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Putting Your Best Foot Forward: Tips On Making Your Preliminary Proposal Competitive (Part Two)

January 6, 2017

By Trevor Owens, Ph.D., Supervisory Senior Program Officer
Sandra Toro, Ph.D., Senior Program Officer
IMLS Office of Library Services, IMLS


Last year, we posted several well-received tips about preparing a two-page proposal for the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program (LB21) and the National Leadership Grants for Libraries (NLG) Program. We want to provide a brief update about how to make your proposal even stronger.

Some key tips to remember from last year include:

Review successful proposals and sample applications posted online.  Reviewing successful proposals helps give you a sense of how successful applicants present their ideas and project plans; how a preliminary proposal evolves into a full proposal; and what works for reviewers overall. If you cannot find a particular proposal of interest, reach out to a program officer and we will help you find it.

Make sure you apply to the right program. In a nutshell, LB21 concentrates on the needs of librarians, archivists, and other working professionals. The NLG Program focuses on the user or patron as well as the potential for broad, national impact. For example, if reviewers feel that your NLG proposal is better positioned as an LB21 proposal because of its emphasis on continuing education or professional development, your proposal will be rejected and you will be asked to apply to the right program at a later date.

Participate in informational webinars and reach out to a program officer to learn more, get advice, and find out the answers to your questions. Our next webinar is January 9, at 3 p.m. Eastern (Archived webinars are available here: Webinars are great refreshers for applicants who have not submitted a proposal for several years as well as new applicants who are unfamiliar with the application and review process. Keep in mind, though, that in addition to participating in a webinar, you can talk with a program officers and get verbal feedback on a proposal draft. Our goal is for you to submit a well-crafted proposal with strong potential for success!

Make your first sentence a mini-abstract and highlight your research questions (by putting them in the first paragraph). Reviewers will be looking at a dozen or more proposals during a preliminary proposal review panel or and they will want to know you main idea or question up front.

Be sure to include a budget paragraph. (It is not enough to say, “We are requesting x amount for salaries, travel, equipment, and indirect costs.” Reviewers want more detail, even at the preliminary proposal stage).

Review recently funded IMLS projects using our Awarded Grants Search. Reviewers will expect you to demonstrate an awareness of projects in your area of interest that have been funded previously. You will want to discuss in your narrative how any proposed work is new, different, or builds upon prior efforts funded by IMLS.

Include ALL the required documents. Finally, we cannot stress enough that each Notification of Funding Opportunity page lists all required documents, including the Application for Federal Assistance/Short Organizational Form (SF-424S) and the IMLS Program Information Sheet. Make sure these required forms are submitted as part of your application package or your proposal will be rejected without review!

About the Authors

Dr. Trevor OwensDr. Sandra Toro

Dr. Trevor Owens is supervisory senior program officer at IMLS where he oversees the agency’s efforts on the National Digital Platform. He can be reached at Dr. Sandra Toro is a senior program officer who manages a portfolio of social science research projects and Native American and Native Hawaiian library services grants. She can be reached at

Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program
National Leadership Grants for Libraries