Quick Start Workflow

  1. Define your project + Identify your needs.

    • Develop a key research question. What is your methodology? What outcomes do you expect to see? 
    • Establish realistic goals. What is your timeline? What other responsibilities do you have? What can you truly accomplish in the amount of time you have? 
    • Assess your needs. Are you undertaking preliminary research and in search of seed funding? Or, do you have an ongoing project which has developed into a full-blown research agenda? Scale is important in writing a research agenda: large-scale, long-term projects are often only funded if you can demonstrate seed funding or matched funds.  
    • Why is your research/project important? What is its significance? Will you be undertaking experimental research? Contextualize project relevance.
    • Sketch a project budget and timeline.
    • Define deliverables clearly.
  2. Identify potential funding sources.

  • Determine your category: dissertation, archival, experimental, fieldwork, or manuscript? Funders will usually list these categories in the CFP. 
  • Try to align your project goals with those of your funder’s. Make sure you’re “speaking the same language."
  • Most importantly, apply early and often.  

  1. Develop a proposal and budget.

    • Follow the application guidelines exactly. 
    •  Adjust your project to fit the CFP guidelines. Check that your methodology aligns to your project budget and timeline.  
    • Be clear and concise. Use images, diagrams, drawings, and maps where applicable.   
    • Use active, persuasive language. When describing outcomes, don’t use conditional/hedging words like might / may / maybe / would / could.  
    • Seek feedback and write many drafts.
  2. Submit the proposal before the deadline.

Notes on Style

Writing for proposals is not the same as for academic work. It needs to be highly accessible with limited use of industry-specific terminology. Do not assume that the reviewer of your application has expertise in your field.

  • Use short, clear sentences
  • Employ an active voice (I or we)
  • Remain future-focused
  • Commit to strong, persuasive phrasing
  • Convey enthusiasm and confidence

Writing a Proposal

A grant proposal must always complete two tasks: 

  1. Clearly articulate the hypothesis of your research in its broadest strokes.  
  2. Demonstrate that your goals in the research endeavor and the goals of the funding institution are symbiotic.  


As early in the proposal as possible, identify and explicitly state the question your research will answer. Avoid empty verbs like “shaped,” “influenced,” “sheds light,” “nuances,” and “complicates” that allude to the existence of an argument but do not state what that argument is. You might consider writing the abstract last even though it will be the first thing readers see in your proposal.

Though all grant CFPs (calls for proposals) vary, most call for a “grant narrative.” If they don’t ask for a separate abstract, incorporate the abstract into the first paragraph of your narrative. A successful abstract will accurately reflect the proposal and should quickly address your key question, research methodology, and relevance to the funding institution. Reviewers will have to sort through dozens or even hundreds of applications so state the who, what, why, where, when, how, how much, to what end(s) clearly and early. You can elaborate in the body of the grant narrative.   

In a grant, it is more important to demonstrate the urgency of your research and relevance to the funding institution than to frame the “gaps” in the literature (as you would in a research paper). Frame research in schools of thought without much detail about individual scholars. Offer avenues for reviewers from other fields (historians, ecologists, sociologists, etc) to enter your intellectual world by relating your research questions to broader issues. 


In the body, establish your general topic before you introduce your own argument about that topic. This framing will make your intervention’s relevance to the field evident. You can expand upon the historical or theoretical background to the project and explain how some of the research you’ve already done has led you to your key questions.


Be sure to give the fellowship committee some sense of your research process. You don’t need to re-invent the wheel when formulating a research strategy. In Writing Services, students often come to us with successful grant proposals, save for when they discuss methodologies. Research methodologies (aka research process) is either left out entirely, or students spend a good chunk of their word count trying to describe how they are going to conduct research. When writing a grant application, draw on extant methodologies to communicate to your reviewers how (and within what intellectual tradition) you’ll be conducting research. For a comprehensive list of methodologies in the design fields, see below.  

Institutional Goals

A successful project will address the goals of the funding institution. Sometimes these goals are clear (example: the grant is for dissertation research, and you need funding to travel to an archive to finish your dissertation). However, you will usually need to construct an argument relating your project to the aims of the CFP. Find the mission statement for the institution that offers the grant. Use this statement to identify how your research will advance the institution’s goals. Figure out the reason the funding exists and devote serious thought to how your project relates to that reason. Even if the relevance seems obvious to you, clearly state it; the grant review committee goes through a mountain of applications, so don’t trust that they will make these connections on their own. Also, articulate the specific reasons why you need this money. What will it allow you to do that you couldn’t do otherwise? And why are you the best person to do this project?

Writing a Budget

A grant budget is usually comprised of two things: a spreadsheet of how the grant will be used on expenses and a budget narrative (justification). A budget narrative is a paragraph which should explain the expenses. Even when proposal guidelines do not specifically mention a narrative, be sure to include one. This budget narrative can exist at the bottom of the table and should provide a brief overview of the budget. 

  1. Spell out project costs via a spreadsheet or table with the budget detailed as line items and include a budget narrative to explain and justify the table. 
  2. Make sure that all budget items meet the funding agency’s requirements.
  3. Factor in the estimated taxes applicable for your case. 

Writing a Timeline

Certain grants will ask for a timeline in your budget proposal. This timeline should list all the activities you will need to carry out to meet each of your objectives. 

Your timeline may be written as a narrative, but it can also be put into a table. A visual representation of your timeline may be easier for reviewers to understand.

Divide your timeline by quarters or months, depending on how long the funding period is. Place each activity into a quarter or month as opposed to specifying specific dates. These activities might include preliminary research, fieldwork, visits to archives, installation, model-making, publication design, etc. Include all activities from the day funding is awarded to the last day of funding.

Include when deliverables will be finished (or when you will fulfill reporting deadlines) and when/how you will assess the project’s progress and address any inadequacies.  

If collaborating with other designers and researchers, be sure to address who is responsible for completing each task. 

Keep the timeline realistic.