How to Use Annotated Sample Grants
Are these real grants? Written by real students?

Yes! While each proposal represents a successfully funded application, there are two things to keep in mind: 1) The proposals below are final products; no student started out with a polished proposal. The proposal writing process requires stages of editing while a student formulates their project and works on best representing that project in writing. 2) The samples reflect a wide range of project types, but they are not exhaustive. URGs can be on any topic in any field, but all must make a successful argument for why their project should be done/can be done by the person proposing to do it. See our proposal writing guides for more advice. The best way to utilize these proposals is to pay attention to the proposal strengths and areas for improvement on each cover page to guide your reading.

How do I decide which sample grants to read?

When students first look through the database, they are usually compelled to read an example from their major (Therefore, we often hear complaints that there is not a sample proposal for every major). However, this is not the best approach because there can be many different kinds of methodologies within a single subject area, and similar research methods can be used across fields.

  1. Read through the Methodology Definitions and Proposal Features to identify which methodolog(ies) are most similar to your proposed project. 
  2. Use the Annotated Sample Grant Database (scroll below the definitions and features) filters or search for this methodology to identify relevant proposals and begin reading!

It does not matter whether the samples you read are summer grants (SURGs) or academic year grants (AYURGs). The main difference between the two grant types is that academic year proposals (AYURG) require a budget to explain how the $1,000 will be used towards research materials, while summer proposals (SURG) do not require a budget (the money is a living stipend that goes directly to the student awardee) and SURGs have a bigger project scope since they reflect a project that will take 8 weeks of full time research to complete. The overall format and style is the same across both grant cycles, so they are relevant examples for you to review, regardless of which grant cycle you are planning to apply. 


How do I get my proposal to look like these sample grants?

Do not submit a first draft: These sample proposals went through multiple rounds of revisions with feedback from both Office of Undergraduate Research advisors and the student’s faculty mentor. First, it helps to learn about grant structure and proposal writing techniques before you get started. Then, when you begin drafting, it’s normal to make lots of changes as the grant evolves. You will learn a lot about your project during the editing and revision process, and you typically end up with a better project by working through several drafts of a proposal.

Work with an advisor: Students who work with an Office of Undergraduate Research Advisor have higher success rates than students who do not. We encourage students to meet with advisors well in advance of the deadline (and feel free to send us drafts of your proposal prior to our advising appointment, no matter how rough your draft is!), so we can help you polish and refine your proposal.

Review final proposal checklists prior to submission: the expectation is a two-page, single-spaced research grant proposal (1″ margins, Times New Roman 12 or Arial 11), and proposals that do not meet these formatting expectations will not be considered by the review committee.  Your bibliography does not count towards this page limit.

Academic Year URG Submission Checklist

Summer URG Application Checklist


Research MethodologIES (+ COVID Considerations)
The proposed project involves collecting primary sources held in archives, a Special Collections library, or other repository. Archival sources might include manuscripts, documents, records, objects, sound and audiovisual materials, etc. If a student proposes a trip to collect such sources, the student should address a clear plan of what will be collected from which archives, and should address availability and access (ie these sources are not available online, and the student has permission to access the archive).

COVID19 considerations: For this kind of work, the committee will look to see proof that the archive is open or has a plan to provide you the materials during COVID19 restrictions. While travel is not encouraged, if an archive is near the town you reside, it may be possible. For an AYURG, funding might be used to pay for Librarians to provide and copy resources for you. A student should still have a clear plan for what they plan to collect from a given archive. Additionally, many materials are available online that the student might consider prioritizing as a basis for their data collection.

Computational/Mathematical Modeling
The proposed project involves developing models to numerically study the behavior of system(s), often through computer simulation. Students should specify what modeling tool they will be using (i.e., an off-the-shelf product, a lab-specific codebase), what experience they have with it, and what resources they have when they get stuck with the tool (especially if the advisor is not a modeler). Models often involve iterations of improvements, so much like a Design/Build project, the proposal should clearly define parameters for a “successful” model with indication of how the student will assess if the model meets these minimum qualifications.

COVID19 considerations: If possible in your field, computational modeling or running simulations are good alternatives to some in-person studies. Be clear about what sorts of controls and variables are used within your proposed model, and what you might be changing within the model between iterations.

Creative Output
The proposed project has a creative output such playwriting, play production, documentary, music composition, poetry, creative writing, or other art. Just like all other proposals, the project centers on an answerable question, and the student must show the question and method associated with the research and generation of that project. The artist also must justify their work and make an argument for why this art is needed and/or how it will add to important conversations.

COVID19 considerations: If you seek to produce a creative output that involves people (ie theater performance, documentary, etc), you must demonstrate how you will achieve this in adherence to current campus policy for COVID19 safety requirements.

The proposed project’s output centers around a final product or tool. The student clearly defines parameters for a “successful” project with indication of how they will assess if the product meets these minimum qualifications.

COVID19 considerations: If part of your design process involves user feedback, please demonstrate how you will acquire this data remotely. If your proposed project requires access to equipment at NU for fabrication, you must demonstrate department approval and your adherence to University safety guidelines.

The project involves collection of data outside of a library, laboratory, or traditional academic research setting. The approaches and methods used in field research vary across disciplines.
The proposed project will collect data or narratives through interview(s). The proposal should clearly define who will be interviewed, how these participants will be recruited, and/or proof of support from contacts. The proposal should include interview questions in an appendix, which allows the review committee to assess whether the questions being asked will ultimately allow the student to answer the research question. The proposal should articulate how the results from these interview(s) will be analyzed or interpreted.
The project takes place in a lab or research group environment, though the methodology within the lab or research group vary widely by field. The project often fits within the larger goals/or project of the research group, but the proposal still has a clearly identified research question that the student is working independently to answer.

COVID19 considerations: 

1) All lab-based research must be in alignment with current university policy. As announced 9/10/20 by Milan Mrksich, Vice President for Research at Northwestern, “first- and second-year undergraduates will not be allowed on campus for in-person learning during the Fall Quarter, and this policy extends to not allowing these students in the laboratories for the fall term. Only third- and fourth-year students with previous experience in the lab setting will be allowed in those research spaces.” This addition is a clarification to the previous policy (7/2/20) wherein “undergraduate students who are significant contributors to the research programs can return to our laboratories. We expect that undergraduates who return are integral to their research team and are familiar with the research space and activities therein. Those who are new to the team or interesting in “shadowing” are not permitted on campus at this time. Undergraduates must also complete the “Pandemic Essentials: Research On Campus” training course and complete the Student Attestation form prior to returning to campus.”

2) Adapting Data Collection. Since it is not feasible for many students to collect data in person, students should consider various adaptations, depending on their field of study. This may include, but is not limited to: online participant studies (ie Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) or Prolific) with a plan for online recruitment approaches, simulations or modeling, novel analysis of existing data sets, collaborating with a graduate student/post-doc to analyze an ongoing data collection, etc.

3) Conducting a Systematic Literature Evaluation. Students may consider a meta-analysis or use existing literature to answer their research question. Fundamentally, this cannot be simply reading literature for background context. The proposal still needs to center on a research question and needs to give insights into what framework will be used to evaluate the existing literature. The student will still need to use background literature to establish what is known and what is not known, and should provide a reading list for the literature they plan to start with for their evaluation. Some coursework to prepare for this kind of methodology is available through Galter Health Library.

4) Providing a Training Plan. The committee understands that for students applying to SURGs, prior experience or plans to be trained in a particular methodology (commonly over spring quarter) may be less extensive compared to prior applications to SURGs. The student may consider online tutorials or workshops (ie NUIT Research Computing Services, Galter Health Sciences Library and Learning Center, Journal of Visualized Experiments); it may be helpful to complete webinars focused on specific platforms like SPSS, techniques for analyzing quantitative data, etc, if the student has not yet completed coursework in this area. Recorded webinars from University of Saskatchewan and Social Science Research Laboratories are a good place to start!

Literary/Composition Analysis
The project studies, evaluates, and interprets literature or composition. The methods are likely influenced by theory within the field of study. In the proposal, the student has clearly defined which pieces will be studied and will justify why these pieces were selected. Context will be given that provides a framework for how the pieces will be analyzed or interpreted.

COVID19 considerations: This kind of work is largely amenable to remote work. However, some researchers have reported decreased access to library based resources in current circumstances. Please demonstrate you have access to the literature or composition you propose to evaluate and interpret.

Qualitative Data Analysis
The project proposes to analyze data from non-numeric information such as interview transcripts, notes, video and audio recordings, images, and text documents. The proposal clearly defines how the student will examine and interpret patterns and themes in the data and how this methodology will help to answer the defined research question.

COVID19 considerations: Either propose a way to conduct qualitative data collection remotely, or when designing the project, explore archived surveys and transcripts to see if it is possible to analyze existing data in a new and different way.

Quantitative Data Analysis
The project proposes to analyze data from numeric sources. The proposal clearly defines variables to be compared and provides insight as to the kinds of statistical tests that will be used to evaluate the significance of the data.

COVID19 considerations: Either propose a way to conduct quantitative data collection remotely or in adherence to University safety guidelines, or when designing the project, explore existing datasets to see if it is possible to analyze existing data in a new and different way.

The proposed project will collect data through survey(s). The proposal should clearly defined who will be asked to complete the survey, how these participants will be recruited, and/or proof of support from contacts. The proposal should include the survey(s) in an appendix. The proposal should articulate how the results from these survey(s) will be analyzed.

COVID19 considerations: Either propose a way to conduct quantitative data collection remotely, such as Amazon Mturk or Qualtrics, or when designing the project, explore existing datasets to see if it is possible to analyze existing survey data in a new and different way.

The proposed project will use theoretical frameworks within their proposed area of research to explain, predict, and/or challenge and extend existing knowledge. The conceptual framework serves as a lens through which the student will evaluate the research project and research question(s); it will likely contain a set of assumptions and concepts that form the basis of this lens.

COVID19 considerations: This kind of work is largely amenable to remote work. However, it can depend on the kind of data you are interpreting in the context of theoretical frameworks. Please see the above methodological guidelines for COVID19 considerations if applicable to your starting dataset.

Proposal FeatureS (+COVID Considerations)
Group Project
A group project is proposed by two or more students; these proposals receive one additional page for each additional student beyond the two page maximum. Group projects must clearly articulate the unique role of each student researcher. While the uploaded grant proposal is the same, each student researcher must submit their own application into the system for the review.

COVID19 considerations: Please articulate how you will facilitate your collaboration with the other group members remotely.

International Travel
Projects may take place internationally. If the proposed country is not the student’s place of permanent residence, the student can additionally apply for funding to cover half the cost of an international plane ticket. Proposals with international travel should likely include travel itineraries and/or proof of support from in-country contacts in the appendix.

COVID19 considerations: International travel is not currently possible for undergraduate students through December 2020. If the policy changes, this will be reflected on this website: The only exception is for international students who are proposing research in their home country.

Non-English Language Proficiency
Projects may be conducted in a non-English language. If you have proficiency in the proposed language, you should include context (such as bilingual, heritage speaker, or by referencing coursework etc.) If you are not proficient and the project requires language proficiency, you should include a plan for translation or proof of contacts in the country who can support your research in English.

COVID19 considerations: Expectations are same as above, though fewer projects may demonstrate a need for non-English language proficiency, given current international travel restrictions.


Subject AreaMethodologyProposal FeatureReview Committee
Anthropology; Community Based Research (608.19 KB)Fieldwork; Interviews; Quantitative Data AnalysisSocial Sciences & Journalism
Applied Mathematics; Physics and Astronomy (668.31 KB)Computational/Mathematical ModelingNatural Sciences & Engineering
Art Theory and Practice (3.42 MB)Creative output; Survey Arts, Humanities & Performance
Biological Sciences (473.84 KB)Lab-basedNatural Sciences & Engineering
Chemistry (538.77 KB)Lab-basedNatural Sciences & Engineering
Clinical Research; Health (506.62 KB)Qualitative Data Analysis; Quantitative Data AnalysisSocial Sciences & Journalism
Computer Science; STEM Education (571.6 KB)Design/Build; SurveyGroup ProjectNatural Sciences & Engineering
Earth and Planetary Sciences; Chemistry (666.04 KB)Lab-basedNatural Sciences & Engineering
Economics (1.24 MB)Surveys; Interviews; Fieldwork; Qualitative Data AnalysisInternational TravelSocial Sciences & Journalism
Education (565.53 KB)Interviews; Qualitative Data AnalysisSocial Sciences & Journalism
English Literature; Dance (596.44 KB)Literary AnalysisArts, Humanities & Performance
Environmental Engineering; Microbiology (545.94 KB)Lab-basedNatural Sciences & Engineering
French Language Literature and Culture; Journalism (1.84 MB)Archival; Literary/Compositional AnalysisInternational Travel; Non-English Language CompetencyArts, Humanities & Performance
JournalismJournalistic Output, Creative Output, InterviewsSocial Sciences & Journalism
Journalism; Radio, TV, Film (1.1 MB)Interviews; Creative Output; Journalistic OutputGroup Project; International Travel; Non-English Language ProficiencySocial Sciences & Journalism
Latino/a/x Studies; History (475.41 KB)ArchivalArts, Humanities & Performance
Mathematics (606.53 KB)TheoryNatural Sciences & Engineering
Mechanical Engineering (830.19 KB)Design/BuildGroup ProjectNatural Sciences & Engineering
Music Composition; Music Performance (822.21 KB)Creative OutputGroup Project;Arts, Humanities & Performance
Music Theory (692.36 KB)Literary/Compositional Analysis; TheoryArts, Humanities & Performance
Neurobiology; Genetics (1.17 MB)Lab-basedNatural Sciences & Engineering
Philosophy (854.84 KB)Literary/Composition Analysis; TheoryArts, Humanities & Performance
Plant Biology and Conservation (597.87 KB)Fieldwork; Lab-basedNatural Sciences & Engineering
Political Science; Statistics (549.81 KB)Quantitative AnalysisSocial Sciences & Journalism
Psychology (777.07 KB)Survey; Quantitative Data AnalysisSocial Sciences & Journalism
Sociology (933.69 KB)Interviews; FieldworkSocial Sciences & Journalism
Sociology; Health; Gender and Sexuality Studies (468.76 KB)Fieldwork; Quantitative Data AnalysisSocial Sciences & Journalism
Statistics; Computer Science; Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences; Psychology (828.69 KB)Design/Build; Quantitative Data Analysis; Lab-basedSocial Sciences & Journalism
Theatre; Creative Writing (555.08 KB)Creative OutputArts, Humanities & Performance