Handbook for Principal Investigators
Community of Science
University of Arizona faculty, staff, and students can use COS Web-based products and services to promote their work, find funding, access experts, consult, and collaborate with colleagues.
Community of Science (COS) is the leading Internet site for the global R&D community. COS brings together the world's most prominent scientists and researchers at more than 1,600 universities, corporations and government agencies worldwide. COS provides tools and services that enable these professionals to communicate, exchange information and find the people and technologies that are important to their work.
The University of Arizona has purchased a subscription to the Community of Science funding opportunities service. You can access this service from any University computer (the UA IP address lets COS know that the institution is a paying member).
Current program announcements for all federal funding opportunities can be found on Grants.gov, the federal government's portal for Electronic Research Administration. Access http://www.grants.gov to search for federal funding opportunities; registration is not required.
Types of Proposals
A proposal is a request for financial support for a project. Generally,
a proposal consists of a technical section and a budget section.
A pre-proposal (sometimes called a white paper, letter proposal,
preliminary proposal, pre-application, or concept paper) is a short (generally 2-5 pages)
description of the proposed project, and it does not involve a commitment of university
resources. A pre-proposal may include a total cost estimate but does not include a budget,
and it is not expected to result directly in an award. Usually, the purpose of a
pre-proposal is to inform and interest the potential sponsor so that the sponsor requests
a more detailed formal proposal. If the sponsor does not require signature of the
institutional official on the pre-proposal, then the investigator is not required to route
the pre-proposal through the University proposal routing process.
Sponsors may solicit formal proposals by publishing a specific program
announcement. Researchers responding to the program announcement write the proposal to
meet the sponsors program guidelines. Deadlines (receipt or postmark) may recur
annually or several times a year.
A response to a Request for Proposal (RFP) is one type of solicited
proposal. Most RFPs have a stated deadline and are one-time solicitations for
specific needs of the sponsor, not expected to recur. The proposed project must respond to
the specific work statement in the Request for Proposal.
Solicited proposals must be routed through the University
administrative channels before submitting the proposal to the sponsor.
Renewal and Continuation Proposals
A competing renewal proposal (also called a competing continuation) is
a request for continued funding of a project for which funding is about to terminate. Such
proposals are similar to "new" proposals and must be routed and approved in the
Noncompeting continuation proposals, which request the next years
funding within a multi-year grant, generally consist of a progress report, budget, and
other relevant materials such as research results, reprints, vitae for new personnel, etc.
They sometimes include a financial status report indicating the unobligated balance for
the current year. Read the application instructions carefully, as federal sponsors are
eliminating some requirements in their efforts to reduce paperwork and streamline their
Generally, sponsors require the signature of the institutional official
on the application page of noncompeting continuation proposals, and investigators are
required to route noncompeting continuation proposals through the University proposal
routing process, even if a budget is not required. This is to ensure that appropriate
university officials are informed of the current status and any changes from the original
proposal before the institutional endorsement is provided. The four relevant questions
- Has there been a change in the "other support" of key personnel since the last
- Will there be, in the next budget period, significant rebudgeting of funds and/or change
in level of effort from what was originally approved for this project?
- Has there been a change in status of conflict of interest or commitment since the last
- Has a significant change in direction occurred, or is one planned?
Occasionally, sponsors announce program funding, limiting the number of
proposals that may be submitted by each institution. The Office of the Vice President for Research distributes the program applications to the
appropriate deans and department heads, who, in turn, distribute to the appropriate
faculty, depending on the subject matter of the program. Faculty interested in submitting
proposals send a one-page description of the proposed project and copy of their curriculum
vitae to a review committee, appointed by the Vice President for Research. The major
criterion for selecting proposals is the relevance to the program selection criteria and
the potential for successfully competing in the sponsors competitive process.
Faculty whose pre-proposals survive the institutional pre-competition will prepare a
complete application to submit to the sponsor.
When a sponsor wants to fund a proposed project at an amount different
from that originally proposed, the sponsor will ask the investigator to submit a
"revised" budget supporting the amount to be funded. A revised budget must be
routed through the University proposal routing process to document the signatories
approval of the budget revisions. If the sponsor reduces the budget, the investigator must
determine whether the originally proposed scope and objectives of the project can be met
under the revised budget. If not, the investigator and sponsor must redefine the scope and
objectives in writing before the University accepts the award.
The Contents of a Proposal
Many sponsors supply standard application forms or have a prescribed
format for proposal preparation. Many also have page limitations, particularly on the
narrative portion. It is crucial to meet all requirements. Applications not conforming to
sponsor formatting requirements may jeopardize the proposals success. Application
forms for most federal and many private sponsors are available on the web, or at the agency's own web site.
Proposals generally consist of the following elements:
- Transmittal Letter
- Title Page (or Application Page)
- Table of Contents
- Introduction or Background
- Technical Description
past work in the area
objectives or proposed research
method of operation
list of references cited
- Current and Pending Support
- Budget justification
- Other appendices
The Title Page (or Application Page)
The Title Page includes the following information:
- Project title
- Identification of the sponsors program (RFP or other identifying number)
- Name and address of sponsor
- Name and address of the University
- Proposed start date and end date
- Amount requested
- Signatures of the principal investigator and the Vice President for Research, including
dates, titles, offices, and phone numbers (See Quick
The abstract is a condensed version of the proposal, written in a
non-technical language, usually less than 250 words. It should concisely state the
significance of the project, what will be accomplished, how it will be accomplished, and
the proposed period of performance. The abstract, placed directly following the title
page, is vital in creating a favorable first impression. Proposal writers often write the
Introduction or Background
Some RFPs ask for a general description of the University. The
University of Arizona
on-line brochure is a good source for brief, general information. Additional
information is available through the Campus Community Service Center (621-5130).
The most important element in the proposal is the definition of the
objectives and scope of the project. Consider the amount of requested support and define
the objectives and scope accordingly. The risk in defining the scope and objectives too
broadly is that it might not be possible to complete the project at the awarded level of
funding. If the scope and objectives are defined too narrowly, the investigator risks
running the project "out of scope," which is unallowable and can be illegal.
Current and Pending Support
Most sponsors (especially Federal) are interested in the
investigators current and pending support for related projects. The term
"pending support" is defined as all outstanding proposals for related projects,
not just proposals that the sponsor has indicated an interest in funding. Proposals that
have been formally rejected or withdrawn are not included as "pending" support.
It is appropriate to indicate in the Current and Pending Support section what your plans
will be under the various possible funding scenarios, paying particular attention to
committed level of effort. Be sure that the total amount of time committed does not exceed
A description of the facilities available for use on the project should
be included in the Facilities section. Major items for use on the project should be
included in the Facilities section. Major items of equipment should be described and
special technical support facilities, such as computing equipment, electronic shops, and
reactor capabilities should be mentioned. This information will assist the evaluators in
determining the capabilities of the organization.
The proposed budget is the principal investigators best estimate
of the financial support needed to perform the technical goals and activities of the
proposed project. Careful front-end preparation is important, as the proposal budget may
become the award budget and be binding on the institution. Investigators must use vendor
price quotes or some other reasonable cost basis as support for budgeted items.
Unallowable costs, as defined by the guidelines applicable to your sponsor, must not be
included in your proposed budget. Inflation factors may be used for the out-years of the
project depending on sponsor guidelines.
Underestimated budgets are one of the primary causes of cost overruns.
These become the responsibility of the principal investigator and department head.
The Budget Justification
Any details that help clarify the budget line items not appropriate for
statement in the actual budget format should be included in this section.