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One of the primary functions of Sponsored Research is the campus-wide facilitation of proposal submission to external sponsors. Our office is committed to helping all Northwestern principal investigators prepare and submit successful proposals. For proposal and award numbers, visit our Reports and Metrics section.



A pre-proposal is a short description of a project that does not involve a binding commitment of university resources. Depending on the sponsor, a pre-proposal may be called a preliminary proposal, white paper, letter of intent (LOI), or concept paper.  Typically, the purpose of a pre-proposal is to inform and catch the interest of a potential sponsor so that the sponsor then requests a formal proposal including full technical and budget information.

A pre-proposal may include a total cost estimate; however, it does not typically include a line-item budget and is not expected to result directly in an award. Note: even when a line-item budget is not being provided, the total estimated project cost presented to the sponsor should factor in F&A (indirect) costs, except in situations where only direct cost totals are requested.

Institutional signature and routing

A pre-proposal must be routed to Sponsored Research (via CERES) when any of the following applies: 

  • Institutional endorsement is required
  • A detailed budget is required
  • The pre-proposal must be submitted system-to-system (via CERES) or through another system in which only the university has submission capabilities (e.g.,

At the full proposal stage, a detailed/line item budget should be provided by the department, even if the sponsor does not require one.