Narrative Development

The core elements of almost any proposal you write are the same. Even a science research proposal will cover these topics, albeit under different headings. The topics are: Objectives, Problem Statement, Activities/Methods and Evaluation (OPSAME). Developing an initial outline around these elements will provide a logical well-conceived framework that can be developed further into a proposal: sample OPSAME .


Describe what you want to accomplish: 50% of currently homeless population will be in permanent housing after two years. What outcomes will we be able to say we've achieved at the end of the project? What will have changed?

  • Objectives arise directly out of the needs or issues identified (and are backed up by data analysis and research). Generally, each problem you describe is associated with an objective. Don’t overestimate what you can accomplish.
  • Objectives describe who or what will change in terms of a behavior, attitude, condition, knowledge, or status (BACKS). Outcomes can be expressed in terms of enhanced learning (knowledge, perceptions/attitudes or skills) or conditions, (increased literacy, self-reliance, certifications) or behavior (lose 10 pounds, increase study time by 20%).
  • Objectives are measurable; they are often framed using verbs such as increase, decrease, improve, and expand. Think ahead to what types of data you can collect to evaluate whether you have achieved your objective. This is also a way of checking whether your objective is realistic.
  • A well-worded objective addresses the who, when, what, and how of measurement. For example: By the end of the 2010-2011 academic year, 23% of the faculty will have improved their proposal writing ability as demonstrated by an analysis, using OSP proposal review criteria, of the changes between their draft proposal and the final proposal. AND/OR By the end of the 2010-2011 academic year, 10% of the faculty will have obtained new external funding.
  • An objective can be described as the “then” in an “if…then” statement. If we do this (methods/activities), then this will happen (objectives). For example, say your objective is to increase the number of students who get an A. If students attend all the classes, do all the readings, and satisfactorily complete assignments then they will receive an A.

Problem Statement (Need)

The problem section of a proposal makes a case for the relevance of your project and explains to the funder why your proposed program is important. Therefore you must give some compelling reasons about why the program is necessary and outline the specific needs the program will address. Support the needs you write about with citations from research and reliable sources. Use the most recent information available. Always describe the problem in terms of the people you intend to serve. DO NOT describe the need in terms of the financial needs of the organization requesting the funding.

  • Start with the largest manifestation of the problem and work down to the population you will serve. (Across America, because children watch too much TV, there is a growing (no pun intended) obesity problem. This is no less a concern for the children in grade 5 at Atlantic Elementary School in the underserved neighborhood of Someplace where 65% of kids are overweight.
  • Cite sources of information.
  • Describe briefly what needs to change to address the need/solve the problem.
  • Remember to describe the problem as a glass that is half full, not half empty! Do not paint a picture so bleak that it makes the funder think the situation is hopeless.

Activities/Methods (Work Plan)

In this section you describe the work you will undertake to achieve your objectives.

  • Remember that there are often many different activities you could conceivably undertake. Select those that are most appropriate and can realistically solve the problem and/or achieve your objective.
  • Activities can include: workshops, seminars, classroom coaching, mentoring, classroom visits, holding a poetry contest, etc.
  • A well described activity will give you a general idea of who the participants are, how often the activity will take place, and some idea about the content of the particular activity. For example: We will hold a graduate seminar to improve students’ ability to develop proposals for education programs. 20 graduate students in education will attend the class which will meet four times over the course of one semester. Class content will include: 1) An overview of proposal elements: Executive Summary, Problem Statement, Objectives, Methods, Evaluation, Personnel, Organizational Background, 2) An analysis of proposal style and criteria 3) an overview of budget preparation including hands-on exercises 4) Finding a funder for projects. Each student will complete a proposal and 80% of the students will improve their proposal writing skills.

Remember: Your budget will basically describe with numbers the methods and activities you describe here in words.


What will you do to assess progress and determine if you your program is working well and you are successfully achieving your objectives? Evaluation activities should be both formative (assessing progress while project is still underway) and summative (assessing outcomes.)

  • Formative evaluation helps you to determine if you are moving toward your objective or if you need to make adjustments to your methods or other program components. Use it as a management tool to make modifications in service delivery or make decisions about priorities.
  • Think about evaluation in terms of the data you will or can collect as a measure of progress toward (or success in) attaining an objective.
  • Describe the evaluation activities and plan. Link these back to specific objectives.
  • Evaluation tools often include pre- and post-tests and surveys, specific “off the shelf” assessment tools, standardized tests, focus groups and interviews, participant reports, structured observations.
  • Data analysis often includes studying results of tests and surveys (sometimes using rubrics for assessment), transcripts from interviews and focus groups, written logs and reports.