The sections described below represent the body of a research proposal submitted to NSF. Failure to submit the required sections will result in the proposal not being accepted, or being returned without review. See Chapter IV.B of the PAPPG for additional information.
A full research proposal must contain the following sections. Note that the NSF Grants.gov Application Guide may use different naming conventions, and sections may appear in a different order than in FastLane, however, the content is the same:
The proposal preparation instructions for RAPID, EAGER, RAISE, GOALI, Ideas Lab, FASED, conference, equipment, travel, center, research infrastructure, and fellowship proposal types may deviate from the above content requirements.
From the 2020 PAPPG:
"Each proposal must contain a summary of the proposed project not more than one page in length. The Project Summary consists of an overview, a statement on the intellectual merit of the proposed activity, and a statement on the broader impacts of the proposed activity.
The overview includes a description of the activity that would result if the proposal were funded and a statement of objectives and methods to be employed. The statement on intellectual merit should describe the potential of the proposed activity to advance knowledge. The statement on broader impacts should describe the potential of the proposed activity to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes.
The Project Summary should be informative to other persons working in the same or related fields, and, insofar as possible, understandable to a broad audience within the scientific domain. It should not be an abstract of the proposal.
The Project Summary may ONLY be uploaded as a Supplementary Document if use of special characters is necessary. Such Project Summaries must be formatted with separate headings for Overview, Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts. Failure to include these headings will result in the proposal being returned without review."
15 pages maximum.
The Project Description should outline the general plan of work, including the broad design of activities to be undertaken, and, where appropriate, provide a clear description of experimental methods and procedures. Proposers should address what they want to do, why they want to do it, how they plan to do it, how they will know if they succeed, and what benefits could accrue if the project is successful. The project activities may be based on previously established and/or innovative methods and approaches, but in either case must be well justified. These issues apply to both the technical aspects of the proposal and the way in which the project may make broader contributions.
More information on the Project Description can be found in the current NSF PAPPG.
No page limit.
From the 2020 PAPPG:
"Reference information is required.
Proposers must be especially careful to follow accepted scholarly practices in providing citations for source materials relied upon when preparing any section of the proposal. While there is no established page limitation for the references, this section must include bibliographic citations only and must not be used to provide parenthetical information outside of the 15-page Project Description."
A separate biographical sketch (limited to two pages) must be provided through use of an NSF-approved format, for each individual designated as senior personnel. (See Exhibit II-3 in the PAPPG for the definitions of Senior Personnel.)
NSF now requires one of two NSF-approved formats for submissions of ‘BioSketches.’
More information and FAQs about both formats are here. Note that NSF highly encourages the use of SciENcv, which is likely to become the only required format soon.
From the 2020 PAPPG:
"Each proposal must contain a budget for each year of support requested. The budget justification must be no more than five pages per proposal. The amounts for each budget line item requested must be documented and justified in the budget justification. For proposals that contain a subaward(s), each subaward must include a separate budget justification of no more than five pages (See Chapter II.C.2.g.(vi)(e) of the PAPPG for further instructions on proposals that contain subawards).
The proposal may request funds under any of the categories listed so long as the item and amount are considered necessary, reasonable, allocable, and allowable under 2 CFR § 200, Subpart E, NSF policy, and/or the program solicitation.
As with BioSketches, NSF now requires one of two NSF-approved formats for reporting Current and Pending Support:
Additional clarification and FAQs about both formats are here.
New in June 2021: NSF Current & Pending Support Disclosure Table
The agency has released a table that shows when certain biographical and support information is required for pre-award and post-award documents.
From the 2020 PAPPG:
"Current and pending support information must be separately provided through use of an NSF-approved format, for each individual designated as senior personnel on the proposal. Current and pending support includes all resources made available to an individual in support of and/or related to all of his/her research efforts, regardless of whether or not they have monetary value. Current and pending support also includes in-kind contributions (such as office/laboratory space, equipment, supplies, employees, students). In-kind contributions not intended for use on the project/proposal being proposed also must be reported.
Current and pending support information must be provided for this project, for ongoing projects, and for any proposals currently under consideration from whatever source, irrespective of whether such support is provided through the proposing organization or is provided directly to the individual.
The total award amount for the entire award period covered (including indirect costs) must be provided, as well as the number of person-months (or partial person-months) per year to be devoted to the project by the individual.
Concurrent submission of a proposal to other organizations will not prejudice its review by NSF, if disclosed. If the project (or any part of the project) now being submitted has been funded previously by a source other than NSF, information must be provided regarding the last period of funding."
From the 2020 PAPPG:
"This section of the proposal is used to assess the adequacy of the resources available to perform the effort proposed to satisfy both the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts review criteria. Proposers should describe only those resources that are directly applicable. Proposers should include an aggregated description of the internal and external resources (both physical and personnel) that the organization and its collaborators will provide to the project, should it be funded. Such information must be provided in this section, in lieu of other parts of the proposal (e.g., Budget Justification, Project Description). The description should be narrative in nature and must not include any quantifiable financial information. Reviewers will evaluate the information during the merit review process and the cognizant NSF Program Officer will review it for programmatic and technical sufficiency.
Although these resources are not considered voluntary committed cost sharing as defined in 2 CFR § 200.99, the Foundation does expect that the resources identified in the Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources section will be provided, or made available, should the proposal be funded. Chapter VII.B.1 of the PAPPG specifies procedures for use by the grantee when there are postaward changes to objectives, scope or methods/procedures."
From the 2020 PAPPG:
"Plans for data management and sharing of the products of research. Proposals must include a document of no more than two pages uploaded under “Data Management Plan” in the supplementary documentation section of FastLane. This supplementary document should describe how the proposal will conform to NSF policy on the dissemination and sharing of research results (see Chapter XI.D.4), and may include:
Data management requirements and plans specific to the Directorate, Office, Division, Program, or other NSF unit, relevant to a proposal are available at: http://www.nsf.gov/bfa/dias/policy/dmp.jsp. If guidance specific to the program is not available, then the requirements established in this section apply.
Simultaneously submitted collaborative proposals and proposals that include subawards are a single unified project and should include only one supplemental combined Data Management Plan, regardless of the number of non-lead collaborative proposals or subawards included. In such collaborative proposals, the data management plan should discuss the relevant data issues in the context of the collaboration."
"All RUI proposals must include a RUI Impact Statement that does not exceed five (5) pages. The statement is an opportunity to provide information that will help a reviewer to assess:
An enhanced departmental environment may be reflected in direct student training in research and in increased involvement of the faculty in competitive research. These factors, in turn, may lead to improved student preparation, curricular impact and faculty development.
The RUI Impact Statement should highlight the record of the department(s) and institution(s) in educating undergraduates for science and engineering careers. The statement should also discuss the plans to attract qualified undergraduate students to the project, including the criteria for their selection, and any provisions that will increase the participation of groups underrepresented in science and engineering. (Underrepresented groups include women, persons with disabilities, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders.) It should explain any plans for measuring the effect of project participation on the participating students during and after their undergraduate years. Finally, the RUI Impact Statement should explain the anticipated contribution of any new research tools (instrumentation, databases, etc.) to both the education and research opportunities for students and faculty.
The RUI Impact Statement may include information on factors affecting research productivity, such as teaching loads, availability (or lack) of support personnel, nature of experimental and computational facilities, and features of the student population. It may also describe institutional support for research activity by faculty and students and the anticipated impact of that support on the proposed project."
One page maximum. Postdoctoral Mentoring Plans (if applicable) should be uploaded to the Supplementary Documentation section.
From the 2020 PAPPG:
"Postdoctoral Researcher Mentoring Plan.
Letter(s) of Collaboration should be uploaded to the Supplementary Documentation section.
From the 2020 PAPPG:
"Documentation of collaborative arrangements of significance to the proposal through letters of collaboration. (See Chapter II.C.2.d.(iv).) Letters of collaboration should be limited to stating the intent to collaborate and should not contain endorsements or evaluation of the proposed project. The recommended format for letters of collaboration is as follows:
“If the proposal submitted by Dr. [insert the full name of the Principal Investigator] entitled [insert the proposal title] is selected for funding by NSF, it is my intent to collaborate and/or commit resources as detailed in the Project Description or the Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources section of the proposal.”
While letters of collaboration are permitted, unless required by a specific program solicitation, letters of support should not be submitted as they are not a standard component of an NSF proposal. A letter of support is typically from a key stakeholder such as an organization, collaborator or Congressional Representative, and is used to convey a sense of enthusiasm for the project and/or to highlight the qualifications of the PI or co-PI. A letter of support submitted in response to a program solicitation requirement must be unique to the specific proposal submitted and cannot be altered without the author’s explicit prior approval. Proposals that contain letters of support not authorized by the program solicitation may be returned without review."
Collaborators & Other Affiliations Information is uploaded to the Single Copy Documents section in Fastlane or Research.gov.
NSF requires the use of this template for identifying Colloborative and Other Affiliations Information: NSF Collaborators and Other Affiliations Template
The template has been developed to be fillable, however, the content and format requirements must not be altered by as this will create printing and viewing errors. This template must be saved in .xlsx format and directly uploaded into FastLane as a Collaborators and Other Affiliations Single Copy Document. FastLane will convert the uploaded .xlsx files to PDF. Using the .xlsx format will enable preservation of searchable text that otherwise would be lost. It is imperative that this document be uploaded in .xlsx only. Uploading a document in any format other than .xlsx may delay the timely processing and review of your proposal.
Several NSF directorates require both a research plan and an evaluation plan. It is important to understand the difference. The following resource from the Kavita Mittapalli of MN Associates discusses the differences, key components of each, and provides additional resources.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) hosted their annual grant conference in a virtual bi-annual event virtual in November 2020 and June 2021. We encourage you to review the below selected recordings to assist in your proposal efforts to NSF. Additional webinar recordings can be found on the NSF Resource Center.
View the NSF Proposal Preparation webinar
Learn how to prepare a proposal and what constitutes a proposal of high quality.
View the Crosscutting Programs webinar
Each directorate participates in these popular Foundation-wide programs. Learn more about program requirements and eligibility for the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, the Research at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) program and the Research Experiences for Teachers Supplement Opportunity (RET).
Seattle University has been very successful in applying through the RUI program - please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to start your application!
View the Major Research Implementation webinar
NSF’s Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Program catalyzes new knowledge and discoveries by empowering the nation’s scientists and engineers with state-of-the-art research instruments that are, in general, too costly and/or not appropriate for support through other NSF programs. The program provides organizations with opportunities to acquire major instrumentation that supports the research and research training goals of the organization and that may be used by other researchers regionally or nationally. Come to this crosscutting session to learn more about what types of awards are made by the program, eligibility criteria, and cost sharing requirements.
Note: These recordings were not part of the 2020 Virtual Grants Conference.
The mission of the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) is to enable discoveries for understanding life. BIO-supported research advances the frontiers of biological knowledge, increases our understanding of complex systems, and provides a theoretical basis for original research in many other scientific disciplines.
The mission of the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) is to enable the U.S. to uphold its leadership in computing, communications, and information science and engineering; promote understanding of the principles and uses of advanced computing, communications, and information systems in service to society; support advanced cyberinfrastructure that enables and accelerates discovery and innovation across all science and engineering disciplines; and contribute to universal, transparent, and affordable participation in an information-based society. To achieve this mission, CISE supports investigator-initiated research and education in all areas of computer and information science and engineering, fosters broad interdisciplinary collaboration, helps develop and maintain cutting-edge national cyberinfrastructure for research and education, and contributes to the development of a computer and information technology workforce with skills necessary for success in the increasingly competitive global market.
Research funded by the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Directorate for Engineering (ENG) has enriched the understanding of natural systems, enhanced electronics, fortified the nation's infrastructure and introduced the exciting possibilities of engineering to the next generation. Investments in engineering research and education are critical building blocks for the nation's future prosperity. Engineering breakthroughs address national challenges, such as smart manufacturing, resilient infrastructure, and sustainable energy systems. Engineering also brings about new opportunities in areas ranging from advanced photonics to prosthetic devices.
The mission of EHR is to achieve excellence in U.S. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education at all levels and in all settings (both formal and informal) to support the development of a diverse and well-prepared workforce of scientists, technicians, engineers, mathematicians, and educators and a well-informed citizenry that have access to the ideas and tools of science and engineering. The purpose of these activities is to enhance the quality of life of all citizens and the health, prosperity, welfare, and security of the nation.
The mission of MPS is to harness the collective efforts of the mathematical and physical sciences communities to address the most compelling scientific questions, educate the future advanced high-tech workforce, and promote discoveries to meet the needs of the Nation. The NSF Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences consists of the Divisions of Astronomical Sciences, Chemistry, Materials Research, Mathematical Sciences, and Physics, as well as the Office of Multidisciplinary Activities. These organizations comprise the basic structure for MPS support of research and education. The MPS Divisions support both disciplinary and interdisciplinary activities and partner with each other and with other NSF Directorates to effectively encourage basic research across the scientific disciplines.
NSF's Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic (SBE) Sciences supports basic research on people and society. The SBE sciences focus on human behavior and social organizations and how social, economic, political, cultural, and environmental forces affect the lives of people from birth to old age and how people in turn shape those forces. SBE scientists develop and employ rigorous methods to discover fundamental principles of human behavior at levels ranging from cells to society, from neurons to neighborhoods, and across space and time. Such fundamental principles help us understand patterns of stability and change at the individual, group, organizational, and societal levels that can be applied to promote the progress of science and to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare. Through its various core disciplinary and interdisciplinary programs, as well as contributions to cross-directorate NSF investments, SBE supports approximately 5,000 scientists, educators, and students in a typical year. Understanding human behavior individually and in groups has far-reaching impacts from optimizing child development to safeguarding our troops; from exploring the origins of our species to finding our way with GPS; from understanding the state of the science and engineering enterprise to securing cyberspace.