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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 National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has awarded MSU's Space Science Center a $7.9 million contract as part of its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) to advance concept studies and technology development projects in the areas of advanced propulsion, habitation and small satellites. This contract is the largest sponsored research program award in the University's history. Click here for more information.
      • Morehead State University's 21st Century Education Enterprise has been awarded a $149,999 grant from the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education's Improving Educator Quality program for its project titled "Engineering Authentic Experiences in the Next Generation Science Classroom.” Click here for more information.
      • Dr. Alison Hruby, Assistant Professor of English, has been awarded a $2,000 grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. Her project, titled "The effects of frequent reading on the reading comprehension abilities of tenth grade struggling readers in rural Kentucky," aims to improve the reading comprehension of tenth grade students placed in a remedial English class by increasing the students' reading time by at least 100 minutes per week. The outcome of the project will be measured using the students' reading scores on the Spring 2015 Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) test. For more information about the project, please contact Dr. Hruby at 606-783-2732 or via e-mail.
      • The National Institutes of Health has renewed the Kentucky IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (KBRIN) Program. Headed by the University of Louisville, KBRIN aims to develop a network of support, infrastructure and capacity for biomedical researchers and educators within the Commonwealth. The total award to Morehead State University totals $463,845, which includes neuroscience laboratory renovations in Reed Hall. For additional information, please contact Dr. Bruce Mattingly, KBRIN Program Coordinator, at 606-783-2544 or via e-mail.
      • Dr. Kurt Gibbs, Assistant Professor of Biology, has received a $319,346 award from the National Institutes of Health Academic Research Enhancement Awards (AREA) program. Dr. Gibbs' proposal, titled "miRNA expression after spinal cord compression injury in Xenopus laevis," aims to determine how developmental changes in microRNA expression affect the ability of Xenopus frogs to regenerate their spinal cords, which in turn can increase understanding of the genetic regulation associated with recovery from spinal cord injury and generate new therapeutic targets to promote recovery in humans. For additional information, please contact Dr. Gibbs at 606-783-2932 or via e-mail.
      • Early Child, Elementary and Special Education Professor Edna Schack has been awarded more than $154,000 from the National Science Foundation's Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) program for a collaborative project focused on developing prospective teachers' professional noticing skills with respect to children's mathematical thinking. The three-year project, titled "Collaborative Research: TECHNO: TECHnology-Centered Mathematical NOticing," is a collaboration with Dr. Jonathan Thomas (Northern Kentucky University), Dr. Molly Fisher (University of Kentucky), and Dr. Cindy Jong (University of Kentucky). The project builds upon previous work by further developing previously successful materials, and includes a new focus on early algebraic thought. For additional information, please contact Dr. Schack at 606-783-2501 or via e-mail.
      • 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.




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