Budget and Proposal Development

As you prepare to work on your proposal, be sure to review the Basics of Research Administration for Principal Investigators which summarizes the roles and responsibilities of the PI, research administrators, and Research and Sponsored Programs (RSP), the office on our campus responsible for submitting proposals on behalf of a researcher.

Once you’ve identified a funding opportunity, the next step is to contact Sarah Marcotte, SoHE pre-award research administrator with the funding opportunity information. Sarah will assist with creating a WISPER record, generating a proposal preparation timeline, including a detailed checklist of the required proposal elements, and will assist with creating and finalizing the budget. When the proposal is ready for submission, it must be approved by SoHE and processed to Research and Sponsored Programs (RSP) for submission. RSP is the campus unit authorized to submit extramural proposals on behalf of researchers.

As a reminder, non-faculty members (Emeritus Professors and Academic Staff) must establish PI Status in order to serve as PI on a grant proposal.  Refer to UW campus policy for PI Status and the SoHE procedure for PI Status.  Contact Sarah Marcotte, SoHE pre-award research administrator, with any questions or for assistance with the request.

Proposal Process OverviewProposal Submission Process_final

The sections below provide more detailed resources for budget development, proposal preparation, and the required steps in the proposal submission process.  Other resources below include commonly requested forms and templates and answers to frequently asked questions.
Refer to the New Faculty Guide to Competing for Research Funding [UW NetID login required to access] for detailed and comprehensive guidance on all aspects of proposal writing.
Develop Your Budget

Start Early!

Why is finalizing the budget early so important? An accurate budget must meet sponsor requirements and University cost accounting standards, and the reality is that it takes time to transform a rough outline of project costs into the correct budget categories and with sufficient explanation. Plan to finalize your budget 1-2 weeks before the due date, to allow sufficient time to enter the budget into the sponsor's forms or system.

Below are common budget items that can be "trouble spots" during campus or sponsor budget review:

Personnel - This section will outline who is working on the project, their role, and their effort. If you want to hire someone outside the University, those costs will be budgeted elsewhere, not Personnel. This budget category is only for UW employees.

Travel - Who, what, when, why? Travel estimates have to meet University standards for mileage rates, per-diem allowances, and lodging expenses. Some sponsors will pay for project-related travel but not for conference travel. Many sponsors require specific approval for foreign travel.

Materials & Supplies - Most sponsors need enough detail about which Materials & Supplies are needed for the project to verify the costs are reasonable, related (allocable) to the work being done, and necessary to do the project. As an example, simply requesting a lump sum of $5,000 for miscellaneous office supplies is not enough information to make that determination.

Other Direct Costs - Publications, tuition remission, internal services (i.e., UW Survey Center or ICTR), research participant incentive payments, publication costs, etc., are all captured in this category. This section of the budget needs to provide a clear breakdown of how the total cost is derived.

Subawards vs Consultants - Deciding whether a collaborator outside of UW is participating as a Subawardee or Consultant is not always straightforward. Anytime a non-UW-Madison person, organization or entity is receiving funding to carry out a portion of the project work, at a minimum we need the following Subaward/Consultant items: Letter of Intent, Scope of Work, Budget, and Budget Justification.

Indirect Costs - We must include indirect costs per UW-Madison's federally-negotiated indirect cost rate agreement. In rare cases, we may budget a lesser indirect cost rate, but only for non-profit sponsors who have a published policy limiting the rate their organization will award. Other considerations for the correct indirect cost rate are whether the activities are Research or Public Service and whether they primarily occur on- or off-campus.

Budget Justification

A budget isn't complete without a justification. The justification explains the details of the budget items being requested, including why the funds are necessary and which parts of the project require the requested resources. Many sponsor guidelines outline the nature of the information needed in a budget justification. The justification should be organized to correspond to the budget categories on the sponsor's budget form.

Example of good budget justification language:

  • Travel: Professor Green plans to travel to the annual conference of the Sociological Society of America to be held in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2020, in order to present results from this research project. Funds totaling $2,500, are requested as follows: conference registration ($800) airfare ($500), lodging ($250/night x 3 nights - $750), per-diem ($85/day x 4 days = $340), and local transportation ($55/taxi ride x 2 rides = $110).

Example of not-so-good budget justification language:

  • Travel to annual conference, $2,500.

A well-written budget justification reflects positively on the proposal as a whole and can significantly streamline the award receipt and setup.

Develop Your Proposal

There's A Lot to Do!

Good planning is essential in the proposal development process. Carefully review the requirements for the proposal as outlined by the sponsor in the request for proposals (RFP) or funding opportunity announcement (FOA). Sarah Marcotte, SoHE pre-award research administrator, can help to prepare a detailed proposal checklist, or you can customize a checklist from a standard template.

Many sponsors outline specific formatting requirements, including font size, spacing, page limits, pagination, file size, document format, etc. A proposal that is not compliant with sponsor requirements may be returned without review.

Common Proposal Elements

Research Narrative - This is the heart of the proposal and will most likely determine whether your project is funded or not. The NIH provides comprehensive guidance and resources for writing a strong narrative.

Bibliography / Citations / References - When preparing the bibliography, use a format that is standard for the scientific discipline of the project. UW-Madison Libraries offer a number of citation managers for researchers.

Budget & Budget Narrative - Preparing a budget that captures all anticipated costs is crucial to a successful research project. Visit the "Develop Your Budget" section above for additional resources and templates.

Biographical Sketch or CV - Many sponsors ask applicants to provide professional experience via a CV or Biosketch using a specific format, including section headings and page limits. The NIH and other federal grant-making agencies recommend using ScienCV for managing the information required for a Biosketch.

Resources, Equipment, Facilities - This section details the scope and scale of institutional facilities, resources, and equipment available for conducting a project. You may want to start with boilerplate language of standard SoHE departments, Centers, and facilities. For descriptions of facilities or resources across the UW campus or non-campus partners, contact your collaborator in that unit or organization for a description of the facilities and resources the collaborator will contribute to the project.

Current and Pending Support - Many sponsors need to know that your ongoing projects do not overlap in funding, effort, or scientific inquiry with the proposal being submitted. When overlap does exist, sponsors will expect a plan to resolve the overlap before making an award. UW-Madison has a tool for generating Current and Pending Support for different sponsors.

Letters of Support - Be sure to follow sponsor guidelines closely for the types of letters of support that are permitted, taking caution to adhere to specified formatting requirements. The letter writer should not make voluntary financial or resource commitments (cost-share). Letters should also take care not to be written in a way that could be perceived as circumventing page limits of proposal sections.

Other Things to Think About

Human Subjects - If your project involves surveys, collecting data from research subjects, or obtaining data or information about people, it's very likely the IRB will need to approve a human subjects protocol - which can take weeks or months - or issue a determination for an IRB exemption - which can take weeks. Most sponsors withhold funding until IRB approval is obtained. Also, keep in mind that anyone working on a project involving human subjects must complete mandatory training. Visit the UW-Madison Human Research Protection Program website for information and resources, and to plan for any necessary IRB requirements for your project.

Conflict of Interest - Campus policy requires all faculty, regardless of appointment, all academic staff with 50% or greater appointment, and all individuals listed as participants on human subject protocols or on federal grants to complete an annual Outside Activities Report (OAR) and update whenever new outside activities are undertaken. Before a proposal can be submitted by RSP, all Senior Personnel must complete an OAR.

Export Control -There are a number of activities that have potential export control implications. It is important to contact the Export Control Office for guidance if you are doing any of the following activities:

      • Traveling abroad
      • Shipping items abroad
      • Working with foreign collaborators, whether in the United States or overseas.
      • Working with controlled items (examples include lasers, thermal imaging cameras, select agents, space qualified equipment and encryption. The list is long, please contact the Export Control Office for advice on specific items.)
      • Working with a grant or other contract that has an export control clause, publication restriction or personnel restriction
      • Doing any work with a person, business or organization that is a citizen of or headquartered in Iran, Syria, Sudan, North Korea, Cuba or the Crimea.

If you are unsure whether an activity falls within export control, contact the Export Control Office for assistance and guidance.

Proposal Submission

The Proposal is Ready - Now What?

The proposal deadline is one week away. Your budget has been finalized and your budget justification written. You have all of your collaborators' letters, the required documents from your Subawardees and Consultants, and now you're simply putting the finishing touches on your project narrative and bibliography.

Remember: The proposal must be submitted by RSP. To do this, RSP needs the WISPER record and notice from the PI or SoHE that the proposal is ready for submission.

Next Steps

7 days before to the due date: WISPER record must be signed by the Principal Investigator.  Who does this? Only the PI may sign the WISPER record.

4-7 days before the due date: Proposal must be compiled into the format or system by which it will be submitted. This may require uploading proposal elements to Cayuse, FastLane, research.gov, ProposalCentral, or a sponsor's online submission system. Who does this? It depends - either the PI or the SoHE research administrator. It's important to be clear about who is responsible for which steps in getting final documents into the correct format and into the submission system.

1-3 days before the due date:

      • WISPER record must be routed to RSP. This is the way campus units notify RSP that a proposal is ready for submission. Who does this? The SoHE research administrator. This step cannot be completed until the PI has signed the WISPER record (step #1 above).
      • The proposal record must be released in the submission system. Who does this?  It depends - either the PI or the SoHE research administrator. It's important to be clear about who is responsible for this step.
      • Proposal is submitted. Who does this? RSP submits all proposals to external funding agencies. In rare circumstances, RSP may provide an institutional approval letter for the proposal to the PI or SoHE research administrator to complete the submission. But in those cases, early communication with RSP is crucial so that the approval can be given well before the proposal deadline.
Forms and Templates

Proposal Forms and Templates

Proposal Checklist - can be customizedGeneral Proposal Checklist
NIH Detailed Budget Justification - TemplateNIH Budget Justification - for detailed budget
NIH Modular Consortium Justification - TemplateNIH Consortium Justification - for modular budget
NIH Modular Personnel Justification - TemplateNIH Personnel Justification - for modular budget
NIH Detailed Budget SpreadsheetNIH Detailed Budget Spreadsheet
NIH Modular Budget SpreadsheetNIH Modular Budget Spreadsheet
NIH R01 and R21 Proposal ChecklistNIH Proposal Checklist - R01 or R21
NSF Proposal ChecklistNSF Proposal Checklist
NSF Budget Justification - TemplateNSF Budget Justification
SoHE and UW-Madison Facilities & Other Resources - BoilerplateFacilities & Resources - SoHE & UW-Madison
NSF Collaborators and Other Affiliations formNSF Collaborators & Other Affiliations
Budget Spreadsheet - 5 Years / 3 SubawardsBudget Spreadsheet - 5 years / 3 subawards
Subrecipient Proposal ChecklistSubrecipient Proposal Checklist
Subrecipient Proposal Items Email - ExampleSample email to Subrecipient, to request proposal items
Budget Spreadsheet - 5 Years / no SubawardsBudget Spreadsheet - 5 years / no subawards
NIH RPPR ChecklistNIH checklist for annual Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR)
NSF Biographical Sketch TemplateNSF Biosketch Template
NSF Current and Pending SupportNSF Current and Pending Support Template


Who has proposal submission authority at UW-Madison? Can a faculty member submit his or her own proposal directly? Campus policy requires that all proposals submitted to external agencies or organizations be processed through campus approval channels (the Principal Investigator, the Department, the College or School, and RSP) to ensure they are compliant with campus policy, Board of Regents policies and requirements, and WI State law. The Research Administration infrastructure at UW supports faculty and researchers with meeting all of those policies and requirements, and ensuring that the resources being requested are supported by the Department and School or College.

I plan to be a Co-Investigator on a proposal being submitted by another institution. What do I need for that type of collaboration? Any UW faculty member who will commit effort or receive funds for work done on a project that is being submitted by another institution needs to process what are known as Subaward proposal documents through regular campus review and approval channels, prior to the lead site submitting the proposal.

UW-Madison's Subaward proposal documents must include (at a minimum):

  • Institutional Letter of Intent (LOI): This is a letter signed by an authorized official at RSP, indicating the budget and scope of work under UW-Madison's Subaward has institutional approval
  • Budget & Budget Justification: The budget details, in the sponsor's required format, must be reviewed and approved by SoHE and RSP prior to being incorporated into the lead site's budget
  • Scope of Work: A brief but detailed description of the work to be performed at UW-Madison.

The call for applications states we have to submit a proposal through grants.gov.  How do I do that? Grants.gov is a proposal submission system used by many federal agencies to receive and process grant applications. UW-Madison is registered with grants.gov and there are several ways a proposal can be submitted into the grants.gov system. For example, UW-Madison is a user of Cayuse, a "system-to-system" platform that syncs directly to grants.gov. The SoHE research administrators will help determine how a proposal needs to be submitted and will assist with the proposal preparation steps along the way.

How does SoHE handle course buyouts when a faculty member will  need to devote a significant amount of time for research? Before considering a course buyout, the faculty member should discuss that option with their Department Chair to be sure a course buyout can be accommodated. With the Chair's approval the faculty member should budget 20% annual or academic salary for one course, plus associated fringe benefits. The SoHE research administrator can help with the budget calculations.

What is effort reporting and why is it important? Effort reporting is the means by which researchers account for the time spent doing work on research projects. University policy is that effort must be reported and certified for all individuals who receive salary support from a sponsored project or who expend committed effort on a sponsored project regardless of receiving salary support from the sponsor. If a researcher is paid two months of salary for his or her work on an NSF project, NSF wants an assurance that the person did, in fact, work on the project for those two months. RSP has extensive resources and guidance on the topic of effort reporting.