Principal Investigator's Guide - Section 2

Proposal Development


Chapter I. Overview

Initiating a Proposal

The principal investigator (PI) is responsible for initiating proposals, for preparing the proposal or application materials, and for forwarding them within the University to the appropriate administrative officers for review and submission.


Conforming to Departmental/Unit Objectives

Before developing a proposal, ascertain that the proposed project is consistent with the programmatic objectives of the department; a discussion with the department chairperson or dean ordinarily will resolve this issue. At this time, discuss any special needs (facilities, potential costsharing, leaves of absence) that will involve the allocation of departmental or school resources.


Obtaining Guidelines/Application Forms

Applicants should provide either a copy of the proposal guidelines (sometimes called an RFA (Request for Application) or RFQ (Request for Quotation)) to OSP by uploading to the Cayuse attachments tab and providing a link on the "general" tab of the Cayuse record.


Timing The Proposal Process

Most sponsors have published deadlines; information on specific program deadlines can be obtained from unit research administration officers and/or OSP. Proposal processing by most government agencies will take an average of nine months from the deadline to actual award. Agencies are becoming increasingly strict about proposal deadlines and will not hesitate to return an application unreviewed if it is not received on time. OSP cannot guarantee that submissions will arrive on time when submitted at the last minute. Weather delays and occasional electronic glitches may jeopardize on-time receipt of a proposal. For this reason, and to allow the various units at the University adequate time for review of an application, OSP should receive proposals for review at least ten working days prior to the published deadline.


Proposal Preparation

OSP Projects Officers are prepared to advise PIs throughout the process. Detailed suggestions for the preparation of proposals follow; consult Proposal Content.

Pre-Submission Reviews

Friendly reviews of proposal drafts by a colleague are strongly suggested to ensure clarity of presentation. In addition, some agencies encourage review by program officers of preliminary proposals in order to provide feedback that may enhance the final application. OSP Projects Officers are available to check a draft to ensure conformance with sponsor guidelines.


Chapter II. Proposal Content

The form of an application will necessarily vary with the requirements of the prospective sponsor. Information on specific agency program format is available from unit research administration officers and/or OSP. If no standard form is prescribed by the sponsor, the following outline may be used in creating proposals.


Title or Cover Page

When a form/format is not provided by a sponsor, develop a cover page that includes the following:

  • PI name, institutional IDs (NYU, school, department) address, telephone number, e-mail address and fax number
  • NYU Employer Identification (IRS) Number: 135562308
  • Project title
  • Total amount requested
  • Start and end date
  • Signature of PI
  • Name of institutional authorizing official, address, telephone number, e-mail address and fax number
  • Signature of Authorizing Official (to be provided by OSP).

Additional Information That May Be Required on Cover Page. See Administrative Information for NYU Proposals and Awards.



Most sponsors require a one-page (or less) narrative summary of the proposed project. The abstract is used for dissemination or public relations purposes; it should be jargon-free and comprehensible to the lay reader. Consult program guidelines for specific information on format, length, and required content. In addition, under University Senate guidelines, every funded project must have a summary of its purposes and a record of its sponsorship on file with OSP.


Table of Contents

Certain agencies have specified formats for this section. In the absence of specific directions, pages should be numbered consecutively and the Table of Contents should identify the major sections of the proposal.



The main body of the proposal should be a clear statement of the work to be undertaken and should include:

  • objectives and their expected significance
  • the relation of the project to the present state of knowledge in the field, to work in progress by the PI, and to work in progress elsewhere
  • an outline of the general plan of work, including the broad design of activities to be undertaken
  • description of experimental methods and procedures
  • description of any substantial collaboration with individuals not included in the budget (such collaborations should always be documented with a letter from each collaborator)
  • full literature citations (full names of authors, title, and location in the literature - follow program guidelines for format).

Note that most agencies impose page limitations on the narrative section, as well as on other sections of the proposal and disqualify proposals when these limitations are exceeded. Consult your OSP Projects Officer as early as possible in the course of developing proposals. Program guidelines developed by the funding agency should be read carefully before starting the proposal preparation process. The guidelines specify the proposal's content and format; any deviations from printed guidelines must be cleared in advance with a program officer at the agency.


Budget and Budget Justification

Reviewers use the budget as a summary of the entire proposal, so considerable thought should go into its preparation. Most sponsors provide detailed instructions and printed forms for budget preparation. In any case, OSP Projects Officers have expertise in the development of budgets and provide assistance in their preparation.

Proposal budgets include two basic categories: direct costs of the proposed project, and indirect costs or overhead, a calculation of the cost of University facilities and services provided for all projects.


Direct Cost Categories


Personnel effort on sponsored projects is normally expressed as a percentage of an employee's annual base salary, commensurate with the estimated time the person will devote to the project, and charged to the sponsor as a line item in the personnel section of the budget. Where unreimbursed time is committed, the University may be required to document it as costsharing. Except for part-time temporary support personnel who are hired on an hourly basis (consult Casual Employees), effort should generally not be expressed in terms of person-hours or hourly rates. Anticipated salary increases should be included when preparing a multi-year budget. Consult your OSP Projects Officers for current inflation projections. These projections do not commit the PI, department, or school to grant specific increases to individual staff members; in research proposals they allow the University to present a consistent picture of its best estimate of inflationary increases. Proposal budgets should therefore be footnoted as follows: "Salary projections are in accordance with current University planning guidelines."

Faculty (Code 102). Faculty members are generally appointed for the nine month academic year, and may seek reimbursement for academic year released time, when formally excused from teaching or other assignments by the department head and dean, as well as for additional compensation for a maximum of three summer months subject to limits set by funding agencies. The approximate percentage of time per month should be computed and multiplied by 1/9 of the academic year salary to determine the monthly salary for the summer. Some faculty members are appointed on an 11-month basis. No one in this category may receive additional salary for summer research.

Faculty members may not receive "overload" compensation for additional research duties during the academic year or summer months. In other words, faculty members may no commit more than 100% of their time.

Research support, fellowships, or grants-in-aid may be available to supplement sabbatical year salaries. Consult your dean and OSP regarding such possibilities.

In those instances where part-time faculty (Code 112) are involved, consult your OSP Projects Officer.

Professional Research Staff (Codes 103, 113). Professional Research Staff, including research scientists, research scholars, and training specialists, are compensated for such periods as they are actually employed. Their remuneration is calculated on the basis of a 12-month year, paid in monthly installments. Specify in the proposal budget the compensation for the period of employment. Calculate the charge based on the salary multiplied by the percentage of time to be devoted to the project. Research staff are not eligible for "overload" compensation. Calculate the compensation for part-time Professional Research Staff (Code 113) by prorating the comparable full-time salary.

Graduate Research Assistants (RA) (Codes 130, 131). Research Assistants are graduate students whose time is divided between formal study and research. Research Assistants receive salary (not stipend support). Their remuneration is generally calculated on the basis of 12 months of service, including one month's vacation. A collective bargaining agreement dictates budgeting for RAs.

Undergraduate Students (Codes 118, 119). Undergraduate students are called Student Assistants when employed on a research project. Code 118 is used for students with federal work study awards; currently 37% of their salary is charged to the sponsor, with the remainder paid by the work study program. Code 119 is used for all other students.

Casual Employees (Code 115). Code 115 employees are those hired for short assignments requiring fewer than 25 hours/week.

Other Project Staff (Codes 100, 104, 106). Several other types of professional and non-professional staff may be employed on sponsored projects, including research aides, technicians, laboratory assistants, programmers, statisticians, and plant or service staff. When in doubt about the proper personnel classification and title for project personnel, the PI should check with the Employment Office. Salary charges for these employees should be calculated on the basis of twelfths.


Fringe Benefits

Fringe benefits are charged as a percentage of salaries for payroll codes 100, 102, 103, 104, 106, 115, 118, 119, and the part-time equivalents for the first five codes, to cover such benefits as are provided by the University. The rate is applicable to all salaries for the above categories of employees, including summer compensation of faculty and hourly and/or part-time personnel costs. The funds generated by this composite rate are pooled and eligible employees may draw from them to the extent appropriate to their code. The fringe benefit rate is determined annually; refer to the Proposal Preparation information or contact OSP directly for current rate information.



Consultant fees are a separate category of direct costs and are not listed as part of the personnel budget. Consultant fees may be paid only to individuals not employed by the University who can provide special knowledge or advice necessary for the project. University employees who may be called on for special services should be listed in the salary section of the budget for an appropriate portion of their salary. Federal agencies specifically prohibit the payment of consultant fees from grants or contracts to persons employed by the federal government in any capacity. Consultant fees normally include any charges associated with the consultant's services, such as travel and subsistence.



Indicate briefly the purpose and frequency of expected travel and its applicability to the project. Consult the New York University Travel Policy.


Capital Equipment

Itemize capital equipment ($3000 and above) to be purchased, providing a description, cost estimate, and justification of need. The cost of a single unit of equipment should include related charges, such as those for accessories needed to make it operable, installation fees, delivery costs, insurance, and taxes, if any. For Special Purpose equipment costing $1,000 or more, a certification may be obtained from and must be filed with the NYU Property Office. Some sponsors may provide needed equipment directly to a project rather than provide funds for its purchase. Equipment is excluded from the indirect cost base.


Consumable Supplies and Expendable Equipment

This category includes, but is not limited to, items such as the following: chemicals, glassware, small electronic components, computer and printer supplies, and animal purchase. The estimated costs should be given for each category.

Federal regulations identify general purpose office equipment and supplies as unallowable direct costs in most cases. In addition, it is important to differentiate certain items such as computer software and supplies from general office supplies in the budget justification.


Participant Support Costs

Costs of tuition and fees, travel, per diem, honoraria, registration, books and manuals, and special supplies for program participants in conferences, symposia, and workshops may be allowable as a direct charge (consult Direct Costs for Training Programs) This category is excluded from the indirect cost base.


Publication Support Costs

This category includes manuscript preparation expenses, illustration costs, and page and reprint charges in established journals. Costs for publication of a book, monograph, or pamphlet usually cannot be charged to a project unless prior approval has been received from the sponsor.



This category includes the costs of bulk mailing, postage, commercial carrier, telex, fax, e-mail, long-distance telephone, telegrams or cables, and computer time.



When a portion of the project is going to be carried out at another institution or organization, a subcontract or subagreement with the University is required in order to ensure compliance with sponsor requirements. Documentation from each subrecipient's authorizing official including an itemized budget, with justification, a statement of work to be performed, and qualifications to do that work should be incorporated into the proposal. Some federal agencies require a completed cover sheet and certain certifications signed by the institutions authorized official. Subcontracts may also require the prior written approval of the agency's grants officer.


Other Direct Costs

Tuition Remission. Federal regulations require that Research Assistants (Codes 130 and 131) be excluded from the fringe benefits pool. Tuition remission is calculated as a percentage of the salary paid to the Research Assistant. The resulting figure is excluded from the indirect cost base. Refer to the Proposal Preparation Information or contact OSP directly for current rates.

Equipment Maintenance.

Animal per diem charges. A schedule of charges is available from the Office of Veterinary Resources (OVR).

Miscellaneous. These may include security, health, safety, or advertising charges for professional staff recruitment.

Rental and maintenance costs. Special off-campus installations, such as a field station or storefront location, should be a direct charge. (Note that under such circumstances an off-campus indirect cost rate will prevail.)


Direct Costs for Training Proposal Budgets

Some sponsors support training programs, special institutes, research participation programs, and similar activities for the benefit of graduate or undergraduate students, trainees in certain professions, or individuals outside the University such as high school or college teachers. Sponsors may pay tuition or actual training costs of the project as budgeted. Fees must be separately listed as costs and if not provided by sponsors must be paid by the trainees. Thus, the budget for such a program usually provides for the following direct costs:


Stipends for Participants

These usually are fixed by the sponsor; sums may vary with the level of study. If not specified by the sponsor, an appropriate stipend level may be developed in consultation with the department head or dean and OSP.


Dependency Allowance

Where permitted by the sponsor, this is usually a fixed sum per dependent.


Participant's Travel Costs

Allowable travel costs vary with the sponsor and program and may include subsistence, commutation, round-trip fare and local travel for each trainee.


Other Expenses

Other expenses may include book allowances, application and other fees.



Actual tuition is computed if the program costs are to be met through tuition rather than through program cost per participant.



When the sponsor requires that the program be budgeted in terms of per participant costs, the estimated program costs must be developed in place of the tuition item. Such a budget includes those costs listed under DIRECT COST CATEGORIES, as well as stipends, dependency allowance, and fees per student.


Indirect Costs (Overhead)

Indirect costs represent those expenses not readily allocable to any single research or training project, but which represent the University's costs for carrying out research or training activities. The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has issued, in conjunction with college and university representatives, Federal Management Circular A-21 entitled, "Principles for Determining Costs Applicable to Research Development Under Grants and Contracts with Educational Institutions," which identifies allowable direct cost categories and also prescribes a standard distribution and allocation method for recovery of indirect costs. Like all other universities with federally funded research and training grants and contracts, New York University prepares and submits a periodic determination of indirect costs based upon operating expenditures in conformance with A-21 standards. The submission is reviewed by federal auditors and is negotiated by the University's Contract Office with representatives of the University's cognizant federal agency, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Indirect costs (facilities and administration in the current Federal vernacular) comprise portions of the following: operation and maintenance of facilities, including rent and depreciation/use charges on buildings and equipment; library services; research and training administration expenses; deans' and department chairpersons' office expenses, including salaries and wages expended jointly for research and instructional activities; and overall University administration.


Indirect Cost Rates for Research Projects

The current Rate Agreement with DHHS outlines indirect cost (facilities and administration) rates for both on- and off-campus activities. These rates must be incorporated into all budgets for research projects. Indirect costs are charged on a modified total direct cost base which excludes capital equipment (items of equipment costing in excess of $3000 and having an expected life of more than two years), alterations and renovations, subcontract costs in excess of $25,000, student aid, participant support costs, and tuition remission for Research Assistants (for the life of the project).

The off-campus indirect cost rate may generally only be charged when all aspects of the project are conducted off the premises for a consecutive three-month or more period.


Indirect Cost Rates on Training and Other Projects

Most training programs provide a modest fixed percentage of modified total direct costs as reimbursable overhead costs. Some sponsors, however, pay full overhead costs. These rates are generally identified in the program announcements.


Indirect Costs Applicable to Non-Governmental Proposals

In applications for research and training support to non-governmental sponsors, including foundations and industry, an appropriate charge for University overhead expenses should be included. University policy stipulates that indirect costs from commercial entities should be recovered at the most recently negotiated federal rate. When a sponsor has a written policy disallowing indirect charges, or when its policy, whether formal or understood, limits recovery to a lower amount, indirect costs should be itemized to the extent allowable as direct charges, including, for example, space costs, administrative salaries, local telephone and office furnishings. OSP will provide guidance on the overhead expenses to be included in proposals to non-governmental sponsors. Exceptions to University policy require the specific written approval of the dean of the originating school, unless total costs exceed $100,000, in which case the approval of the Vice President for Finance (and sometimes the Provost ) is also required. All requests for exception must be carefully justified with approvals coordinated through OSP.



Some agencies are precluded from reimbursing the University for the full costs of sponsored programs funded as grants. This means the University is required to share in the cost of each program. In accordance with University policy, costsharing should not be offered in response to solicitations by federal agencies unless the regulations specifically mandate costsharing. For those agencies with specific mandatory costsharing requirements (Environmental Protection Agency, National Endowment for the Humanities, United States Information Agency), two-column budgets (agency column and New York University contribution column) are generally prepared for submission. Costsharing should generally be indicated on the basis of direct expenses, e.g., release time with associated fringe benefits, equipment purchase, computer time, and associated indirect costs etc.; costsharing funds may be available subject to department and/or school approval. Costsharing may be offered by the contribution of University funds or by in-kind contributions, such as salary and associated fringe benefits.

The matter of costsharing is one of concern at the University. Those elements within University budgets that are presented as costsharing will, in the accounting processes required of the University's Finance Division by the Office of Management and Budget in preparing the indirect cost proposal, affect the total amount recovered under any given indirect cost agreement. In no instance should costsharing beyond the minimum required be provided.


Biographical Sketch

This section should be limited to information about the professional background, affiliations, and publications of the key personnel. Consult program guidelines for page limitations and specific requirements.


Current and Pending Support

Most federal and some non-federal sponsors require detailed information on the current and pending support for the PI key personnel, as well as information on the percentage of time committed to other projects. At a minimum, this section should include the following information on currently funded projects, as well as pending and planned proposals: project title, source of support, including award number where relevant, PI, total award amount, total period covered, and time commitment.



These may include Collaborator/Consortial agreement letters; material from subcontractors (budget and justification, current and pending support, letter of institutional approval). As always, consult program guidelines to determine what is allowable and/or necessary.



Certain agencies do not allow the inclusion of appendix material without the specific approval of a program officer. Program guidelines may also specify format and length. In no circumstances may an appendix be used to circumvent the page limitations of other sections in the proposal.


Chapter III. Proposal Production Requirements

Sponsor Requirements

Physical Requirements

It is essential that proposals follow sponsor requirements for proposal format. Sponsors often establish page limitations (particularly for certain portions of a proposal), line spacing, page margins (and requirements), and minimum allowable type size. Requirements should be checked using a standard device for measuring type size rather than relying on the font selected for a particular word processing/printer combination. Proposals not meeting production requirements (including type size and page length) are subject to rejection by the sponsor.

Hard copy Proposals

Guidelines will specify how proposals should be collated. There may be stipulations about how proposals are to be bound.

Final copies of proposals should be neat, accurate, and well-written. Note again that sponsors are serious about their submission deadlines, and that ten working days are required for internal University processing.

Most sponsors require a specified number of copies of the formal proposal. In most instances, at least one copy must bear the original signature of the PI and the University's authorizing official to transmit proposals. Some sponsors may require additional copies of certain pages; review guidelines carefully.