The Art of Funding and Implementing Ideas: A Guide to Proposal Development and Project Management


Arnold R. Shore & John M. Carfora

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  • Dedication

    For Laurisa, an accomplished fund-raiser and a wonderful wife who maintains in her work and her life a tight connection among caring, clarity, and creativity.

    —Arnold R. Shore

    I would like to dedicate this book to the many faculty colleagues and students who, over the years, helped to conceptually frame this work via the many questions they asked about grant writing and proposal development, sketching ideas, formulating research questions, integrating pilot data, and critically thinking about how to best write and position meaningful narrative along with qualitative and quantitative data. Similar conversations around the development of strategies for efficiently and effectively managing a funded project are always exciting to hear and have, as are discussions around international research collaborations. In light of the above, I would also like to dedicate this work to you the reader, hoping you too will benefit from the ongoing conversation around how we move compelling ideas forward and successfully manage a funded project.

    —John M. Carfora


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    Why we Wrote this Book

    The literature on proposal writing is vast. Even a cursory search on the Internet turns up scores of books, pamphlets, checklists, and websites authored by individuals or offered by institutions of higher education, government funding agencies, and nonprofit organizations that support research, scholarly, and creative activities. Why, then, another book on developing grant proposals? The answer lies in two directions: one relating to the literature on proposal development and the other to our own experience in the fields of idea development, proposal preparation, and research support.

    The literature on proposal development tends to offer and emphasize long lists of dos and don'ts. For example, do be as specific as possible in describing your work, and do follow sponsor guidelines religiously and explicitly. Don't overpromise what you cannot deliver, and don't fail to account for every projected expense in a clearly described budget line. There is no denying the value of this type of advice. Yet, its form may be problematic—checklists tend to have an “etcetera” quality and far too often travel in many directions at once—and its implicit message may be unfortunate: The writing of a proposal is challenging, and its rigors are many and not easily surmounted. These nuances, if they may be called that, are not lost on those who read and study the literature on proposal development looking for helpful hints and useful guidance.

    We find much of the literature long on advice and short on grounded principles and substantive guidance. That is precisely why we are offering an alternative approach in this book.

    The two of us have worked for many years in the interconnected domains of idea development, funded research, grant and contract administration, project management, and developing and delivering institutional support of funded projects. One of us headed foundations and nonprofit organizations that funded research initiatives. The other pursued a long and successful career as a funded academic and a nationally and internationally recognized research administrator. Together, we have counseled with large numbers of faculty, program officers at foundations and corporations, and postdoctoral scholars and graduate students on proposal and project development. Individually, we have written a fair number of successful proposals ourselves. From our university-based work, we have come to think of academics as thematic, topical, and methodological experts on the one hand and as the ultimate lifelong (adult) learners on the other. As the former, the comparative strengths of academics lie in the realm of ideas that extend their current expertise to new intellectual and service frontiers. As lifelong learners, they work best with experience distilled as principles and guidelines that leave room for personal choice, individual creativity, and either collaborative or individual deliberation or reflection. These are paths best traveled with rich ideas, meaningful data, compelling narrative, and clear direction.

    To take our experience a step farther, in working with academic learners we have found that principles and guidelines need to be measured in number, thoughtfully accessible, and immediately useful. We wrote this book to fill these needs, which in our opinion are not suitably attended to in the current literature but are very much on the minds of faculty, postdoctoral researchers, graduate students, and independent scholars with whom we have had the pleasure to work over the years.

    Before we take up “Principles and Guidelines,” we should provide a brief context for that discussion. This book takes a behavioral approach to developing successful research proposals. It depicts the process as it actually works itself out in most cases. In place of a strictly logical approach that starts and ends with the ordered sections of the grant proposal, we begin with the fact that doctoral candidates, postdoctoral students, and faculty researchers are all quite literally immersed in disciplines and their relevant literatures. Out of a welter of concepts, facts, and theories, we find ourselves proposing an idea that is the core of a research project. Our contention is that we should first develop that idea as fully as we can and infer directly from it all that we can.

    The point is first to strengthen the idea in and of itself and all that follows from it easily and directly, including a sense of scale and timeline. Rather than proceed to writing the proposal, we instead conduct a review of the funding literature to determine in overview how others have developed a (somewhat) related project. From this review, we can readily gain a refined sense of scale, if not time and cost. Then and only then do we engage fully the several parts of a project proposal in which we refine the idea by relating it rigorously and systematically to prior research, applicable methods, necessary resources, and so on.

    The chapters of this book follow this behavioral sequence as we address the three major constituencies of the higher-education research triumvirate: doctoral and postdoctoral students and research faculty. The more all three parties share a common basis for developing research proposals, the better the project will proceed and the better the outcomes will be.

    Principles and Guidelines

    The principles we have in mind are these:

    • Quality proposals are compelling because they set out new ways to visualize and conceptualize an idea.
    • To produce quality projects, we need to focus first and foremost on idea development and not on proposal development per se.
    • Quality thinking supports compelling ideas; taken together, quality thinking and compelling ideas produce competitive submissions.

    The guidelines are also few in number:

    • First, learn and practice the repetitive nature of the art form we call proposal development. As you will see, the sections of a proposal visit and revisit ideas, starting with a very general exposition and making their way step-by-step to an altogether specific rendering of a proposal as a timeline/budget.
    • Second, use verbal sketches to develop and move forward multiple idea and project alternatives.1 We believe it is far easier to sketch and resketch an idea and its interconnections with the work of others—along with a series of proposed action steps—than it is to work initially with a fully developed text.
    • Finally, learn to view ideas and evaluate your proposal from the hmder's perspective. While an idea must first appeal to us and our colleagues, in the end, we must be able to view our idea from the vantage of others if we are to propose a project of more general or public interest.

    We weave these principles and guidelines together in four of the chapters of this book: “Idea Development,” “Funding,” “Proposals,” and “Managing a Funded Project.”

    Organization of this Book

    In Chapter 2, we suggest ways to develop ideas in and of themselves and in relation to the art of crafting a proposal. For us, idea development is a flexible process that allows the lifelong academic learner to pave a path with sketches. In turn, the sketches allow the author of the ideas and the author's associates to parse core notions and develop project alternatives. Easily revised, the sketches allow for the restatement of ideas and implications with ease. With minimal effort, one can prepare several alternatives, analyze and assess their strengths and weaknesses, and then make an informed choice on which to develop into a proposal.

    We begin this chapter with a discussion of ideas and their gestation as sketches. We introduce dimensions of inquiry to help clarify our thoughts and inform the writing of the proposal. We then move on to sketch meaningful idea/project alternatives—and their implications—so as to prepare for a thoughtful exchange with funders. By “thoughtful exchange” we mean the ability to discuss the purpose of the project, to demonstrate its relationship to other work (past and present), and to clearly and effectively articulate a scale of effort and length of time that makes a contribution to practice or understanding.

    Importantly, sketches have range. You can sketch an idea; you can sketch related notions, pure or applied, larger or smaller in scale. You can sketch an approximation of the outcomes of your project in general and useful ways even at the start, along with its costs in terms of dollars and effort in orders of magnitude.

    Sketches also boast an additive quality. In linking sketches to each other, you can easily, quickly, and with minimal effort move around the pieces and achieve great clarity and more defined rigor and precision. Moreover, in aligning sketches with each other, we are able to tease out the strands and implications that carry across our project to enhance its value and give it measured purpose. Rather than adduce these qualities from the start, we can begin to discern them as we note their recurrence across our sketches of the several aspects of a research project.

    In the end, sketches yield fairly formed notions of what we are proposing, even without the details well worked out. More than an outline with dryly listed parts, a sketch provides a somewhat developed sense of an idea and a directional sense of related topics, methods, scale, time, and so on. As the sketches form up further in alignment with each other, discursive sentences flow freely and connected points take hold. In the end, the proposal elaborates the sketches in a narrative that begins with a casual tone and results in a statement so clear and compelling, it too can be viewed as a contribution to scholarship and knowledge.

    The most important point is how we get from idea to proposal. Our route of travel is by way of segmented sketches leading to interconnected sketches leading ultimately to a proposal format that follows a semistandard document outline that encompasses a project's purpose, means, and outcomes. The completion of the process must be guided by management principles. These we sketch, too, in the last chapter.

    This process takes time; indeed, quality takes time. That said, we firmly believe that the investment of time and effort in idea development is worthwhile. We have learned from experience that the only path to high-quality proposals and valued projects is through development of compelling ideas that fully engage funders. We believe the guidance presented in this book will make the intellectually intensive work of idea development more efficient, purposeful, productive, meaningful, and enjoyable.

    The third chapter considers funding. In this section, we learn how to employ our sketches to conduct systematic searches of funding databases. We consider these databases an important form of “literature.” We will take some time with the art of developing descriptors useful in searching large grant archives for matches with our interests. In terms of process, we will cast a relatively wide net in our initial search of funding databases. We seek first to understand what funders have supported that comes close (prima facie) to our interests. Subsequently we narrow our search and eliminate some early prospects as we gather additional information on a funder's program(s) of support. Finally, our database and other research will guide both our initial inquiry of a specific funder and our subsequent conversation or exchange with a program officer. At every turn, we will provide specifics based on the examples presented in Chapter 2, “Idea Development.”

    The fourth chapter turns to the writing of the proposal itself. Specifically, a principle presented earlier deserves fuller restatement here:

    Proposals are repetitive art forms in which each successive section revisits in greater detail the ideas presented in the first section of the proposal, where ideas are constructs built on our experiences and informed perceptions of the needs of others.

    As we write the first section of the proposal document, it becomes altogether apparent how the ideas we present from the very start are the mainstays of all of the proposal's sections.

    The initial statement of a core idea is a statement of purpose. This is key. The restatement of ideas in relationship to the context to which they will contribute to knowledge or practice renders the guiding ideas with greater specificity. The actual work proposed to realize the potential contribution of your ideas provides a more specific description, if you will, of a portrait of ideas in action. Then it is on to staffing, timetable of activities, and budget and budget justification, which show in greater detail how to implement your idea(s) as a project.

    Chapter 5 discusses the nuances of managing a funded project. It presents in some detail all of the many roles the principal investigator/project director (PI/PD) plays as project CEO. From hiring staff to maintaining liaison with funders to becoming a resource for others on your topic of funded research, we work through all the 12 discrete roles of the PI/PD, as well as the excitement and responsibilities that accompany each role.

    Overall, no project exists apart from its ideas, and no ideas exist apart from personal experience, curiosity, and a passion for inquiry. Moreover, there is no proposal apart from the alignment of ideas in more and even more detailed explications in successive proposal sections that involve a sound methodology, data analysis, and synthesis and evaluation.

    The two of us know of nothing academic in nature that is more admirable than a powerful idea. Its implementation as a project and its dissemination as useful information or informed practice is an inspired contribution to organized fields of study, to the meaningful development of students and scholars, and to the voracious needs of a knowledge-based society that is increasingly becoming more global in nature, reach, and impact.

    We trust that this book will help bring together connections between worthy ideas and the aspirations all of us have for furthering knowledge, sharing experience, and helping shape a better society and a more just world.

    Arnold Shore and John Carfora
    Autumn 2009

    1 Sketches tend to be written and can be as varied as vignettes, a draft letter to a close friend, or indeed any other creation that stimulates narrative or helps us break through writer's block. See An Aside: The Nature of a Sketch below.


    Anthropologists have long held that culture represents the sum total of everything social and physical in a society. In writing this book, we found that as authors we owe much to everybody and everything that helped us discover an engrossing topic and explore it in depth. For us, the list of those we need and want to acknowledge is so long—so much the sum total of all who have ever discussed idea and proposal development with us—that we will call out categories of contributors to our thinking followed by specific mention of those who helped guide the manuscript to completion.

    Academic colleagues who worked with us to develop their research ideas and craft their research proposals allowed us entree to their partially formed thoughts. From that necessarily unformed starting point, we learned together how to achieve conceptual clarity step-by-step. For the trust they placed in us and their openness to us, we thank them. We can only hope that we have repaid them all with a book that will truly help others with the formulation of research ideas into compelling research proposals.

    In graduate proposal seminars and capstone courses where the requirement was to produce and defend a developed proposal, we learned from our students how to segment and sequence proposal development. Again, trust was critical. It is not easy for students to work on their vulnerable ideas with others. For their trust and their persistence—for their splendid proposals and heartfelt defenses in support of them—we thank all of these students with whom we worked so very closely and from whom we learned so very much.

    As the illustrious social scientist Robert K. Merton famously observed, we stand on the shoulders of giants, as he did in writing an eponymous work on that very topic. We are not the first to treat the intellectual and practice dimensions of proposal writing. By paying attention to the very good work of others, we believe we have raised practice and discussion of proposal development to the next level. We hope, too, that someday another generation of academics will use our work to continue a fruitful conversation about research proposal development that should never end.

    The manuscript benefited greatly from the encouragement and critique of others. We thank Mick Smyer, a delightfully intelligent colleague, for his enthusiasm for the project from the start. Mick is a researcher, writer, and editor whose early support for our work got us going and helped us stay the course. We thank, too, Tom Hoffmann for his detailed visual review of the manuscript. Tom's graphic design sensibility helped lay out text and table in what we believe is a welcoming format.

    At SAGE Publications we owe much to Vicki Knight for her trenchant observations and advice and Sean Connelly for his deft parsing of what we were saying, and why. With kindness, firmness, and much intelligence, they helped produce a better book. We thank, too, the several reviewers of the book, including the following:

    • Pamela K. Terry
    • Western Illinois University
    • Stephanie L. Carter Williams
    • University of Southern California
    • Cris M. Sullivan
    • Michigan State University
    • Kathleen J. Zavela Tyson
    • University of Northern Colorado
    • John V. Stone
    • Michigan State University
    • Marianne Hollis
    • Western Carolina University
    • Robert Hard
    • University of Texas at San Antonio
    • Alma Gottlieb
    • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    • Denise Wallen
    • University of New Mexico

    Page by page and chapter by chapter, they offered suggestions that made things clearer and more accessible. In thanking them, as in thanking all others, we take full personal responsibility for any and all remaining errors.

    We close with sincere thanks to our families for all their support. They have heard tell of this book for the years it took to write it. They can now read it and see for themselves that the energy they lent us has now made it into print.

    Arnold Shore
    John Carfora
    Spring 2009

    About the Authors

    Arnold R. Shore is currently Associate Vice Provost for Research at Boston College. He has headed two foundations—the Russell Sage Foundation and the Exxon Education Foundation—and has served on numerous nonprofit boards, including President, New York Regional Association of Grantmakers; Chair, Advisory Committee, Foreign Policy Association; and Member, National Commission on the Independent College (Council of Independent Colleges) and the Commission on International Education (American Council on Education). Arnold has taught at the University of Minnesota, Princeton University, Columbia University Teachers College, and Boston College. He received his PhD from Princeton University.

    John M. Carfora is Executive Director for Research Advancement and Compliance at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. An economist and recognized authority on research administration and international research collaborations, he has lectured at a number of colleges and universities throughout Europe, Canada, Africa, and the United States. He is Co-Chair of I-Group—a National Academy of Sciences committee on international research collaborations—as well as a member of the Board of Directors of the Immersive Education Initiative and a former member of the Board of Directors of the Alumni and Friends of the London School of Economics (1982–1990). He was a Fulbright Scholar to Ireland in 2009, was awarded the Distinguished Service Award from the National Council of University Research Administrators ( in 2007, and was an IREX Fellow to the former Soviet Union in the 1980s. He received his Ed.D. from the Department of Organization and Leadership at Teachers College, Columbia University.

  • Recommended Resources and Selected Bibliography

    In response to requests for user-friendly books and guides to grant writing, proposal development, grant and contract administration, fund-raising, and philanthropy in general, below are a range of comprehensive resources—both new and old—we have found extremely useful over the years. Each strives in its own way to make one's entry into grant writing, fund-raising, and the exciting domain of research and sponsored programs administration easier and more productive. We trust you also will discover valuable sources in this list for both the seasoned “grantgetter” and the novice “grantseeker.”

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    Wells, M. (2005). Grantwriting beyond the basics, book 1: Proven strategies professionals use to make their proposals work. Portland, OR: Portland State University Extended Studies, Continuing Education Press.
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    Yang, O. O. (2005). Guide to effective grant writing: How to write an effective NIH application. New York: Springer Science and Business Media.
    Proposal Writing Resources Available via the Web
    All About Grants Tutorials (NIAID),
    The Art of Writing Proposals: Some Candid Suggestions for Applicants to Social Science Research Council Competitions, by A. Przeworksi and F. Salomon (Social Science Research Council),
    Basic Elements of Grant Writing (Corporation for Public Broadcasting),
    Debunking Some Myths About Grant Writing, by Kenneth T. Henson (Chronicle of Higher Education),
    Developing and Writing Grant Proposals, The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance,
    Grant Writing Tips Sheet (NIH),
    Guide for Writing a Funding Proposal, by S. J. Levine (Michigan State University),
    New Investigator Guide to NIH Funding (NIAID),
    Proposal Writer's Guide, by D. Thackrey (University of Michigan),
    Proposal Writing Short Course (The Foundation Center),
    Ten Ways to Write a Better Grant: Sure You Need a Good Idea, But It's More Than That, by Alison Snyder (The Scientist),
    Shaping Your Strategy via NIH
    Creating and Submitting Your Application via NIH
    Grant Proposal Guide (National Science Foundation),
    Grant Writing for New Applicants,
    A Guide for Proposal Writing (National Science Foundation),
    Selected Pages From All About Grants,
    Selected NIH Resources on Qualitative Research via NIH
    Qualitative Methods in Drug Abuse and HIV Research,
    Qualitative Methods in Environmental Health Research,
    Qualitative Methods in Health Research: Opportunities and Considerations in Application and Review,
    Selected NSF Resources on Qualitative Research via NIH
    Frequently Asked Questions on Proposal Preparation and Award Administration,
    Overview of Qualitative Methods and Analytic Techniques,
    2002 User-Friendly Handbook for Project Evaluation,
    User-Friendly Handbook for Mixed Method Evaluations,

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