NNLM Proposal Writing Toolkit

NNLM Proposal Writing Toolkit

Writing a quality proposal is the best first step in applying for funding from the Network of the National Library of Medicine. This guide provides tips, tricks and resources you can use while developing your application.

Project Planning
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Project Planning

Project Ideas

To get an idea of what project ideas could be funded, we recommend that you browse NNLM's Past Funded Projects. These are Projects that were funded by NNLM from 2016-present and are now complete.

In general, project ideas that support the mission of NNLM, and strategic plan of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), are encouraged.

You should also:

If there's a project idea that you have, we encourage you to contact NNLM and request a consultation. Staff are available for consultation on potential project ideas, and training and integration of NLM resources.

Additionally, we encourage applicants to read the Funding FAQs as it may address several questions. 

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Grants and Proposal Writing Tips and Tutorials

If you are new to the grant writing process, there are a number of resources available to help you get started. Below is a list of resources to help you write your proposal.

NNLM Grants and Proposal Writing Class: Designed for beginning grant proposal writers, this class presents a general overview of the grant and funding processes as well as the level of detail required in a successful proposal. Each component of the grant writing process will be addressed, including: documenting the need; identifying the target population; writing measurable objectives; developing a work plan, an evaluation plan and dissemination plan. This course is available as a Webinar, and On-Demand Moodle course. A handout is available if you are unable to participate in the course.

External Resources:

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Application Templates

These templates are for planning purposes only, for NNLM grant applications. You will need to fill out the online application to be considered for an award.

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Resources to Help Plan Your Project

Health Statistics

It's important to include statistics in your proposal, related to the population for which you plan to provide outreach services. Consider the following resources for your statistics information.

Community Assessment

The NNLM Evaluation Center (NEC) has resources and guides to help you plan a community assessment, to assist with your proposal writing.


Consider a partner or collaborator for your project to help enhance the outcomes of your project

Materials and Resources to Integrate in Your Proposal

Consider integrating NIH, NLM and NNLM resources within your project proposal.

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Allowable Costs:

  • Funding requests may cover personnel time, registration and/or exhibit fees, travel and per diem, communication costs, equipment, software, materials and supplies, reproduction of educational materials, and other costs as needed.
  • Per diems are the only food costs allowed.
  • Furniture and promotional costs are not allowed.
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Creating a Budget Table

During the award application process, please provide a basic table explaining how costs will be allocated. Provide a line item (e.g., Personnel, Materials and Supplies, Travel, etc.) and the approximate funding amount.

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Creating a Budget Justification

For each Expenditure Category in your budget table, you must include a budget justification detailing how you reached the total cost. Using the sample budget above:

  • Personnel: Cost for 2 instructors to provide 20 classes each in Mississippi to populations underrepresented in biomedical research / community groups / public librarians to provide 4 hour workshops on consumer health. $250 per class for 20 classes = $5,000.
  • Travel: GSA Travel Rates will be honored when traveling to teach throughout the Mississippi region. The cost breakdown is as follows:
    • Estimate hotels $110 per night for 20 nights, for overnight instruction = $2,200.
    • Per diem rate of $49.50 per day for 40 days of travel = $1,980
    • Mileage $0.575 per mile, estimated 80 miles per trip, 20 trips = $920
    • Total Travel = $5,100
  • Equipment:
    • Surface Pro X - Black, 8 GB, 128 GB $899, per 2 instructors = $1,798
    • Surface Pro X Keyboard $112 per 2 instructors = $224
    • Total Equipment = $2,022
  • Reproduction: Printing costs associated with handouts provided during training sessions. 20 classes, 25 attendees per class = $500
  • Supplies: Additional supplies to facilitate in-person class activities (markers, flip charts, flip easels, highlighters, notepads, pens, etc.) = $250
  • Indirect Costs: The library requests 10% for Modified Total Direct Costs, 10% of $12,872 = $1,288
  • Total Amount Requested: $14,160
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Funding for Promotional Items

It is HHS policy that appropriated funds not be used to pay for promotional items. Promotional items include, but are not limited to: clothing and commemorative items such as pens, mugs/cups, folders/folios, lanyards, and conference bags that are sometimes provided to visitors, employees, grantees, or conference attendees. Typically, items or tokens to be given to individuals are considered personal gifts for which appropriated funds may not be expended. Awards cannot cover the costs of providing food for program attendees. 

More information is located at: HHS Policy on the Use of Appropriated Funds for Promotional Items.

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Development of Training Materials

All awardees are required to share any data or training material resulting from funding. This information must be submitted to the funding Region.

In addition, recipients of funding are expected to use or adapt existing training materials before developing new materials. Consult with NNLM prior to developing materials.

Fly America Act

Federal travelers are required by 49 U.S.C. 40118, commonly referred to as the "Fly America Act," to use U.S. air carrier service for all air travel and cargo transportation services funded by the U.S. government. For more information, please see the policy on GSA.

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A strong evaluation will ensure the success of your project. The following resources should be considered when developing your evaluation.


The NNLM Evaluation Center (NEC) has resources and guides to help you plan a community assessment, to assist with your proposal writing.

Submitting an Application
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Now that you have better understanding of what comprises a quality proposal, the next step is learning about the application submission process.

NNLM's online applications system allows users to submit proposals for funding directly via the NNLM website. Please refer to the specific application instructions on each Request for Applications (RFA) for detailed requirements. After you have confirmed that your Regional Medical Library (RML) is using this method to accept proposals, review the system requirements below and watch our brief video tutorial to learn how to submit your application.

System Requirements

Before attempting to submit your application for funding in the NNLM online application system:

  1. Confirm that your institution is a NNLM Member with a NNLM Member record.
  2. Confirm that you (the applicant) have an NNLM account.
    • You must be logged in to your NNLM account to successfully submit an application.
    • If you are submitting an application on behalf of the Project Lead, the Project Lead must also have an NNLM account prior to submission.
  3. Confirm that your NNLM account is connected to the NNLM Member record for your institution.
    • To connect, fill in the “Organization” field on your NNLM account using the autocomplete function. 
    • If you are submitting an application on behalf of the Project Lead, the Project Lead must also be connected to the NNLM Member record for your institution prior to submission.

Please note: you cannot successfully submit an application without these components. If you have questions about these or any other system requirements, please contact your Regional Medical Library in advance of the application deadline.

Video Overview

New tutorial forthcoming

Review and Selection of Proposals
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After developing and submitting an application for funding, you may be wondering how NNLM reviews project proposals, and what criteria will be used to score your application.


After the application deadline, your project proposal will be reviewed by the staff of the funding Region, Office or Center (ROC), and/or external reviewers that are selected by the ROC. The Review Committee is made up of Network members who represent the Region, public libraries, a variety of health science libraries, and community organizations. The reviewers will answer a series of questions on a scale of 1-5 (poor, fair, good, very good, excellent).


All sub-criteria will be scored on a scale from 1 to 5 with 1 being poor, 2 being fair, 3 being good, 4 being very good, and 5 being excellent. The questions listed below are what we ask our peer reviewers to consider when they review your application. While the weight of each section will vary from the larger award to the smaller awards, these are the areas in which the applications will be scored.

  • Significance: Does the proposed program make a significant contribution to the mission of NNLM? Does the application explain the need for the project including demographic information about the target population or geographic area?
  • Methodology/Approach: Does the statement show the logic and feasibility of the technical approach to reaching the target group or community? Does the proposal include a timeline or implementation schedule for major events and activities? Does the program specify what NLM resources or NNLM national initiatives will be promoted and how they will be utilized throughout the project?
  • Evaluation: Is there an evaluation plan? Does the plan make sense given the goals and objectives?
  • Project Staff: Does the application clearly outline the qualifications, roles and time commitment of the project staff?
  • Budget: Is the proposed budget within funding limits? Is the budget justification sound?
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Does the project promote diversity, equity and inclusion or is the applicant a first-time applicant within the five-year funding period?
    • NIH-designated U.S. health disparity populations include Blacks/African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, American Indians/Alaska Natives, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, socioeconomically disadvantaged populations, underserved rural populations, individuals with a physical or mental disability, sexual and gender minorities, individuals under 18 or over 65, and individuals with less than a high school degree.

Reviewers will also be asked to give commentary on strengths and weaknesses of the proposal.


ROC staff and Network members will review and score applications using a standardized RFP scorecard. For more information, please review the scorecard that aligns with the specific award type for which you applied. Reviewer score sheets and comments will be shared with the applicant. If further clarification is needed, the applicant will be given a limited period of time, typically 1 week, to submit more information.


The following are exemplary samples from project proposals, corresponding to each section of the scoring criteria.


After scoring is complete, the Review Committee will meet and make final recommendations for funding to the Associate/Executive Director of the ROC. Applicants will receive a copy of reviewer comments along with a final decision regarding funding. The ROC will then provide an agreement for all approved projects.

Next Steps

If your project is accepted, you will work with the ROC and complete the necessary paperwork to execute a contract with the sponsoring university. You should also review and become familiar with NNLM's Guidelines for Award requirements, to learn how to comply with specific award requirements such as accessibility, credit statements, project extensions, reporting, invoicing, and more.

If your project is not accepted, read the review comments and consider what you might refine or enhance for a future submission. You can also request a consultation to work with the ROC on aligning your project with NNLM's mission and goals, improving the project plan, developing an evaluation, etc. Then you may reapply during the next open round of funding.