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Grant Basics

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Grant Basics

These are research/sponsored projects and grants-related terms or acronyms commonly used in proposals, agreements, and contracts. If you are looking for a term or acronym and can’t find it, contact Research Information Services (RIS). NOTE: these terms are based on federal definitions which may not match some sponsor (state/local) definitions.

When you are developing a proposal and trying to meet the requirements of the sponsor for the proposal being submitted, it is important to understand some concepts behind the structure of guidance. A federal sponsor will have legal requirements that flow down from the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Mainly in the CFR 200 series related to grants/sponsored projects management, you will hear these referred to as "the cost principles." The federal sponsor will usually have a general guideline on what they want in parts of the proposal (which can also include proposal review information and award terms and conditions). Many times they will also issue a specific solicitation for some objectives they want proposals submitted for. There may also be state, local, and university policies that need to be met for an application to be considered legal and correct. As guidance flows down it usually becomes more restrictive.

See charts

The system the sponsor is using for the solicitation may have guidelines on file content or construction.

Note that sometimes program officers are not aware of differences between submission system requirements and solicitation requirements, so you may have what appears to be conflicting or duplicating information. An example of this would be when the solicitation says to load a one-page abstract but the form in is four pages. Your Proposal Development Specialist will try to resolve these issues for you when they become aware of them.

This means you will normally ALWAYS have more than one set of guidance you need to follow in order to construct a correct/complete proposal submission, especially for a federal sponsor. It is also not uncommon to find that separate guidance is published for award management.

If you have a non-federal sponsor such as a commercial entity or non-profit, it is not uncommon for there to be limited guidance or for them to have a specific solicitation. Sometimes they will refer to the federal cost principles. They may have a proposal submission system or may ask that the proposal be submitted via email or hard copy.

A proposal is a request for support of sponsored research, training, or other creative activity submitted in accordance with the funding sponsor's instructions.

Types of Proposals

Pre-Proposal, Preliminary Proposal, Letter of Intent, Notice of Intent, or White Paper

These types of proposals are requested when a sponsor wishes to gather information to research conflicts of interest (for possible review panel formation), make initial decisions regarding the sponsor’s interest in the research being proposed, and minimize an applicant’s effort in preparing a full proposal.

They may be initiated by the PI to the program officer (especially in the case of a white paper). They may be recommended or required by a sponsor as part of the submission process. If they are required, not submitting one usually means the PI will not be able to submit a full proposal later. Some sponsors provide feedback to the PI.

They are usually brief – a letter, an abstract, a sponsor-provided form, a short (3- or 4-page) document, etc. The sponsor will usually specify format and length if they are requesting one. The PI may need to provide information on how the project will be conducted, why it has merit, and the composition of the team.

A pre-proposal establishes a foundation for discussion; it does not normally commit the PI or the university to anything. (Be aware that some sponsors do have commitment.) However, since these proposals often do become the basis for negotiation for funding, if a budget or university commitments are included in the submission, Proposal Services will route it for the appropriate university signatures.

Formal Proposals

Unsolicited Proposal. This type of proposal is submitted to a sponsor that generally has not issued a specific solicitation but is believed by the investigator to have an interest in the subject. The unsolicited proposal is developed around general agency guidelines, within a specific subject field, where the scope of the project is not limited by specific solicitation guidelines. For most agencies, unsolicited proposals may be submitted anytime, although there may be target submission dates set to meet particular review panel meetings. It is recommended that you contact a program officer or a person at the agency to gauge interest and their policy on unsolicited proposals (many may ask you to submit a white paper first).

Solicited Proposal (Response to a specific program). This category can include Broad Agency Announcements (BAA), Requests for Proposal (RFP), and Requests for Quotation (RFQ). A proposal submitted to a specific program should conform to the solicitation guidelines issued by the agency. Proposals submitted in response to a BAA are usually accepted at any time during a specified time frame, which may be as long as two or three years. To respond to an RFP or RFQ, the proposed project would have to fit the needs described in the specific work statement developed by the funding agency. An RFP or RFQ is usually specific in its requirements regarding format and technical content and may stipulate certain award terms and conditions (many agencies also have general guidelines that are used in conjunction with the specific solicitation). They usually have a “hard” deadline; if the proposal arrives late, it normally will not be considered. Also, most are one-time solicitations to fit a specific need that may not recur. Note: NASA considers these types of proposals to be Responses to RFPs; they have solicited proposals where they reach out to a PI and ask for them as an individual to submit a proposal usually specifically targeted by the NASA program officer.

Continuation or Non-Competing Proposals. This is a request for financial assistance for a second or subsequent budget period within a previously approved project period. This type of proposal confirms the original proposal and funding requirements of the multi-year project. Continued support is usually contingent on satisfactory work progress, as verified in a required report, and the availability of funds in the sponsor’s budget.

Renewal or Competing Proposals. These types of proposals are requests for continued support for an existing project that is about to terminate and, from the sponsor’s viewpoint, generally have the same status as an unsolicited proposal. Competing continuation proposals compete with other competing continuation, competing supplemental, and new proposals for funds.

Supplemental Proposal. A supplemental proposal is a request for an increase in support during a current budget period for expansion of the project's scope or research protocol or to meet increased administrative costs unforeseen at the time of the new, non-competing continuation or competing continuation application. Some supplemental proposals have shortened proposal packages, and some are full packages.

Budget Revision or Revised Proposal. This is where the sponsor has requested specific changes in the budget or other parts of the proposal in a possible step toward funding. It is very common to see budget reductions and/or changes in scope of work (and we have seen increases on occasion). Normally the PI is contacted (and should immediately contact ORS as these are usually short-response). While a request to do a revision is generally good news on the road to getting funded, no award commitment is made by the sponsor at this point.

Proposal Update. This is where portions of a full proposal are replaced after submission. Only limited sponsors allow this, and many restrict the timing and what portions of the proposal can be updated. This can be requested by the program officer or by the PI. Normally, they are to correct information or to add a forgotten item prior to the review panel.

Just in Time Proposal. This is proposal information that is submitted at the request of the program officer/sponsor. Normally, it is an indication of possible award decision or that the proposal is in final review for consideration of award. Sponsors that do JIT proposals normally request current and pending information (or updates), detailed budgets or updates/revisions, and sometimes a variety of other information. Normally, the PI is contacted (and should immediately contact ORS as these are usually short-response).

Special Proposals. Many federal agencies have special proposals – they may have one-time instructions and due dates, or they may have mechanisms for them on a recurring basis. They not only may be agency specific but may be Department/Division specific such as Labs/Centers under NASA. Some examples are Conference Proposals, Travel Proposals, Fellowships, Training, Rapid Response (to natural disasters), etc.


It is possible that a PI may have work related to a project that will be done by another organization or person. Depending on their involvement in the project they may be considered a subcontract/subaward, vendor, or consultant.  The decision on what the person or organization is may vary on each proposal they are included in as it is primarily the determination of the involvement and not based on who the person or organization is.  A subcontract usually has a high level of involvement, possibly involved in programmatic decisions and publication authorship.  OU personnel also may be involved in other organizations as a subcontract, vendor, or consultant.  There are limitations/parameters on each of these types of involvement. If an OU PI feels their involvement is as a consultant, it can only be as an individual and usually falls under their consulting time in their contract with OU and must have their Chair (or appropriate) approval. Vendor services related to OU PI performing them are usually only appropriate if the PI involved has established a recharge/service center with the VPRP.  An OU person cannot be a consultant on an OU proposal (they need to be in area A or B of the budget form); a retired OU person may be a consultant but they need to ensure the timing and amount of funds will not jeopardize their retirement (confirm with HR).

If you are the PI on a proposal you have certain responsibilities to ensure yourself, the university, and the sponsor have interests protected and that things are done in accordance with sponsor requirements and other compliance items.  It is the PI’s responsibility to be aware of these general responsibilities.

If you need help determining if you are or have a subcontract, vendor, or consultant please refer to this matrix.

Having a subcontract on a proposal or being a subcontract on a proposal usually means that the submitting organization needs a package of information to document there is a subcontract.  If OU is the submitting organization, we require these documents regardless of whether the submission package requires the inclusion of any information from the package or other documents. If the submission is not a full proposal it is possible only a letter of intent or email from the organization’s Sponsored Projects Office may be needed (work with your PDS).  It is not legal or ethical for OU to indicate on a proposal submission that a subcontract organization is involved, by name, if we have not obtained intent documentation.

Common items needed for a subcontract with OU include the following items.

Involvement of a subcontract on a proposal increases the time needed for internal routing to be done and should be taken into consideration by the PI.  If OU is the subcontract the submitting organization will need time to include our materials in their internal routing and we need to do our process for the items being submitted too.

Please also note that if a subcontract is involved in a proposal that requires cost share they are normally expected to bear their portion of the cost share on their funds unless the PI has 3rd party cost share that will cover it.

Sponsor Decision/Status Terminology

Terminology for various decisions and status may vary by sponsor, so you should check their guidelines for more specific information.

Invite/Not Invite (decision final). This decision is normally used in preliminary types of proposals where the PI has sent in some type of short synopsis of their research idea and the sponsor indicates they are firmly interested (INVITE) or not interested (NOT INVITE) in seeing a full proposal (either at this time or against the solicitation in question). The PI should not proceed to submit more materials related to this research idea at this time if they have a NOT INVITE decision. Usually the sponsor will only accept INVITED final submissions (and some submission systems will lock out non-invited proposals).

Encouraged or Discouraged (decision discretionary). This decision is normally used in preliminary types of proposals where the PI has sent in some type of short synopsis of their research idea and the sponsor indicates they are interested (ENCOURAGE) in seeing a full proposal (either at this time or against the solicitation in question) or not interested but willing to see if the PI’s full proposal sways them (DISCOURAGED). If the PI wishes to submit and has a DISCOURAGED decision, they will be allowed to submit but should not be surprised if the proposal is not selected for review or for funding.  Normally you should only proceed after a DISCOURAGE decision if there is material you are adding or including to the full proposal that was inadequately covered or missed in the initial submission.

Reject (usually decision final). The proposal is either not selected for review or for funding. Decision made by sponsor in the case of external proposals but within Cayuse you may see coding of Reject on proposals that have been submitted that are over a year old just as a housekeeping effort.

Pending. This may mean the proposal is between status changes. Depending on the sponsor, if a proposal is in pending status for a while it can mean there is an issue and you should follow up on it.

Accepted/Approved. This may mean the submission was accepted by the submission system or the program officer. It may not mean the proposal is complete or viable for review – it may just mean that it proceeded to the next step. It could also mean (especially if Approved) that it has been favorably reviewed and is being considered for funding (check sponsor guidance).

Under Review/In Review. This could mean under review for compliance checks by various offices after submission; it could mean it is being checked or reviewed by the Program Officer for compliance or assignment to a review panel; or it might be in the review panel process.

Selected/Not Selected. This may mean the submission was selected by the Program Officer/Sponsor for review, award, or for processing to the next step (check sponsor guidance).

Withdraw (final status). Withdrawal of a proposal removes it from the consideration for review (or possibly submission). This action can be done by the sponsor (usually for failure to meet guidelines) or the sponsor may ask a PI to withdraw a submission to prevent a conflict (wrong review panel, possible funding of another proposal for the PI). The PI can withdraw or request a withdrawal (to prevent a conflict in awards/proposals, or if issues have arisen where the proposed work can’t be performed, such as illness). The university can withdraw a proposal if we feel it does not represent OU well, is out of compliance, or if it is not an official submission (has routed).

Award/Funded (final status with caveat on available funding and possibly other requirements). Proposal has been selected for award. It is possible to be notified that a proposal is awarded or approved and NOT funded. Many times, when a sponsor does this, they will say the proposal was approved but was below the pay line (in other words they wanted to fund it, but they didn’t have enough funds). Sometimes if funds become available the sponsor will re-visit and fund these proposals (rare, but possible).



This terminology can also vary by the sponsor but here is general guidance.

Target Deadline. The proposal will be accepted after the target deadline. If you miss a target deadline, it usually means you may miss a review panel or meeting related to the funding process and they will hold your proposal until the next panel or meeting is done. (consequential funding impact) (recommend consider target same as Deadline).

Deadline. No acceptance after the deadline date; no exceptions except unusual circumstances and this varies by sponsor. Some have no exceptions, e.g., NSF closed, natural/anthropogenic disaster, organization unable to submit, death in family.

Submission window. Sponsor accepts proposals from start to end of submission window dates; end date is the same as a deadline date. Sponsors normally do this when they have

No Deadline. Some sponsors accept proposals whenever the PI wants to submit them (throughout the year). We are seeing this primarily in some NSF Divisions and we are not sure yet the impact this will have on review times.

ORS Policy on Deadlines. If a deadline is after 5 pm and must be submitted by ORS, then special permission must be obtained from the ORS Director for a PDS to be tasked to work past normal office hours (rarely approved, especially last minute). PI should also note that ORS is normally closed when the campus is closed; should campus closure be due to a weather or other non-normal event, we will assist in coordinating with sponsors to try and obtain deadline extensions if needed.

Other information

Several federal sponsors have a policy of extending to the following business day if a deadline falls on a weekend or holiday. Confirm this policy if you are not certain the sponsor has it (NSF and NIH both do this extension).

If you are doing a collaborative submission by multiple organizations (normally NSF), each organization must submit their portion before 5 pm their local time or the entire proposal is rejected.

If no deadline time is given, it is normally assumed to be 5 pm local.

Watch deadline times in solicitations, as it is possible they may be set for different time zones or unusual times such as 3 pm Eastern.


This section covers establishing and maintaining personal items related to research (such as Biosketch), Literature review, Collaborators file/info, Networking, Fit with Sponsor, etc.

As a faculty or staff person decide they want to follow a course of research or in getting projects funded by external organizations, it becomes important that they strategically position themselves for success.

Keep your knowledge up to date. Do a literature search in the area you wish to look for funding in, then remind yourself annually to see if there are any major updates or advances in your field. It is easy to get focused on your research or to think that you are on the cutting edge and miss information that is coming out. Reviewers can usually spot when you start to become stale.

Establish and maintain personal items related to research such as your biosketch, current and pending, publications list, etc. If you know more than one sponsor you normally apply to, you should maintain versions in their normal formats. If you keep these on hand and relatively up to date, it will be easier for you to respond to short notice requests for information. Think about using SciENcv, a free biosketch service sponsored by NIH, and the Federal Demonstration Partnership (FDP, of which OU is a member). It can maintain and create NIH-format biosketches and in the future will do NSF with plans that all federal agencies will be possible.

Create and maintain your network. This is more than just about the colleagues you may do research with, and includes mentors within and outside of your field. Reach out to people, especially those who might have diverse ideas. Try to attend conferences within and outside your field of interest. Network. You can never tell when an unforeseen path might open a new field of investigation for you.

Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. Let your chair and dean know when you have been successful doing something, i.e., you are offered a travel fellowship that won’t run through OU because the sponsor wants to pay you directly. If the VPRP has publications/communications related to research success, make sure your success is known to the people that publish this info – don’t assume someone is telling them. Not only might it be important to be visible in your organization but sometimes visibility can lead to other opportunities. Maybe someone who sees an article or short ‘burst’ about you is looking for a research partner on an exciting new idea.

Do you know how much time you have available for research based on your contract with OU? Do you have an option of ‘buying out’ course time to increase your research time if needed? Keep in mind that during the proposal stage you can overcommit on your research time, but if you get several awards at the same time, you would need to get permission from the sponsor to either reduce your time, do course buy-outs, or shift time to other personnel.

Do you need to improve your communication skills? Do you have grammar or other issues that may show up in written English? Can you reduce the impact of those by using the Writing Center or asking colleagues or mentors to review your proposals?  Do you need to do presentations as part of the proposal submission process or post-award dissemination? Are there resources on campus that can help with your presentations? Do you need to improve your speaking abilities? (Toastmasters might help.)

Have you thought about your research career strategically? What levels of proposals (internal/external) should you start with? Are there persons in your field you can approach for advice and mentoring? Are there persons you should try to work with to launch your career that you might be able to do work with as a subcontract? Where do you want to be in 5 or 10 years?

What agencies might fund your research? Have you started positioning yourself with them? Have you researched their mission and goals to determine how your research fits with what they do? Have you reached out to program officers? Have you signed up for listservs or bulletins? Do they have online training or information you can partake in? Can you attend conferences they either sponsor or also attend/present at? Have you volunteered to be a reviewer? Have you requested internal travel funds to go meet them in person? Do they have summer or visiting faculty programs you can take advantage of? Do they have internship and fellowship programs you can send your students to? Keep in mind that some sponsors have program officers available their whole career and others are on a two- to five-year rotation. Do you know what system your sponsor of choice uses to assign and retain program officers?

If you are a new research person, protect your new/young/beginning investigator status. Find out which sponsors you might be interested in and what programs they offer for new investigators (and career) types of proposals. This may lead to decisions regarding being a co-PI instead of a PI on a submission (or possibly being a senior personnel or co-investigator) so you can retain the ability to submit for one of these special programs. Know your timing on when you can submit these types of proposals, as many have limitations on the window you can submit in once you attain certain education or professional appointments. Most also have limits on the number of times you can submit.

Does the type of research that you do involve human subjects, animals, biohazards, or radiation? If yes, you should find out what clearances you need to obtain to do your research and the time these clearances may take to obtain. Some approvals are obtained for each proposal that is submitted. Do you need special facilities or equipment related to any of these items?

Will your research involve travel to foreign countries or participation from foreign collaborators? What about foreign students? What clearance might you need? Have you talked to export control about any training or assistance you may need? Does the sponsor that you want to do business with have any special requirements or restrictions related to foreign involvement or travel?

Do you envision doing work with commercial entities? Have you talked with the Office of Technological Development? Do you have intellectual property that needs protection? Could your research result in the need for patents? Do you think you might work with foundations/non-profits? Do you know how to get clearance, if clearance is needed to work with them? Do you know what the federal de minims idc rate is that a foundation or anyone without a negotiated indirect cost rate can use?

As part of your research career path, do you anticipate creating a company? Have you started to investigate what it takes to legally set a company up as an independent, legal entity? Do you anticipate the company doing research? Do you know about the conflict of interest rules? Have you investigated special funding for the company and limitations/restrictions there might be on the company you create (or are involved with) working with the university? Note: if you are creating a company, you should consider establishing a separate address for it (either hard or via post office box, not your home) and do not use your OU email or other assets to conduct company business.


Good article by Dr. Barbara Sanborn ‘A career in academic research – what does it take to succeed?’