Getting Started

ORS has lots of tools to get a proposal started. To view content of section, select one of the items on the sidebar to the right.


ORS provides two checklists as aids to preparing your proposal and determining a sponsor's application requirements: the Checklist for Sponsor Guidelines and the Checklist for Proposal Preparation. Feel free to download and adapt these to your own needs.

SPS, grants.duke and Other Electronic Submissions

All proposals from Duke University must be prepared and routed for approval in Sponsored Projects System - SPS. To obtain access to SPS, please contact the ORS Assistant Director assigned to your department.

SPS has several functions. It is used to prepare the administrative sections of a proposal such as the budget, budget justification, abstract, and the facilities and resources section. SPS facilitates document exchange between ORS and departments. SPS routes a completed proposal for departmental and ORS approvals. It also serves as a database for managing sponsored projects activity at both the central and departmental level. At the departmental level, for instance, SPS is the best way to check on an investigator's Current and Pending Support information for a proposal. SPS is the primary data source for reporting on sponsored projects proposals and awards, both internally for Provosts, Deans and Chairs at Duke and externally to federal agencies and non-profit entities.

SPS was developed by Duke's Office of Research Informatics (ORI) / Research Application Development (RAD) group), now called the Office of Academic Solutions and Information Systems (OASIS). Resources for installation and troubleshooting can be found at the OASIS website.  It is primarily a tool used by departmental and central-office grant administrators, although some faculty use SPS when preparing applications to be submitted by grants.duke.

Below is a list of documents that should be uploaded in SPS.  This is not an exhaustive list. Please note the 5-day review deadline for uploading documents for review at: Proposal Review and Approval at Duke.

  1. Cover page or application form
  2. Proposal abstract (draft)
  3. Budget (final)
  4. Budget justification (final)
  5. Completed electronic attestations from all who are required in SPS
  6. All extra forms required by the sponsor, including certifications and representations
  7. Subcontract endorsements, subrecipient checklist, budgets, and statements of work, if applicable
  8. Request for Cost Sharing Form, if applicable
  9. Conflict of interest disclosures, if applicable
  10. Any required NIH JIT documentation
  11. Revised budgets (on sponsor's budget form if the original was submitted on that form)

Upon completion of proposal review, your ORS Assistant Director will upload scanned documents to SPS for retrieval by departments, including documents such as signature pages, letters of endorsement, and other required documents for which an original copy is not needed.

If a proposal is awarded, an ORS Award Specialist will scan and attach the New Award Memo and the Award Documentation in the SPS Award Module.

An increasing number of federal agencies are now requiring that grant applications be submitted through the Grants.Gov website. In order to accommodate the NIH transition to electronic grant submission via Grant.Gov, the ADG staff created grants.duke. Grants.duke is a website that ties the SPS to the federal Grants.Gov system, allowing a system-to-system submission of NIH, DOE, and many DOD proposals. Note that if an agency requires Grants.Gov submission and grants.duke supports electronic submission to that agency, you must use grants.duke.

For grants.duke proposal submissions, the administrative sections of a proposal are prepared in SPS by the grant manager just as it is with any other proposal except that the indicator for a system-to-system submission is checked. While the grant manager and ORS prepare the administrative portions of the proposal in SPS and route it for approval, the PI prepares the technical sections of the proposal and uploads them in grants.duke. These can be modified at any time up to the time of submission. Upon ORS approval of the administrative portion of the proposal, the PI is free to submit the application via grants.duke at any time.

Your primary source for assistance with grants.duke during business hours is the ORS GC&C staff. If you are working after hours, call either of the following HELP desks and ask for the RAD staff member on call. Explain that you need technical assistance with grants.duke.
OIT Help Desk - 684-2200

Many federal and private funding agencies require the use of their own proposal submission websites. While the availability of multiple funding sources is welcome, learning to navigate multiple proposal submission systems can be daunting to faculty and grant administrators. ORS staff have a lot of experience not only with the major proposal submission portals such as NSF's FastLane and the non-profit portal Proposal Central, but also with most of the smaller funding portals as well. As each system has different requirements, consult any sponsor documentation early and contact your ORS GC&C staff person immediately if you have not previously submitted through a particular system.

Note that as part of the proposal review process ORS will need access to your proposal on the sponsor's website if a separate review process is not in place for the central grants office (such as FastLane which allows proposal preparation by the PI and a separate review by ORS). As noted above, contact the ORS staff with any questions that arise in the preparation of your electronic submission.

PI Status


Policy on PI Status

It is University policy that only those with whom the University has or intends to have an on-going contractual relationship may serve as principal investigators (PI) or program directors (PD) for projects, research or otherwise, supported by external funding sources.

The status of Principal Investigator (PI) or program director (PD) is granted automatically as a matter of privilege to tenured and tenure-track faculty, regular faculty on the research and "practice of" tracks, and select senior administrators. All other appointments must receive permission from their deans or the Provost. Those who wish to be co-PIs must meet the same criteria as PIs and PDs. The Duke Policy on PI Status is found in the Faculty Handbook.

Graduate Students: In general, graduate students are not eligible to serve as PIs on sponsored research projects. However, several funding mechanisms require the graduate student be designated as the PI or Co-PI. For instance, NSF's Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants, require a faculty member, usually the student's advisor, to serve as the PI and the student is listed on the proposal as a Co-PI.

Requesting Special PI Status: The procedure for requesting eligibility to serve as a principal investigator may be granted in specific instances by someone with the appropriate authority such as the Dean of the school, the director of an institute, or a Vice Provost. Follow the link above for detailed instructions and guidance.

Outside Collaborators and PI Status

Outside collaborators (non-Duke personnel) may not be listed as co-PIs on Duke proposals. An outside collaborator is not a Duke faculty member and does not "automatically" have PI status nor would he or she have an on-going contractual relationship with Duke. The reason for not allowing this, however, goes beyond these two issues to the contractual relationships between Duke and its sponsors. The institutional signature on a proposal, indicates compliance with the terms and conditions of the grant if an award is made. The signature also certifies that the University - and its PIs - are in compliance with numerous federal regulations such as the use of human and animal subjects, misconduct in science, conflict of interest, lobbying, affirmative action, cost accounting standards, to name a few. Signing a proposal that lists outside collaborators as co-PIs would imply that Duke can certify compliance for other institutions and their faculty members when clearly we cannot. Consequently, we require that outside collaborators be recognized in other ways in a proposal. Alternatives for working with and recognizing the key roles of faculty from other institutions include collaborative proposals, subcontracts and consultancies.


Types of Proposals

This type of proposal is requested when a sponsor wishes to minimize an applicant’s effort in preparing a full proposal. They are usually in the form of a letter of intent or a brief abstract of what the PI plans to do, how the PI will conduct the project and why this project has merit. A pre-proposal establishes a foundation for discussion; it does not commit the PI or the University to anything. However, since these proposals often do become the basis for negotiation for funding, if a budget is included in the submission, it should be routed for the appropriate University signatures. When requested by the sponsor, the pre-proposal may be used to determine how well the project fits the agency’s priorities. Also, the preliminary proposal may determine selection for the next stage of the application, help in the selection of possible reviewers and possibly offer a chance for feedback to the PI. After the preproposal is reviewed, the sponsor notifies the investigator if a full proposal is warranted.  Broad Agency Announcements (BAA) usually associated with DOD, refer to pre-proposals or preliminary proposals as “White Papers”.

A new proposal is one being submitted to a given sponsor for the first time.

Unsolicited Proposal: This type of proposal is submitted to a sponsor that generally has not issued a specific solicitation but is believed by the investigator to have an interest in the subject. The unsolicited proposal is developed around general agency guidelines, within a specific subject field, where the scope of the project is not limited by specific guidelines and specifications. Unsolicited proposal may be submitted anytime, although there may be target submission dates set to meet particular review panel meetings. Many sponsors do not accept unsolicited proposals.

Solicited Proposal: Proposals in response to a specific program that should conform to the solicitation guidelines issued by the agency.

To respond to a Request for Proposal (RFP), Request for Applications (RFA), Request for Quotation (RFQ), the proposed project would have to fit the needs described in the specific work statement developed by the funding agency. An RFP, RFA, or RFQ is usually specific in its requirements regarding format and technical content and may stipulate certain award terms and conditions. They usually have a “hard” deadline; if the proposal arrives late, it normally will not be considered. Also, most are one-time solicitations to fit a specific need that is not expected to recur.

Some federal agencies will not review a proposal submitted simultaneously to another federal sponsor. Others will allow simultaneous submissions but each agency must be informed of the other agency or agencies looking at the proposal either with a cover letter or on the coverpage of the proposal. Each submission to a different agency must be submitted to ORS through SPS and must undergo the same reviews as did the original proposal.

If a sponsor does not fund a proposal, the PI may use the feedback received from the reviewers to revise and resubmit the proposal. The revision is processed as if it were a new proposal. It must be submitted to ORS through SPS and must undergo the same reviews as did the original proposal.

Many sponsors fund multiple-year projects. Funds will usually be awarded one year at a time, based on availability, with the expectation that the entire project will be supported. Some sponsors require that the PI submit a new proposal for each year of the project, even though all years were included in the original proposal. These continuation proposals are not subject to competitive review as was the initial proposal.

The internal review process for continuation proposals is a streamlined version of the original review. Although the proposal must be approved by ORS and must be submitted through SPS, institutional issues addressed at the time of the original proposal will not necessarily be revisited.

For example, if cost sharing commitments for each year were already made and documented, and if there are no changes in the resources committed, the original approval process for cost sharing will not need to be duplicated.

NIH Progress Reports (RPPR): NIH uses the RPPR mechanism for submission of non-competitive renewals.

  • The PI will logon to Commons and select the RPPR tab on the menu bar. The screen that appears next is Manage RPPR and has a list of all awarded grants for the PI. The grants eligible for RPPR submission are displayed as a hypertext link.
  • Click on the grant you want to submit and complete the required sections: Upload Science, Organization Information, Performance Sites, Key Personnel, Research Subject, SNAP Questions, and Inclusion Enrollment.
  • When all the information is entered, the PI can check for errors by using the Validate button and make any necessary changes.
  • When the Progress Report is complete, click on the Submit button to send the Progress Report electronically to ORS for final review.
  • ORS will send the approved Progress Report electronically to NIH.
  • Once the RPPR submission is complete, the non-competing proposal - or progress report - must be entered into SPS by the Grant Manager or PI and routed to ORS (this does not need to meet the 5 business day deadline).
  • NIH Resources

NSF Progress Reports: NSF requires that NSF-funded researchers regularly report on the progress of supported projects and the way funds are used.

  • Only Principal Investigators (PIs) and co-PIs can create, edit and submit project reports in
  • Sponsored Projects Office (SPO) staff and administrative users with read-only access can view project reports
  • NSF Resources

Federal agencies may fund a project for an extended period of time, dividing the project into discrete multiple-year blocks, each of which is subject to peer review. Proposals for competitive renewals must be approved by ORS and must be submitted through SPS in the same manner as new proposals.

Renewal or Competing Proposals. These types of proposals are requests for continued support for an existing project that is about to terminate, and, from the sponsor’s viewpoint, generally have the same status as an unsolicited proposal. Competing continuation proposals compete with other competing continuation, competing supplemental, and new proposals for funds.

Supplements or Competing Revisions: There are a number of federal programs which provide supplements to successful research projects in order to fund auxiliary programs, such as research experiences for undergraduates. Occasionally, a sponsor may have funds available to add to the budget of an already funded project. Proposals for supplements must be approved by ORS and must be submitted through SPS in the same manner as new proposals.

A collaborative proposal should be used when investigators at two or more universities wish to work together on a project, but wish to receive separate funding directly from the sponsor. Each collaborator must submit a separate proposal.

  • The proposals, which must have the same title, are linked by a cover letter which accompanies each proposal and asks that they be reviewed as a unit.
  • Usually, the project description is the same in each proposal but the budgets, biosketches, other support pages, and resources are specific to each participating institution.

Federal agencies that allow the submission of collaborative proposals will provide guidelines.

If another university is preparing a proposal which includes Duke as a subrecipient or subcontractor, it will need a subaward proposal from Duke to include in its submission to the prime sponsor. Duke's subaward proposals must undergo the same submission and review process as any other proposal. Subaward Menu

There are two basic mechanisms for transferring a new faculty member's funded projects to Duke. The entire award may be reissued to Duke or portions of the award may be transferred to Duke through a subcontract. For further information, see the ORS Award Transfers page.

Sponsor Forms and Guidelines

Before preparing your application, be sure to read carefully the sponsor guidelines, review all the required sponsor forms, and fill out a Checklist for Sponsor Guidelines form. Links to most RFAs and sponsor pages can be found on Duke's Research Funding website.

Additionally, ORS staff are always available to help you find required forms or guidelines.

Preparing a Coversheet

The coversheet of a proposal summarizes key information for a sponsor and provides the required institutional signatures. It may, at the sponsor's request, also include the PI's, or his or her chair's signatures.

Many sponsors provide coversheets, either pre-printed or available in electronic format. Care should be taken to ensure that the most current version of the sponsor cover sheet is used.

The basic information for all coversheets for proposals from Duke should be entered as noted below:

  • The name of the applicant or the recipient is simply "Duke University", not the PI or any unit of the University. (The University, represented by the Office of Research Support, is the entity which will receive and accept responsibility for the award.)
  • The contact for the applicant, or award recipient, is the Executive Director of ORS, Keith Hurka-Owen
  • The applicant's address and phone number are those of the Office of Research Support: 2200 W. Main St., Ste. A-200, Durham, NC 27705; phone: 919/684-3030; fax: 919/684-2418; email:

If a coversheet is not provided by the sponsor, the PI will be asked to prepare a coversheet for the proposal. That coversheet can be generated by SPS by opening the SPS record, choosing Proposal Actions and then selecting Print Forms in the dropdown box. Choose Duke Generic for type of form and then Generate. Open the file as a PDF, save and print the first two pages of the document.

An investigator can create their own coversheet which should include the following information:

  • Sponsor's name
  • Applicant's name: Duke University
  • Applicant's address and contact information: Office of Research Support, 2200 W. Main St., Ste. A-200, Durham, NC 27708; phone: 919/684-3030; fax: 919/684-2418;
  • Applicant's contact or award recipient: Keith Hurka-Owen, Executive Director, Office of Research Support
  • Title of proposed project
  • Name, title and contact information of the PI
  • Period of performance
  • Annual and cumulative budget totals
  • Signatures of the PI and the authorizing official

Application coversheets and forms often ask for a wide variety of ID, Code, and Assurance numbers. Those numbers and other information for inclusion in proposals can be found on the Facts for Forms and Applications.

PIs, chairs, deans and others can not sign a proposal coversheet. Only authorized signing officials may sign a proposal for Duke. Please see Proposal Review and Approval at Duke.

Other Required Information - Facts for Forms and Applications


This information is supplied by the Office of Research Support at Duke University for use in conjunction with the proposal and award of grants, contracts, subcontracts, etc. Please contact ORS if additional information is required.

Duke University
c/o Office of Research Support
2200 W. Main St. Ste A-200
Durham, NC 27705-4677
Phone: 919-684-3030, Fax: 919-684-2418

Authorized Officials

Can sign sponsored and non-sponsored research related agreements on behalf of Duke University, except for ones with Foundations and Corporations which are delegated to Keith Hurka-Owen and Susan Lasley only.

Keith Hurka-Owen, Executive Director, ORS

Susan Lasley, Director, ORS

Broderick Grady, Director, ORS

Jennifer Bolognesi, Assistant Director, ORS

Teresa Chicarelli, Associate Director, ORS

Lauren Faber, Assistant Director, ORS

Adam King, Assistant Director, ORS

Brian Lowinger, Assistant Director, ORS

Ken Macdonald, Assistant Director, ORS

Erinn Nichols, Assistant Director, ORS

Shannon Walker, Assistant Director, ORS

Charlene Wang, Assistant Director, ORS

Authorized Official -- For Foundations and Corporations ORS Executive Director Keith Hurka-Owen
ORS Director Susan Lasley
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