Proposal Writing Suggestions
- Keep in mind that reviewers may have to read many proposals. They are appreciative of a proposal that is concise and clear, even to someone in another field. Stay away from discipline-specific jargon and address the proposal to a panel of broad-based expertise and interests. Write in a simple and straightforward manner, i.e., state your case as you would to a colleague in a close but not exactly the same discipline or field.
- Use a simple format. We do not specify what format should be used, but apply common sense. Keep the project plan as short as possible. Observe the page limits and do not try to cram 20 pages of text into ten. Use 11-12 point font, preferably a standard font such as Arial or Times New Roman. Stay away from prettier but harder-to-read fonts. The reviewers are interested in the content of the text, not how it looks, and you don’t want the text to be distracting. Also, use at least 1 inch margins and, if possible, break up the text with subheaders. The reviewers will be grateful for anything that makes it easier on their eyes.
- Put yourself in the reviewers’ place. They will know nothing about your research and may need some basic background as to why your proposed project is important. On the whole, review committees are enthusiastic and excited about the proposals and are more than willing to give applicants the benefit of the doubt. But don’t leave them guessing as to what the project is about or how it will benefit anything.
- What academic questions will your project address? If this is a research project, make sure that the basic research questions are clearly outlined. In turn, show how the research will address these questions.
- What is the long-term benefit beyond the initial support for an exhibit or performance? For projects in the arts, explain what will be accomplished, not only directly by the project but in the long-term in terms of advancing your field of study. Review committees will be looking for the benefits to students or colleagues or educational programs beyond the actual event. Keep in mind that all the UC MEXUS programs are for seed funding, so the review committees are looking to see what the event, exhibit, or performance will lead to.
- What is the long-term benefit beyond the initial support for a meeting or conference? Review committees are not usually wild about meetings that are, in and of themselves, the final goal, especially with the seed grant program goals of the UC MEXUS programs. They are much more enthusiastic about a meeting that helps launch or define a future research agenda or collaborative exchange with Mexico. So for meetings and conferences, explain what will happen after the event, in terms of long-term benefits for the advancement of science or scholarship in your field, and how the event is then critical for getting this going.
- Include a time-line so that reviewers can get an idea of whether your project is feasible and not overly-ambitious. It is fine to have an ambitious project, but you might want to consider proposing a smaller section of it that will allow you to embark on the more far-reaching program.
- Make sure that all participants’ roles are clearly defined. Reviewers look at whether the P.I.s are truly involved or whether they are “fronting” the proposal for someone who is not eligible, such as a student or non-UC colleague. At the same time, reviewers welcome additional participation from students and colleagues, UC or not, as long as it is clear what their roles are and that the P.I. is indeed leading the project.
- Don’t” name drop” as the crux of your proposal. It is great to have distinguished people involved, and their participation should be duly noted. However, let the body of the proposal ride on the worth of what will be undertaken rather than on the names of the people involved. Reviewers tend to be put off by “trust me” proposals because, while they want to trust the P.I., they also want to know what project they are putting their trust into.
- Let reviewers know about any student involvement. A project that includes student training and advancement is always a plus.
- Make your methodology clear, in terms of outlining and explaining exactly what you will be doing with the funds if your project is selected. Be specific about where you will undertake the study and with whom. How will your methodology help resolve your research questions.
- Address any specific protocol concerns, such as human subjects reviews, collecting permits, patents, intellectual property rights, etc. Let the reviewers know that you are aware of these and have obtained the necessary permits, review approvals, etc. or are in the process of doing so.
- For projects in Mexico, make sure it is clear that you are collaborating with someone in Mexico or working with a Mexican institution. Review committees can have a negative response to a project that they feel is using Mexico as a field site rather than as a source of academic collaboration.
- Make your budget clear and readable to the average person, not just financial accountants. Review committees and the UC MEXUS administration look closely at the budgets to see if they relate to the project goals and methods. Provide clear justification for the use of the funds. If the project has matching or additional funds from other sources, make it clear what portion of the budget are targeted for UC MEXUS support. Keep the items in the specified categories (e.g., salaries, benefits, supplies and services, other) and be sure that the items all add up to what you have in the total. Yes, review committee members often add these up to see if they match, and if they don’t, we do!
- Make sure that all expenses are allowable. The goals of the requirements are to stay not only within UC and/or CONACYT policies but also to have the funds spent on the research, not equipment, tuition, or academic payroll obligations. So while some items may be technically “allowable,” review committees may consider the overall intent of the budget in their evaluations.
- Do not break down an expensive equipment piece into less expensive parts. The committees can figure out that a motherboard, keyboard, and monitor add up to a computer.
- Let us know why this is a good seed grant project and provide a long-term plan.Give a brief explanation of how the project will continue past the project period, including plans to apply for other sources of funding. Review committees look closely at whether the project will, in fact, seed something over the long-term and whether it is likely to be successful in continuing and obtaining future funding.
- Check for local deadlines at your campus or institution. Contact the UC campus research office and, in the case of UC MEXUS-CONACYT proposals, the appropriate Mexican administrative office well ahead of time to be sure that there are not internal deadlines for your institution’s review of the proposal prior to the UC MEXUS submission deadlines.
- Make sure all the necessary signatures are included. This includes the Institutional Approval Forms or any institutional signatures indicated on the application forms. Do not waive them as “not applicable” to your proposal. If they are part of the form for that program, they are applicable and required!
- Make sure all letters of intention and curriculum vitae are included and that they are hard copies, on letterhead, with original signatures. Emails and faxes are not acceptable. If you list someone as an additional academic participant, then you must include a letter of intent and short c.v. for them, even if they will not be using any of the funds directly.
- Submit the proposal packet by the deadline. Late or incomplete proposals, faxes, or e-mail attachments are not accepted. The proposal must be physically in the UC MEXUS offices by 5:00 p.m. on the day of the deadline. A proposal that is postmarked on that day but received later will not be accepted.
- Retain a copy of all application materials submitted. UC MEXUS will not provide you or your department with a copy of your own proposal. Make sure you keep a copy for yourself and also for your department administrator. If your project is selected for funding, it greatly facilitates the grant process if the department administrator has a copy of your proposal and budget in hand.
Grant-writing specific to UC MEXUS (“Faculty”) Grants Program
If you are applying to the UC MEXUS (“Faculty”) Grants Program, you might want to take some of the following areas into consideration when writing your proposal: