Have you researched the funding agency for whom you are preparing the proposal?
To whom have they awarded recent grants? Do you know or have you contacted any of those people? Have you determined any anticipated new directions? Do you know how the review process is undertaken and who will be reading your proposal (e.g. specialists, generalists,etc.). Have you studied annual reports and guidelines carefully? Do you know if staff are receptive to personal visits or phone contacts?
Have you made use of every possible resource to develop a competitive proposal?
Have you asked a colleague (preferably someone who has had success with proposals) to read a draft? Do you have the necessary institutional commitment for time, space, computer, additional personnel, etc. to prepare and implement the proposal?
Does your proposal clearly articulate a specific activity designed to address a specific issue to be undertaken by a specific individual?
Have you 'sold' yourself and established your credibility as a person competent for the task? Do you have a sense of the feasible parameters for the project -- or are you proposing to save the world? Can you tell that this is a proposal written by a person -- to a person?
Is the proposed project significant?
To whom? To you as your organization’s advocate, to your clients/patrons, to your organization, to the community, to your academic field? In what way(s) is it significant?
Is there a clear and direct relationship between the identified problem/need and the activities you have outlined and the support you are requesting?
Does the budget present a clear picture of the resources needed? Have you asked for too much or too little?
What will happen after the grant period? How will you know if you have succeeded in meeting your objectives?
How will you assess your project? Will a specific course or the departmental curriculum be changed or strengthened? Will you be able to present your results to your peers, in a scholarly journal/book, or at a professional meeting?
Is this seed-money, a pilot project, or interim stage of a larger project? Does this project have wider application; is it replicable in similar settings?
Is it clear from the beginning of the project how you intend to evaluate- during the grant period, at the end? Is there an implicit long-range plan for growing/strengthening your organization? What do you intend to do next?
Does the very presentation of the proposal reflect the quality of your work?
Have you followed the guidelines precisely? Does it make for easy reading by utilizing good margins with sections clearly and consistently labeled? Are the appendices appropriate, clearly labeled, and referenced? Are there no misspellings, typos, rhetorical ramblings, or vague assumptions?
A Final Question: If you were teaching first year English and this proposal was presented as a weekly theme, what grade would you give it?
Is it well-written, is there a logic in the flow of the argument? Is there a thesis coherently stated up front that is cogently argued? Does the introduction provide a clear overview for what follows and the summary remind the reader of each pertinent point? Is it jargon-free, in the active voice, and as succinct as possible? Does it follow the basic rules of good writing?
Many of these questions are similar to those asked by proposal reviewers, who, whether they are intelligent lay persons or disciplinary experts, must be able to recognize several key points without difficulty:
1) That the request is an appropriate one for the funding source they represent;
2) That the proposed project has significance beyond the individual circumstance/situation;
3) That the primary investigator or project director demonstrates a clear understanding of the issue and of reasonable and creative (and replicable) approaches to addressing the issue.
Hopefully by now you are convinced that proposal writing takes work, creativity, work, imagination, work, persistence, and more work. That is all true. The process of developing a proposal requires you to do some intentional institutional planning, to put your dreams on paper, and to claim that your ideas merit support. This is a risk. But it is a risk worth taking!