Preparing Your Proposal

The Office of Research and Creative Scholarship (ORCS) is here to provide consultation and technical assistance as you prepare your proposal. We strive to provide individualized assistance—which means the manner in which we assist you throughout the process will depend upon your unique needs and prior grant-writing experience. The most important thing you can do to make this a successful collaboration is to meet with ORCS early in the process so we can determine an appropriate plan for assisting you.

Below are some common ways in which ORCS assists in the process—please discuss these or any other needs you have with us.

  • Completing routine, administrative portions of the application, such as cover sheets, budget pages, etc.
  • Providing boilerplate language regarding the institution (see the short description about Emerson College on the Institutional Data page.
  • Reviewing drafts and providing editorial assistance, if requested. Please allow one week for review and revision prior to the submission deadline.
  • Facilitating the inclusion of required institutional letters (e.g., from ORCS, the Vice Presidents, or President).
  • Reviewing the final proposal and budget to ensure it meets sponsor and Emerson College guidelines and policies.
  • Shepherding the final proposal through the internal approval process. Use the Emerson College Proposal Pre-Approval Form for external proposals (please allow one week to complete this process). For the Presidential Fund for Curricular Innovation, use the Emerson College Internal Funding Proposal - Pre-Approval Form.

Proposal Writing Guides

Each sponsor typically has their own requirements for proposal content and format, and it is important to adhere to those guidelines precisely. Contact the ORCS for assistance in locating the guidelines for a particular sponsor. Beyond the formal guidelines, first time applicants to a sponsor often benefit from advice from others familiar with a certain agency. The resources below have been compiled to help inform your proposal writing:


American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS)

National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)

National Science Foundation (NSF)

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Requesting a Sample Proposal

The Office of Research and Creative Scholarship has compiled a collection of successful proposals for both Emerson's internal grant programs and for select external sponsors. These samples are available to Emerson faculty members by request. If you are interested in obtaining a sample proposal, please contact us.

Developing Your Budget

Because the federal government is a primary sponsor of research and other scholarly activities of Emerson College, the cost policies of the federal government, contained in OMB Circular A-21, set the standard with regard to budgeting for all sponsored projects, regardless of sponsor type. Please work with the ORCS to develop your official proposal budget to ensure adherence to:

  • Specific budgeting requirements of the sponsor
  • Emerson College policies and procedures
  • Federal cost principles

ORCS staff will prepare your budget information in the Emerson College Internal Budget Template, making adjustments as needed to accommodate specific sponsor requirements. You may also need to translate your internal budget into required sponsor budget forms. Contact ORCS if you need assistance.

Can I put that in my grant budget?

Under federal cost principles (OMB Circular A-21), for a cost to be charged to a sponsored agreement, it must be:

  • Reasonable: A “prudent person” would judge this to be a reasonable expense to this sponsored project.
  • Allocable: The goods or services can be directly identified with (shown to benefit) this sponsored project.
  • Consistently Treated: Costs incurred for the same purpose in like circumstances must be treated consistently (either as a Direct Cost or as a Facilities & Administrative Cost).
  • Allowable: The costs are permitted for reimbursement under the terms of the award set forth by the sponsor.

Allowability of Costs: General Guidelines

Salaries, Wages, and Benefits - Faculty, Students, Staff

Personnel costs are allowable as a direct cost to a sponsored project to the extent supported by actual effort performed on the project and approved in the award budget. Periodic effort certifications will be used to document the actual effort performed. An individual’s base salary must be used to compute the cost charged to a sponsored agreement.

Please note that faculty may not receive more than their regular annual salary as a result of participation in sponsored projects during the academic year. A faculty member on a 9-month contract may be paid summer salary (supplemental pay over and above the 9-month academic year salary) for effort contributed to a sponsored project during the 3-month summer period.

Faculty members often ask whether they can request funding from a sponsor to “buy out” a course, freeing up time to focus on the work of the grant. The College deems one course to be equal to 17% of your academic year time or 1.5 months effort. You should plan to request a flat $10,000 for each course release. Please be sure to discuss this possibility with your chair.

Entertainment Costs

Generally unallowable, unless specifically approved by sponsor.



Materials & Supplies

Project Supplies: Allowable so long as can be identified as “exclusively for the support of” the sponsored project.

General Office Supplies: anything that could likely be used for purposes other than the specific sponsored project are unallowable (e.g., staplers, pens, etc.). If a computer is needed specifically for a project and will be dedicated solely to the project, it is allowable.

General Office Supplies: anything that could likely be used for purposes other than the specific sponsored project are unallowable (e.g., staplers, pens, etc.). If a computer is needed specifically for a project and will be dedicated solely to the project, it is allowable.

Telephone Charges

Local Telephone (including monthly instrument charges): Unallowable

Long Distance Telephone: Allowable if specifically tied to the sponsored project.


Allowable if project requires large mailings.


Allowable if specifically benefitting the project.

Foreign Travel using federal funds: US Flag Carrier rules apply. May require sponsor prior approval.

Professional Services (Consultants)

Generally allowable. Check sponsor guidelines for details.

Subcontract Costs

A subcontract is established when programmatic effort under a sponsored agreement is to be carried out by another institution. Although most sponsors generally allow such arrangements, they need to be specified in the approved proposal. Transferring programmatic effort to another institution after the award has been issued requires prior approval by the sponsor.

Overhead (or Indirect) Costs

Emerson College’s federally negotiated indirect cost or overhead rate is 49.9%. Overhead from foundations should also be included in your budget, if allowed by the foundation.


If you plan to include another institution on your proposal as a subrecipient (subcontractor/subaward), please inform the ORCS early in the proposal preparation process. Sponsors typically require such arrangements to be formally stated in the proposal document. The following paperwork is therefore required from the collaborating institution's office of sponsored projects or equivalent institutional authority prior to proposal submission:

  • Letter of Intent to Collaborate signed by the collaborating institution's authorized official (typically the Director of Sponsored Projects or equivalent).
  • Statement of Work detailing the role the collaborator will play, with any specific responsibilities or deliverables.
  • Detailed Budget and Budget Justification (narrative).

If you have been asked to perform work on another institution's grant proposal as a sub-recipient, work with ORCS in the same way you normally would when putting together a proposal. These "subcontracts" are handled the same way, and ORCS will assist you in putting together the required materials and routing them through the Emerson College pre-approval process.

Submitting Your Proposal

Before you begin your application for a grant to a government agency, foundation, corporation, or other entity, please complete the Emerson College Proposal Pre-Approval Form and submit it to ORCS_Preapproval [at] (ORCS_Preapproval[at]emerson[dot]edu) to be routed for internal approval.

When submitting a proposal to an external sponsor, note that awards are almost always made to the institution rather than to the individual faculty member. Emerson College acts as the fiscal agent and is responsible for ensuring the terms of the award are fulfilled. Therefore, all proposals must undergo an institutional approval process in which the proposal is routed for sign-off by the following individuals prior to submission:

  • Department Chair of the PI
  • Dean of the PI
  • Executive Director for ORCS
  • Vice President for Academic Affairs (if cost sharing or institutional resources are being committed)
  • Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations (if cost sharing or institutional resources are being committed)
  • Associate Vice President of Procurement and Business Operations Strategy

Applicants are encouraged to begin the approval process well in advance of the proposal deadline. The College reserves the right to withdraw applications that have not received institutional endorsements prior to submission. 

When you are ready to submit your grant application to the funder, the following items should be provided to ORCS one week in advance of the deadline:

  • Grant Budget Sheet
  • Documentation of any cost-share/matching fund commitments (e.g., email from units on campus or outside partners committing funds)
  • Proposal documents as required by the sponsor.

Sponsor guidelines will usually dictate how your proposal is to be submitted. For paper (hardcopy) submissions, ORCS is happy to submit your application to the sponsor on your behalf, covering any associated shipping costs. Many sponsors now utilize electronic submission systems. Only the staff in ORCS can act as the Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR) to submit proposals and we are already registered for these systems.