Successful Proposal Writing

The following list of articles and links will help you hone your grant-writing skills. However, they only provide general guidance on the art of grant-writing; when you are ready to actually assemble your own funding proposal, remember to consult with your local research administration staff.


Questions about this topic can be answered by:

Catalina Verdu-Cano

Associate Director, Training and Communication

Vice Provost and Dean of Research

(650) 725-9830

How To Write A Compelling Grant Proposal

Reviewers are often faculty just like you who are very busy. A reviewer must often read 10 to 15 applications in great detail and form an opinion about each of them.

Researchers who are able to express their scientific arguments persuasively and concisely win grants and get published more often. According to Dr. Francis Collins, former Director of the NIH, “So many worthwhile research ideas get put into the unfunded category in reviews because the proposals are not written clearly and don’t present the importance of the research forcefully enough.”

Here are some tips for writing an application that is clear, compelling, and easy to evaluate (and approve!):

Stick with the format

Your application has a better chance at succeeding if it is easy to read and follows the required format. Reviewers are accustomed to finding information in specific sections of the application, so you must organize your application to effortlessly guide reviewers through it. This creates an efficient evaluation process and saves reviewers from hunting for critical information.

Plan ahead

Before you start writing the application, think about the budget and how it is related to your research plan. Remember that everything in the budget must be justified by the work you've proposed to do. Be realistic. Don't propose more work than can be reasonably done during the proposed project period.

Make no assumptions

Include enough background information to enable an intelligent reader to understand your proposed work. Although not a requirement for assignment purposes, a cover letter can help the sponsor assign your application for initial peer review.

Organize your thinking

Start with an outline following the suggested organization of the application. Write one sentence summarizing the topic sentence of each main section. Do the same for each main point in the outline.

Make the case

Capture the reviewers' attention by making the case for why the sponsor should fund your research. Tell reviewers why testing your hypothesis is worth their money, why you are the person to do it, and how your institution can give you the support you'll need to get it done.

Keep it simple

Make one point in each paragraph. This is key for readability. Keep sentences to 20 words or less. Write simple, clear sentences. Use the active, rather than passive, voice. For example, write "We will develop an experiment," not "An experiment will be developed."

Be succinct

Use a clear and concise writing style so that a non-expert may understand the proposed research. Often you will know much more on the topic than the reviewer, so make your points as directly as possible. Use basic English, avoiding jargon or excessive language. Spell out all acronyms on first reference. Be consistent with terms, references, and writing style.

Stanford Resources

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General Grantsmanship

Stanford Grant Writing Academy, for faculty,  post docs and graduate students.  Supporting you in creating proposals and productive writing practice by:

  • Training you to write and edit efficiently
  • Empowering you to elicit and provide effective feedback
  • Providing you with coaching, editing and review of proposals and scientific writings

 Successful Proposal Writing New Faculty Guide for Competing for Research Funding, eBook by Mike Cronan, MFA and Lucy Deckard, PhD October 2016 (PDF) 

Offered by Academic Research Funding Strategies LLC  This subscription publication is available to Stanford users only.

Introduction to Proposal Writing

Offered by Grantspace a Service of Foundation Center

The Art of Grantsmanship 

How to write a funding proposal that optimizes your chances of successfully competing for research support. Offered by the Human Frontier Science Program

"Your Thoughts Are Like a String of Pearls,” by Christopher Dant, PhD.  

Published in Science Writing Fall 2010

Practical advice for Working Researchers

Research Development and Grant-Writing News

Note: This subscription publication is available to Stanford users only.

Research Development and Grantwriting News January 2019

Research Development and Grantwriting News February 2019

Research Development and Grantwriting News March 2019

Research Development and Grantwriting News April 2019

Research Development and Grantwriting News May 2019

Research Development and Grantwriting News June 2019

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NSF Proposal Development Resources

A Guide to NSF Success

Practical advice on how to develop a fundable research proposal (2007)

NSF Upcoming Due Dates

Lists all funding programs offered by National Science Foundation, sortable by opportunity or due date.

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NSF Merrit Review

NIH Proposal Development Resources

The NIH Grants Process Overview

Learn about the steps required for an application to proceed from planning and submission through to award and closeout. Drill down to learn more about each step in the process for guidance that can maximize your understanding of the grants process and help you submit a successful grant application.

Grant Writing Tip Sheets

Many NIH Institutes put out guides and tip sheets on their Web sites. These guides can be useful resources. Here are just a few.

  • All About Grants Podcasts: The Office of Extramural Research (OER) talks to NIH staff members about the ins and outs of NIH funding. Designed for investigators, fellows, students, research administrators, and others just curious about the application and award process, we provide insights on grant topics from those who live and breathe the information.

  • Sample Applications: Check out our many sample applications and summary statements.

  • Grant Basics: Before getting started, learn why it is important to understand the structure of NIH

  • The NIH R01 Tool Kit: from Science

  • Apply for a Grant: Some useful samples and examples that are part of the grant application from NIAID and NIH, including sample applications and summary statements, data sharing, and model organism sharing plans.

  • Types of Grant Programs: NIH uses activity codes (e.g. R01, R43, etc.) to differentiate the wide variety of research-related programs.Lists and explains all NIH grant types.

  • NIH Guide to Grants and Contracts: The official publication for NIH grant policies, guidelines and funding opportunities published daily.

  • Collaboration and Team Science: A Field Guide:Published by the NIH 2010. This Field Guide was developed to help all researchers navigate some of the rocky and murky territory associated with building a team either on their own or at the request of someone in their organization.  

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NIH Early Career/New Investigator Information

One of the key objectives of external funding for research is the development of the next generation of scientists. Many grant programs are directly related to this objective. Some examples:

  • NIH Research Career Development Awards (K): To provide institutional research training opportunities (including international) to trainees at the undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral levels.

  • NIH New and Early Stage Investigator Policies

  • NIH (NIAID) Training and Career Portal: Find information about fellowships, career awards, training, and the NIH Loan Repayment Program.

  • NIH Research Training and Career Development Grant Programs: NIH programs help to prepare the skilled, creative and diverse biomedical research workforce of tomorrow.

  • Watch the informative video from a March 2010 NIH workshop designed for those making the transition from postdoctoral to independent researcher status. Topics include “How to Have a Life,” “Negotiating a Start-Up Package,” “Networking and Collaborations,” “Applying for and Getting a Grant, and “Balancing Research/Teaching/Family/Other Commitments.” Many of these video segments are applicable to the aspiring postdoc, new, and established faculty members.

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  • EPA Research and Funding Opportunities

  • NASA Solicitations: on  NSPIRES

  • NEH Deadlines: The National Endowment for the Humanities lists their year-round deadlines for all NEH grants programs.

  • ONR: Broad Agency Announcements and Funding Opportunity Announcements

  • ARL — United States Army Research Laboratory Open Broad Agency Announcements.

  • AHRQ Research Training & Career Development Opportunities:The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality provides a variety of career development and research opportunities to beginning investigators.

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Post Doctoral Funding

Stanford policy requires that all applications for outside Pre-Doctoral & Postdoctoral Fellowships be routed through your Institutional Representative at least 5 working days prior to the sponsor's deadline.

Please use the required processing guidelines and the proposal checklist when preparing all applications.

View the funding section of this website  or  view the RMG website for detailed information on funding opportunities and process.

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