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Proposal Writing Guidance Comparison

Proposal Writing Guidance Comparison

This memo presents a brief analysis of proposal writing methods recommended in the Grant Proposal Guide (GPG) of the National Scientific Foundation (NSF) and Mike Markel’s Technical Documentation. The purpose is to distinguish differences in methods proposed in these documents.


Proposals are intended to draw attention of a group of the audience who needs to be convinced about the purpose of the author. That is why different literature sources provide guidance and advice to the writer in reaching the audience and accomplish the goal while marinating ethical formalities. The following discussion demonstrates instructions and advices of two different sources in this regard that do not contradict rather complement each other.


Mike Markel in his book Technical Documentation explains the concept of proposal writing, describes characteristics of different proposals, and provides guidance and advice for writing different proposals. One of them is called external proposals. In his book, Markel distinguishes that external proposals have two categories: Research, and Goods or Services. The GPG of the NSF provides instructions and guidance on writing only research proposals. Though, Markel’s book provides instructions for different proposals, but this analysis focuses only on instructions given for the research proposals.

The main purpose of the research proposal is to secure funding; that is why, the proposal must conform to the guidance of the organization that provides funding. Mrakel’s instructions on research proposals demonstrate general principles and outlines while the NSF instructions display strict requirement for its organization. For example, Markel does not provide formatting instructions, whereas the NSF is very specific in this regard. The approach, in this case adopted by the NSF, is truly logical. The organization is receiving various research proposals, and all of them have to follow same formatting guidelines, which makes easier for reviewing the proposals. The main part of a proposal is its body; the NSF names it as sections and Markel as structure. The structure consists of summary, introduction, proposed program, qualification of researchers, and budget; while sections consist of summary, project description, biographical sketches of researchers, and budget. Though both sources advise to include similar information in the proposal, the content and quality differ in character. The NSF emphasizes that sections must follow the GPG regulations when Markel provides general guidelines for the proposal structure. The NSF’s approach can be undertaken very logical since the organization is going to arrange the financing for the research. Markel instructs to insert information about writer’s qualification and experience along with the definition of the research in the summary section, which perhaps does not sound logical. The NSF recommends providing only overview of the intellectual merit of the proposed research in the summary section and its impacts in a broader sense. The NSF document further explains the content of intellectual merit as well as elaborates that the broader impact relates to the benefit of the society and societal outcomes. Project description part can make or break the deal. Markel provides advice in the line of the general concept while the NSF gives broader and in-depth description about how to organize the body of the project description. Markel proposes to focus on background, purpose, and opportunity from the proposal whereas the NSF instructs to outline general plan of work and what researchers want to do explaining why and how it will be achieved. The NSF’s recommendation emphasizes that the project description needs to show how society would be benefited from the proposed research.

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Technical Documentation of Mike Markel clearly describes the methodology in general form about writing a research proposal, but the NSF provides the same methodology in detail that is accepted in their organization. Although Markel’s advice on the preparation of a research proposal displays the general outline, it should be recommended to use the guidelines of the organization that is going to provide financing for the research.

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