Using the Principle of Recognition to Develop Winning Proposals

When reviewers evaluate your proposal, they use fast and frugal mental processes to judge your application because of time pressure, incomplete information, and the inability to calculate the consequences of funding your application.

You can help reviewers evaluate your proposal more easily by using the most common mental decision-making process – the principle of recognition.  Recognition divides the world into two different categories:

  • Recognized ideas, people, and other things.
  • Everything else.

Using the recognition principle, decision-making is simple and direct:  once a person recognizes something from his or her memory, the search for information immediately stops.  It is simple, fast, frugal, and accurate because it makes fewer demands on memory and computational skills than other alternatives and works especially well under time pressure.  Nothing is simpler than recognizing and recalling relevant cues.

Use the principle of recognition to design your proposals by taking these steps:

  • Organize your information by:
    • Structuring the narrative according to the application guidelines.
    • Discussing your points in decreasing order of importance.
    • Summarizing your major points and benefits throughout the proposal.
  • Write your Executive Summary for non-technical reviewers.
  • Write simply and clearly.  Use short sentences and paragraphs.  Use the active voice.  Begin paragraphs, whenever possible, with a theme statement.
  • Use plenty of bulleted and numbered lists to make your important points.
  • Use headings with the exact wording from the application guidelines.
  • Use color visuals to emphasize your major points.

In proposals, as in life, cues and clarity foster recognition and recall.

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