How to Write an External Proposal

External funding is needed to get most projects started.

Writing external proposals is integral work for non-profit organizations, researchers, academics and graduate students. External proposals are funding applications for research and pilot projects outside your university or organization. These proposals are fundamental to starting research, so learning to write strong applications is worth investing the time and effort.

Determine and obtain all necessary documentation. Before you start writing, find out what documentation or information you need to provide. Many academic proposals require transcripts or reference letters. These documents take time to obtain so start early to avoid last-minute problems. You may be disqualified if you are missing a document, wasting all your efforts on the proposal.

Tailor your application to the criteria and guidelines. Organizations offering proposals will provide information how the applications will be assessed. The guidelines specify what type of projects the organization will fund. Do not use the same application or proposal for multiple external applications. Instead, explicitly tailor all your writing to the needs of the funding agency. Make sure your resume or curriculum vitae highlights their eligibility criteria.

Avoid jargon. Remember you are writing to an external audience and these reviewers will not have the same knowledge, experience or educational background as you. Technical jargon will alienate your reader and your proposal. A good test is to ask someone outside your organization or research field to read your proposal to identify jargon and offer alternative terms in plain language.

Make the case for your research. Explain why your research addresses an interesting academic puzzle, research need or real world problem. Granting institutions will not fund research for curiosity’s sake. Convince them why they should care more about your research proposal than any others they receive.

Identify other sources of funding already obtained. For large projects, it is useful to leverage funds from multiple agencies. For example, if applying to a government agency, cite any private sector contributions you have received. This provides security for the funder that the project is worthy and has enough funds for completion.

Maggie Allen is a political science doctoral student and a trained facilitator of environmental conflicts. She has traveled extensively for her work and began writing on these experiences in 2006, including policy papers for international organizations. She holds a Master of Arts in international development from the University of Guelph and a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from the University of Northern British Columbia.