Content is king: how to raise the quality of your proposal

Follow the compass

Angelo Napolitano  By Angelo Napolitano


High-quality content is fundamental to raise the chances of getting funded. 

Applying for direct EU funding is highly competitive and almost all EU programmes have high evaluation approval criteria. Therefore, in order to really stand out, it is essential to submit a clear proposal that immediately shows the evaluators WHY you need the grant, WHAT the value of your project is, WHAT you plan to do with the resources and HOW you will do it. 

In this article we will talk about: 

  • How to meet evaluators’ expectations regarding content
  • How to avoid some common mistakes 
  • How to improve the value of your proposal


Before starting to write your proposal, you should always think about who will read it.

Your proposal will be read by a team of at least 3 or 4 experts to give different independent perspectives. Therefore, you should make sure your content is relevant and only write information which is strictly related to your project; nothing even slightly irrelevant should be added. 

To be as relevant as possible, the first thing to do is understand the context in which your proposal will be evaluated. Therefore, study the Call’s guidelines, the priorities and needs to address, the application template and the evaluation guide. 

Call guidelines provide the precise context, background and rules; read them closely to avoid being off-topic and ensure you meet the requirements. 

Studying the application form is also important because it gives you an idea of the reasoning behind the Call, what the evaluator wants to know and to what extent. Understanding the structure of the application form will make your work easier, highlight which points to focus on more and how to organise your writing. 

So, for example, following the application template means that you will not start by focusing on activities or work packages (the HOW), but instead describe the context, objectives and needs that your proposal intends to solve to improve the state of the art (the WHY and WHAT). 

Aligning your project structure with the template logic will prevent you from submitting a great work plan but a poor description of the idea’s central needs and make it easier for the evaluators to read. 

The evaluation report 

To assess your proposal, the selected experts are asked to fill in an evaluation grid which is divided into sections and subsections to provide an overall score. 

It seems obvious, but let’s have a closer look.

Evaluators will not read your proposal and then give it an overall score to decide if it could be approved or not. Instead, they will give scores for specific points throughout the entire proposal.

For instance, the evaluation grid may be divided into 3 main sections: excellence, impact, implementation. To be selected, you need to reach an overall score over 10, BUT, you also need to get a minimum score of 3 for EACH section. Therefore, you describe an excellent implementation plan, have a strong and reliable partnership, your budget is consistent and scores the maximum. Unfortunately, your description of objectives lacks consistency, the degree of innovation and the state of the art are not very clear and you end up scoring 2.8 in excellence. 

This means that your proposal will be rejected. 

This is why you should carefully read all of the Call’s documents, including the evaluation guidelines if provided, and not neglect any part of the application form. 

Quality design 

Overall management, risk assessment, communications, sustainability – all these plans should be developed and described carefully in each dedicated section of the template.

To highlight the logic behind all these plans, it would be good to provide milestones, logical qualitative/quantitative indicators, methodology and a realistic timeline. 

This linear description of plans and measures to ensure the quality of the proposal will also make it more convincing and come across as more feasible

Several evaluators have viewed complex projects as being too high risk , stressed the need for a well-developed risk and contingency plan which differentiates between low-, middle- and high-risks cruxes and clarifies how resources would be used if things didn’t go to plan.

To enhance the overall quality of your content, keep in mind these other three tips: 

  • Try to place the most important information at the beginning of sentences where the attention of the reader is at its peak. 

  • Do not introduce new ideas or activities throughout the proposal without having previously mentioned them. 

  • Be careful to not mix different voices. Especially when the proposal is written by several different partners, change of registers or even contrasting content might disrupt the cohesion of the application. 


After the WHY and the WHAT, you will be asked to describe HOW you intend to implement your idea.

If the first part came across well (defining your target groups, their needs and SMART objectives – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Appropriate) it will be easier to explain and justify the foreseen activities. 

Needless to say, you are planning to operate with finite time and resources; therefore, describing the activities will provide concrete and realistic numbers about the participants, milestones and expected results. 


One of the frequent pitfalls of describing results is the distinction between deliverables, outputs and outcomes. 

Here are the definitions of these three terms:

  • A deliverable is the direct product deriving from an activity or a task. It can be tangible or intangible, internal or external.

  • An output is the immediate result of an activity or a set of activities. 

  • An outcome is the short- to mid-term result that materialises for the target group as an effect of the output

Here is an example:

Your proposal has the specific objective of improving digital skills in low-digitised SMEs located in 4 Mediterranean countries. One of the evidenced needs to be addressed is employees’ lack of basic digital skills. Therefore, the partnership will define a specific amount of resources to be used, e.g. 5 trainers (inputs) to plan an online training course (activity) for 5 employees of each of the 4 involved companies (target group). 

For the training course, you might expect to have the following results:

  • Deliverable Training course material, video lessons

  • Output 20 employees acquire new digital skills by the end of the project 

  • Outcome Increased efficiency and competitiveness of the participating companies


Demonstrating the vision: impact section

Impact represents the value of the project, the long-term effect of the outcomes, the rewards society will reap which will fall into several fields (economic, scientific, educational, political) from your project. 

This is why it is so difficult to come up with a tangible definition and why, especially in H2020 or business-centred programmes like the EIC Accelerator, this section has more specific weight and evaluators find it the most challenging to assess.

One of the common pitfalls in this case is the mere repetition of already-stated results. Instead, the best solution is to think big: add specific details about the long-lasting value in several fields, the leverage effect and the potential to scale up your project results. 

Taking this into consideration, you could highlight, in the impact section, the role your proposal will play in increasing the competitiveness of SMEs or fostering new public policies for digitalisation.


Communication Vs Dissemination: The same thing? 

In order to maximise the impact, you should demonstrate that your proposal has the potential to reach a wide audience. 

BUT, your audience is stratified into multiple layers (direct target groups, indirect target groups, general public, decision makers, etc.) and will need different channels and registers to be reached. 

Even more importantly, according to the audience, results could be transmitted for mere informative purposes or with the scope of being used. 

To avoid any confusion, keep this distinction in mind: 

  • Communication all information transmitted inside and outside the partnership about the project. Internal communication includes emails, phone calls, transnational and virtual meetings among partners throughout the project duration.
    External communication, often confused with dissemination, might include press releases and interviews for local TV or other media channels and is intended to inform the general public about the project’s results and successes.
  • Dissemination focuses on the knowledge and results which are transferred to the relevant stakeholders including scientific papers, thematic articles, technical reports, official websites and dedicated social media communities.

  • Exploitation focuses on the possibility of concretely using the results for new projects or related activities. Therefore, it is important to explain how your results could be used in the future by relevant stakeholders.


To sum up

We have gone through a few elements to enhance the quality of your content. As you have seen, being competitive for EU grants is not enough to have a good or even a very good idea – you need to present it as an excellent project and demonstrate that you have not left anything to chance.

Therefore, preparation is key. Even small oversights can make the difference between getting rejected and getting approved.