Chapter 3: Four Important Ideas in Writing
A proposal is proposed business
transaction that is written by a Resource Seeker
and communicated to a potential Resource
Moursund, D.G. (2002). Obtaining resources for
technology in education: A how-to guide for writing
proposals, forming partnerships, and raising funds.
Copyright (c) David Moursund, 2002.
Section Headings for Chapter 3
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A proposal is written by a Resource Seeker and
communicated to a potential Resource Provider. This chapter
discusses four unifying ideas that underlie all
- The Project Mission Statement
The starting point in proposal writing is the
development of a clear Project Mission Statement. This
succinct statement summarizes the problems you want to
solve and tasks you want to accomplish in your proposed
project. If this proposal is part of a still larger
project, then summarize the Mission of this still larger
project, and make it clear what role the current proposal
plays in that larger project.
- Goal Setting
A proposal seeks to achieve goals that are mutually
acceptable to both the Resource Seeker and Resource
- Communicating Your Ideas
A proposal is presented (most often in written or oral
form) to a Resource Provider. Effective communication is
a key characteristic of successful proposals.
- Conducting a Business Transaction
A proposal can be viewed as an offer to carry out
certain tasks in exchange for a certain amount of money
or other resources. The proposal writer and the funding
agency carry out a business transaction--negotiate a
contract--and then each fulfills its part of the
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The Project Mission
A grant proposal usually will focus on one major problem
or group of closely related problems to be solved or tasks
to be accomplished. We call this the Project Mission. (If
you are a Star Trek fan, you know about the mission "
to boldly go where no one has gone before.") The Mission of
the March of Dimes is that all babies shall be born healthy.
Before this mission was adopted, the mission had been to
wipe out polio. Success in accomplishing that mission led to
adopting a new mission.
You will see that grants are closely related to the field
of solving problems and accomplishing tasks. Thus, you need
to have some familiarity with that field. Two documents
written by David Moursund (1996, 2002; 2002) and available
(for free) on the Web may be of use to you. The first
reference is a complete book on problem solving, with a
major emphasis on roles of IT in problem solving. The second
reference is a chapter-length document covering many of the
ideas from the book.
The Project Mission serves as a unifying theme in writing
a proposal. A proposal defines and discusses the various
problems that must to be solved to accomplish the Project
Mission. It may take many years and many different projects
to accomplish a Project Mission. The Project Mission thus
represents the "big picture." Figure 3.1 suggests how grant
proposals fit into the process of accomplishing a Project
Figure 3.1. Components underlying a Project
As an example, consider an elementary school with a
long-range goal of functional computer literacy that meets
the ISTE National Educational Technology Standards for all
of its students. The school has defined functional computer
literacy as a working knowledge of each component of an
integrated software package, including word processing,
spreadsheet, database, graphics, multimedia slide show, and
telecommunications. Students in the school have all learned
to use word processor, spreadsheet, and graphics software.
Although the school has adequate networked computer
facilities and is actively training students to use the
software, it has only a low speed and quite limited
connectivity to the Internet. Among both students and
teachers, Internet use is minimal, and neither group has
received systematic training. This situation is illustrated
in Figure 3.2.
Figure 3.2. Components of a computer literacy Project
An analysis of the Internet goal may lead to
identification of a number of specific objectives. Some
examples might include:
Objective 1: Obtain adequate Internet access.
Objective 2: Train teachers to use the email and the Web
on the Internet.
Objective 3: Obtain and/or develop appropriate curriculum
Objective 4: Develop a solution to the equity problem in
which some students have Internet
access at home but most do not.
Objective 5: Obtain commitment from the school district
to continue the funding of the
solution once it is in place.
The school may decide it has the resources to accomplish
objectives 4 and 5, if it could just get grant funding to
accomplish objectives 1, 2, and 3. This is illustrated in
Figure 3.3. Analysis of components of computer
literacy Project Mission.
Notice how the diagram in Figure 3.4 envisions the
overall Project Mission in terms of goals and objectives.
This approach provides a good start on developing an outline
for a proposal.
Project Mission: Functional Computer Literacy (ISTE NETS,
Goal 1: Word processor fluency
Goal 2: Database fluency
Goal 3: Spreadsheet fluency
Goal 4: Graphics fluency
Goal 5: Slide Show (Multimedia) fluency
Goal 6: Internet fluency
Objective 6.1: Access
Objective 6.2: Teacher training
Objective 6.3: Curriculum materials
Objective 6.4: Equity
Objective 6.5: Long-term commitment and funding
For a variation on this example, suppose the school has
not yet accomplished Goal 5 but has defined it as
Goal 5: Slide Show (Multimedia) fluency
Objective 5.1: Fluency developing a linear slide
show with graphics and text.
Objective 5.2: Fluency in developing a linear slide
show that includes sound, motion, and video.
Objective 5.3: Fluency in developing a non linear
Objective 5.4: Fluency in applying all of the above in
developing a Web page.
Suppose the school is willing to commit resources to
accomplish objectives 5.1 and 5.2. A diagram of this
situation is given in Figure 3.4.
Figure 3.4. Refinement of components of computer literacy
The diagram given in Figure 3.4 was designed to fit the
situation where a grant proposal would be written to focus
specifically on obtaining resources to achieve objectives
5.3, 5.4, 6.1, 6.2, and 6.3. In submitting this proposal,
the school and the school district are making a formal
commitment to accomplish objectives 5.1, 5.2, 6.4, and 6.5
using their existing resources if the project is funded. It
is common for a Resource Seeker to make a substantial
commitment of its own resources when making a request for
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of Resource Provider and Resource Seeker
The previous section explains that a Project Mission is
achieved by the process of fulfilling several constituent
goals. A proposal seeks resources to help achieve one or
more of the goals or specific objectives.
In Figures 3.5 and 3.6, there are two distinct "players"
who are concerned about the goals in a proposal: the
Resource Seeker and Resource Provider. Each has a variety of
possible goals to be achieved. The goals of the Resource
Seeker may be quite different from those of the Resource
Provider. Indeed, as suggested in Figure 3.5, there may be
no overlap among their goals. Even a very well-written
proposal submitted in such a situation is apt to result in a
" form-letter rejection.
Figure 3.5. Unless one or both sides is open to
compromise, there is no reason to continue the proposal
Figure 3.6. The overlapping goals of the Resource Seeker
and Resource Provider reveal shared priorities that can lead
to successful proposals.
As a proposal writer, it is very important that you
understand the goals and objectives of the Resource
Provider. For example, a particular funding agency may be
dedicated to solving educational problems in rural
communities. Such a funding agency would not be interested
in a proposal to improve the computer facilities at an
inner-city high school. Likewise, a funding agency
interested in promoting educational television may not
respond favorably to a proposal that focuses on the Internet
as an educational vehicle. Indeed, it may consider the
Internet to be a competitor because the Internet can be used
to transmit video.
In some situations, both the Resource Seeker and Resource
Provider are willing to compromise their goals. Each has the
flexibility to make adjustments in its goals. A dialogue
between the Resource Seeker and the Resource Provider might
lead to a project proposal with goals acceptable to both
parties, as illustrated in Figure 3.7.
Figure 3.7. A "give and take" dialog between Resource
Seeker and Resource Provider can lead to a compromise with
mutually beneficial project goals.
The diagrams and discussion given in this section suggest
a number of different proposal-writing situations. Here are
some possible scenarios:
Neither Side Will Compromise
Neither the Resource Seeker nor the Resource Provider is
willing to compromise. If their goals do not overlap, there
is no sense in continuing the dialogue or submitting a
The Resource Seeker is Flexible
The Resource Seeker finds a Resource Provider who has
resources. The Resource Seeker develops goals and a project
that specifically meet the needs of the Resource
The Resource Provider is Flexible
If the Resource Provider has a great deal of flexibility
rather than a fixed set of goals, a Resource Seeker with a
heartfelt need and a well-established set of goals may be
able to write a convincing funding proposal.
Both Have Some Flexibility
A dialogue may lead to compromises from both sides,
improving the chances that each will achieve its goals. A
key part of the dialogue may be an effort by each side to
help the other understand its goals and underlying
It should be evident that the Resource Seeker should know
the Resource Provider agency and, if possible, specific
program officers within the agency. One reason that
experience proposal writers have a higher rate of success
than novice proposal writers is that the experienced
proposal writers have more knowledge of funding agencies and
specific program officers with the agencies.
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A proposal is a communication that requests resources. A
proposal may be presented in writing, orally, or in other
modes. For example, in some situations it might be possible
to submit a proposal on videotape or as a hypermedia
document. In some situations, a proposal is presented both
orally and in writing. Increasingly, proposals are submitted
electronically and may well contain links to one or more
Websites developed by the Resource Seeker.
There is often considerable interaction between the
Resource Seeker and the Resource Provider before a formal
proposal is submitted. This dialogue may continue after the
proposal is submitted, whether or not the proposal is
Here are four important communication-oriented ideas
about proposal writing.
- The proposal preparation process is a dialogue.
The overall proposal preparation process is a dialogue
between the Resource Seeker and Resource Provider. This
dialogue may begin with a request for a copy of a funding
agency's guidelines. It may include telephone
conversations, written communications, and personal
visits with a Program Officer. The final formal proposal
is only one piece of this longer dialogue.
- The proposal is a message to the Resource Provider.
A proposal can be thought of as a message especially
designed to communicate effectively with people who
represent the Resource Provider. In many cases, your
audience will be a small group of people examining a
large number of proposals and making rapid decisions on
their relative merits. Thus, the language in a proposal
should be simple and direct.
- The content and technical aspects should be
You should assume that your proposal will be reviewed
by people who have a high level of professional knowledge
in the field of the proposal. One or more of these people
are apt to discover technical errors of commission or
omission in your proposal. Especially in highly
competitive situations, even a small error in technical
correctness can result in your proposal not being
- The quality of the presentation should be excellent.
The proposal's design and presentation quality is very
important. For example, a few typos and a poor job of
desktop publishing can doom a proposal for high-tech
resources. Surely the people submitting a high-tech
proposal should be competent in using a spelling checker
and in doing an adequate job of page layout!
The latter point deserves additional consideration.
Computers have revolutionized the publishing industry. In
the "good old days," a writer and a publisher were two
distinct people. Moreover, the publisher typically
employed both content editors and copy editors. Thus, the
author's original manuscript was content edited and copy
edited before entering the production process.
Quality-conscious publishers may have employed both a
designer and a graphic artist in producing the final
Desktop publishing technology has made it possible for
writers to be their own publishers. But who is
responsible for the editing and graphic design? When a
few points in a proposal's rating can spell the
difference between funding and rejection, the quality of
these easy-to-overlook aspects of publishing can prove to
be decisive. Lookin' Good: Elements of Document Design
for Beginners, by Yoder and Smith (1995), contains an
excellent introduction to the fundamentals of desktop
publishing and can help you prepare professional-looking
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a Business Transaction
It is useful to think of the Resource Seeker and the
Resource Provider as engaging in a business transaction.
Each contributes something to the transaction, and each
expects to get something in return. You know what you
want--you want resources to accomplish your Project Mission.
But what does the Resource Provider want?
Resource Providers increasingly think of their roles as
investing in a project. You, the Resource Seeker, are
asking the Resource Provider to invest in your
project. Therefore, consider your dialogue with the Resource
Provider and your final proposal as a sales effort. You need
to convince the Resource Provider that investing in your
project is appropriate.
The concept of a funding agency investing in a project
holds equally well for all kinds of funding agencies and
sources of funds. For example, a school's Parents and
Teachers Organization (PTO) raises funds each year. How
should it invest these funds to best accomplish its mission?
A school uses site-based management to decide how to
allocate its staffing dollars. Is it better to invest some
of these dollars in funding a technology coordinator
position or in funding a school nurse position? A federal
agency wants to improve education throughout the country.
Should it invest in research, curriculum development, or
In many proposal-writing and funding situations, the
final outcome is a formal legal contract signed by both
sides. Indeed, in some proposals, both sides are represented
by legal counsel. In other proposal situations, the final
outcome is somewhat less formal. However, in either case,
you should think of a proposal as being like a legal
contract. The Resource Provider agrees to provide you with
certain resources. You agree to accomplish certain tasks,
solve certain problems, and make measurable progress toward
achieving your Project Mission.
Measurable progress is an essential idea. A project has
measurable outcomes, often called deliverables. The Resource
Provider expects reports on measurable outcomes. These
reports may be required to be submitted quarterly, yearly,
or at the end of the project. In any case, the Resource
Seeker must indicate in the proposal how the outcomes will
be evaluated and when and how the results will be
In some projects, it is easy to measure the progress and
report on the results. Suppose that a project provides funds
to equip a computer lab. It is easy to report on progress
(for example, a set of bid specifications have been prepared
and sent to four vendors) and completion (for example, the
computers are installed and students are using them).
Reporting progress and final outcomes can pose a greater
challenge in other projects. For example, suppose the
Project Mission is to achieve functional Internet literacy
for all students in a school. How is this to be defined? Is
it possible that a student is half-functionally Internet
literate? What happens if a new student transfers into the
school two days before the project is scheduled to end? What
if the knowledge and skills gained by a student are so
modest that they are forgotten over summer vacation?
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- Think of an educational technology problem you would
like to solve (where you have "ownership") and for which
you need resources. Examine several different Resource
Providers. (If you are not aware of any potential
Resource Providers, you will need to do some research in
this area. Some nontraditional ideas are given in
Activity 3. ) For each, analyze the overlap between your
goals and the Resource Provider's goals. Then discuss
ways to increase this overlap, perhaps by a combination
of modifying your goals and by a careful presentation
that will help the Resource Provider to be more accepting
of your goals.
- Analyze your skills that relate to writing a good
proposal. Take a careful look at important components
such as: your writing skills; your knowledge of
educational technology, education and educational change;
your knowledge of desktop publication; your interpersonal
skills; and so on. In the overall process of writing a
proposal, where will you need help? How can you get the
needed help? You might think about assembling a proposal
writing team that incorporates the needed knowledge and
- In proposal writing, it is helpful to develop an
entrepreneurial point of view. That is, look for
opportunities and then be quick to take advantage of
them. In the following table, the first two columns give
sources and types of resources, while the third column
gives examples of projects in which such resources might
be used. These may be the only resources needed to carry
out the project, or they may serve as the
"matching-funds" component of a proposal seeking
additional resources. Fill in the empty cells and add
several more rows to the table.
Source of Resource
Type of Resource
Type of Project
Your immediate supervisor; higher level
supervisors; boards, such as a school board.
Permission. Legitimacy. Impressive mailing
address. Office space.
A fund-raising project, perhaps one involving a
mass mailing to potential donors. A project to
start a newsletter.
School, college, or university.
Labs of computer equipment in which you can
train teachers and parents. A staff development
A project that sells after-school and evening
computer lab time and uses the money to buy
hardware and software.
Local high-tech company.
Place to visit on field trips. Source of
consultants and guest speakers. Possible source of
summer internships for educators and students.
School's Parents and Teachers Organization.
Local organizations, such as business
Funds for computer equipment for a severely
People and companies
Broken, worn out, or antiquated computers with
little or no resale value.
Space for meetings of parents, teachers.
Inexpensive or free access to the Internet.
Students and teachers working together in a
training session designed to help them learn to use
a new software package.
Parents and their children working together to
learn about educational uses of computer
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