Proposal Development

The quality of the proposal will determine whether or not you are successful.  It is, therefore, essential that you have a full understanding of what is required to maximise your chances of gaining a grant.

Preparation is key to this and you should:

  • Allow yourself time
  • Study your funding source
  • Read the guidance documents
  • Discuss your idea with peers

The content and presentation of your research proposal has to be carefully thought through to ensure a convincing case is made to the funder.  Keep in mind your proposal will be seen by individuals who will not be familiar with your particular specialism, so writing in plain English is essential.  There are excellent online funder resources to help with the writing of your proposal including the ESRC's How to Write a Good Research Grant Proposal.

In addition the Research Funding & Development team based in REO can support you with this so please contact us as early in the process as possible.  

There are a number of internal processes that need to be followed before the proposal can be approved and submitted; more information is outlined in the Approval and Submission section.

Complete a Concept Note* to indicate your intention to submit a competitive research funding application and send directly to your aligned Research and Innovation Services Funding support contact for them to issue to the relevant Faculty approver.  RIS will co-ordinate the finalisation of the Concept Note and send back to the academic with combined Faculty and RIS comments and a Faculty decision to Stop/Go/Amend.   This step in the process should take five working days to complete.

*Note: Some Faculties have a tailored Concept Note, which should be completed and can be found at the links below:

Familiarise yourself with the funder's eligibility criteria to ensure that you are eligible to submit to the specific call.

  • For funding applications below £1m, a full draft of the application, in the requirement required for the funder, should be sent to your RIS Funding Team support contact a minimum of 35 working days prior to the deadline. For applications over £1m the requirement is 55 working days ahead of the deadline.
  • This timeframe has been set to allow an experienced member of the Institutional Peer Review College to thoroughly comment on the draft alongside RIS and provide feedback to the academic and allow for changes to be made and subsequent review (s) to be completed to ensure all comments have been addressed where appropriate.
  • Once the peer review process has been completed, the internal approval process follows.  Familiarise yourself with the Faculty's approval process, ensuring you allow enough time to complete the proposal, request approval from the Faculty Dean and meet the submission deadline (if applicable).  A letter of support can take several weeks to be drafted and signed off, please ensure you leave enough time ahead of the deadline.


Find out more information on the peer review process here.

Familiarise yourself with the funder's requirements e.g. read the specific guidelines for the funder/call.

Familiarise yourself with the structure of the funder's application form (if applicable) e.g. if you are applying to a Research Council then you should start a Je-s form as soon as possible.  The Team can also provide examples of successful applications if required.  There is a helpful guide on developing a research proposal, this is available through Vitae.  Click here to view the guide.

Do you need to include a Research Data Management Plan?  If yes, find out how you can plan for this here.

Does the funder allow you to claim for publishing costs e.g. open access fees.  It is recommended that publishing costs are requested where possible.  Find out more about open access requirements and fees here.

Funders will expect you to think about how your research project can make a difference.  It is encouraged that researchers explore, from the application and throughout the project and beyond, who could potentially benefit from the research and how you can make this happen.

Find out more about impact within Stirling Researcher Resources here.

If the University is limited to how many applications can be submitted to a specific call or if matched funding is requirement then there an internal competition may be run to decide what application(s) can be submitted.  Internal competitions may be held several months in advance, check with your Research Development Manager when you start planning your proposal.

Does the funder request match funding e.g. an internal funding contribution?  If yes, discuss with your Research Development Manager.

Proposal Development - Budget

Depending on the funder you are applying to, producing a realistic (yet competitive) budget is one of the hardest parts of proposal writing, bearing in mind that all funders look for value for their money.  If you can work out accurate figures at the start, it will be far better for everyone involved than having to correct them just before the deadline.

Things to consider when preparing a proposal budget are:

Further Guidance: for more hints and tips on calculating your budget, watch our presentation or find out more information here.

Need help?  Your aligned Research Funding Officer can help and advise you on the costing of your proposal.  We only ask that you try and give them as much notice as possible before the submission deadline, this will ensure you get the best help possible.

Ensure that you read over the funder's guidelines to;

  • Check what types of costs the funder will accept as eligible e.g. will they fund directly allocated costs etc.  
  • Check if there are any thresholds for the total project cost e.g. is there a maximum that can be requested.

Are we the lead institution and do you have any collaborators/partners on the project?  If yes, your Research Funding Officer can liaise with their Research Support Office to request the relevant costs.  Please note: some institutions have specified turnaround times e.g. can take up to 2 weeks to provide costs.

The staff costs should be calculated using full Economic Costing.  Your Research Funding Officer can calculate the costs for any University of Stirling staff time.  In order to do so, please provide us with the following; start date, duration, funder, scheme (if applicable), deadline, staff name(s), proposed time commitment(s).

The appropriate non-staff costs need to be included to carry out the research project.  They may include; travel, accommodation, transcription, open access fees, equipment, recruitment or conference attendance etc.  Most funders require an educated estimate of the costs required for the resources based on your previous experience and/or knowledge.  If you are unsure about anything, please contact your Research Funding Officer.  See our guide on calculating non-staff costs here.

Does the funder require a match funding contribution?  If yes, please discuss this early on with your Research Funding Officer.

Research - In August 2013 changes were made to the treatment of VAT for Research activity.  Previously the determination of VAT was made based on whether or not the funder was an eligible body.  This is no longer the case, now each project needs to be assessed to determine whether the research is for the public good or not.  If the research is deemed to purely benefit an organisation then this is VATable (VAT should be added to the total budget).  VAT implications should be discussed on a case by case basis with your Research Funding Officer.  

Other Activities -  All consultancy activity is automatically deemed VATable (we are providing a service and VAT should be added to the total budget).  For Short Courses (non-accredited) and Conferences, please discuss this with yourResearch Funding Officer.  

The price is what we charge funders to carry out the project.  The price will vary depending on the type of funder you are engaging with and what the Faculty is willing to accept in exchange for providing the work.  The price can be equal, higher or even lower than fEC.  Funders can specify the price that they are willing to pay e.g. 80% fEC, 100% fEC, directly incurred costs only etc.  Please discuss the pricing process with your Research Funding Officer.

Stirling Researcher Resources

See examples of successful applications here.                                                         

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