Grant proposal fundamentals: Letters
When preparing proposals to federal agencies for sponsored research projects, you often have to prepare a letter. These can be letters of support, commitment, collaboration or something similar. There are a few questions you should ask yourself prior to preparing these documents:
- Are letters required or accepted by the funding agency or solicitation?
- What are the restrictions, if any, for the letters, either by funding agency or solicitation?
- Are the letters defined in some way, for example, must they be from partners expressing interest or contributing funds?
- What is the culture around letters at the agency?
If you are preparing letters, you need to decide what category they fall into, why they are strategic, and how their content can continue the key messaging within your proposal. Questions you can ask yourself include, but are not limited to the following:
- Who will the letter be addressed to (e.g., the program officer or the principal investigator)?
- What will the letter outline in its content (e.g., is it a simple statement or an elaborate discussion of resources that will be brought to bear on the proposal if awarded)?
- Who will sign the letter (e.g., who has the authority to approve the content of the letter, who will be most impressive)?
Always consider the strategy around the letters you will include. Letters that are superficial may have a role to serve, but not if you are pointing to a deep and highly collaborative partnership. Letters that are complicated and full of jargon may be more work then they are worth for the letter writer, but not if it details how specific resources will further enable the work that is being proposed.
You should understand the difference between letters of support, i.e., this is a great idea and we think you would be the right people for it, and letters of collaboration, i.e., if awarded, we are excited to work with you on this project.
You should also understand the implicit expectations of the sponsor. That includes how the letters sound, what voice they take, what they cover, how deeply they go, and their overall look.
Asking others for letters can be daunting, especially if schedules are busy and the proposal is only half written. But asking early for letters, providing drafts with boilerplate information, or providing fully drafted letters, will accelerate the time frame for return. You should incorporate any edits and review time into your proposal development timeline, with ample time to check letters for compliance prior to uploading.
The wonderful academic network allows you to ask for examples from colleagues. If examples are hard to come by, then simply ask people about their experience with a certain sponsor. It is often very easy and quick to share an experience.
For a high level template for letter preparation, please visit https://funding.asu.edu/proposal-development/letters-support.