National Science Foundation (NSF)

Getting Started

You will need a National Science Foundation (NSF) ID, if you do not already have one. Contact SJSU Research Foundation to set one up.

Proposal Narrative

1. Writing the Project Summary

The Project Summary consists of an overview, a statement on the intellectual merit of the proposed activity, and a statement on the broader impacts of the proposed activity. It is limited to one page in length.

Include the following sections:

  • Overview

    A brief description of the activity that would result if the proposal were funded and a statement of objectives and methods to be employed. (This is not an abstract.)
  • Intellectual Merit

    Describe the potential of the proposed activity to advance knowledge. How important is the proposed activity to advancing knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields?
  • Broader Impacts

    Should describe the potential of the proposed activity to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes. 

2. Writing the Project Description

The Project Description should address:

  • what you want to do
  • why you want to do it
  • how you plan to do it
  • how you will know if you succeed, and
  • what benefits will accrue if the project is successful.

A separate section within the narrative, labeled Broader Impacts, must be included to discuss the benefit to society of the proposed activities. 

NSF 101: Five tips for your Broader Impacts Statement
ARIS Broader Impacts Toolkit

Results from Prior NSF Support is required section for the PI and any Co-PIs, is limited to five pages and counted towards the 15 page limit of the project description.

SJSU's NSF proposal outline list [docx] 

Supporting Documents

The Office of Sponsored Programs will assist you with supporting documents, but here we provide some guidance on some of the required documents. Increasingly, some of these documents are used strategically to strengthen a proposal by providing additional background and highlighting information that would not be in the project description.

1. Biographical Sketches

NSF-approved format must be used.

2. Data Management Plan (DMP)

See our page for further information on DMP tools.

3. Budget and Budget Justification

Preparing a Budget
Proposal Budget Template
Budget Justification Template [docx]

4. Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources

Describe only those resources that are directly applicable to performance of the activities proposed. This section of the proposal is used to assess the adequacy of the resources available to satisfy both the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts review criteria. Include an aggregated description of the internal and external resources (both physical and personnel) that the organization and its collaborators will provide to the project. The description should be narrative in nature and must not include any quantifiable financial information. 

5. Postdoctoral Researcher Mentoring Plan

This document is required only if funding to support postdoctoral researchers is requested. Describe the mentoring activities that will be provided for each individual. These mentoring activities will be evaluated under the Broader Impacts review criterion.

6. Letters of Collaboration vs Letters of Support

While letters of collaboration are permitted, unless required by a specific program solicitation, letters of support should not be submitted as they are not a standard component of an NSF proposal.

What's the difference?

  • Letters of collaboration state the intent to collaborate and should not contain endorsements or evaluation of the proposed project. The recommended format for letters of collaboration is as follows:

    "If the proposal submitted by Dr. [insert the full name of the Principal Investigator] entitled [insert the proposal title] is selected for funding by NSF, it is my intent to collaborate and/or commit resources as detailed in the Project Description or the Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources section of the proposal."
  • A letter of support is typically from a key stakeholder such as an organization, collaborator, or Congressional Representative, and is used to convey a sense of enthusiasm for the project and/or to highlight the qualifications of the PI or co-PI. Proposals that contain letters of support not authorized by the program solicitation may be returned without review. The Research Development Office can assist with these letters.