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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 MSU Office of Research and Sponsored Programs will present the 3rd Annual Funding and Grant Writing Symposium on Thursday, October 20 in the 21st Century Classroom (Ginger Hall 311) from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. This year's speaker and workshop leader is Dr. Marjorie Piechowski, Director Emerita of Research Support in the College of Engineering & Applied Science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. There is no charge for attendance for MSU faculty and staff; however, those interested in attending should register early to reserve a seat for the symposium and accompanying luncheon. To register, or for more information, please contact ORSP at 606-783-2010 or via e-mail at: Click here for additional information. Click here for a bio of this year's speaker.

      • The Appalachian Rural Dental Education Partnership (ARDEP), funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission since 2011, is a partnership between MSU, The University of Kentucky and St. Claire Regional Medical Center formed to develop a sustainable rural dental education program for the Appalachian region of Kentucky. Additionally, the program helped establish onsite oral health services. This informational video feature provides more information.

      • The Office of Research and Sponsored Programs is proud of Morehead State University’s world-class faculty, whose dedication to teaching, service and research are highlighted in the inaugural edition of Faculty Profiles of Research, Creativity and Student Engagement. This new annual publication highlights the diverse array of faculty and student scholarship taking place at MSU.

      • MSU's Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) has received a $155,000 award from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to support long-term disaster recovery in Eastern Kentucky. The project, led by RSVP Project Director Teresa Judd, will support two volunteer case management positions to aid in the on-going needs of the residents affected by the floods that devastated areas of in Carter, Rowan, and Johnson counties in July 2015. 

      • Dr. Shannon Harr, Director of Research Integrity and Compliance in the MSU Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, is the 2015 recipient of the Distinguished Staff Service Award. The award, initiated in 1990, honors staff that demonstrate service above and beyond one's job responsibilities both on campus and in the community. 

      • 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.




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