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National Science Foundation

A NEW edition of the NSF Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG 19-1) will apply to proposals submitted or due on or after January 28, 2019, and awards made on or after January 28, 2019. 
-  View the NEW PAPPG (19-1)
-  View the significant changes and clarifications to the PAPPG

NSF Information

General NSF Information

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense..." NSF is the only federal agency whose mission includes support for all fields of fundamental science and engineering. The NSF does not support medical sciences. To learn more about the NSF, visit their website.  

Some other information about the NSF:


NSF is divided into seven directorates that support science and engineering research and education. Each is headed by an assistant director and each is further subdivided into divisions. 

Submitting a Proposal to NSF

The NSF Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG) is comprised of documents relating to the NSF’s proposal and award process for the programs of NSF.

  • Part I sets forth NSF’s proposal preparation and submission guidelines, and should be consulted as you prepare a proposal. However, some NSF programs have program solicitations that modify the general instructions provided by the PAPPG; in those cases, the guidelines in the solicitation should be followed.
  • Part II sets forth NSF policies and procedures regarding the award, administration, and monitoring of grants and cooperative agreements. It includes the complete award process, from issuance and administration through closeout.
  • Consult the current version of the PAPPG (19-1), or review significant changes and clarifications to the PAPPG.

NSF research proposals that are not collaborative proposals are now submitted electronically through
Collaborative research proposals are still submitted through Fastlane.

For assistance with developing a proposal, see the Proposal Preparation & Project Development section below, or visit the Research Development website

Funding Priorities

When developing a project idea, it is helpful to relate your idea to current priorities:

You can also see what NSF has recently funded by searching for awards in specific areas. Another option is to view awards made to your state or even specific institutions using the NSF Budget Internet Information System


NSF’s Merit Review process incorporates consideration of both the technical aspects of a proposed project and its potential to contribute more broadly to advancing NSF’s mission. 

NSF asks reviewers to evaluate all proposals against two criteria: 

  • Intellectual Merit: the potential to advance knowledge
  • Broader Impacts: the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes

In the review for both criteria, the following elements should be considered:

  1. What is the potential for the proposed activity to advance knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields (Intellectual Merit) and benefit society or advance desired societal outcomes (Broader Impacts)?
  2. To what extent do the proposed activities suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts?
  3. Is the plan for carrying out the proposed activities well-reasoned, well-organized, and based on a sound rationale? Does the plan incorporate a mechanism to assess success?
  4. How well qualified is the individual, team, or organization to conduct the proposed activities?
  5. Are there adequate resources available to the PI (either at the home organization or through collaborations) to carry out the proposed activities?

To learn more about the merit review process, you can:

To gain experience with the NSF review process, become a Reviewer.

Proposal Preparation & Project Development

For an overview of the steps involved in preparing a proposal for submission to NSF, review this presentation from the Spring 2017 NSF Grants Conference. For tips and resources related to specific elements of NSF proposals, see the sections below. 

Biographical Sketch

The NSF requires that biographical sketches be submitted in a specific format, outlined in the Biographical Sketch section of the PAPPG. Failure to comply with the guidelines can result in your proposal being returned without review. 

The Research Development office provides a template  to assist you in developing a compliant biographical sketch.

If you have questions, or would like someone to review your biographical sketch, contact the Research Development office

Broader Impacts

Broader Impacts - the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes - is one of two merit review criteria at NSF. Broader Impacts activities are expected in each NSF proposal.

Learn more about Broader Impacts (BI)>>


Sponsored Programs Administration provides many resources for creating budgets on their Budget Development webpage, including information on NDSU's F&A Rate Agreement (indirect costs)

To assist you in developing your budget, the following templates are available: 

If you have questions regarding budget development, contact Sponsored Programs Administration.

Collaborations and Other Affiliations

NEW: the NSF has adopted a new, required spreadsheet template for Collaborations and Other Affiliations Information. 

Current and Pending Support

The NSF requires submission of information about Current and Pending Support (CPS) for all PIs, Co-PIs, and Senior Personnel on a proposal. The required information is detailed in the CPS section of the PAPPG. 

CPS information can be entered directly into FastLane or can be uploaded as a separate document; this template is provided for that purpose. Make sure to include the proposal you are currently submitting as pending support; if you are using the template, place the current submission first.  

If you are uncertain how to calculate person months, consult the following resources:

Data Management Plan (DMP)

A data management plan is required for all NSF proposals.  The plan is a supplementary document and may not exceed 2 pages.  It should describe how the proposal will conform to NSF policy on the dissemination and sharing of research results. The plan will be reviewed as part of the Intellectual Merit and/or Broader Impacts of the proposal.

The NSF Directorates and some offices and programs have specific guidelines for data management plans.  Utilize these guidelines as you develop your plan.  If guidance specific to the program is not provided, then the requirements established in the Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide apply.  Please note that if a specific program solicitation provides guidance on preparation of data management plans, such guidance must be followed. 

The DMP Tool is a useful resource for developing data management plans.  It includes templates for various funding agencies and examples of plans. 

The NDSU Research Data Working Group website includes additional resources and information on data management planning.

You can also visit the SPARC Data Sharing Requirements by Federal Agency webpage. 

Evaluation Plans

Generally single-investigator proposals do not require an evaluation plan. However if submitting an NSF CAREER proposal it is recommended to provide a plan, particularly for evaluating the educational component of the proposal.

Center proposals or other large multidisciplinary projects typically require a plan for evaluation.  Some program solicitations require an external evaluator to be part of the proposal.  

Resources for developing evaluation plans include:

Resources for using Logic Models in your Evaluation Plan
Logic Model Planning and Development:

Logic Model Examples:

If you are looking for an external evaluator or need some assistance in developing an evaluation plan, please contact the Research Development office at

Facilities, Equipment, and Other Resources

The NSF requests information on available Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources to assess the adequacy of the resources available to perform the effort proposed to satisfy both the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts review criteria. The detailed requirements for this section can be found in the Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources section of the PAPPG. 

  • Only include resources that are directly applicable to the proposed project
  • The description should be narrative in nature; do not just list equipment.
  • Do not include any quantifiable financial information

A template is available to assist in development of a compliant Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources document. 

Institutional Information

Sponsored Programs Administration maintains an Institutional Information page which includes:

  • NDSU authorized organizational representative
  • Official NDSU address for sponsored projects
  • Indirect cost rates
  • Fringe benefit rates
  • Proposal routing procedure
  • Audit reports, and
  • Frequently used numbers:

    • NDSU's EIN #: 45-6002439
    • DUNS Number: 80-388-2299
    • Congressional District: ND1
    • Cage Code: 40341
    • NDSU's Animal Welfare Assurance #: A3244-01
    • USDA Research Facility Registration #: 45-R-002
    • NSF's Institutional Code # assigned to NDSU: 00 29975 000
    • Human Subjects Assurance: FWA00002439
    • Number of NDSU employees

ABoilerplate Description of NDSU contains general campus information that can be used or customized as needed.  

Letters of Support / Letters of Collaboration

NSF allows for letters of collaboration to document collaborative arrangements of significance to the proposal.  According to the Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide, letters of collaboration should be limited to stating the intent to collaborate and should not contain endorsements or evaluation of the proposed project.  The recommended format is as follows: 

“If the proposal submitted by Dr. (insert full name of Principal Investigator) entitled (insert title of proposal) is selected for funding by NSF, it is my intent to collaborate and/or commit resources as detailed in the Project Description or the Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources section of the proposal.” 

Unless required by a specific program solicitation, letters of support should not be submitted.  If a letter of support is submitted in response to a program solicitation requirement it must be unique to the specific proposal and cannot be altered without the author’s explicit prior approval.  Proposals that contain letters of support not authorized by the program solicitation may be returned without review.

Postdoc Mentoring

If postdoctoral researchers are included in your NSF proposal, a Postdoctoral Researcher Mentoring Plan is required as part of the submission.  The plan is limited to one page.  Information on the requirements can be found in the Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide.

  • Proposed mentoring activities will be evaluated as part of the merit review process.
  • Proposals that identify a postdoc on the budget but do not include a mentoring plan as a supplementary document will be prevented from submission in FastLane.

The mentoring plan must describe the mentoring that will be provided to all postdoctoral researchers supported by the project, regardless of whether they reside at the submitting organization, any subrecipient organization, or at any organization participating in a simultaneously submitted collaborative proposal.  

Mentoring activities may include: 

  • providing career counseling, training in the preparation of grant proposals, or training in responsible professional practices
  • developing publications and presentations
  • offering guidance on techniques to improve teaching and mentoring skills
  • providing counseling on how to effectively collaborate with researchers from diverse backgrounds and disciplinary areas

Additional Resources:

Program Officers

Tips for Contacting Program Officers

Congratulations on making the important step to visit with a grant program officer.  Statistics show that making a personal connection with your program officer will increase your chances of getting funded immensely.  Following are some tips, based on past experience, to help make your visit as successful as possible.


  1. Identify a program officer.
  2. Prepare a concept paper / abstract.
  3. Make contact with the program officer. 
  4. Talk / meet with the program officer.
  5. Follow up after the meeting.


To plan for the visit, prepare a brief 1-2 page concept paper that you can hand to the program officer at the beginning of the meeting. You should be ready to discuss a specific proposal. The format is flexible, but include:

  1. Overall goal and objectives of the proposal.  SMART objectives should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
  2. Describe the problem to be addressed. Use Heilmeier’s Catechism -
  3. Refer to your unique personnel, resources, collaborations, whatever strengths will stand out in your proposal
  4. To the extent possible, use the agency’s format, style, and terminology.
  5. For the title of the concept paper, use an eye-catching newspaper-like headline (think of benefits and potential impact of proposal).  This is not going to be the same as the title of your subsequent formal proposal. 
  6. Use headings, color, and institutional branding, and employ meaningful graphics to assist in telling your story.
  7. Ask others to review and provide feedback.


  1. Well before meeting, send an email to introduce yourself.  Attach your concept paper & biosketch in agency format.  Ask to set up a ½ hour meeting. Try to avoid peak review panel season if possible, a busy time for them.
  2. Prior to the meeting, confirm the date, time and location. 
  3. Be on time.  At the meeting, listen closely for his/her advice and recommendations. Program officers will sometimes be willing to advocate for your proposal or refer you to other programs if appropriate, or even find other pockets of funding at times.  This type of ‘inside information’ can be invaluable to you.
  4. Plan to keep the meeting within the planned time constraints, but take your cue from the program officer.
  5. To keep communication open, follow up with a thank you note to the program officer, including a brief written summary of the conversation.  Also share this with university administrators and any collaborators.


  1. Do your homework on the grant agency beforehand so you have a good understanding of how it works.
  2. Though 1-on-1 is best, if a face-to-face ‘live’ meeting is not possible, Skype, Facetime, or even a phone call is a good alternative, better than no contact. Proposals are too much work to be submitted as ‘a shot in the dark.’
  3. Customize questions. For NSF, ask about ideas for broader impacts. For NIH, ask which study section to target.  
  4. Do NOT ask who is on the review panel, but it’s appropriate to ask about the types of expertise of reviewers who will be on the panel.  Do NOT ask if a Congressman can help or provide a letter of support.  Do NOT ask for a copy of a funded application, or if a particular person got funded - that information is available elsewhere.  
  5. DO ask how proposals from early career applicants are handled, if applicable to you.   For other appropriate questions to ask program officers, as well as other good advice, see Can We Talk? Contacting Grant Program Officers 

Download this handout

PTF and Proposal Process

Sponsored Programs Administration provides information on proposal processing for university approval, as well as the Proposal Transmittal Form (PTF) which is required for proposal routing. 

The proposal process at NDSU is detailed in the graphic below: 

Handout: Proposal Submission Flowchart

General Proposal Writing Tips

Some general proposal writing resources are listed below. They include print and video guides from agencies, foundations, and other grant writing groups. 

Print Resources


Video Resources

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Last Updated: Friday, January 04, 2019 11:03:27 AM
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