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Proposal Development


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Proposal Preparation

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

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Budget and Budget Justification

Reviewers use the budget to evaluate the reasonableness of the amount requested to perform the work described in the entire proposal, so considerable thought should go into its preparation. Most sponsors provide detailed instructions and a specific format for budget preparation. OSP Project 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 as Facilities and Administrative (F&A) costs, otherwise known as  indirect costs.

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Direct Cost Categories

Personnel effort on sponsored projects is normally expressed as a percentage of an employee's institutional 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 (salaries and wages) section of the budget. Where unreimbursed time is committed, the University may be required to document, track and report it as costsharing. Except for part-time temporary support personnel who are hired on an hourly basis, (consult University guidance for Temporary Employees.) effort should generally not be expressed in terms of person-hours or hourly rates. In the case of contracts requiring that man/labor hours with associated rates be used, consult with a Project Officer.

Anticipated salary increases should be included when preparing a multi-year budget. OSP’s Project Officers can provide guidance on the percentage increase to apply to out years and the information is posted on the OSP website and wiki budgeting tool. Projections do not commit the PI, department, or school to specific increases for individual staff members; in sponsored project proposals they provide the University the opportunity to present a consistent picture of its best estimate of projected increases to personnel costs. Proposal budgets should therefore be footnoted as follows: "Salary projections are estimated in accordance with current University budget planning guidelines."

Sponsored project budgets may include a maximum of 95% of a faculty members institutional base salary during any given month during the year, when formally excused from teaching or other assignments by the department head and dean in order to conduct research during the academic year or summer, subject to limits set by funding agencies (consult salary calculations below).

Faculty members may not receive "overload" compensation for additional research duties during the academic year or summer months. In other words, faculty members may not commit more than 100% of their time.

Professional Research Staff
In contrast to full time academic faculty, the remuneration for Professional Research Staff, including research scientists, research scholars, and training specialists is calculated on the basis of a 12-month appointment. The amount to be compensated from sponsored projects is attributable to each sponsored project based on the portion of their time (percent of effort) assigned to work on a particular sponsored project during the period employed. Specify in the proposal budget the compensation amount for the period of employment. Calculate the charge to be budgeted to the sponsored project based on the annual salary multiplied by the percentage of time and number of months to be devoted to the project. Calculate the cost estimate for compensation of Professional Research Staff by prorating the full-time salary based on the effort to be committed.

Graduate Research Assistants (RA)
Research Assistants are graduate students whose time is devoted to academic study and research related to the course of study. Research Assistants receive salary (not stipend support). Their remuneration is generally calculated on the basis of 12 months of service. A collective bargaining agreement dictates budgeting for RAs in the collective bargaining unit. Budget guidance for both RA’s in and out of the collective bargaining unit is posted on OSP’s Wiki.

Fellows are distinguishable in that they are not employees and receive stipends for subsistence while at the University in a training capacity.

Undergraduate Students
Undergraduate students are called Student Assistants when employed on a sponsored project. Minimum hourly rates for students are mandated by the University. Consult an HR representative for rates. For FY ‘19, the minimum rate is $15/hr.

Casual Employees
Those hired for limited, short term assignments requiring fewer than 25 hours/week.

Other Project Staff
Several 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 or department administrator should check with an HR Representative. Calculate the cost estimate for compensation of Other Project Staff by prorating the full-time salary based on the effort to be committed.

Fringe Benefits

Fringe benefits are charged as a percentage of salaries to cover benefits provided by the University. The fringe benefit rate (consult rate agreement) negotiated annually with the federal government, is specified in the Facilities and Administrative Cost Rate agreement, and is applicable to all salaries and wages.


Consultant fees are a category of direct costs separate from those listed under personnel. Consultant fees may be paid only to individuals not employed by the University who can provide special knowledge or advice necessary for the project. Consultant fees normally include an hourly or a daily fee plus reimbursement for travel and other incidental expenses. subsistence.

If a University faculty member functions as a consultant or otherwise contributes to a sponsored project conducted by another faculty member at the University, this is generally considered a university obligation and does not require additional compensation. In unusual cases where consultation is across departmental lines or involves a remote operation and the work is incidental and in addition to regular departmental load, any charges for compensation above base salary may be allowed, provided that this is specifically defined in the approved budget and authorized in writing by the sponsored agency.


Indicate briefly the purpose and frequency of expected travel (domestic and foreign) and its applicability to the project. A breakdown of costs by category (air or train fare, ground transportation, per diems, etc,) with per day costs, in order to provide a clear representation of travel plans to the sponsor. Foreign and domestic travel should be clearly delineated.

Consult the New York University Travel Policy which explains how to ensure compliance with the Fly America Act when traveling outside the U.S. using federal funds, and outlines allowability of costs incurred while traveling to conduct a sponsored project.

To determine allowable rates for travel within the 48 contiguous states, use General Services Administration rates. The Department of Defense sets rates for Alaska, Hawaii, and U.S. territories and possessions. The State Department sets rates for international Travel.

The GSA stipulates that travelers must prorate the meal and incidental expense allowance for the first and last day of their trip. The first and last calendar day of travel is calculated at 75 % of the locale’s per diem. Alcohol is not a reimbursable expense on an award and the cost for the meals for a non-traveler or individual not specified in the award is not reimbursable as a travel expense.

Capital Equipment

Itemize capital equipment ($3000 and above per NYU’s definition) to be purchased, providing a description, cost estimate, and justification of need. The cost of a single unit of equipment purchased or fabricated should include related charges, such as those for accessories needed to make it operable, installation fees, delivery costs, insurance, and taxes, if any. 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 item.

Federal regulations identify general purpose equipment as equipment which is not limited to research, medical, scientific or other technical activities. Examples include office equipment and furnishings, modular offices, telephone networks, information technology equipment and systems, air conditioning equipment, reproduction and printing equipment, and motor vehicles These are unallowable as direct costs in most cases because their benefit is not specific to any one sponsored project and the costs of general purpose equipment are to be covered by the F&A/indirect costs reimbursed to the university.

Participant Support Costs

Participant support costs are stipends or subsistence allowances, travel allowances, and registration fees paid to or on behalf of participants or trainees (but not employees) in connection with conferences, clinical, or training projects. Participant support costs must be budgeted as a separate category.

For example, 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 - usually 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, 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 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.

Actual Training Cost Estimate

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 and fees per student.

Participant support costs are excluded from the indirect cost base.

Publication and Printing Costs

Publication costs for electronic and print media, including distribution, promotion, and general handling are allowable. If these costs are identifiable with and of benefit to a particular sponsored project or the sponsor itself, they can be budgeted as direct costs. If not, they should not be included in the budget as a direct cost line item as they are considered indirect costs.


This category includes the costs of bulk mailing, postage, commercial carrier, telex, fax, e-mail, long-distance telephone, telegrams or cables,. These costs are allowable as direct costs only if specifically related to project activities over and above general operations, such as a direct mailing to survey respondents.


When a portion of the project is going to be carried out at another institution or organization, a Subaward (subcontract or subagreement) between the University and the collaborator is required. In order to submit the proposal committing the University and its partners to the proposed project, the University must obtain documentation from each subrecipient's authorizing official including 1) an itemized budget with justification, 2) a statement of work to be performed, and 3) qualifications to conduct the work. Some federal agencies require a completed cover sheet and certain certifications signed by both the prime grantee (University) and the collaborating institution’s (Subrecipient) authorized officials.

Other Direct Costs

Tuition Remission. Graduate Research Assistants whose primary role is to pursue an academic degree related to the research experience they gain from participating in sponsored projects receive tuition remission in lieu of employment benefits. Tuition remission is calculated as a percentage of the salary paid to the Research Assistant (consult proposal preparation information). The resulting figure is excluded from the indirect cost base.

Equipment Maintenance may be included in a budget based on quotes from the vendor specifying the coverage and terms of service contracts.

 Animal per diem charges to defray the expenses for animal care.

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

Rental and maintenance costs. Rental space in facilities that are not owned by NYU may be included in the budget if needed and justified for the specific project. (Note that under such circumstances an off-campus Facilities and Administrative cost rate will be assessed.) New York University’s Negotiated Indirect Cost Rate Agreement (NICRA) specifically excludes rental costs from the calculation of Facilities and Administrative Costs.

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Indirect Costs Categories (Facilities and Administrative Costs)

Indirect costs are comprised of those expenses not readily allocable to any one particular sponsored project, but rather represent the University's real and actual costs for carrying out research, training, and/or other sponsored activities. The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has issued, in conjunction with college and university representatives, 2 CFR Part 200 Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards," 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, the University prepares and submits a periodic determination of indirect costs based upon operating expenditures in conformance with Uniform Guidance standards. The submission is reviewed by federal auditors and is negotiated by the University's Controllers Division with representatives of the University's cognizant federal agency, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

F&A/Indirect costs 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 Sponsored Projects

The University has negotiated rates (facilities and administration) for research, teaching/training, and other sponsored activities taking place both on- and off- the University’s multiple campuses. Indirect costs must be budgeted on all sponsored projects (subject to statutory or sponsor specific limitations) based upon these negotiated indirect cost rates. 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 one year or more), 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 period of three-months or more or when the majority of the scope of work/personnel are off-campus and not using University facilities.

Indirect Cost Applicable to Non-Governmental Proposals

When preparing a budget for a proposal to a non-governmental sponsor, the University’s negotiated rates (facilities and administration) for research, instruction, and other sponsored activities taking place both on- and off- the University’s multiple campuses should be used. All requests for exception must be carefully justified with approvals coordinated through OSP.


In accordance with University policy, cost sharing should be offered in response to solicitations by federal agencies only if is specifically mandated by the regulations and stated in the funding opportunity announcement. 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.. For those agencies with specific mandatory cost sharing three-column budgets (agency column, University contribution column and total column) are prepared for submission. Cost sharing should 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.; cost sharing is subject to department and/or school approval.

Mandatory Cost Sharing
Cost sharing that is mandated by the sponsor. Under the Uniform Guidance, the requirement for mandatory cost sharing must be stated in the funding opportunity announcement.

Voluntary Committed Cost Sharing
This is limited to circumstances where University policy indicates that Principal Investigators must devote measurable effort to federally sponsored projects. All federal proposals must include a minimum of 1% of the academic year salary of a Principal Investigator. This may be included as Voluntary Committed Cost Sharing. University policy outlines circumstances where this is appropriate and describes restriction on how much of an individual’s time may be committed to sponsored projects. A full discussion of this requirement is outlined in the University’s Cost Sharing Policy.

Voluntary Uncommitted Cost Sharing
If the participation of a particular individual is required by the scope of a project, but no effort will be charged, this would be considered Voluntary uncommitted cost sharing, and does not need to be quantified, tracked, or reported upon. This participation is described in the resources section of the proposal.

The matter of cost sharing is one of concern at the University. Those elements within University budgets that are presented as cost sharing 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 cost sharing beyond the minimum required be provided.

Budget Justification

The Budget Justification describes the relationship of the proposed expense to the conduct of the scope of work. Each category should be explained, in the order outlined in the budget document itself. Each sponsor may have a different page limitation or format, but what is important is that each and every proposed direct cost must be of direct benefit to the project. Reviewers should be able to understand the relationship between the cost item and how it relates to the conduct of the sponsored project.
A sample budget justification is provided for use when no format has been provided by the sponsor.

A sample budget justification is provided for use when no format has been provided by the sponsor.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.