Tips for Writing a Strong Proposal

The following tips are provided based on feedback from graduate student grantees and our observations of common missteps.

Consider the match between SARE and you

Read through the materials on this website to understand the purpose of the grant. Make sure SARE is the right granting organization for your project. Take a look at our outcome statement and review criteria and make sure you understand what can and can’t be funded. If you have questions about whether your project is a good fit with Northeast SARE, contact grant coordinator Kali McPeters.

Review funded projects to understand the content, duration, and complexity of applications that reviewers expect and avoid duplicating work already funded.

Get your advisor, grants office and collaborators involved early on

Discuss your plan early on with your faculty advisor. Confirm that your advisor is willing to participate. Because universities typically do not allow students to manage institutional grant awards, your faculty advisor will be named the principal investigator of the awarded grant. Since they must endorse the application, oversee the research, and act as the official principal investigator, it is important to work with your advisor well in advance of the deadline to get the application submitted.

Talk to your grants or sponsored programs office and let them know what you are planning to do. Most sponsored programs offices need two to four two weeks to review and approve applications, so confirm the policies at your institution and plan accordingly. You will need a signature from an academic institutional official (typically in the sponsored programs office) on your application’s sign-off sheet.

Recruit your collaborators and discuss their roles. You will need letters of commitment from them submitted with the application.

Prepare your application offline

Since there are word limits for most sections of the application, it is highly advisable to use a word processing program to write and edit the proposal ahead of time to make sure it is accurate and complies with the word limits.

If the online submission system is not yet open, you can still download the application instructions and start preparing your application.

Write with reviewers in mind

Your proposal will be reviewed by a panel of farmers, researchers, Extension educators, nonprofit staff, and other agricultural professionals. You can assume your reviewers have broad agricultural expertise, but may not necessarily have a deep or detailed understanding of your particular subject area. Therefore, keep your writing clear and straightforward, and avoid jargon.

Match your methods to objectives

Make sure your project methods match your objectives. Are plot sizes, replications, controls, surveys, or other project elements likely to yield meaningful information? Clearly define your response variables and be sure to consult with a statistician while developing your experimental design.

Develop a realistic budget

Make sure your budget only request funds for allowed expenses. Be clear about what you are requesting funds for, show how you calculated each line item, and provide a narrative justification as to why the item is needed or what work is being done for the labor payments requested.

Get another set of eyes

Ask someone else read to your application. A fresh set of eyes—both within your subject area and someone totally unfamiliar with your area of expertise—can help you identify sections that are unclear and find errors you overlooked. Reviewers look less favorably on proposals that have careless errors or are confusing because of poor spelling, grammar and structure.

Remember the attachments!

Applications with missing or incomplete required documents will be rejected so make sure they are attached. These include:

  • Grant commitment form
  • Budget justification and narrative template, and 
  • Other supporting documents (collaborator letters of commitment, plot plans, evaluation instruments, etc.)

Understand award expectations

Visit Manage a Grant to understand the expectations of funded projects.