Tag Archives: proposal writing

Winning win themes

Academia has only recently caught up to private industry proposal development practices. For example, more and more color team reviews are being applied to large-scale and/or more complex proposals and there is emerging interest in capture management as professional designation.

One industry concept that is tough to explain and promote is the concept of “win themes”. Too often, we think that win themes are simply what our university has on tap, readily available for use in our proposed program….

We have thousands of students.

But without connecting what we have with how we are uniquely using or applying the resource, it doesn’t differentiate us from the crowd…..

ASU is ranked xx in online course delivery, enabled through the development of specialized learning environments for thousands of students enrolled in online courses.

And, without connecting that with a perceived or real sponsor need, we cannot hope to satisfy the sponsor requirements….

ASU will improve student experience and subject matter mastery for XXXX participants by designing, testing, and evaluating specialized, adaptive learning environments using proprietary online course software, which currently serves over XX00 students annually in a nationally recognized program.*

I recently read an amazing article: “How to create winning proposal themes” that should be required reading for anyone interested in exploring the use of win themes. As with all challenging concepts, practice makes perfect! From my experience, a concerted win theme development period at the beginning of a proposal is priceless for identifying and agreeing to overall proposal strategy.

* These are examples only and have not been vetted, nor approved for use.

NSF Proposal Clinic – Preparations

We are busily confirming our plans for ASU’s National Science Foundation (NSF) Proposal Clinic to be held on ASU’s Main Campus at ISTB 4 on January 9, 2014.

The event targets associate and full professors seeking to improve their NSF award portfolio. Highlights of the day include, a presenter with extensive experience in single investigator and center proposal preparation, a panel discussion featuring experienced faculty members, and a networking lunch. NSF_ProposalClinicFlyerDownload the flyer: NSF-ProposalClinic.

Register here by January 6, 2014.

Questions? Email researchstrategy@asu.edu.

Grant Writing Success Strategies

It was my pleasure to present at ASU’s Faculty Women’s Association (FWA) annual grants workshop on Wednesday, December 11, 2013. This event is co-sponsored by OKED, the research arm of the university.

Over 100 attendees listened to me share my experience with academic proposals. This year, there were two break out sections: Humanities & Social Sciences and Sciences & Engineering. The majority of my experience is with sciences and engineering, so I listened to the humanities and social sciences session. I was inspired by the panelists: Joni Adamson (Professor, English and Environmental Humanities), Kimberly Scott (Director, CompuGirls), and Mark Lussier (Chair, Department of English).

Download the presentation: FWA presentation_Dec 2013.

The recording will be available soon. For more information on OKED sponsored events, please review our research forums here.

Five simple rules for proposal team meetings

Five simple rules for team meetings when developing large proposals or applications:

  1. It is never too early! It is always reassuring when I attend a meeting that is held BEFORE the solicitation has been released. While it might feel premature, early meetings facilitate a strength/weakness analysis, initiate a discussion on technical strategy, and get individuals motivated. More about Kick Off Meetings.
  2. Easy does it. If your team has worked together previously and/or shares some discipline knowledge or sponsor experience, meetings may be briefer, but will compensate in frequency. Longer and less frequent meetings are advisable when the team requires time to communicate across disciplines or the research approach is being solidified. For example, core team members (PI, Co-I, Project Manager, Proposal Manager) will meet for 30 minutes weekly, but the larger team will meet for 1 to 2 hours every other week. Large team meetings can alternate with small task-driven group meetings.
  3. More is less. Invite all team members whenever possible. Attendance will be limited because of other demands on their time, but everyone should have an opportunity to contribute. Inviting the team to join the meeting using alternative methods, such as teleconference and using web-based conferencing tools, will encourage participation. This level of transparency pays dividends in team interest and enthusiasm.
  4. When to say no. It is advisable to schedule meetings several weeks in advance. If you find that you do not need to have a meeting, cancel it. Team members have multiple demands on their time and will always appreciate an hour or two back into their schedule.
  5. Failure to thrive. Meetings should be agenda driven with room to improvise. Having a standing meeting structure (e.g., round robin updates, challenges, next steps) will assist people when organizing their thoughts. However, meetings should not sacrifice the creative for the droll. Remember that highjacked meetings sometimes move the team forward faster than a business meeting ever could.

These five items are the top of my list, but there are definitely others. What are the rules that work best for you?

Death by subtitle: Formatting secrets

All proposals (and their proposers) should follow the sponsor guidelines and solicitation requirements. However, these should not be seen as limitations. In fact, you can (and must) creatively use those restrictions to your advantage. Be cautious: There is a fine line between adapting requirements and over formatting.

Best practice is to use the format requirements to create an outline document. You can then insert the review criteria so that you can easily reference them as you compose your text. Next, start designing your proposed project. It is recommended that you start by recapitulating the needs of the sponsor (either reflecting the sponsor’s mission or the specific solicitation) and linking it explicitly to your proposed solution, approach, or research project.

As the proposal content evolves, the writer needs to  continuously address the structure and organization of the ideas presented. If the proposal is 12 pages or 60 pages, you have to drive the reader through the document using both a compelling narrative and formatting guideposts.

A few helpful tips to consider when optimizing formatting in a proposal:

  • Use only two types of font for headers and body text.
  • Use only three levels of headers.
  • Use only three types of formatting, e.g., bold, italics, and bold & italics.
  • Bullet points should be two lines or less.
  • Include ample white space, e.g., between paragraphs, around graphics, above and below headers, etc.
  • Left justify body text.
  • Do not have frequent headers, or headers with less than one paragraph associated with them.
  • Use headers, leading lines, and graphics captions to convey a message that recapitulates sponsor and solicitation requirements.

We can all agree that wall to wall text is challenging to read even if you are a Nobel Laureate. And disjointed content does not advance your cause, even when the solicitation demands it. Instead, proposal text that is persuasive, concise, and succinct will, by its nature, encourage you to not over-format the content while staying compliant. If done well, the reader will be able to easily digest cleaner, better organized text, which in turn, will allow the reader to understand the value/significance/innovation of what you are proposing.