Writing Effective ProposalsGuidance for preparing applications for funds.
Are you writing an application, plan, or proposal in response to state or federal requirements? This information will help you make it readable and educationally sound.
Starting well is half the job.
-- Korean proverb
An application, plan, or proposal (plan) should not be written in isolation. Begin by seeking cooperation from people who understand the needs of students, teachers, and others for whom the program is proposed. They can help you create a realistic plan that can be implemented if funded.
A high-quality plan reflects the ideas of students, parents, educators, community members, and other service providers. Consider forming a team of interested individuals to develop the plan. Team members should be committed to designing and implementing improvements. If several people do the writing, one should serve as the editor who creates a unified document with consistent tone and style.
Review thoroughly any legal statutes, regulations, and guidelines related to the plan and refer to them frequently as you write and design the project. Make sure that the proposed program is consistent with the requirements.
Do not simply restate the plan requirements such as, "We will involve parents in important decisions." Instead, give examples of promising strategies you have chosen from your experience or research. Present illustrations of how you will implement the program. If a requirement or regulation does not seem applicable to your plan or local situation, explain why you do not address it.
Committing to Equity and Excellence
Most educational plans are focused on improving equity and excellence for each student in the program. Therefore, all major provisions of the plan should be directed at improving student performance and conditions at school and at home.
Use the team's planning efforts to develop a consensus about the focus of the plan and your commitment to implement it. You may think you have good ideas, but your plan should persuade the reader that the ideas are well researched, thoughtfully designed, and supported by committed staff, students, parents, and members of the community. Further, the plan should demonstrate that the proposed improvements have a realistic chance of success.
Remember that any successful educational program contains interdependent parts such as instruction, assessment, professional development, and family involvement. You should propose a program that addresses the elements of effective education. Consider organizing your plan with sections such as:
What are the needs of students and other participants? How does your plan help students attain the content standards adopted by the California State Board of Education? What research-based teaching strategies will you use?
What standardized and alternative assessments do you plan to use? What actions will you take if outcomes do not meet expectations?
How does your plan support teachers, paraprofessionals, and administrators? How does professional development address the needs of students?
Family and School Support
How will you strengthen partnerships between educators and families? How does the plan address the health and safety needs of students and their families?
How will funds be coordinated to support the plan?
The content of one section of your plan should reinforce the content in other sections. For example, your assessment approaches should be based on the standards and curriculum. Similarly, the funding section should show how professional development is supported.
Pay attention to the guidelines for the plan in the applicable statute, regulations, and official guidance: e.g., page limit, double-spacing, and average size of grant awards for the categories. The more you deviate from requirements set by the funding agency, the more you need to justify your decisions. Otherwise, your plan may be rejected.
All our words from loose using have lost their edge.
-- Ernest Hemingway
The quality of your plan and your competence to implement it will be judged largely on how well it is written. Some reminders:
Write for the people who will read your plan for the state or federal program. Because you cannot be sure about the readers' backgrounds, assume that they do not have in-depth knowledge about your agency, students, or community. Do not write for specialists like yourself. Instead, write as though you were explaining your program to a friend or relative who is not an educator.
Organize your plan according to the requirements contained in the statute, regulations, or instructions from the funding agency. Headings and subheadings break up the narrative, identify important content, and make your plan easy to read and understand. Choose font sizes and types that enhance the text, but try to avoid excessive variety. Be sure to include a table of contents with page numbers.
Style and usage affect the credibility of your plan. Here are some suggestions for making your writing clear and correct.
- Consult a dictionary and a style manual (e.g., The Chicago Manual of Style) to help you with spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Choosing a common style helps establish consistency in the document, especially when there is more than one writer.
- Use shorter sentences. Sentences of more than fifteen words are difficult to read.
- Avoid passive voice. "Teachers will visit parents at home" is more direct and informative than "Parents will be visited."
- Rely on simple language. Use is simpler than utilization, because more direct than due to the fact that. Don't make your document unnecessarily complex with long words and wordy phrases.
- Delete any words, sentences, or phrases that do not add to the meaning. Make every word fight for its life.
- Break lengthy paragraphs into smaller sections. Try to limit paragraphs to four or five sentences.
- Use specific and concrete terms, rather than jargon like conceptualize, empowerment, restructuring, interface, and articulate.
- Develop summaries at the beginning or end of sections. Help the reader navigate your document.
- Insert headings and subheadings in the text to reflect the main ideas.
- Use facts and statistics to prove your case.
- Unless directed to do so by the funding agency, avoid hardcover bindings, tabbed dividers, and other fancy touches. Keep the presentation simple and the content strong and meaningful.
Find the balance between making your plan too long or too short. It should address all requirements with some redundancy without providing unnecessary information. Redundancy exists in the plan because of the interdependency of its sections. Strictly follow any page limits set by the plan requirements.
Check and recheck the facts and figures in the plan. Incorrect information, outdated statistics, or irrelevant research will undermine your credibility.
Be sure that facts and figures in one section of the plan are consistent with what you present in other sections.
Use acronyms and abbreviations sparingly because they may be unfamiliar to many readers. Be sure to spell them out the first time they are used; e. g., California uses the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program for assessment and accountability.
Use illustrations such as charts, tables, and graphs to highlight key points. Be sure to introduce the graphic and explain how it supports the information in the narrative. Don't make the reader figure out what the chart or table means.
Read and reread each draft of your plan before you submit it. Readers judge your credibility based on the quality of your writing. Ask colleagues to review and comment on drafts. Include as reviewers people who do not have a strong background in education or in the particular program you are designing. They will help you avoid jargon and complex writing.
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Yes, there is a Nirvana; it is leading your sheep to a green pasture, and putting your child to sleep, and writing the last line of your poem.
-- Kahlil Gibran
Writing the last line of the narrative of your plan is the completion of the collaborative planning described at the beginning of this document. The following will help make your plan complete and readable.
Note: Be sure to respond to the statute, regulations, and guidelines that are related to the plan you are developing. Use the wording contained in the requirements and follow any sequence implied in the instructions. Make it easy for readers to find information in your plan. Check the requirements of the plan you are developing and follow the instructions. Here are possible sections and a sequence for presenting them.
Most plans are improved by an abstract at the beginning of the narrative. Generally it should be limited to two 1.5-spaced pages. Describe each major section of the plan. Focus on goals of the plan, number and type of project participants, staff members, and key parts of the program. Remember that first impressions are important, so make the abstract informative, well written, and readable.
Explain the needs of your agency and people who will benefit from the proposed project. Present needs for each objective and each major part of the Implementation section. For example, if you are proposing to use computer-assisted instruction, explain the needs of the agency that led you to select this approach.
Describe the needs of all the groups who may be considered project participants (e.g., students, staff, and parents). Indicate how services will be delivered to students and families most in need of assistance and schools in need of improvement.
State the needs of your agency and participants in positive terms. If your situation sounds too bleak, you may appear to lack even the basic conditions for building a new project. For example, assessment results may indicate that students are achieving at low levels in English, but have high levels of proficiency in their native language. Present the needs according to effective parts of the existing programs, changes that will lead to improvements, and potential obstacles to reform.
Present evidence of having had direct contact with people who know the prospective participants. Include suggestions from some participants themselves as well as other parents, students, teachers, administrators, and members of the community.
Explain how needs of the participants have been analyzed to determine what you have written in the Implementation section. For example, if family education activities are proposed, why did you select this component? How did you identify the project participants? What did you learn from prospective parent participants and other people knowledgeable about families to help you design this component? Identify methods to assess needs (e.g., surveys, interviews, standardized tests, and meetings).
Describe the nature of the project and its consistency with provisions of the applicable statute or regulations. Show how the project will lead to improving student performance and conditions at school and at home (e.g., a more challenging curriculum based on content standards). Remember to keep the focus of the project limited so that it can be implemented effectively within the time and budget constraints of the project.
Include goals and objectives. Goals are general statements of what you expect to achieve after some specified time. Your objectives should be clear statements of what seems possible to achieve during the project. Objectives represent your definition of a successful project and provide the framework for the evaluation.
Keep the number of objectives small. For example, write one or two objectives for each major part of the project. The objectives should be based on the content standards. Ensure that the objectives include important specifications:
- Learners and other participants in the project
- Measurable outcomes
- Tests and other assessment measures
- Expected timeline for attainment
- Staff members responsible for the objectives
You should reference these objectives in other sections of the plan, especially in the Implementation and the Evaluation sections. Be sure to describe how the proposed project is consistent with statutory requirements.
Give the reader a clear understanding of the kind of program you are currently implementing and funding sources that support it. Next, present the proposed project and explain how it will improve, upgrade, or reform services you are already offering. Describe what you think the project will look like at the end of the funding period.
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Explain how you will refine and implement the goals and objectives throughout the project. This section illustrates the project design: i.e., the objectives, activities, instructional methods, materials, and assessments that are essential for the implementation and evaluation of the project. Be sure that you reference the objectives as they appear in other sections of the plan.
Describe the sources of information used to design the instructional program, such as staff experience, proven instructional models, and theory and research related to the proposed program. Explain how you will assess the effectiveness of instruction. For example, state-required tests may be only part of your evaluation. What other assessments might be used to measure student progress?
Illustrate how the proposed parts of the project will be integrated and made mutually supportive. For example, if there are components on science education, technology, and family education, explain how science instruction in the classroom will be linked with parent-child activities at home and how the students' use of technology will be enhanced by family education and science instruction.
Indicate how the instructional program will meet the participants' needs throughout the project. For example, what is proposed for the first year, second year, and so on? How will the instructional program be adjusted as participants' needs change? How will you ensure that services will continue to focus on students most in need?
Describe strategies that you will use to build the capacity of your agency to continue project services after the funding period. Some examples include gradually assuming costs for budget items originally supported by the project; establishing a task force to seek funding for the future; training project staff members who will continue to deliver services; and improving your agency's policies for promoting equity and excellence for each student. Demonstrate that you will employ these strategies throughout the funding period.
Describe the staffing plan for the project. What staff will be assigned to the components of the project? How will the project facilitate coordination between project staff and those staff members who work with the participants but are not funded by the program?
Identify the needs of project staff members and describe the plan for professional development of staff. Explain how the plan addresses the needs of staff, derived from the students' needs identified in the Needs Assessment section.
Identify the duties and responsibilities of not only staff funded by the proposed project but of all staff who will implement the plan. Indicate the amount of time that staff members devote to the project.
Describe the qualifications of the key staff members. Create a match between the abilities required to implement the instructional program and the qualifications of the staff. If the match is weak, explain how professional development will give staff members the knowledge and experience they need to implement the project successfully.
Demonstrate that the collective capacity of the staff includes ability to respond positively to the project participants. For example, explain how the staff will be able to identify and meet the linguistic and cultural needs of English learners.
Budget and Justification
If your plan requires a budget, remember to display clearly the proposed expenditures for the project and justify the items in each line of the budget. For example, for the item "Supplies: $10,000," include the calculation that led to this figure and explain how the supplies are linked to activities in the Implementation section.
Ensure that the Implementation and the Budget sections are mutually supportive. If parent education activities are proposed, the budget should include costs associated with working with parents (e.g., presenters' fees and costs for child care and facilities) and evaluating the success of the activities. Similarly, if there are budget items for purchasing computers, the Implementation section should describe how the computers will support instruction.
Explain how components of the project are supported by an integration of project funds and other federal and state funds. Innovative programs are usually strengthened by coordinating funds for the proposed project with other funding sources. Usually needs of students, families, and staff members will not be met by the proposed program alone. Explain how you will allocate new resources and re-allocate existing resources to students and families most in need of services.
A decreasing budget over the life of the project is usually a good indicator of building capacity for long-term implementation of the project. Explain how your agency will contribute to the project from the outset; e.g., identify ways in which the agency will manage state and federal funds, staff members, materials, and facilities to enhance implementation. Also, demonstrate how the agency plans to assume the costs supported by funds from the proposed project. Be sure to justify a budget that goes above or below the average amount suggested for the program.
Describe the methods and measurement tools you will use to determine your progress in attaining the project objectives. It is very important to connect the content of this section to other sections of the plan. The elements of the evaluation design should refer to the instructional program, staff members, and budget items described in other parts of the plan. Weak evaluation designs are those that could be written for any set of implementation activities, rather than are addressed to the unique characteristics of the proposed project. Do not simply restate the evaluation requirements of the funding agency. Describe how your project will be evaluated according to the applicable requirements.
The evaluation section should illustrate strategies to determine the extent to which you are attaining the objectives of the project. Be sure that you reference the objectives as they appear in other sections of the plan. Each objective should include these specifications:
- Data to be collected
- Assessment measures to be used
- Timeline for collecting data
- Methods for analyzing data
- Strategies for compiling and reporting evaluation results
- Methods for using the results to improve the project during the funding period
- Persons responsible for implementing and monitoring the evaluation
The evaluation design may include formal, standardized tests or informal surveys and interviews. Describe how you will use state-required assessments as well as other tests to measure the success of the project.
Delineate responsibilities of the evaluator, staff members, and participants in implementing the evaluation design. Focus on how they will collaborate to ensure that the evaluation meets the needs of the project.
Members of the team that began planning the project should actively participate in all phases, including the evaluation. Their ongoing participation will ensure consistency and coherence as the project evolves. What they learn should be used to improve the current project and plan new programs for the future.
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The Chicago Manual of Style (14th edition). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.
Kilian, Crawford. Writing for the Web: Writers' Edition. Bellingham, Wash.: Self-Counsel Press, 1999.Ross-Larson, Bruce. Effective Writing. New York: W.W. Norton & and Company, 1999.