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Proposal Preparation Guide (Archived)

Proposal preparation can be a difficult undertaking and usually involves several individuals working closely together to meet deadlines. The proposal process can be very challenging since all principal investigators' research goals, staffing requirements, funding agency choices and situations are different. (For information related to research gifts, see §315 of the Manual of Business Procedures). To be successful when preparing and submitting proposals at MSU, you should plan ahead and become familiar with the nine steps listed below.

In addition, you need to be aware of the 10:6:3 proposal processing policy.  The RFA is due to OSP 10 days before the deadline; the budget is due 6 days before the deadline; and the proposal package is due 3 days before the deadline. 
Please note that your department/college research administrator (DCRA) or preaward office may have additional requirements for proposal submission. They may require that you provide them a notice of proposal, a copy of the solicitation, budget, and final proposal at specific deadlines prior to the OSP 10:6:3 document deadlines. For example, your College may require a notice of proposal one month prior to the solicitation deadline.


Please consider using the OSP Proposal Checklist as a tool for completing all the proposal processing steps and keeping track of deadline dates specific to your proposal submission. (Note that the deadline dates included in the checklist pertain to  OSP deadlines only, and do not account for deadlines that may be imposed by your College/Department).


Step 1: Identify Possible Funding Sources for the Research Project or Program

There many sources available to fund a research project or program. These funding sources can be divided into two separate categories: Public and Private. The Public sector consists of the Federal Government, State of Michigan, local government(s) and internal MSU sources. The Private sector includes:

  • Non-Profit Agencies
  • For-Profit Companies (proposals for direct funding provided by a comapny is handled by MSU Business Connect)
  • Foreign Agencies
  • Foundations
  • Commodities

Please go to Finding Funding to see list of potential sources to find funding.

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Step 2: Study Instructions for Eligibility, Application Guidelines, Deadline Dates, and Application Format

Prior to preparing and/or submitting a proposal to a funding agency, consider following the guidelines and procedures listed below.  Though not all inclusive, these guidelines should result in a smoother proposal preparation process.


MSU Instructions for PI Eligibility to Submit Proposals


  • Regular faculty members and research or fixed-term faculty employees of the University with a rank of assistant professor and higher, may be identified as the sole or co-principal investigator on proposals seeking support for a sponsored research, education, or serice project.  For MSU employees holding any other rank, see the following link for instructions for obtaining approval to submit a proposal:

Sponsor Instructions for Organizational Eligibility and Limited Submission Requirements

  • Includes the type of organization the agency will fund, for example, educational institutions, hospitals, or community organizations, and may indicate PI requirements related to education, experience, and/or expected effort on the project.
  • The guidelines may limit the number of proposals that can be submitted by MSU and/or the PI and/or the PI's College/Department. For limited submission proposals, please email to learn the procedures for selection consideration at MSU prior to beginning work on the proposal.  Click here for more information.

Application Guidelines
Keep in mind that each funding opportunity announcement may include detailed guidelines and proposal submission requirements, therefore, it is important that you read each funding announcement very carefully for these vitally important specifics like cost restrictions or cost share requirements. These specific items will need to be discussed with your College administrator as soon as you are aware of them. 

For example, all NSF proposals budgeting postdoctoral researchers must include a supplemental document describing the PI's overall mentoring plan and any proposals lacking this document will not be reviewed.  Click here for more information regarding MSU's Individual Development Plans (IDP) for postdoctoral researchers and graduate student mentoring plans.

Some funding agencies, such as, DoD and DOE, sometimes include draft award terms and conditions in their solicitations and indicate in the solicitation that they can “award without discussion.” In these cases, OSP is required to review all award terms and conditions and submit an exception letter to the agency along with the proposal submission. (Upon proposal submission, MSU is agreeing that all terms and conditions included in the solicitation are acceptable except those included in our exception letter.) It is imperative to provide the solicitation to OSP well in advance of the submission deadline in order to allow enough time for OSP to thoroughly review the award terms and conditions and provide suggested changes to the agency along with our proposal.

Some proposals submitted to the Federal Government may be subject to the Presidential Executive Order 12372 review requirements.  Usually this requirement is specified in the solicitation.  See the OSP link for further details.

MSU is required to comply with a variety of U.S. Government statutes and regulations dealing with export controls and trade sanctions.  For more information see the OSP link for the export controls and trade sanctions summary related to research administration and the Export Control Office’s link for who to contact regarding: general information, international travel and CITI training; MSU Technologies Office for material transfer agreements (MTAs) for research related transfers; Environmental Health and Safety Office for MTAs for biologics and other hazardous materials; and the MSU University Stores related to purchasing, receiving and shipping.

Additionally, MSU has a cross-campus site license to Visual Compliance software, which also provides searchable access to the lists of debarred parties and entities.  When identifying a subcontractor or consultant to work with, it is recommended that you check the list early in the planning stage.  You can do this by either providing the subcontractor or consultant’s name to your OSP proposal team or you can contact ECTS for information on obtaining an ID for access to the Visual Compliance system if appropriate.

Deadline Dates

  • The agency deadline for receipt of the proposal is one of the most important details of the proposal process.
  • If there is an agency deadline for asking questions regarding the solicitation then please make sure that OSP receives the solicitation 2 weeks prior to this deadline. (See step 3 for information)
  • The deadline date can be either a "received by" or "submitted by" date.
  • It is critical that OSP receives all required proposal materials in a timely fashion in order to meet the agency submission date.
  • As stated in the MSU Deadline Policy, unless the deadline is specifically defined as earlier than 5PM by the sponsor, the submission deadline is 5PM Eastern Time (ET) on the sponsor’s specified deadline date (even if the sponsor allows submissions beyond 5PM ET).
    • OSP counts deadlines between 1PM and 5PM as part of a full business day; any deadlines before 1pm does not count as a full business day.
  • See the MSU Proposal Deadline Policy for more information.
  • See example departmental timeline policies:

As a tool to assist with the steps of processing a proposal, as well as keeping track of the deadline dates specific to your proposal submission, please consider using the OSP Proposal Checklist.  Note, the deadline dates included in the checklist are specific to OSP only, and do not account for deadlines that may be imposed by your College/Department.


Application Format

  • Is a letter of intent or a pre-application required? If so, please provide the detailed format requirements.
  • Extract information regarding how the proposal is to be submitted, i.e., electronically or a paper submission.
  • Detailed instructions for the proposal may also contain specific formatting information on the required font size, font style, page margins, attachment naming criteria as well as other specific proposal requirements that must be strictly followed.

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Step 3: Working with Department/College Administrators and OSP

Contact your department/college administrator and OSP as soon as you decide you will be submitting a proposal and provide them with a link to the funding opportunity announcement to which you will be applying. Your department/college administrator will be able to offer guidance, expertise regarding the sponsor, assist you with any issues that may arise during the preparation of the proposal (including preparation of the budget), as well as answer many of your questions relating to your proposal submission. He/she will work with OSP to ensure that administrative requirements are met and that all questions are answered.

It is very important to provide the RFA (also called a funding opportunity announcement or Broad Area Announcement) to OSP as soon as possible.  This is especially important for complex proposals or those involving restrictive terms and conditions that MSU must agree to or actively take exception.

The anticipated type of award is also important at the proposal stage.  Generally, a contract can be more restrictive than a cooperative agreement and a cooperative agreement can be more restrictive than a grant.  Most times, MSU can request a grant or cooperative agreement rather than a contract.  This is preferable to a contract since almost all MSU extramurally funded research and creative endeavors are either grants or cooperative agreements (also referred to as assistance funding for a common public goal).  Contracts on the other hand are considered procurement and can have rigid requirements that may not match with MSU’s mission as a land-grant research and teaching educational institution.   In these cases, it may take an inordinate amount of effort to negotiate an acceptable award; therefore, to assist in this process, OSP may (if appropriate) submit an exception letter at the time of proposal that helps establish the foundation for working with the sponsor to come to acceptable terms.

Another type of award is a fixed-price agreement.  A fixed-price agreement provides the sponsor the least amount of risk and the MSU Department and/or College the highest level of risk.  A fixed price agreement gives MSU’s Departmental Chair (and possibly the Dean) the full responsibility for completing the statement of work regardless, for example, if the PI leaves MSU or becomes ill or the required equipment needed to complete the work fails or is unavailable.  Additionally, they would have full responsible for any project cost overruns.    Therefore, acceptance of this risk should be reflected in the eTransmittal notes and a letter signed by the Chair (and Dean if more than $100,000) should be attached to the eTransmittal accepting the possible risk if the award is issued as a fixed-price agreement.

Complex proposals are time-sensitive since many have an RFA question & answer period (see DARPA  announcement examples).  These “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)” exchanges are open for a limited time period.  The results are usually posted for all interested applicants to review to reduce the likelihood of someone receiving an unfair advantage.  MSU could be at a disadvantage if there isn’t sufficient time to review the announcement and participate in the Q&A when the RFA is unclear or ambiguous.  Examples of questions that may need clarification are: Can MSU request a grant or cooperative agreement rather than a contract?  Is the Program Manager available for a brief chat about the PI’s research approach?  Is there anywhere else that might have more specific instructions for the budget template, other than what is in the BAA?

The review of the proposed contract language and preparation of a cover letter specifying exceptions could require extensive time for OSP personnel prior to proposal submission. Therefore, it is recommended that OSP receives the solicitation for review 2 weeks prior to the question & answer period, or 4 weeks before the proposal deadline, whichever is earlier.

When contacting OSP, please email the responsible OSP group email address (if not sure, email either or for assistance). In the email, please indicate the draft App number, project dates, due date of proposal and any exceptions we need to consider.  You can find the draft App number on the eTransmittal form located at the top left corner of your screen. Use the following link to start a draft eTransmittal.

The OSP organizational chart will help to identify the appropriate OSP contact to assist you with your proposal submission.

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Step 4: Prepare the Budget and Budget Justification

Budget Information
A guide to budget development can be found at the following link:

Budget Form
A proposal budget represents and/or reflects the principal investigator's best estimate of the actual costs for conducting the proposed scope of work. If you are new to budget preparation at MSU, please review the main OSP website for sample budget templates.

There are two types of costs to include in your proposal budget, i.e., direct costs and facilities & administrative (F&A) costs. Direct costs are those costs that are specifically identifiable to your project, such as faculty and student effort and fringe benefits, project-specific supplies, travel necessary to conduct your project, etc. These costs can be charged directly to the project. F&A costs, sometimes referred to as indirect, IDC, or overhead, are those costs that are not specifically identifiable to any one project or program, but are real expenses incurred when conducting research, instruction, and other sponsored activities at MSU. Examples include general, departmental, and sponsored projects administration, buildings and costs of existing equipment. Additional information regarding budgeting salaries of administrative and clerical staff on federal projects can be found at 2CFR200.413(c) as well as MSU's Federal Cost Policy.  Direct costs plus F&A costs equal the total costs requested for the proposed project or program.

Please review MSU’s Federal Cost Policy when identifying costs for your budget.

NOTE: Salary rates for all employees should be inflated in the 1- 4% range (as expected for your Dept) for each succeeding year. Please note that some federal agencies, including NIH, require special justification for annual salary increases in excess of 3% for multi-year proposals. Additionally, some sponsors have salary caps.  For example, NIH has a salary cap that is described on our OSP-NIH webpage. Please see the following for more information about the NIH salary cap For the most current salary cap amounts, please see

Budget Justification
Most proposal budgets will also require a budget justification, which, when submitted along with the budget, will highlight, explain, and provide rationale for each budget category and how the principal investigator arrived at certain cost estimates. For example, the salary or personnel category will explain each employee's role, what tasks he/she will perform, and his/her effort required to conduct the project or program. Also, the justification is where you should explain the detail of a budget so that the agency can understand your budgeted costs and how they were derived. This is extremely important if the budget form only shows lump sum amounts for each budget category.


If the potential funding agency requires a budget justification and does not supply its own budget justification form or offer specific instructions, the budget justification should follow the format of the budget form used including a justification for each budget category.


Many funding agencies require the Project Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) and any other senior personnel to disclose their active and pending projects by completing and submitting a “Current and Pending Support” (CPS) form with their proposals.  See the following link for more information regarding CPS forms:


Please send the draft budget & budget justification to your OSP contact for review. It is recommended that this is sent 8-10 days prior to the agency deadline. OSP will provide initial budget comments to the administrative contact within 2 working days after submission of the budget and budget justification to OSP. For budgets over $10M or for those with multiple task breakdowns or information estimating hours and rates per hour to be worked, OSP needs additional time for review.

If subcontracting is anticipated, OSP will need the subcontractor(s) to complete and sign the MSU Subrecipient Commitment Form.  This form is required and should be included in the subcontractor's proposal to MSU.  More detail concerning this form can be found in section 5 below.  At the budget review stage please send a copy of the subcontractor's budget and budget justification for our review.  The subcontractor Statement of Work should be separately identifiable in your proposal or provided in a separate document for our files.  Additional OSP review is needed if the subcontracting is budgeted for more than 50% of the total project.  Subrecipients who do not have a federally negotiated F&A Rate Agreement, may elect to charge a de minimis F&A rate of 10% of modified total direct cost (MTDC) if allowed by the prime sponsor (please check with your OSP representative if budgeting a project start date after 1/1/2015).   As the subrecipient is making a determination on whether or not to elect using the 10% rate, they should keep in mind that costs must be consistently charged either as direct or indirect costs, but may not be double charged as both.  If the subrecipient decides to use the 10% F&A rate, this methodology must be used consistently for all Federal awards. Click here for answers to subaward commonly asked questions. 

Other related budget preparation resources

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Step 5: Prepare All Required MSU and Agency Forms & Obtain a MSU Application (APP) Number

MSU eTransmittal Form

The eTransmittal is an internal MSU form used to document basic key information about the proposal and it must be filled out in its entirety prior to submitting a proposal.  The eTransmittal will be routed for electronic approvals based on each investigator’s base appointment. The eTransmittal generates the MSU APP number which is an internal number assigned to a proposal that uniquely identifies that proposal. This APP number will be associated with the proposal even after it has been funded.  This number also becomes part of the OSP/CGA proposal database which provides metrics information related to submissions and funding that can be accessed by Chairs and Deans or personnel on behalf of Chairs and Deans. Please see the eTransmittal Approval Process for more information.

Route your draft eTransmittal either:

  • Once you have received OSP approval of your proposal budget, or;
  • At least six (6) business days prior to submission with a note indicating the status of the OSP budget review and approval

Attach the budget and close-to-final or final statement of work/project abstract.  Please let  your OSP contact know that you have begun the routing process. Below is a list of items that must be attached or noted on the eTransmittal to receive approval from your College. Please check with your College administrator for any additional requirements.


  1. Attach the OSP approved or draft budget (A budget justification is also recommended for a thorough budget review).
  2. Attach the final or close-to-final statement of work/project abstract.
  3. Include a statement as to the status of the OSP budget review (e.g. OSP approved budget on 12/9/14; final departmental budget in review by OSP; draft departmental budget in review by OSP).
  4. Include any mandatory cost share in the cost share input field.  Add a short note in the notes section for any voluntary cost share that is being committed in the proposal.
  5. Attach the approved F&A Waiver (if applicable).
  6. List all countries where the work will be performed in the keywords input field.
  7. Include the solicitation number in the keywords input field.
  8. Input the deadline/close date in the input field.

For OSP to accept the fully routed eTransmittal, OSP will need the items listed above from the eTransmittal plus the following:

  1. Final proposal submission
  2. F&A waiver approval (if applicable). If the sponsor is a Foundation, MSU will generally accept the indirect cost rate a foundation pays provided the OSP has a copy of the written policy of that foundation. Please see for more information.
  3. Non-regular PI approval (if applicable)
  4. Subcontractor information included in the MSU Subrecipient Commitment Form signed by the subcontractor's authorized official, budget, budget justification, and subcontractor Statement of Work.
  5. Signed PI letter (for solicitations indicating that award will be made without discussion)

Note: A new MSU APP number is required each time “new” funding is anticipated including requests for New, Continuation, Renewal, or Supplemental funding. However, a new MSU APP number will not be required for revisions or revised budgets to current proposals that have not yet been funded unless the Statement of Work is revised as well.

If you have questions regarding MSU APP numbers, you may contact OSP at 517-355-5040. (Refer to the OSP organizational chart for specific agency contacts.)

Fixed Price Sign-Off Letter

A fixed price agreement gives MSU’s Departmental Chair (and possibly the Dean) full responsibility for completing the statement of work regardless if the PI leaves MSU or is unable to complete the project, as well as full responsibility for any project cost overruns.   Therefore these types of agreements provide the sponsor the least amount of risk and the MSU Department/College the highest risk.

Due to the level of risk fixed price awards place on the department/college a fixed price sign-off letter must be provided by the Department (with College co-signature if anticipated to be more than $100,000) at the proposal stage, or at the award stage if the agreement type is unknown at the proposal stage.

Subrecipient or MSU Commitment Forms -  commonly asked questions (link includes a description of what forms are need from the Subrecipient).

The Subrecipient Commitment Form is required to be provided to any entity (Subrecipient) that MSU plans on subawarding/subcontracting to. This form should be completed by every Subrecipient and included with the Subrecipient’s proposal to MSU. Below are a few reasons why this form is used by Michigan State University.

1)      It helps MSU comply with the new PHS Financial Conflict of Interest Regulations regarding Subrecipients.
2)      It collects data elements needed from the Subrecipient for the proposal submission (& associated awards).
3)      It documents the Subrecipient’s Authorized Official approval of the Subrecipient’s proposal and the Subrecipient’s agreement to the proposal terms and conditions.
The MSU Commitment Form is replacing letter of intent templates we have used in the past that were requested by Sponsors when MSU was the Subrecipient. This Form is to be used when MSU is the Subrecipient and if the Sponsor does not provide a form to us to complete & sign.

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Step 6: Regulatory Requirements

Human Subjects

  • The MSU Human Research Protection Program (HRPP) oversees the review and conduct of any research using human subjects. This is accomplished via the MSU Institutional Review Board (IRB).
  • Any Principal Investigator who anticipates the use of human subjects in his/her research must complete a protocol for review and receive approval by the IRB prior to award.
  • The protocol must be approved by the IRB prior to the start of any research activities involving human subjects. CGA cannot issue a project account number without this approval.
  • Many agencies require that agency IRBs, in addition to institutional (MSU) IRBs, also approve human subject use and, it can be time consuming to obtain this approval. Agency IRB approval is also required before issuance of a project account number. In the text portion of the proposal, be sure to respond to any specific requirements/instructions provided by the sponsoring agency in their written application guidelines as it relates to the use of human subjects in the project.
  • Human Subject use in a project must be identified on the eTransmittal
    • Animal Use
      • The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) oversees the review and conduct of any research, teaching, or testing using live vertebrate animals.
      • Any principal investigator, who anticipates the use of animal subjects in his/her research, must complete a protocol for Animal Use and Care for review and approval by the IACUC prior to award.
      • The protocol must be approved by the IACUC prior to the start of any research activities involving animal subjects. CGA cannot issue a project account number without this approval. Please note that some agencies also require that they approve animal use prior to using animals on a project. Please allow adequate time for this approval.
      • Animal use in a project is identified on the eTransmittal
      Export Control Review

Conflict of Interest (COI) Disclosure Process- NEW! 

Please see OSP COI procedures for more information regarding the COI preaward business procedures and MSU's new annual disclosure policy. Please NOTE: ALL PHS & NSF Investigators have to certify an Annual Disclosure prior to submitting their proposal.  This disclosure can be completed under the Conflict of Interest tab "Report My Interests" on this website.

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Step 7: Send the Solicitation, a draft Budget and a draft eTransmittal App number to OSP- at least 10 business days before the deadline

Send the solicitation (if any) with a draft budget, draft eTransmittal App number and any other documents (e.g. draft budget justification, subaward commitment forms, subaward budgets, etc.).  Prior to the funding agency's application deadline, OSP will perform the initial review of the solicitation and draft budget. This initial OSP budget review usually includes review of the funding opportunity announcement, budget and budget justification, and, subcontractor’s budget information, when applicable. This step is recommended to be completed ten (10) business days prior to the deadline.  As noted in Step 3 above, the funding opportunity announcement must be submitted to OSP as soon as you anticipate submitting a proposal that will result in the funding of a contract versus a grant. OSP may need to spend extensive time reviewing and providing exceptions to contract proposals. OSP usually will provide initial budget comments to the administrative contact within two working days after submission of the budget & budget justification to OSP. For budgets over $10M or for those with multiple task breakdowns or information estimating hours and rates per hour to be worked, OSP may need additional time for review. Edits, changes, and suggestions will be offered to the department administrative contact by the appropriate proposal reviewing analyst at OSP.

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Step 8: Send Final Departmental Budget and Administratively Complete Proposal to OSP- at least 6 business days before the deadline

For the final OSP review of the proposal, please send the proposal (administratively complete) and Final departmental budget to OSP at least six (6) business days prior to submission. These internal recommended review target dates (from this step & step 7) enable OSP to review, recommend changes, help assist with any questions, and submit the application on time with approval. Final copies of the proposal for mailing or electronic submission will be requested by OSP after the final review has taken place. Please see Step 9.

Important Notes

  • The research plan may continue to undergo revision during the review process.
  • The proposal package will be reviewed to verify compliance with the agency's and MSU's policies, guidelines, and requirements.
  • It is the primary responsibility of the Principal Investigator or departmental/college personnel not OSP to ascertain that the proposal meets the specific requirements specified in the funding opportunity announcement.

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Step 9: Send OSP the Final Proposal for Submission- at least three (3) full business days before the deadline

Please provide OSP the following by the submission dates outlined below:

  • Fully-routed eTransmittal
  • Electronic application package or complete paper application package (with all changes/recommendations made)

For proposals that require Electronic Submission (whether OSP submits package or not)

  • Three working days prior to the funding agency deadline (or earlier, if possible), send the final copy of the application package file to OSP. The final version should include all revisions that were suggested during the OSP reviews.
  • Since it’s a shared responsibility, working as a team to submit the proposal, it is incumbent upon the DCRA and the PI to confirm that the proposal has been submitted BEFORE THE AGENCY DEADLINE PASSES.

Important Notes

  • Electronic proposals requiring OSP institutional submission will be submitted by OSP.
    Since it’s a shared responsibility, working as a team to submit the proposal, it is incumbent upon the DCRA and the PI to confirm that the proposal has been submitted BEFORE THE AGENCY DEADLINE PASSES.
  • Electronic proposals requiring PI submission should have a fully-routed eTransmittal showing OSP approval.  OSP should be provided a copy for our files if possible.
  • Paper or email proposal submissions are mailed/emailed by principal investigators or departmental personnel once the fully-routed eTransmittal shows OSP approval. OSP should be provided a copy for our files.




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Category: Operations    Subcategories: Budget, Conflict of Interest, Cost Sharing, OSP, Policy, Proposal, Research Administration

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