This page highlights key guidance you'll need to follow as you prepare your proposal to the U.S. National Science Foundation.
You must follow the guidelines in NSF's Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG); this page will help to point you to the relevant sections.
On this page
Applying in response to a specific program solicitation? NSF program solicitations may modify NSF's standard proposal preparation guidelines; in these cases, follow the guidelines outlined in the solicitation.
Applying in response to a broad agency announcement? NSF's broad agency announcements may modify NSF's standard proposal preparation guidelines; in these cases, follow the guidelines outlined in the announcement.
Common parts of an NSF proposal
The list below briefly outlines common parts of an NSF proposal; it does not provide an exhaustive list of proposal requirements and guidelines. For the full requirements, refer to Chapter II of the PAPPG.
Research proposals to NSF generally must include the following parts:
2. Project description
The project description, typically up to 15 pages long, details what the proposer wants to do, why they want to do it, how they plan to do it, how they will know if they succeed, and what benefits could accrue if the project is successful.
Refer to PAPPG II.D.2.d for the full requirements.
3. References cited
The references cited includes bibliographic citations; it can't be used to provide parenthetical information outside of the project description.
Refer to PAPPG II.D.2.e for the full requirements.
4. Documents required for senior personnel
Each senior person involved in a proposed project must submit the following information with the proposal:
- Biographical sketch: This three-page document outlines an individual's education and training, their appointments and positions, and other information that helps NSF assess how well qualified the individual is to conduct the proposed activities.
- Current and pending (other) support: This document contains a list of an individual's proposed and active projects and sources of support. It is used by NSF to assess the capacity of the individual to carry out the research as proposed and helps assess any potential scientific and budgetary overlap or duplication, as well as overcommitment with the project being proposed.
- Collaborators and other affiliations: This document contains a table of an individual's collaborators, such as their advisors, co-authors and other collaborators.
Refer to PAPPG II.2.D.h for the full requirements.
5. Proposal budget and justification
The budget section details how much money the proposer is requesting, by category, to complete the project. This information must be provided across each year of support requested. A justification, typically up to 5 pages long, must document and justify each budget line item included in the proposal budget.
Refer to PAPPG II.D.2.f for the full requirements.
6. Facilities, equipment and other resources
This section outlines the internal and external resources (both physical and personnel) that the proposing organization and its collaborators will provide to the project if it is funded by NSF. NSF uses this information to assess whether the proposers have adequate resources available to perform the project they propose.
Refer to PAPPG II.D.2.g for the full requirements.
7. Postdoctoral mentoring plan (if applicable)
If your proposal requests funding to support postdoctoral researchers, you must include a 1-page summary describing the mentoring activities that will be provided to those individuals.
Refer to PAPPG II.D.2.i(i) for the full requirements.
8. Data management plan
This section, up to two pages long, describes how a proposal will follow NSF policy on disseminating and sharing research results. Solicitations will often outline specific requirements for these plans.
Refer to PAPPG II.D.2.i(ii) the full requirements.
Other types of proposals to NSF may have different requirements. Refer to guidance on preparing other types of proposals in PAPPG II.F.