White Papers and Pre-Proposals

Sometimes, sponsors employ a two-step submission process, where in order to be eligible to submit a ‘full-proposal’, an applicant must have previously submitted a white paper, a pre-proposal or a letter of intent.  These requirements vary from sponsor to sponsor, so attention to the funding opportunity guidelines is critical for success.

White papers are most often used by defense agencies, while letters of intent and pre-proposals, are typically used by non-defense agencies.  Sponsoring agencies employ this type of two-step submission process to minimize the workload for you and for them.

White Papers & Pre-Proposals

Proposal preparation and review are costly for both applicants and sponsors, so white papers and pre-proposals are often used to identify applications of high interest based on a relatively brief submission. The sponsor is interested in quickly identifying projects whose outcomes will advance their agenda.

The request for white papers or for pre-proposals is typically presented in a proposal solicitation or a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA).  The information requested ordinarily focuses on the idea, approach and outcomes, and how these will address the sponsor’s needs.  White papers or pre-proposals of interest may result in an invitation to submit a full proposal according to the sponsor’s guidelines.

Letters of Inquiry

Letters of inquiry are a variation on the theme of white papers/pre-proposals, and are typically used by foundations to determine if your proposed project aligns with the foundation’s interests. A letter of inquiry should succinctly (2-3 pages) describe the project, its aims, significance to sponsor and/or society, duration and the amount of funds required to complete the project’s goals and objectives. OSP should be consulted for developing the project budget.

Letters of Intent

Letters of intent (LOI) are used by sponsors to facilitate the review process.  LOIs allow the sponsor to anticipate: (1) the potential number of applications generated by a funding opportunity or solicitation; (2) to identify areas of expertise needed for the review process; and (3) to avoid conflicts of interest during review.  The information requested typically includes the following:

  • Principal Investigator, other key personnel and their affiliations
  • Project title
  • Concise project summary
  • Total requested funds

Do white papers or pre-proposals have to be reviewed and authorized by OSP?

Ordinarily white papers are non-binding and do not require formal authorization by the University. Unless the white paper or pre-proposal is submitted through an electronic system, or otherwise requires a budget, OSP does not need to formally review and submit. However, when a sponsor requires a budget or a total project cost, OSP must be consulted. Working with OSP to estimate project costs will ensure that the budget is reasonable, accurate, and sufficient to carry out the proposed work.