When writing proposals you should always keep the reviewers in mind. They are human beings that have their own interests, that get hungry, that get tired, that get annoyed, and so on. You need to convince these people relatively quickly that your project is well organized, worth doing, and that you are the person to do it.
That being said, here are some things that reviewers like to see:
Proposals that are organized. Make their job easier by exactly following the guidelines, and be sure the guidelines are the latest edition. (Some of them change from year to year.) Use a title that really conveys quickly the thrust of your project. Use a Table of Contents even if it isn't called for. Number your pages, always. Know that a surprising number of proposal are returned from federal agencies because of sloppiness, incorrect references, or unclear explanations of figures. These are things that irritate reviewers and cause them to lay your proposal aside as rejected, sometimes even unread.
Proposals that they can understand. Know that you will be writing for reviewers who are closer to you and your own experience, than for the 5 or 6 experts in your field. Avoid jargon. Look across the room and imagine how you would write a proposal that you wanted this person to read, understand, consider important, and fund. Psychological factors are very important in proposals. Keep your language as clear and concise as possible. Don't leave reviewers guessing, and leave nothing to the imagination.
Proposals that are pleasing to the eye. Think what you can do to counter a reviewer's "fatigue factor." They will frequently be reviewing from 20 to 50 proposals at one time. Small type and long paragraphs are seldom a good idea. Use plenty of white space, as well as bulleted items to catch attention
Proposals that someone else had read. Leave enough time to have a few readers. If something is clear to you but confusing to anyone else, best to discover this before you send a proposal, and not read it in a negative review. Think of readers as "advance reviewers." A reader is one of the best things you can do for your proposal.
that answer their questions.
Reviewers approach all proposals with many of the same questions:
- What is this person doing? (Many reviewers have complained that they were pages and pages into the proposal before they could winnow out the project.)
- Why is it important?
- Is it innovative? (Innovation is an essential ingredient in proposals today.)
- How is this person going to do it?
- Has this person made the case?