Additional Things to Consider when Preparing a Proposal

This page is designed to provide faculty and staff from any University unit (except the Weill Medical College) with additional information to assist in the preparation and submission of a sponsored project proposal through Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP)


General policy considerations related to sponsored project activities are outlined in Section 6.2 of the Cornell University Faculty Handbook. The following considerations are those that investigators will frequently encounter when preparing a proposal. Your Grant and Contract Officer (GCO) can provide additional guidance with other questions or concerns that may arise.

A proposal is a request for support of sponsored research, instruction, or extension projects, and generally consists of a cover page, brief project summary, technical or narrative section, biographical sketches of the key personnel, and a detailed budget. Common proposal types include:

Solicited proposals, submitted in response to a specific solicitation issued by a sponsor. Such solicitations, typically called Request for Proposals (RFP), or Request for Quotations (RFQ), are usually specific in their requirements regarding format and technical content, and may stipulate certain award terms and conditions (see Proposal Preparation and Processing Responsibilities). Broad Agency Announcements (BAAs) are not considered formal solicitations.

Unsolicited proposals, submitted to a sponsor that has not issued a specific solicitation but is believed by the investigator to have an interest in the subject.

Preproposals, requested when a sponsor wishes to minimize an applicant's effort in preparing a full proposal. Preproposals are usually in the form of a letter of intent or brief abstract. After the preproposal is reviewed, the sponsor notifies the investigator if a full proposal is warranted.

Continuation or Non-Competing proposals, confirm the original proposal and funding requirements of a multi-year project for which the sponsor has already provided funding for an initial period (normally one year). Continued support is usually contingent on satisfactory work progress and the availability of funds.

Renewal or competing proposals, are requests for continued support for an existing project that is about to terminate, and, from the sponsor's viewpoint, generally have the same status as an unsolicited proposal.

"In 1989 the Cornell Faculty Council of Representatives adopted a resolution endorsing the right of faculty to pursue research of their choosing, as long as that research: is within the guidelines of scholarly quality; is accessible to all interested scholars; and is in compliance with the laws of the land." More specifically, only proposals to sponsors whose terms and conditions allow freedom of access and publication are acceptable to Cornell. The University does not permit government classified research, research projects that do not permit the free and open publication, presentation, or discussion of the results, nor the exclusion of hiring foreign nationals.

Proposals for research to be conducted by Cornell and one or more other parties as a joint venture or partnership will occasionally raise questions concerning the legal relationship and liability of each party. When such questions arise OSP will review the arrangement and/or special concerns with University Counsel, unless the arrangements are clearly intended to establish a traditional contractor-subcontractor, consortium, or joint study relationship.

A consortium arrangement exists when two or more organizations agree to participate in a collaborative project. It is not necessary for a consortium to be a formal or legal agreement. One participant will be designated as the lead institution at the time of proposal submission and accepts full funding and responsibility from the sponsor. Subcontracts are then used to transfer part of the work and appropriate funds to the other participant(s). All conditions imposed by the sponsor on Cornell are also imposed on the subcontractor(s).

When Cornell is the lead institution OSP requires a statement from each participating organization that includes a full cost budget and work scope, and is signed by an authorized representative. Your GCO can provide you with further details.

Consultants and subcontractors are independent contractors and not employees or agents of the University. Special review and approval procedures are required if a project anticipates using consultants. Designation of independent contractor status is governed by the Internal Revenue's Code of Common Law. Cornell may be subjected to significant institutional tax penalties should the individual be incorrectly classified as an independent contractor. In addition, contracting with an independent contractor may expose the University to significant financial risk if the consultant has limited net worth or inadequate insurance coverage.

A consultant should not be confused with a subcontractor. Both are different in their activity and relationship to the Statement of Work (SOW). A consultant guides, aides, or provides other technical or professional service to the principal investigator. While a consultant may impact the results of the SOW, they do not conduct work resulting in the satisfaction of a portion of the SOW. A subcontractor conducts a part of the SOW and is responsible for the outcome of that work.

Questions concerning the use or status of an independent contractor should be directed to your GCO well in advance of the proposal deadline.

More information on Consultants and Subcontractors can be found in the Budget and Costing Guide.

At the time of proposal submission a sponsor will often require an indication of what terms and conditions will be acceptable to Cornell in the event of an award. Exceptions to a sponsor's terms and conditions are addressed by the GCO in a transmittal letter. For commercial sponsors OSP will often include a copy of the standard Cornell agreement. Investigators who are aware of special sponsor requirements should discuss them with their GCO well in advance of the proposal deadline.

Cornell will normally only enter into agreements that adhere to the following principles: the research is conducted on a best efforts basis without guarantee of success and without financial risk or liability to the University; costs are fully reimbursed unless cost-sharing has been approved; and, there are no restrictions on the dissemination of the research results except: 1) those that relate to the protection of a sponsor's proprietary information; 2) the rights of privacy of individuals; or 3) establishing rights in patentable inventions and other intellectual property.

Intellectual property is addressed in the terms and conditions negotiated by OSP when accepting an award. For most awards Cornell will retain ownership of intellectual property developed on sponsored projects in order to avoid conflicting commitments to various sponsors. In the case of patents, policy requires the University to retain ownership unless a special waiver is approved by the Vice Provost for Research. Sponsor rights are protected through appropriate licensing arrangements.

As with patents, Cornell prefers to retain ownership of copyrights. In some instances Cornell will allow the sponsor to own the copyright on deliverable reports, while retaining the right of use for University purposes.

Contact Cornell's Center for Technology Licensing for more information. Additional information can be found HERE.

The principal investigator or project director is responsible for the conduct of the research or other activity being supported by a sponsored project. Responsibility includes the technical direction of the work and other contractual obligations such as reporting, proper cost assignment, and supervision of project personnel and subcontractors. Additional information can be found on the Proposal Preparation and Processing Responsibilities page.

Information on who can serve as a PI can be found HERE.

Format and Content

Sponsors frequently revise proposal guidelines and other requirements (e.g., page limits, font sizes, margins, number of copies). Guidelines can vary not only among sponsors, but also among programs within an agency. Questions concerning proposal requirements that are not addressed in the sponsor's guidelines can usually be answered by the appropriate GCO in CALS, CVM, or OSP. In general, both government and non-government sponsors require the following:

  1. Cover or title page: This should include the title of the proposed project, name(s) and title(s) of the principal investigator and co-investigators (if any), proposed project period, dollar amount, sponsor, the date, and any required College or department signatures. As the legal entity submitting the proposal on behalf of the investigator, Cornell University, with OSP's address, should be used for the institutional address.
  2. Introduction: A brief description of the proposed project's objectives, any direct or closely related work which may be in progress, and any other pertinent background information as required by the sponsor.
  3. Table of contents or index with page references.
  4.  Detailed program description, including an explanation of the objectives in clear and concise terms, and a description of the procedures to be followed in carrying out the objectives.
  5. Description of current facilities and equipment, and the percentage of time they will be available for the proposed project.
  6. List of personnel: Include the names and titles of all professional personnel. Since named personnel might be used within key personnel clauses in an agreement, nonprofessional personnel should be listed by title or function only.
  7. Curriculum vitæ of key personnel: Include only professional and academic essentials and avoid personal background information.
  8. List of principal investigator's publications: Include only those that are relevant or significant to the proposed project. The list should not include items such as publications being printed, or invited lectures.
  9. Budget with justifications and supporting documentation, where appropriate. See the "Budget and Costing Guide" for guidance and sample templates found in the appendices.
  10. Concurrent submission: When the same proposal is being submitted to other sponsors a statement should appear in each proposal indicating that it is a concurrent submission.
  11. List of key personnel's current or pending support should include:
    • the source of support;
    • project title;
    • percent effort;
    • dates of project period;
    • annual costs; and
    • how this project does not overlap or duplicate projects supported by other funds. The statement "No overlap" is considered insufficient by most sponsors.
  12. If required, include letters of collaboration, subcontractor proposals, and other supporting documentation.
  13. Special requests or justifications: These could include: a change of principal investigator on renewal or continuation proposals, use of unexpended funds from a prior budget period, or the temporary absence of the principal investigator.
  14. Certifications and representations and other forms that may be required. These should be prepared by the department for signature by OSP.


Unexpended Funds

For continuation or renewal proposals most sponsors require an estimate of unexpended funds and reserve the right to approve the use of those funds for future budget periods. This should be discussed with your GCO well in advance of a resubmission to determine whether a carry forward request or a no-cost extension is more appropriate.