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Proposal Guidance

Updated: June 2022

This guidance is for authors submitting a proposal in response to a published call for EMSL proposals, with the exception of calls for FICUS proposals, which have call-specific guidelines for proposal content.

Note that many calls for proposals require that a Letter of Intent (LOI) be submitted prior to a full proposal, and only allow full proposals to be submitted by invitation. Refer to the specific Proposal Call Announcement for guidance on LOI requirements.

Researchers preparing proposals are encouraged to contact or continue discussions with EMSL scientific staff regarding their research goals and resource needs. For help identifying the appropriate contacts, see the contacts identified in the Proposal Call Announcement or contact User Services

Proposals must be submitted electronically through EMSL's User Portal.

Required Information

The list below summarizes the information required for a proposal submission, to be entered into the online form in the User Portal.

  • Categorization details (research category; EMSL Science Area and IRP)
  • Requested start date
  • Title and abstract
  • Proposed research description (uploaded PDF document; instructions below)
  • Appendices (part of the research description PDF; instructions below)
  • Participant details (name, institution, ORCID ID, etc)
  • Funding sources
  • Samples and equipment

Once you initiate a new proposal, you can navigate through the entire form to view all required information and additional guidance.

For proposals submitted following an LOI: The online form will be pre-populated with information you provided in your LOI but will contain a new section for detailed information about requested resources. All previously entered information from the LOI can be modified if needed before submitting your proposal.  

Proposed Research Description

The detailed description of your proposed research will be uploaded to the proposal form as a PDF file. Instructions for formatting and content of the Proposed Research document are given below. These guidelines are updated periodically and requirements may change from year to year. Note that all required appendices must be combined with the Proposed Research description in a single PDF file.

Document Formatting

  • 4-page limit. Pagination is required
  • 11-point fonts (or larger for headings). Captions, symbols, special characters, can have a font of less than 11 points.
  • 1-inch margins
  • No more than 5 lines of text within a vertical space of one inch
  • Single-column format for text
  • Adobe (.pdf) file format

Title and Abstract

A title and abstract for your project will be requested through the online form. The abstract does not need to be included in the Project Description PDF. Titles and abstracts of successful non-proprietary projects will appear on the EMSL website and be shared with the Department of Energy Office of Science.

Project Description

Describe your research plan for using EMSL resources (maximum of 4 pages). Visual materials and tables must be included in the 4-page limit. Suggested word counts are given for each section.

The abstract submitted on the web-based proposal form does not count against the four-page limit and should not be repeated in your Project Description.

The Project Description should be written at a level appropriate for someone familiar with your general area of research who is not necessarily an expert on the specific topic.

The Project Description should include the following sections:

  • Title. The project title must be brief, scientifically or technically valid, intelligible to a scientifically or technically literate reader, and suitable for use in the public press.
  • Call Topic. Identify which call topic(s) the proposed research is responding to (if applicable).
  • Specific Aims (~250 words). State the specific objectives of the research proposed (e.g., to test a stated hypothesis, create a novel design, solve a specific problem, challenge an existing paradigm or clinical practice, address a critical barrier to progress in the field, or develop new technology), providing concise and unambiguous detail.
  • Mission Relevance (~100 words).  Clearly explain how your research addresses specific mission areas and advances the science pertinent to DOE’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research, as well as EMSL's mission, and/or describe the value/impact of its economic or societal importance.
  • Background (~400 words). Provide a concise discussion of previous work to make clear what the research problem is, why you want to do this particular study and exactly what has been accomplished, and demonstrate why the studies need to be continued.
  • Approach or Work Plan (~1200 to 1500 words). Describe the work to be conducted at EMSL for the entire project duration, along with any preliminary, background measurements, or tests completed that validate the approach (include references where relevant and attach the full citations as an addendum). Identify which team member will be doing each portion of the work plan and demonstrate why your project requires EMSL resources and cannot be done elsewhere. For projects expected to require more than one year to complete, clearly delineate work activities for the first year.
  • Computing Approach (Required if Tahoma compute cycles are requested. 1-page maximum; does not count towards the 4-page limit). Using the Computing Resources Template (see Related Documents), provide details about the proposed computational method or approach, the software or code to be used, and details about the requested computing resources, file storage, and staff support needed. 


As part of the Project Description PDF file, include the following appendices in the order listed below.

Appendix 1: List of References (required)

Each reference must include the names of all authors (in the same sequence in which they appear in the publication), the article and journal title, book title, volume number, page numbers, and year of publication. If the document is available electronically, the website address also should be identified. Proposers must be especially careful to follow accepted scholarly practices in providing citations for source materials relied upon when preparing any section of the proposal. While there is no established page limitation for the references, this section must include bibliographic citations only and must not be used to provide parenthetical information outside of the 4-page Project Description.

Appendix 2: CVs (required)

Attach abbreviated CVs (2-page maximum each) for the PI and each of the co-PIs to support the review of the team's qualifications for the research proposed.

Appendix 3: Active Collaborators List (required)

To help EMSL avoid conflicts of interest on our Proposal Review Panels, please attach a list of active collaborators for the PI and co-PI(s) from the past 2 years, and other individuals who may represent a conflict of interest (template available - see Related Documents). In addition to research project collaborators, the list must include co-authors with whom you've actively interacted, co-editors, advisors and advisees, and financial affiliations, all from the past 2 years. This may be identical to the list provided in the LOI.

Participation in very large collaborative effort with an individual does not necessarily constitute a conflict of interest. Identify those who would have a personal interest in this proposal or whose unbiased judgment would be questioned by a reasonable person familiar with your relationship. You may substitute a list from a recent NSF, DOE, or other proposal that meets the spirit of this request, though lists of more than 100 collaborators (per investigator) should be shortened to include only the closest collaborators. Please use your best judgment in these cases.


For general inquiries: EMSL User Services,, 509-371-6003.

For detailed research questions: Refer to the Proposal Call Announcement for scientific contacts.