Planning Letters

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) recognizes that the preparation of a full proposal is a time-consuming and often costly proposition for the investigator. Therefore, before a full proposal is written, investigators are encouraged to take advantage of the informal "white paper" or "planning letter" process widely used at ONR. Planning letters allow investigators to submit their ideas in confidence to ONR program officers to evaluate, provide technical feedback and offer some indication of the likelihood of success for a full proposal based on program interests and priorities. A full proposal will be either encouraged or discouraged; however, a full proposal may be submitted at any time (even if the planning letter is discouraged) and it will receive full consideration. Investigators who are invited to submit full proposals are reminded that the invitation to submit does not represent a commitment to fund the proposal.

The planning letter format varies by program, but typically involves the following elements:

  • A 1-2 page synopsis or executive summary of the proposed research, identifying the contributions of each investigator. Make sure to highlight what is new, groundbreaking or innovative about the proposed effort.
  • A couple sentence description of Navy relevance (if known)
  • A paragraph indicating the estimated level of funding per year (two or three year efforts are typical)
  • A paragraph describing unusual costs (if any)—e.g. ship or aircraft time, computer hardware, etc.
  • A page of references to the relevant literature
  • A one-page (maximum) résumé per investigator

The best starting place for prospective investigators to discuss a research idea and learn more about the planning letter format specific to a program is an ONR program officer.

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