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Navigating the National Science Foundation Website

Becoming familiar with the various resources available on the funding agency’s website is the first step in learning how to write a successful grant proposal. For example, the applicant should show familiarity with the mission and the strategic plan of the funding agency. What are the key words in these documents? The applicant should use these words to show that they have similar goals and therefore is a good candidate for the funds. The mission statement and the strategic plan are only two of the numerous helpful resources available to the applicant. In this blog, I will focus on the National Science Foundation (NSF) website. Listed below are some useful NSF links.

Grant Search Engine

Finding the right grant for a specific research topic is a primary function of an agency’s website. Often, grants are sent to the wrong program and eliminated simply because they are not a good match. The National Science Foundation has special programs for undergraduate students and for K-12 educators. There are also program areas such as Biological Sciences and sub-programs such as Environmental Biology. A complete understanding of the goals and topics of each program is essential in matching a research idea with the proper program.

Basic and advanced searches in your area of interest are the first steps toward identifying opportunities directly related to your field. Also, signing up for email alerts in your area will give you weekly leads on what is available specifically for you.

Active Funding Opportunities: http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_list.jsp?org=NSF&ord=rcnt

Funding Opportunities by Subject Concentration: http://www.nsf.gov/funding/azindex.jsp

NSF Funding Search: http://nsf.gov/funding/

Grant Proposal Guide

The Grant Proposal Guide is an eighty page document that every applicant preparing a proposal to the NSF should know. It explains in detail the guidelines and the exact rules and regulations of the grant request, including pre-submission, proposal preparation instructions, proposal processing, and review. Many grant requests do not pass the first step in the review process simply because the guidelines were not followed.

Guide for Proposal Writing: http://www.nsf.gov/publications/pub_summ.jsp?ods_key=gpg

Award and Administration Guidelines

This document is especially useful for grant office administrators. It gives specific guidelines for the post-award administration requirements. Especially relevant are the guidelines for financial requirements and payments.

Award & Administration Guide: http://www.nsf.gov/publications/pub_summ.jsp?ods_key=aag

Responsible Conduct of Research

As the title of this document indicates, it provides information on ethical research conduct for scientists and engineers. In addition, it provides information on following the Statutory Requirements stating that “each institution that applies for financial assistance should describe in its grant proposal a plan to provide appropriate training and oversight in the responsible and ethical conduct of research to undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers participating in the proposed research project”.

Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR): http://www.nsf.gov/bfa/dias/policy/rcr.jsp

Award Search Engine

It is important to know what has recently been funded in your area of research. The NSF provides an award search engine that allows a search to be made by principal investigator’s name, university, topics, dates, and other criteria. Having a better understanding of what, who, where, and which grants are being funded gives insights into the inner workings of a particular grant program.

NSF Award Search: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/


Many of the Directorates’ websites include tutorials on grant writing for their specific programs. For example, the Directorate for Education and Human Resources in their Division of Undergraduate Education includes a four step tutorial on writing a proposal. Under each step are specific instructions on how a grant should be assembled. Following these tutorials is helpful in knowing what to include in particular grant requests.

NSF Home Page: http://www.nsf.gov/index.jsp

Other Resources

The NSF website has numerous other resources that could be extremely helpful to any grantee, such as definitions of transformative, innovative, and interdisciplinary research. In addition, the News and Publications sections provide significant insight into the agency’s most important areas of interest. Last, but not least, are the NSF vision, mission, and goals for the next several years.

What is mentioned above is only a small sample of available resources. Knowing who the funder is, what the funder wants, and how the funder wants a grant application assembled is essential to successful grantsmanship. Ultimately, seeking to understand first and asking to be understood second is practical advice for all proposal writers.

Maria Esformes

In her extensive career at such institutions as Harvard and the University of Victoria, British Columbia, she has written and received major research and programmatic grants from numerous foundations and federal agencies.

One thought on “Navigating the National Science Foundation Website

  1. Hi Maria, your posts are always very informative.
    Would you be willing to do a segment on finding funding opportunities via the grants.gov search feature in the future? Many thanks for considering!

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