the diligence and attention to detail you put into your research.

We will create a roadmap of all the required supporting documentation and their general requirements. It will clearly identify the documents you are responsible for writing or obtaining, and which ones we will produce. It will also provide deadlines.

The most common documents are the letters of support, the CVs/biosketches, and subcontract documentation. The letters of support from collaborators/co-investigators should reflect their experience and expertise as it relates to the project, what tasks they will perform, and their enthusiasm for the proposed project. The letters can also be used to tell the review committee a bit more about the proposed research than the project narrative/research plan page limits allow, although this tactic should be used with care. Some agencies also require an institutional letter of support, or a letter from the project director’s School. We will advise you on the details of these letters’ requirements.

The CV/biosketch summarizes the collaborator’s professional experience, grants, and publication record. To meet the page limits most agencies set, the CV should contain only those publications that are the most relevant to the project. Grant awards should also be limited to the most recent three to five years, depending on funders’ guidelines.

Subcontract documentation is required when a collaborator/co-investigators  is not a member of the IU faculty or staff on any campus. Subcontract documentation usually consists of the other institution’s budget, budget narrative, a general statement of work to be performed by the collaborator, and an institutional letter of support signed by the other institution’s Research Administration Office. These offices usually require several days to issue the documents, so you should be finalizing your collaborators’ budget and roles/responsibilities about 3 weeks before the agency submission deadline.

Know the School and University Submission Policies

1.   The SLA Associate Dean for Research is required to approve all proposals to external agencies in support of research, teaching, and service. This holds for grants, contracts, and fellowships.

The School requires approval of all external proposals to make sure there are no financial or scheduling surprises when you receive the award. Administrators generally don’t like surprises, so please talk to your department chair about your course release needs if your project is funded, or a leave of absence if your fellowship application is awarded. Your chair must make arrangements for someone else to teach your courses.

If you are applying for a fellowship, it’s also important to discuss your plans with the Dean before you submit your proposal. Many fellowships pay a monthly stipend, but don’t cover fringe benefits (health insurance, retirement, other benefits). The School will be responsible for covering those costs, and the Dean needs to plan for it. We will check your proposal for all indications that communication has happened, before the Associate Dean approves.

2.   Fully approved proposals must be received in the IU Office of Research Administration (ORA) four business days prior to the submission deadline to meet their internal deadline.

Four business days prior to the agency submission deadline actually means one calendar week. For example, a proposal with a February 15 agency deadline must be received in ORA by 5 pm February 8. Your proposal is received in ORA when all approvers in the School have approved the Kuali Coeus (KC) proposal development document. You as PI must approve, followed by your department chair, and finally the Associate Dean for Research. If you are collaborating with people in another School, that School’s approvals must be finished for the KC document to arrive in ORA.

All proposals submitted after the deadline are at risk of not being submitted. ORA will take all reasonable steps to accommodate late proposals subject to workload and staffing constraints. In cases where a late proposal cannot be accommodated, the PI will be informed by ORA. The PI may appeal this decision by having their Associate Dean for Research email an exception request to ORA. Any exceptions approved will only guarantee that all reasonable efforts will be made to submit the proposal to the external agency before the external deadline.

We want to avoid this situation as much as possible; it makes the School look bad and makes extra work for you and SLA Research Office staff.

Most Proposals are Institutional Applications from IU

Most proposals, with the exception of some fellowships, are considered institutional applications from Indiana University, naming a specific IUPUI faculty researcher as PD/PI. In most cases, ORA is required to submit institutional applications, with the signature of the “authorizing official” or the “authorized representative.” Mr. Steven A. Martin, Associate Vice President for Research Administration, is the University’s authorizing official.

Some organizations ask you to submit the proposal using their online system. In this case, ORA will notify you when they have finished their review and are ready for you to submit. The ORA internal submission deadline applies to this situation.

Many fellowships are given to individuals, rather than to the researcher’s institution. Most funders’ guidelines state this clearly, or give enough hints to figure it out. If any funder gives

grants or fellowships to an individual, the proposal does not need to route through ORA. However, the SLA Research Office wants to know your plans, and receive a copy for its files.

Know the procedure for submitting proposals

External Proposals (Research, Fellowship, Contract)
The first step is to correctly assemble all the required documents into the funder’s application package or on-line submission site. Most on-line submission sites provide the opportunity to download a PDF of the entire proposal. Edith will review the final package or PDF to ensure it meets all the required guidelines before it is routed to ORA for review. Either you or she can set up a folder in Box for all proposal materials to facilitate revision, assembly, and review.

The next step is to prepare the KC electronic proposal development document and attach the application package and other relevant documents to it, for ORA review. This is the mechanism that delivers the proposal to ORA by its internal deadline.

Edith prefers to complete the KC document and attach all the documents, performing one final review before submitting it into routing. You are welcome to take KC training and do it yourself if you would like. If you do, please confer with Edith before routing, so she can make sure she and Eric Hamilton, Grant Finance Specialist in the SLA Office of Finance and Administration, are added as ad hoc FYI recipients. This serves two purposes: we are notified of the routing, and we are able to access the KC document and the attachments in it.

Thirdly, please be sure that you do your part to make sure the fully approved KC document containing the completed application package and all internal documents is received in ORA four business days prior to the submission deadline. The ORA policy requires that all administrative documents are received by this deadline; they do allow an extra 2-3 days for you to polish your technical documents, that is, the project narrative/research plan, summary/abstract, and literature cited. Be sure to work with Edith to make sure these arrive on time in ORA also.

Limited Submission External Proposals
Some funders limit the number of proposal submissions from an institution, or from a campus. One notable limited submission is the NEH Summer Stipends program. The IUPUI Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research (OVCR) requires you to submit a short description of the project to them for selection. Their deadline is usually a couple of months before the agency deadline. For further information about upcoming deadlines and OVCR’s requirements, please visit the IULimited Submission website. The IUPUI Limited Submission contact person is Etta Ward (, 317-278-8427). Once she has notified you that your proposal can go forward, follow the standard procedure for submitting external proposals discussed above.

Internal Proposals (IU, IUPUI, SLA)
At least 2 weeks before the submission deadline, please discuss the financial and teaching load implications of your proposal with your department chair. Submit a draft proposal to the people required to write support letters, so that they can write a thoughtful letter of support and incorporate details of your proposed work to add to the persuasiveness of your proposal. Associate Dean Jeff Wilson usually writes the dean’s letters. Please also send your proposal draft to Edith and set up a meeting with her to discuss your budget.

For curriculum development and teaching proposals, please follow the same guidelines above, except that Associate Dean Kristi Sheeler will provide any letter required from your Dean.

Internal proposals don’t route to ORA, but the SLA Research Office still wants to receive your finished product four business days prior to submission deadline to complete the final review. Edith Millikan will notify you of Dean's Office approval before you submit your materials to OVCR or another appropriate office. Most IU and IUPUI/OVCR internal proposals are now submitted through the InfoReady portal. If you have used it or another online portal, please forward a PDF of your submitted proposal to Edith ( for her records. For submissions by email, please copy Edith on your submission.

Budget Justification

Personnel The salary and fringe requested for Dr. Wilson follows the School of Liberal Arts policy for budgeting for one course release during the academic year on internally-funded programs in the School and at IUPUI. The expense is two times the rate paid to a Ph.D. level replacement faculty, plus FICA fringe benefits of 6.91%. (Note: Fringe benefit rates change annually. See the current year rates).

Supplies We request funding to purchase a laptop computer, which is necessary to rapidly collect data at the five institutions currently housing the Fort Ancient skeletal samples, perform the statistical calculations of age-at-death, and simulate the hazard and demographic models.

Travel All travel expenses are calculated using the maximum allowable federal lodging and M&I rates found on the IU Travel Management website.

Other Expenses We will work with IUPUI Purchasing to purchase the 20 AMS radiometric assays from Beta Analytic Inc. The cost per sample is $90 for collagen extraction and $595 for AMS assay, for a total of $685/sample.