COVID-19 Information for NSF

Starting your NSF Proposal

Guidelines for proposal preparation

The National Science Foundation’s FastLane and are web-based systems used for information exchange and business transactions between NSF and its client community. NSF is in the process of modernizing and moving Fastlane functions to

All NSF investigators and their administrators must use FastLane or to prepare and submit proposals.

Starting June 1, 2020, the go-to resource is the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) (NSF 20-1) is effective.

At NSF’s “Funding: How to Prepare Your Proposal” there is brief discussion on proposal preparation via Fastlane (NSF’s proposal-submission system) or (another federal proposal-submission system). 

Instructions to begin a proposal in Fastlane or

Establish an NSF Account

To start a National Science Foundation (NSF) proposal via Fastlane or, users first need to have an account with a unique identifier (NSF ID).

  • New users register directly with NSF
  • Users with existing NSF accounts can access the NSF ID Lookup page for their NSF ID
  • Forgotten passwords for established NSF accounts may be retrieved on the Forgot Password page

For more information, see About Account Management on, where users can read the Register for an NSF Account to Begin Using FastLane and – Account Management Guide or view the video Register for an NSF Account.

Start a Proposal

The Grants Office staff, referred to by NSF as the “SRO” (sponsored research office) or SPO (sponsored projects office), is happy to start a new proposal for the PI (Principle Investigator), using their Fastlane ID and password. Call the Grants Office (507-222-4441 or 507-222-4046) with questions or for assistance.

If you already have an NSF ID and want to start a proposal, follow the instructions via the Fastlane online help page or the pdf Help instructions (within the PI Functions link).

For Fastlane proposal preparation:
  • On the FastLane home page, click “Proposals, Awards and Status,” and log in
  • on the “What Do You Want To Work On?” page, select “Proposal Functions” and under “Proposal Functions” select “Proposal Preparation”
  • After reaching the Proposal Preparation link, PIs can check the accuracy of personal information via “Edit PI Information” and make adjustments if needed, and then select “Prepare Proposal”
  • On the “Proposal Actions” screen, click the “Create Blank Proposal” button to bring up the “Form Preparation” screen.

Starting March 2020, proposal preparation and submission in is available for full, research, and collaborative proposals.

For proposal preparation:

If using for submission, refer to Application Guide – June 2020.

Formatting particulars

  • Font
    • See Proposal Font, Spacing and Margin Requirements. Use one of the approved typefaces:
      • Arial (not Arial Narrow), Courier New, or Palatino Linotype at a font size of 10 points or larger (Macintosh users also may use Helvetica and Palatino typefaces)
      • Times New Roman at a font size of 11 points or larger
      • Computer Modern family of fonts at a font size of 11 points or larger
    • An exception – a font size of less than 10 points may be used for mathematical formulas or equations, figures, table or diagram captions. The key is to keep it easily readable.
  • Pagination
    • Page numbers (and other footer information) can be located within the 1-inch margin. Each component of the proposal needs to be individually paginated prior to upload to the electronic system (i.e., “Project Description – 1”). See Proposal Pagination Instructions.
  • Margins
    • Must be at least 1 inch in all directions.
  • Line Spacing

For the whole story follow this PAPPG Format of the Proposal link. If any specifics given in the individual program solicitation differ from the PAPPG, always defer to the program solicitation instructions.

Components of an NSF proposal

Required pieces

A full research proposal submitted via FastLane must contain the following sections (also refer to the Exhibit II-1: Proposal Preparation Checklist):

  • Cover Sheet
    • the place to indicate program announcement/solicitation number, title, proposed duration and start date, PI/coPIs. See more at PAPPG Chapter II.C.2.a Cover Sheet section.
  • Project Summary
    • a 1-page summary, containing the 3 mandatory sections of OverviewIntellectual Merit, and Broader Impacts. See details in PAPPG Chapter II.C.2.b Project Summary section.
  • Project Description
    • the project narrative (usually limited to 15 pages), providing a clear statement of the work and addressing the program announcement specifications. Describe what you want to do, why you want to do it, how you plan to do it, how you will know if you succeed, and what benefits could accrue if the project is successful. See PAPPG Chapter II.C.2.d Project Description section.
      This document must include
      • a section labeled “Broader Impacts,” and
      • a section “Results from Prior NSF Support” (when applicable, this is the best place for a PI to show how s/he’s successfully used previous NSF grants).
  • References Cited
    • a list (with no page limitation) of bibliographic citations in the project description, with each reference providing the name of all authors, the publication title, appropriate publication information such as publication year and site and/or periodical volume number and page numbers, and website address (if the publication is available electronically). See PAPPG Chapter II.C.2.e References Cited section.
  • Biographical Sketch(es)
    • a “bio sketch” (limited to 2 pages each, using an NSF Approved format of either SciENcv or an NSF Fillable PDF) is required for each individual identified as senior personnel. NSF format differs significantly from a regular CV: see the specifics online via PAPPG Chapter II.C.2.f Biographical Sketch section.
      The four sections required are:
      • Professional Preparation
      • Appointments
      • Products
      • Synergistic Activities
    • There is allowance for additional biographical information to be included, such as for auxiliary users of instrumentation in Equipment Proposals, or for “Other Personnel” that merit consideration in the evaluation of the proposal. For more, follow this “Other Personnel” link.
  • Budget and Budget Justification
    • the budget includes specific sections (refer to PAPPG Chapter II.C.2.g Budget and Budget Justification section). Amounts for each budget line item requested must be documented in the budget justification (which can be no more than 5 pages long). Each subaward must contain a separate budget justification (also limited to 5 pages).
  • Current and Pending Support
  • Facilities, Equipment, and Other Resources
    • an aggregated narrative (with no page limit) describing internal and external resources (both physical and personnel) that Carleton and its collaborators will provide to the project. This must not include any quantifiable financial information. See PAPPG Chapter II.C.2.i Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources section.
  • Collaborators and Other Affiliations (COA)


  • List of Suggested Reviewers
    • Proposers may include a list of suggested reviewers (indicate email address and organizational affiliation) who they believe are especially well qualified to review the proposal. Proposers may also designate persons they would prefer not review the proposal, indicating why. Refer to List of Suggested Reviewers or Reviewers Not to Include.


This Exhibit II-1: Proposal Preparation Checklist highlights certain critical items so they will not be overlooked when the proposal is prepared. See also the Automated Compliance Checking of NSF Proposals website.

Collaborative research projects

Collaborative Proposals are those in which investigators from two or more organizations wish to collaborate on a unified research project. A collaborative proposal may be submitted to NSF in one of two methods.

Single submission

  • as a single proposal, in which a single award is being requested with subawards administered by the lead organization to the non-lead institutions or coPIs.

If we are submitting a single proposal with subaward/s, we MUST document the determination of subaward versus contract using this “Determining Subrecipient versus Contractor Status” form.

Simultaneous submission

  • as a simultaneous submission of proposals from different organizations, with each organization requesting a separate award. When involved with a separately submitted simultaneous collaborative project, the lead institution provides all the pieces listed above (under Required Pieces). 
    The non-lead collaborator provides
    • Cover Sheet,
    • Biographical Sketch(es),
    • Budget,
    • Budget Justification,
    • Current and Pending Support and
    • Facilities (Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources).
    • This way – of simultaneous submission of the collaborative proposal from multiple organizations – is preferred whenever possible due to less administrative burden for the lead organization, quicker access to funding for the non-lead organization, cleaner reporting responsibilities for both. The exception is when the work of the non-lead organization is more contractual in scope rather than as a subaward.
  • Process for simultaneous submission of a collaborative proposal:
    • (i) Each non-lead organization must assign their proposal a proposal PIN. This proposal PIN and the temporary proposal ID generated by FastLane when the non-lead proposal is created must be provided to the lead organization before the lead organization submits its proposal to NSF.
    • (ii) The lead organization must then enter each non-lead organization(s) proposal PIN and temporary proposal ID into the FastLane lead proposal by using the “Link Collaborative Proposals” option found on the FastLane “Form Preparation” screen.

Guidelines link

For more, read the explanation in the PAPPG Chapter II.D.3 Collaborative Proposals section, or refer to Fastlane Help (search for specific step, i.e., “Link a Temporary Proposal”). 

Conference Proposals

From the PAPPG: NSF supports conference that bring experts together to discuss recent research or education findings or to expose other researchers or students to new research and education techniques.

Conference proposals contain all the elements of most regular proposals; see the PAPPG Conference Proposals section for details.


  • Timing of submission: Conference proposals should generally be submitted at least a year in advance of the scheduled date
  • Process for review: Some conference proposals can be reviewed internally. An example: for DMS conference proposals:
    • if budget does not exceed $50,000, NSF policy allows for an internal review; with the following target dates in effect:
      •  For events that will take place between March and December in a given year, proposals should be submitted in October of the previous year.
      • For events that will occur in January or February of a given year, proposals should be submitted in May of the preceding year.
    • if budgets exceed $50,000, proposals should be submitted roughly seven months before the event is scheduled to take place.
  • Requirements supporting harassment-free environments: Proposers are required to have
    • a policy or code-of-conduct that addresses sexual harassment, other forms of harassment38, and sexual assault, and that includes clear and accessible means of reporting violations of the policy or code-of-conduct
    • policy or code-of-conduct must address the method for making a complaint as well as how any complaints received during the conference will be resolved
    • policy or code-of-conduct must be disseminated to conference participants prior to attendance at the conference as well as made available at the conference itself

Significant or Recent Changes

Changes listed below result from annual updates to the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) annually, and the federal OMB “Uniform Guidance” rules effective 12/26/14. Changes resulting from the most recent PAPPG (NSF 20-1) are indicated by “Starting 6/1/2020:…” and changes from past versions of the PAPPG are indicated by date (i.e., “Starting 2/25/19:…”).

Starting 6/1/20

The PAPPG (NSF 20-1), released 1/27/2020, has been modified: refer to these Significant Changes and Clarifications to the PAPPG.

A few changes, among many, include (with more detail under the individual component sections below):

  • An NSF Approved format must be used for the Biographical Sketch (either using SciENcv or an NSF Fillable PDF), and for Current and Pending Support (either using SciENcv or an NSF Fillable PDF) — a pdf is generated for proposal submission; NOTE: all must use the NSF-approved formats for the biographical sketch and current and pending support sections of NSF proposals starting October 5, 2020.
  • Project Description: new guidelines remove the requirement for the description to contain, as a separate section within the narrative, a section labeled “Intellectual Merit”
  • Synergistic Activities, has been updated to clarify that synergistic activities should be “distinct” and specific, and must not include multiple examples to further describe the activity
  • Collaborators & Other Affiliations Information, clarifies that the instructions at the top of the template may be deleted and rows may be inserted as needed to provide additional names

Starting with 1/27/19 and continuing,

Biographical Sketch

Starting 6/1/20

The PAPPG (NSF 20-1) outlines that we must use one of two Approved formats for the biographical sketch:

Other significant changes:

In the Products section (PAPPG (NSF 20-1) Chapter II.C.2.f(i)(c)) of the biosketch NSF Fillable PDF: the FAQs on using the NSF fillable PDF detail that the use of “et al.” for publication citations, when listing multiple authors, is now permitted.

PAPPG (NSF 20-1) Chapter II.C.2.f(i)(d) of Synergistic Activities has been updated to clarify that synergistic activities — a list of up to five distinct examples that demonstrate the broader impact of the individual’s professional and scholarly activities that focuses on the integration and transfer of knowledge as well as its creation –should be specific and must not include multiple examples to further describe the single distinct activity.

Starting 1/25/16 and continuing

  • Biographical sketches are required all Senior Personnel, and are to be uploaded for each individual listed as senior personnel.
    As needed, additional biographical information may be included with the proposal, such as for auxiliary users of instrumentation in Equipment Proposals, or for “Other Personnel” of (a) Postdoctoral associates, (b) Other professionals, or (c) Students (research assistants) with exceptional qualifications that merit consideration in the evaluation of the proposal. The biographical information is to be grouped together and clearly identified as either “Equipment Proposal” biographical information and uploaded as a single PDF file, or as “Other Personnel” biographical information and uploaded as a single PDF file, in the Other Supplementary Documents section of the proposal. To learn what to provide in each instance, follow the links above from the PAPPG Biographical Sketch(es).
  • Professional Preparation – We are to provide the location of the individual’s undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral institution(s): city, state or province, country if necessary. View the biographical sketch format.
  • Products – The section previously named “Publications” is now best labeled “Products.” If only publications are included, it can be named “Publications.” If various items are included in this section – such as data sets, software, patents, and copyrights, instead of or in addition to publications – then label it “Products.”

Current and Pending Support

Starting 6/1/20

The PAPPG (NSF 20-1) Current and Pending Support section outlines that we must use one of two formats:

Note: Use of the new formats approved by NSF requires input of person months for each year, with no distinction of whether the months are calendar or academic year months.

Project Summary

Starting 1/30/17 and continuing

The project summary no longer has a 4,600 character limitation, but must fit on 1 page, and is to be written in third person and have three separate sections (enforced by separate text boxes in Fastlane). The three sections are 1) Overview, 2) Intellectual Merit, 3) Broader Impacts. You can read a brief description for each section in the PAPPG section Project Summary.

Project Description

Starting 6/1/20

New PAPPG (NSF 20-1) guidelines remove the requirement for the description to contain, as a separate section within the narrative, a section labeled “Intellectual Merit.”

Starting 2/25/19, but discontinuing June 2020

If subaward(s) are part of the project, proposers must now include, within the project description, a “description of the work to be performed” by each subaward.

Starting 1/29/18 and continuing

In addition to a section on “Broader Impacts,” the Project Description must contain a separate section labeled “Intellectual Merit.” Read more online at PAPPG Chapter II.C.2.d Project Description section.

Starting 1/29/17 and continuing

For Results from Prior NSF Support, language is clarified to indicate that information on the award is required, regardless of whether the support was directly related to the proposal or not, if any PI or coPI identified on the proposal has received NSF support including

  • an award with an end date in the past five years, or
  • any current funding including no cost extensions).

Starting 1/25/16 and continuing to present with PAPPG 18-1, URLs must not be used in the Project Description. See Page Limitations and Inclusion of Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) within the Project Description.

Collaborators & Other Affiliations (COA) Information

Starting 1/29/18 and continuing

Starting 4/24/17 and continuing

Budget and Budget Justification

Starting 1/28/19 and continuing

The Participant Support Costs (PSC) section now specifies:

  • speakers and trainers are NOT considered participants and should not be included in the PSC budget section
  • rental fees, catering costs are NOT allowed as PSC
  • per diem or similar expenses for local participants in the conference may not be included

Procurement Standards (Chapter IX.E.) have been updated in accordance with Section 806 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2018, as implemented by Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Memorandum M-18-18, dated June 20, 2018. Notably, the micro-purchase threshold is raised to $10,000, which in practical application means there is no need for multiple vendor quotes for equipment purchases under $10,000.

Starting 1/29/18 and continuing

The number of pages allowed for the budget justification is no more than 5 pages per proposal (previously it was a 3-page limit). This change applies to budget justifications for both proposers and subawardees. Indirect Costs amounts should be specified in the budget justification. See Budget and Budget Justification.

Other considerations

  • In the budget and budget justification we must be careful to NOT mention any kind of cost sharing. For the types of grants that the college seeks, NSF has a strict ban on voluntary committed cost sharing. Institutional support or contributions to the project can be talked about in the “Facilities, Equipment or Other Resources” document, but always without mentioning dollar amounts.
  • Equipment” (Line D on the Proposal Budget) is still defined as tangible property with a per-unit acquisition cost of $5,000 or above, but rules addressing procurement have changed. When intending to purchase any item with a cost of over $10,000, complete the Vendor Selection Form.
    NOTE: a computing device purchase with cost of up to $5,000 is considered a supply and should be listed in Line G1 “Other Direct Costs – Materials and Supplies.”
  • Administrative programmatic costs can be included in the budget as direct costs if 1) administrative or clerical services are integral to a project or activity, 2) individual/s can be specifically identified with the project or activity, 3) such costs are explicitly included in the budget or have the prior written approval of the NSF (see the Grants Office staff for example of a justification statement to use for “prior written approval”), and 4) the costs are not also recovered as indirect costs.
  • If your project includes a subaward, contact the Grants Office and the Business Office for assistance with specific requirements for pass-through entities (i.e., the College, acting as fiscal agent) around monitoring and forms needed (for example, we must document the determination of subaward vs. contract using §200.330   Subrecipient and contractor determinations.
  • Read more below in the “About Budgets” section, and in the PAPPG Budget and Budget Justification section. 

Supplementary Documentation

Starting 2016 and continuing after 1/28/19: Letters of collaboration are to use a specified format.

Under Special Information and Supplementary Documentation, at the bullet point starting with “Documentation of collaborative arrangements…” the highly recommended format for letters of collaboration is given as follows:

“If the proposal submitted by Dr. [insert the full name of the Principal Investigator] entitled [insert the proposal title] is selected for funding by NSF, it is my intent to collaborate and/or commit resources as detailed in the Project Description or the Facilities, Equipment or Other Resources section of the proposal.”


Starting 2016 and continuing: Annual project reports should be submitted no later than 90 calendar days prior to the end of each annual budget period. NSF system sends automated report reminders starting 3 months before the end of annual budget period stating that the report is due. The report is not overdue until the day after the annual budget period.

Final project reports and project outcomes reports for the general public must be submitted no later than 120 days following expiration of the grant.

Public Access Policy

A newer policy at NSF intends to expand public access to the results of its funded research. If receiving an award based on a proposal submitted, or due, on or after 1/25/16, then the Public Access requirement applies. You will need to deposit publications in the NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) (sign in to and choose ‘Deposit Publication’ from My Desktop). Refer also to –

Sexual Harassment Policy

Starting 1/28/19

NSF has supplemented their NSF Policy on Sexual Harassment, Other Forms of Harassment, or Sexual Assault with new coverage regarding harassment that implements Important Notice No. 144.

  • There is an award term and condition that requires NSF to be notified:
    • of any findings/determinations regarding the PI/PD or co-PI/co-PD that demonstrate a violation of awardee codes of conduct, policies, regulations or statutes relating to sexual harassment, or
    • if the awardee places the PI/PD, or co-PI/co-PD on administrative leave or imposes an administrative action relating to a finding or investigation of a violation of awardee policies, codes of conduct, statutes or regulations relating to sexual harassment, other forms of harassment, or sexual assault. See also the NSF fact sheet.
  • A new notification mechanism, “Organizational Notification of Harassment Form,” available on NSF’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion sexual harassment website.
  • For a Conference Proposal, proposers must have a policy or code-of-conduct that addresses sexual harassment that includes accessible means or reporting violations, and that policy must be disseminated to conference participants prior to attendance at the conference as well as made available at the conference itself.

About Budgets

Budget & Budget Justification Preparation

To see descriptions of budget categories, as laid out by NSF, go to the PAPPG section Budget and Budget Justification.

For a budget template spreadsheet based on NSF budget categories, go to the Grants Office Budget template.

For current figures to use in budget preparation – such as Carleton College faculty and student compensation guidelines, benefit percentages, indirect cost rate, and more – contact the Grants Office (Dee 507-222-4441, or Charlotte 507-222-5833).

The budget JUSTIFICATION is where each line item requested is documented and justified. Items and amounts need to be considered necessary, reasonable, allocable, and allowable. The budget justification can be no more than 5 pages.

Participant Support Costs (PSC)

PSC refers to direct costs (such as stipends, or subsistence or travel allowances, registration fees) paid to or on behalf of participants or trainees (but not employees) in connection with NSF-sponsored conferences or training projects.

Indirect costs are NOT allowed on participant support costs. Participant support costs will be accounted for separately should an award be made. Catering, room rental, and speaker costs are NOT to be included as participant support costs.

Indirect Costs

Indirects are a line item in nearly every proposal budget submitted to a federal agency. In contrast to straightforward project expenses of “direct costs” (such as salary, benefits, equipment, travel, supplies), indirect costs are – as NSF describes – “those costs which are not readily identifiable with a particular cost objective but nevertheless are necessary to the general operation of an organization.”

An Indirect Cost Rate (IDC) agreement is negotiated with a Federal agency every four years. Carleton’s IDC rate agreement, which is negotiated with the Department of Health & Human Services based on our Audited Financial Statements, has been approved at a rate of 60% (of salaries and wages) for federal grants with award dates of July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2023. The indirect cost rate in effect at the time of the initial awarding of a grant is applied throughout the life of the grant.

The Business Office government grant proposal page explains that the rate is “calculated on the total of all faculty or technician salaries/stipends and undergraduate student stipends.”

Subaward Budgets

Each subawardee is required to provide a budget justification of up to five pages. Subaward budgets can be entered into Fastlane by either the lead organization or the subawardee (the subaward organization, if not a coPI, gains access to the proposal as an OAU {other authorized user} and uses the temporary proposal number created in Fastlane and PIN assigned by the lead organization).

To input a subaward budget, contact the Grants Office (x4441) or utilize Fastlane Help and search “Create a Budget for the Subcontracting Organization.”


Amount of effort is recorded in all NSF budgets for senior personnel, and is expressed in person months; see the FAQ (below) “What are person months and how do I calculate them?”

Compliance specifics

What do I need to do to be compliant with federal requirements?

Each organization receiving funding from a federal agency needs to certify that the institution and individuals are following specified federal guidelines.

Carleton asks all primary investigators (PI and coPIs) involved in a proposal to a federal governmental agency (NSF, NIH, NEH, etc.) to read and sign a Compliance & Disclosure Form via this Link to OnBase Form (the link first requires OnBase login before routing to form). The form addresses college policies and provides a checklist with links addressing I) financial conflicts of interest, II) human or animal subject involvement, III) responsible conduct of research, and IV) environmental health and safety issues.

What is a “Data Management Plan”?

Any proposal submitted to the National Science Foundation must include a supplemental “Data Management Plan” (no more than two pages in length) which demonstrates how the principal investigator of the proposed project will comply with the NSF’s Data Sharing Policy, as published in the PAPPG Dissemination and Sharing of Research Results. (The requirement was formally enforced starting in January 2011.)

For more, see the Grants Office’s Sharing of Research Results web page and use the “Data Management Plan Template” to develop a statement which satisfies the requirements of the policy.

NSF applicants can also receive assistance in preparing Data Management Plans from Paula Lackie, Academic Technologist (Leighton Hall 225, or x5607) and Kristin Partlo, Reference & Instruction Librarian for Social Sciences & Data (Gould Library 466, or x7668). Paula and Kristin are well prepared to help with all phases of the development of a DMP.

What is RECR and how do I comply?

RECR stands for “responsible and ethical conduct of research” (previously referred to as RCR). The submitting organization must certify and the PI must “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.” For more, see NSF’s RECR page.

Go to the Grants Office page Responsible and Ethical Conduct of Research to link to CITI online training modules and to obtain more specific information.

When do I need to obtain IRB approval for my proposed project? 

The federal government requires that all research involving human subjects conducted by an institution that receives federal funding be reviewed in advance by an IRB (Institutional Research Board) at the institution. Carleton’s IRB web pages outline specifics on how to apply, and address FAQs (with helps such as IRB Quiz (Does My Project Require an IRB Application?).

For projects lacking definite plans for the use of human subjects (human subject persons, data, or their specimens), pursuant to 45 CFR 690.118, NSF will accept a determination notice (use this sample template that is to be signed by AOR/Dean of the College) establishing a limited time period under which the Principal Investigator (PI) may conduct preliminary or conceptual work that does not involve human subjects. Certification of IRB approval needs to be provided by the institution to the funding agency before human subjects research begins.

When do I need to include a postdoc supplementary document?

If your proposal requests funding to support postdoctoral researchers, the Supplementary Documentation section must include “a description of the mentoring activities that will be provided for such individuals.”

In no more than one page, the mentoring plan must describe the mentoring that will be provided to all postdoctoral researchers supported by the project, irrespective of whether they reside at the submitting organization, any subawardee organization, or at any organization participating in a simultaneously submitted collaborative project. The Special Information and Supplementary Documentation section includes specifics and examples of mentoring plan activities.

If the proposal is collaborative and includes support of a postdoc researcher at any of the collaborating institutions, the lead organization’s submission must include a supplemental mentoring plan not to exceed one page, addressing the mentoring activities to be provided for all postdoctoral researchers supported under the entire collaborative project.